Tuning your guitar with a tuner sounds simple enough, but it is often irritating for guitar players for two reasons: one, we may only have at our disposal a cheap, low quality tuner or, two, your guitar isn’t setup properly.
For most people who buy a factory guitar off the shelf, the guitar won’t be properly setup. This isn’t the fault of the manufacturers, necessarily, unless it is an extremely low-end product. The fact is, that after a guitar is built it takes awhile for the pieces of a guitar to “settle.” After they “settle,” what was once setup up properly is now slightly off. But, for the sake of this article, let’s assume that your guitar is properly setup.
Most tuners have a plug in so that if you have an electric guitar, bass guitar or acoustic electric guitar, you can plug directly into the tuner and check the tuning. Make sure that you turn the volume knob to the max when doing this. Even though you don’t hear a signal through an amp (assuming your not plugged into an amp) the tuner does hear the signal and processes it accordingly.
If you are just tuning an acoustic (guitar or bass), for most tuners, just position the tuner in front of you so that the sound is aimed at it.
There are two problems with using a tuner in the open air. The first is that the lower the quality of the tuner, the worse it will work. Stay away from any tuner under $10 or so as a general rule. Even for the beginner, I would advise this because it will prove a terrible frustration as you learn to tune the guitar on your own.
The second problem is that when tuning in open air, if you are tuning before a gig or performance or at a party, it is almost impossible. Even moving to a secluded place, if there is enough ambient noise, it will be very frustrating. The same holds true for tuning by ear before a performance. Very frustrating.
So, when tuning with an electronic tuner, when possible, plug your guitar directly into it to tune. Also, only buy a mid-range and above tuner. If you follow these two rules, you will spend less time tuning and more time making music.