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Tuning a Bass Guitar

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Alan has played guitar since 1995 . . . mostly acoustic Fenders.

Learn the basics of tuning a bass guitar.

Learn the basics of tuning a bass guitar.

How Do You Tune a Bass Guitar?

The process of tuning a bass guitar is pretty simple, once you know the basics. In this guide, I will show you how to tune a four-string bass guitar to standard tuning using a chromatic tuner.

Keeping your bass in perfect tune is important, and it should be checked before every session. Whether it be a solo practice session or an all-out jam session, being in tune always makes the instrument sound better.

Standard bass tuning

Standard bass tuning

Standard Bass Tuning

If you hold the bass in your lap in a playing position, starting from the thickest string on the top, the four strings should be tuned to E, A, D, and G. This is the standard tuning of a four-string bass guitar.

Each time you tune your bass, you will be adjusting each string to these notes. This is especially important when you are playing with other musicians. If your instrument is out of tune, then the notes you play will not match the notes of the other instruments.

Use a tuner to help you learn.

Use a tuner to help you learn.

Choosing a Chromatic Tuner

A chromatic tuner or a tuner made specifically for guitars is really a must-have for any guitar player. Not to be confused with the tuning keys on the headstock of a guitar, a tuner is a small device that detects the pitch an instrument makes. While there are other more complex ways of tuning a bass guitar, a tuner is simple to use and quite affordable.

Clip-On Tuners

There are a few different types of tuners out there, but they usually all fit into one of three categories. The first is clip-on tuners that literally clip onto the headstock of the bass guitar. These types of tuners pick up the vibrations coming through the headstock to determine string pitch. Clip-on tuners are easy to use, cost-efficient, and accurate.

Plug-In Tuners

Some tuners are plug-in types that require the bass to be plugged into the tuner using a guitar cable. These tuners use a direct signal from the instrument to detect pitch, making them highly accurate. They are also the most costly option when it comes to guitar tuners.

Built-In Microphone Tuners

Finally, some tuners have a small built-in microphone that picks up sound and uses it to determine pitch. These types of tuners are usually affordable, but they have one major drawback. Any background noise can interfere with the tuner, causing inaccurate results. Complete silence, other than the instrument being tuned, is required.

How to tune a bass guitar with a chromatic tuner

How to tune a bass guitar with a chromatic tuner

How to Tune a Bass Guitar Step-by-Step

  1. To get started, hold your bass guitar in a playing position and prepare the tuner as needed. Turn on the tuner and observe that it is in fact working.
  2. Now pluck or pick the top, or E string and let it ring out while watching the display on the tuner. Continue to pluck or pick the string as the sound fades to maintain a consistent sample sound. It is important that only the string being tuned should be vibrating to avoid interference problems.
  3. The tuner should display a letter, which is the closest actual note to what is being played. It will also have a scale with a moving arrow that indicates how close the note is to being in tune. When the arrow is centered on the scale, it indicates a note in perfect tune. When the arrow is to the left of center, the note is flat, and to the right of center, the note is sharp.
  4. While playing the E string, use the tuning key to lower or raise the pitch until the tuner shows an E and the arrow is slightly to the left of center. Now continue to play the E string while very slowly raising the pitch until the arrow points to the center of the scale on the tuner. The tuner should now display an E with the arrow in the center of the scale each time the string is played. This indicates that the E string is now in tune.
  5. You can now use this same method to tune the remaining three strings using the standard notes I mentioned earlier. The final result, starting from the top string, should be E, A, D, and G. I would also recommend that you always tune a string up to the desired note, not down. For example, if your E string starts out as a slightly sharp E, do not just lower the pitch until the arrow is centered on the scale. Instead, you should lower the pitch to an E flat, then raise it back to a perfect E. This will ensure the string maintains the proper tension after tuning.

Don't Forget to Double Check

After tuning all the strings on your bass guitar, go back and check them all again using the tuner. It is not uncommon for the top strings to go slightly out of tune when the bottom strings are tuned. This is due to the slight changes in neck tension caused by string adjustment. Retune any strings as needed and your bass guitar should be ready to play.

Bass Tuning Quiz

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. What is the standard tuning of a four string bass guitar?
    • Some random notes.
    • E,A,D,G
    • E,E,A,A
  2. What machine can help you tune a bass guitar?
    • Chromatic Tuner.
    • Dump Truck.
    • Chainsaw.
  3. Should a bass guitar be tuned before playing?
    • No, that is for cows and horses.
    • Maybe, if it feels soft.
    • Yes.
  4. Where should the arrow on a tuner point when a note is in tune?
    • To the moon.
    • To the center of the scale.
    • At a bird's nest.
  5. What should you do when a bass guitar is out of tune?
    • Tune the bass guitar with a tuner.
    • Slap it in the face.
    • Talk real sweet to it.

Answer Key

  1. E,A,D,G
  2. Chromatic Tuner.
  3. Yes.
  4. To the center of the scale.
  5. Tune the bass guitar with a tuner.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.