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4 comments / Posted by Bruce Ohms

Tuning a Bass Guitar

No matter how good you are at your instrument, your playing will still sound bad if you're out of tune. It goes without saying that investing in a quality guitar tuner is essential to sounding your best.

First and foremost, it is recommended that you use a chromatic tuner over one that is designed specifically for guitar and bass. A chromatic tuner lets you tune to any pitch and is useful in adjusting intonation or setting your guitar for alternate tunings. While a guitar or bass tuner can still work fine, especially for beginners, a chromatic type is much more versatile.

When purchasing a tuner, it is important to find one that fits your needs. For practicing at home or the occasional jam with friends, a classic handheld chromatic tuner will suffice. Alternatively, many manufacturers make small versions that clip on to your instrument’s headstock and help tune by detecting string vibrations. However, clip on tuners may sometimes get confused by the sound from other instruments in the room, making them less reliable in certain situations. Most chromatic tuners allow you to plug directly into a quarter inch input, letting you tune based on your instrument signal.

If you have a smartphone, you have access to many tuning apps. These use your phone’s microphone to pick up the sound from your instrument and let you tune that way. However, this is not recommended for live use, as there are many things that can go wrong with your precious smartphone on a crowded stage!

If you live to play live, a tuner pedal is the way to go. These handy devices are built very robustly to withstand heavy onstage and touring use and have much bigger displays, allowing for easy visibility all over dark stages. Checking your tuning between songs is very quick and easy - all you have to do is hit the tuner’s footswitch and you’re good to go.  Pedal types also mute your signal as you tune, so your audience won’t have to listen to you adjust your tuning. Tuning aside, the pedal tuner’s mute feature also allow for easy switching of instruments and a quick way to cut your signal, like at the end of a song.

If you have an amplifier with a tuner out, like the Carvin Audio B2000 or MB15, you can connect the tuner of your choice and tune up without having it in your signal path. These models also come equipped with a mute switch, so you can tune silently, as you would with a pedal tuner.

Whichever option you choose, make sure it’s one that works for the long term! Instruments don’t stay tuned up forever- changes in temperature, humidity, and even playing style can affect tuning. As long as you find the right tuner for your needs, you’ll be fine!


  • Posted On August 18, 2016 by Tom B. Holland

    IS A Chromatic Tuner Available, That sits on the Amp Head and is connectable to both the Amp or Guitar. THANK YOU, TOM

  • Posted On August 11, 2016 by Tedro

    As a bassist of over 40 years, the last 25 being exclusively on five strings, I have tried many different tuners and have found them usually lacking in the ability to accurately track the low B string. Some are better than others, but there is almost always some uncertainty, leading to a lot of time wasted at practice and on stage trying to get tuned properly.

    That all went away when I installed an N-Tune onboard in my bass. For nearly all uses except intonation, it tracks each string quickly and accurately for fast results. It is designed to replace your volume control with a volume and push/pull switch that activates the tuner and mutes the output. Tune, then push the knob down to play. I had to rout out a hole for a battery box for the 9V used to power the tuner (fortunately, I am an experienced woodworker) but could not be happier with the results.

    I still have an old Korg DT-3 tuner I bought new in 1990 that I use annually to check intonation, but for everything else, I rely on the N-Tune and have never been disappointed.

    I don’t have any firsthand experience with the N-Tune installed in a guitar, but most of the guys I jam with require nit-picky precision in a tuner, and have spent a lot of money on high-end pedal tuners, so are not interested in modifying their precious axe. I’ll install one someday when I get a guitar I plan to keep, and I’ll let you know how that works out.

    In short, beware of clip-on headstock tuners, as mentioned in the article they are very prone to interference, whether it be other guitar(s), bass or even the drummer that can’t stop for more than 10 seconds. Pocket-friendly tuners can be okay, but I see a lot of them prone to interference as well, and don’t always track the strings well. They also tend to not be so durable, as I’ve seen many work at the beginning of the jam, then refuse to work if left on top of the amp until the next beer break (even replacing batteries won’t help).

    In conclusion, if you’re not willing to install an N-Tune, spend the extra dollars and get a good pedal tuner. Modern design and rugged construction have made them reliable and accurate, and many decent models can be found from Korg, Planet Waves, and Boss, to name just a few. Check user reviews at your favorite online store, spend the money necessary to get the one you want, then order it (or take yourself down to the store and support the local guy). Either way, you’ll get a decent unit that will give you years of service and cost a lot less than several lesser tuners over the same time period.

    BTW – Don’t set your beer on top of the amp! Many an innocent pedal has met its end when the vibes rattle it off the amp, and expensive pedal tuners are no exception.

    I hope this helps. Rock on!

  • Posted On July 09, 2016 by Rick Erdman

    If you can afford one, a rack mount tuner is the most accurate. Many of them will tune as close as one cent and some will be even more precise (but more expensive). Yes, I know that the average Joe doesn’t really need that level of precision but it CAN make a difference in minimizing the intonation curve as you move down the neck toward the bridge making the minor tone change far less noticible.

  • Posted On July 08, 2016 by Mark Bass

    Very good advice. My playing, and my enjoyment, went WAY up when I got a chromatic tuner, and I use it regularly!

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