Back from the road and full of turkey and gravy, I thought that I would talk just a little bit today about tuning tips. I keep going to shows where the people playing their guitars can't quite get it in tune. Piano players are off the hook, but you guitar players need to address this, even as you are playing.
To begin with, it helps to have an on stage tuner that you can plug into if you have a guitar with a pickup. But let's say that you don't. From a pitchfork or a piano or another musician, get an E. As a matter of fact get both E's. If you have no access to any pitch, you can get pretty close by doing what I have done many times. The lowest note that I can actually hit and use as a viable singing note, happens to be E. But it doesn't matter, find out which is the lowest note that you can hit. Yes, it will vary a little depending upon the time of day and what kind of shape your voice is in, but essentially you will get a pitch from which you can derive a frame of reference.
The first thing that I do after I have the E that I want is to hit the harmonic on the 6th string at the 12th fret, then i go to the 7th fret of the 5th string and play that note (not the harmonic, but the note). It should be the same note. If it isn't then adjust it until it is. Then go to 4th string at the second fret. It should also be the same note and once again, adjust it until it is the same note.
Now go to the 12th fret and the 5th string and do the same routine just moving it one string down from the E. The same pattern will work until you get to the 3rd string (the G). Now you must go to the 8th fret of the second string and pluck the note (it will be a G), then go to the 1st string, 3rd fret and pluck the g there. All the unison notes should sound the same at the same octave. This will get you in the ball park.
Now, if the song is going to be in E, then play an E chord. More than likely you will have to slightly adjust the B string (the 2nd string) down a little bit. If the song is in G then you will probably have to adjust the B string up a little bit. This is because in the western world, we use a tempered scale, which simply means that the B in a G chord, for instance, is not exactly the same B as the B in an E chord. I know it's a bitch, but you could have just stayed in school and become an accountant, but NOOOOOOOOO, you had to be a musician.
And then you have the fun of alternative tunings. There are so many that I am only going to address a simple technique that my pal, John Batdorf (www.johnbatdorfmusic.com) turned me on to. He favors the drop D, (6th string down one step to D) and the easiest way to insure that you are in tune there is to play the 6th string on the 5th fret and check it against a G chord. It is the easiest way I know to get the exact D you need to wow them with some Stephen Stills type modal thing.
I'm going back to the Turkey. Talk to you tomorrow.