It’s just about required these days that all guitarists have and use digital tuners. Like most things in the world of electronics, these little wonders have become better and cheaper as the technology has evolved. There are many types available today but most players I know and see use the clip-on type and the Snark tuner is by far the most popular, and it’s what I use. But these things may be a bit temperamental at times. If yours is reluctant to settle in on the desired note the first thing to check is the battery. If the display is not as bright as it used to be, time to replace it. However, even with a brand-new tuner or battery the display can sometimes waver. The fault may not be with the tuner; it may be your guitar. Interestingly, this seems to happen most with very expensive or very cheap guitars. Why? Because the tuner is picking up notes other than the one you’re hoping it finds. A very expensive guitar may have those wonderful overtones that make it so special to our ears, but tuners get very confused by them. Conversely, a cheapie may have harsh and conflicting notes generated by the cheap wood of which it’s made. The solution is to lightly cover as many strings as possible with one hand while you tune the string you’re focusing on. This will eliminate sympathetic vibration and overtones coming from the other strings (on a fancy guitar) or decrease the volume enough to damp out the nasty sounds that may be coming from inside a cheaper guitar. Try it!
When you’re changing strings (assuming the ball ends are held in by bridge pins), use a pair of needle nose pliers to slightly bend the string as close to the ball as possible. This will ensure that the ball seats itself firmly against the interior bridge plate, which is essential for good transmission of the vibration of the string to the guitar. Gently pull the new string up until you feel it seat firmly. Do NOT pull hard and bend the string because in doing so you might diminish the overall vibration of the string and that new string won’t sound any better than your old, dead one.
One other little tip that is a source of debate among guitarists related to bridge pins. Some feel that slotted pins reduce the amount of vibrating surface in the relationship of string end and bridge plate so they turn the slot to the bottom of the guitar. This way the ball end is resting against a solid surface, not in the slot and string vibration is transmitted more efficiently. Or they will discard the slotted pins and go with unslotted ones. I’m kind of on the fence about this and haven’t heard any appreciable difference regardless of which way the slot it aimed, but some players swear there is a noticeable improvement when the pins are “reversed.” Worth a try, probably.
This one should be a no-brainer but very few players I know do it. Especially in the summer when our hands sweat more with the hot, humid weather, always take the time to wipe off your guitar after you play. Just keep a clean, dry washcloth in your guitar case and make it habit to wipe away any moisture on the strings, neck and body of the guitar before you put it away. If you keep your guitar on a stand, put that dry, clean rag on the yoke of the stand not just to remind yourself to do a wipe-down, but it also adds another padded contact point that will not react with sweat as the rubber used on some cheaper stands can do. Although not as common as it was years ago when guitar stand makers didn’t understand or care about rubber against guitar finishes, damp guitar necks against cheap stands have resulted in plenty of finish damage on some very fine guitars. It always breaks my heart when a student shows up with a well-played and well-loved old guitar that has nasty, bubbled finish on the back of the neck where it rested on rubber or even inside a cheap guitar case. And don’t forget to wipe down the body, especially the front of the guitar where your forearm rests. Body moisture will definitely cloud the finish over time if you don’t. This is often the case with guitars with mahogany tops. Cloudy finish on well-used guitars with a tobacco sunburst gloss finish is pretty common, both on the front and back. If you don’t care, OK. But it will definitely affect the value of such an instrument.
Worst of all, allowing a guitar to “bake” with sweat on it over a period of time will make that guitar take on some very unpleasant odors. Although undeniably cool in some ways, I’ve often wondered how Willie Nelson’s famous “Trigger” must smell! And by all means, avoid cigarette smoke around guitars. Before long they will smell like an old ashtray and that stink is just about impossible to eliminate, although many have tried. For me anyway, a smoky smelling guitar is a deal-breaker if I’m considering buying a vintage instrument.
Finally, a tip regarding playing. Even if you know a song pretty well chord-wise and are comfortable singing it, try to work out by ear the single notes of the melody. You probably won’t be playing them in performance but it is an excellent way to discover how melodies are related to and contained in chords. Good for your ears, good for your brain. In the long run this will also help you sing in tune, too, because your brain will be searching for the correct melody notes inside those chords even if you’re not conscious that it’s happening. It may also inspire you to learn more about music theory (chord structure, scales and intervals) and the relative relationships between notes on the neck. It’s also a vital step in learning to improvise because good improvisation is usually based to some degree in the melody.
Peace & good music,