How to tune a bass guitar

Hi everyone,

What makes a song “groovy”? A tight rhythm section. A good “lock” between bass and drums coupled with some funky notes is what gets your head bobbing and feet stomping. A solid punchy groove also takes a well-tuned bass. In this tutorial I’m going to walk you through the process of tuning an electric bass guitar so you can move straight to practice. Guitarists should also find this tutorial useful as the exact same principle would apply to regular electric guitars. We will need a few things:

a. A bass guitar

b. A decent digital tuner. (I’ve come to like KORGs as they are well-built, reliable and affordable)

c. A standard instrument cable

Ok, once we have everything at hand we can start tuning.

1. Connect the guitar to the tuner with the instrument cable.

2. Pluck a string. Ultimately , it’s up to you which string to start with. I prefer to start with the G string (no pun intended:), which is the thinnest one on the instrument, which also is the highest string (sound-wise). “Highest” means it produces the highest “open” note, that is a note that rings when the string is plucked freely with no other note being pressing on the fretboard. My reason for starting with the G is that once it’s been tuned the next strings can be compared against it to verify the accuracy of the tuner. By the way, the notes corresponding to open strings are G , D, A, E (see picture below).

3. Read the tuner’s screen. Our goal in this case is to have “G” in the upper left corner, the black arrow pointing at the “0” mark and the green light lit in the center (directly above the “0” mark). As you can see the arrow is to the left of the “0” mark, which means that the string is currently tuned lower (sound-wise) than desired so we need to increase the increase the tension by turning its peg.

4. Turn the corresponding peg slightly (usually, but not always, in the counter-clockwise direction)

5. Read the screen again. We are almost there…

…and the G is tuned!

6. Proceed to the next string until the instrument is fully tuned.


As a side note: There is a good way to verify the accuracy of your digital tuner. The 5th fret (bar) of every string produces exactly the same note as the open string directly below it. So, given your turner is correctly calibrated, both strings should produce the same note i.e. sound in unison. Here I’m playing the 5th fret of the D string which produces the note G (same note as the open string below it).

Here is a good page on bass guitar notes and tuning which might also be helpful.
Aslo, feel free to email me with any questions or comments at dmitry.zutikov@gmail.com

Happy grooving!
Dmitry

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One Response to How to tune a bass guitar

  1. Profile photo of Prof. Gold Prof. Gold says:

    Really nice work, here, Dmitry. Your writing has some personality and verve, you’ve done a nice job of annotating your photos with Skitch, your directions are clear, and you’ve chosen a fun topic. If you were looking to improve this a bit, you might include something about why it’s important to tune a bass guitar in the first place, and then a little more detail on the tuner interface, particularly around step 3-5. Also, this seems like the kind of piece that could take advantage of the multimedia-enabled environment in which we’re working by incorporating some sound or video. But overall, very nice job here.

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