I just finished doing one of my favorite things…changing the strings on one of my 12-string guitars and tuning it.
Obviously that may seem like somewhat of a joke and it really is, except for the fact that it’s generally more the dread of facing the task than actually doing it. As I once said, “I like to go, I just don’t like getting going.”
However, once I’m in the mode of the actual process, I try to imagine the good ole wax on wax off concept and become one with the string.
“Let’s see, which way is the ball end facing, how many turns did I give it, what does the wrap look like, blah blah” until it’s done.
Every time I finish and actually tune the instrument (which sometimes seems to take half a week), I’m always satisfied in a mysteriously deep way. The guitar has actually come to life again.
Simply put, I’m more inspired to play and feel a bit like I saved the life of yet another guitar in my house that was destined to have the same future as your average sock in the gutter or a fresh meal for the dust mites.
One thing I would like to point out is the importance of the tuning process. Everyone has their own methods, but I thought I’d toss up a couple for consideration.
First and foremost, resist simply relying on the nearest guitar tuner lying around. Granted, they are invaluable tools and I carry one in every case and find myself a bit panicked if I don’t have one handy.
Nevertheless, I often suggest to students to use the tuner as a reference and get the first string in tune. Then the important part: turn off the tuner.
For one thing it saves your battery. Use some sort of method at this point to attempt one by one to get the next preferred string in with that initial reference note.
I attempt unisons on the string paired above, harmonics with a note, octaves, various intervals such as Perfect 4ths and 5ths.
Then I might try partial chords slowly strumming or picking fragments of the chords. I then, much to the dismay of some luthiers, stretch the string slightly out and away from the sound hole. While doing this I often run my left hand fretting finger along the string from frets one to twelve while gently tugging the string. This seems to pop anything into place and tighten the string more securely around the tuning peg posts.
Then I check my tuning attempt against the tuner, rechecking my initial reference point.
After several runs of this effort I start to play and I always go back to this process throughout not just my current playing session but throughout the day and days to come.
By using some type of system like this or one of your own you will be surprised how rewarding the fresh strings can sound within a few days, the note responses are vibrant and less resistant to techniques you’ve spent years developing. But most importantly, don’t let tuners erase your ears.
Fine tune your ability to tune an instrument n the fly if a quick jam session breaks out or you are called upon to play a quick number or two.
Once again, using the tuner as a checking device can be very effective and you will also notice that on occasion, in order to properly temper your guitar to be playing just right it may not jive precisely with the tuner. Trust your gut and soul for the truth of where the sound of the instrument belongs.
You might also begin to experiment with different types of strings and see where your desires really lie depending on your style, touch and voice.
See and feel and how the difference is between Flat Wound, Bronze, Phosphor Bronze, Silk and Steel, Coated strings for longer life etc.
Also, be sure to try different string gauges to find your preference for each instrument. I’m a big fan of the entire D’Addario String line and often catch myself experimenting with all types of strings qualities. http://www.daddario.com/DADProductsAcoustic.Page?ActiveID=1904
You might also try pitching your guitar in different ranges to see how things feel. Try putting the entire instrument down ½ step from standard concert pitch. Decide if you might like that slightly deeper tone for particular tunes in your repertoire or perhaps your voice range. Experiment with Capos as well for different sounds, new voice ranges, and occasional easing for the fingers.
I’ve tended to be a huge fan of the Shubb Capos and particularly like how the rolling wheel mechanism in their deluxe design has the ability with a simple screw adjustment for calibration to prevent over pressurizing the neck and thus squeezing some notes out of tune. http://www.shubb.com/deluxe/index.html
The latest tuner of choice for me seems to be the new and very basic Planet Waves mini-headstock tuner. I love the way it has the ability to hide behind the neck and out of view from the audience. It’s also bright and easy to see and has a very quick response accordingly when in a pickle of a situation. Another favorite tuner is the Gold Tone CCT, which in the chromatic setting locks on to an A440. The nice thing about this particular tuner is that it also has settings for violin, ukulele, and banjo.
Did I mention that I hate changing strings? Tuning is cool though.