How to get your low-end in check…
Bass guitar tuning is not as treacherous as you might think. We know, those beefy strings seem like they could take your head off, let alone an eye when you start cranking up that tension. But trust us, we’ll keep you in safe hands so that you can get it right, every time!
How do I tune my Bass?
This question has come up a lot recently and whilst writing this post I’ve been mindful to keep things simple and avoid the theoretical element of tuning, as it might leave the majority of people who are new to bass playing ‘in the wilderness’ so to speak.
It goes without saying, to a degree, that you should always practice playing whilst being in tune because this will ensure that your ears will become accustomed to hearing the correct pitch of the instrument, the proper intervals within scales and, if you’re interested in playing them on bass, chords too. It also means that you’ll be able to jam with other instruments, amaze your audiences and become a rock star…potentially!
1. Use a tuner
When you’re just getting started out, get yourself a tuner. Not only will it save you a tonne of hassle trying to figure things out but they’re cheap as chips and if you’ve got a smartphone then you can download many an app for free. They’re not always going to be as accurate as a tuner designed with that specific purpose in mind – then, you can go down the path of tuner pedals, etc. for when gigging/jamming/live performance beckons – but for those just getting started, an app will suffice.
2. Use your ears?
Solely using your ears to tune your bass could help to improve your understanding of pitch and there are a number of ways to do this. The below method is probably the most commonly used way of tuning a bass guitar.
A method which you may have seen uses natural harmonics produced between the fifth fret of the lower string and the seventh fret of the next higher. The dissonance of the miss-aligned frequencies of the strings produces a pulse which you can then alter until the pulse disappears.
It’s worth saying at this point that, like the guitar, the bass is not a perfect instrument (in terms of tuning, of course, it’s perfect in every other way) and due to this, tuning one is a series of ‘compromises’ even if your bass is almost perfectly set up.
This is because to be absolutely spot on, each fret would need to be spaced minutely differently for each string, due to something called equal temperament.
3. Different strings, for different notes
The standard 4 string bass is tuned (thickest to thinnest string – lowest to highest note) as follows; E, A, D, G. The same as a guitar in standard tuning, simply an octave lower. The differences start to take shape when you add more strings to the equation.
5 string basses are tuned (thickest to thinnest string – lowest to highest note) B, E, A, D, G and in the case of a tenor bass it would be E, A, D, G, C. Finally, a 6 string bass is generally tuned as follows B, E, A, D, G, B, C.
4. Guide Tone
Here is the first way many of us learned to tune our basses. You need to get the thickest E string to the correct pitch first. This is where a tuner or a keyboard comes in handy.
If you live in the US I have heard that the dialling tone is an F note, so you could use that as a reference point (if you are really desperate!).
Having listened to our dialling tone in the U.K, it seems to be close to a B flat, which isn’t too handy for our predicament. Anyway, I digress!
Our ‘Quick Guide’
Here’s our quick step guide to tuning your 4 string bass, relative to itself, in standard tuning.
- As per the above pic, put your finger on the 5th fret on the thick E string. That should match the tone on the open A string. Turn the A Machine head/tuning peg until they match. (use the “nee, nah” method I explained above)
- Put your finger on the 5th fret on the A string. That should match the tone on the open D string. Turn the D Machine head/tuning peg until they match.
- Put your finger on the 5th fret on the D string. That should match the tone on the open G string. Turn the G Machine head/tuning peg until they match.
If you struggle to hear the difference between the tuning note and the string you are trying to tune try to imagine a Fire/Ambulance siren the “Nee, Nah”. Which of the two notes is the “Nee” and which is the “Nah”. The “Nee” is the highest pitch. So if your string is the “Nee” it needs to be loosened until it matches the sound on the clip.
Got all that?…Good work!
Regardless of how good you are at tuning your Bass “on the fly”, nothing beats owning a good tuner. A tuner is a vital element of your equipment if you’re playing live, or simply jamming.
Here are our 5 Great Guitar Tuner Pedals to check out.
Lee is the Dawsons in-house Guitar presenter for all guitar related videos. He is also the UK demonstrator for Roland & BOSS, performing all over the UK.