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Bass Essentials Series Pt. 2: How to Tune a Bass Guitar

Welcome to Part 2 of the Bass Guitar Essentials Series: How to Tune a Bass Guitar. In case you missed Part One, don’t forget to check it out here!

bass guitar tuning

Having a properly tuned instrument is essential to making great music and music that others can enjoy.

Each kind of bass guitar, 4, 5 and 6 string, each have their own standard tuneings intended for the best performance of the instrument.

According to Wikipedia:

Tuning is the act of modifying the pitch of one or many tones from musical instruments to establish typical intervals between these tones. Tuning is usually based on a fixed reference, such as A = 440 Hz. Out of tune refers to a pitch/tone that is either too high (sharp) or too low (flat) in relation to a given reference pitch.

In this segment were going to focus on:

  • The standard tuning of a bass guitar
  • How to tune a bass guitar
  • Alternate tunings of a bass guitar
  • Different kinds of bass guitar tuners and what to focus on when buying a tuner

1. How to Tune a Bass Guitar

bass guitar tuning pegTo tune a bass guitar, you’re going to rotate the tuning pegs (left) of your bass guitar while plucking the string that the tuner corresponds to.

By turning the tuner clockwise, the pitch of the string will raise and turing the peg counterclockwise will lower the pitch. As well investigate below, the correct standard tuning for a 4 string bass guitar, from lowest note to highest note, is E-A-D-G

2. Tuning the Bass Guitar: Standard Tunings

Standard Bass Guitar Tuning

On a standard 4 string bass guitar, the standard tuning from lowest to highest is as follows:

(Lowest) E – A – D – G (Highest)

Standard 5-String Bass Guitar Tuning

On a standard 5 string bass guitar, the standard tuning from lowest to highest is as follows:

(Lowest) B – E – A – D – G (Highest)

Additionally, some people will tune a 5 string so that the G string tunes up to a C and the low B gets tuned up to an E:

(Lowest) E – A – D – G – C (Highest)

Standard 6-String Bass Guitar Tuning

On a standard 6 string bass guitar, the standard tuning from lowest to highest is as follows:

(Lowest) B – E – A – D – G – C (Highest)

Standard 8-String Bass Guitar Tuning

An eight-string bass is really like a 4-string bass, but with a second string doubling each of those four strings. The doubling string is tuned an octave higher. The result is:

(Lowest) E(e) – A(a) – D(d) – G(g) (Highest)

This gives off a very full, thick sound. The same idea is used on a 12-string guitar.

Standard Piccolo Bass Tuning

A piccolo bass, essentially a smaller bass guitar not to be confused with a short scale bass guitar, is a standard bass tuning up an octave.

A word of caution: piccolo basses require their own special set of bass strings!

3. Tuning the Bass Guitar: Altered Tunings

An altered tuning on bass guitar is any tuning that is not one of the standard tunings mentioned above. Literally anything. If you can think of another kind of tuning, it’s an altered tuning.

Though the number of altered tunings out there is virtually limitless, there are a few alternate tunings that do tend to appear over and over in music. Here are some of them:

Altered Tunings for 4 String Bass

Since the 4-string bass has the smallest range of notes  it gets tuned differently most often. Common altered tunings for 4 string basses include:

  • Drop D (D-A-D-G)
  • Half Step Tune Down (Eb-Ab-Db-Gb)
  • Drop B (B-E-A-D)

A word of caution: the lower you tune the strings, the greater the risk of fret buzz and additional clank of the strings against the frets and neck. Again – most basses were built to be tuned and kept tuned in a certain way so to create alternate tunings is technically going against what the manufacturer intended of the instrument.

Altered Tunings for 5 String Bass and Altered Tunings for 6 String Bass

Many of the tunings mentioned above can be applied just as easily to 5 and or 6 string basses just as easily as 4 string basses. 5 strings however have the option for high C tunings.

4. Different Kinds of Bass Tuners

When shopping around for tuners, there are 3 major groups of tuners to consider:

1. Handheld Chromatic Tuner. These are the tuners you’re likely to think of a guitar or bass tuner: a little rectangle with a level meter and a light that turns red when you’re out of tune and green when you’re in tune. These tuners work by plugging your amp cable directly into the tuner from your bass, then plucking a string and making the needed adjustments. Most of these tuners won’t run you more than 20 dollars and can be found at just about any music store large or small.

Korg is the dominant manufacturer of tuners and has earned that position for their products with reliable readouts and reasonable prices. I personally recommend the Korg GA-40.

2. Pedal Tuners. These are pedals are meant to go inside your pedal chain and allow for you to tune quickly and easily during a show without ever having to unplug your bass or turn off your rig.

These pedals tend to be rather expensive as they do require more hardware to operate and are essentially useless unless they’re part of a pedal chain. The list price of these tend to be around $100 dollars but they are very accurate, very user friendly and built to last.

Here are two brands worth checking out:

 3. Rack Mounted Tuners. The last kind of tuner we’re going to look at are the big boys, the rack mounted tuners. These are for people who have really big rigs of rack effects and rather than activating a pedal or having to turn off the amp and plug into a handheld

rack mounted tuner

5. Additional Resources




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