How to Tune a Bass Guitar

A bass guitar is an indispensable part of many forms of music. Not only is an instrument that is difficult to play, but also difficult to tune. This article tells you exactly how it should be done.
The standard bass guitar has four strings. These models are usually tuned in a standard form, which is, E, A, D, G. This method is used to tune almost all forms of music instruments. However with the advent of different music genres, manufacturers have come up with 5-string and 6-string bass guitar models. The following table gives all the possible permutations and combinations that could be used to tune a bass guitar.

4-string bass guitarsStandard tuning (E, A, D, G), Drop D tuning, ½ Step down tuning, full step down tuning, drop-C, Low-B.
5-string bass guitarsStandard tuning (b, E, A, D, G), standard with High C, ½ Step down tuning, full step down tuning, high C tuning, high C half step down, and full step down.
6-string bass guitarsStandard tuning (E, A, D, G, B, e), ½ step down, and full step down.

Most of the pro bass guitar players have a brilliant knack of tuning their guitars with the help of their hearing senses ONLY. The beginners however have to tune the guitar with the help of electronic tuners.

The bass is a basic instrument, and has a very basic sound. A bass guitar that has gone out of tune generally has clashing frequencies. To know if it is out of tune or not, you need to know the sound of a tuned guitar, i.e., E, A, D, G. Another sound that is peculiarly heard in a bass that is out of tune is the sound of 'wah'.

The next step is to find out which string is out of tune. This can be usually accomplished by playing the scales on the bass. The notation placed on the string that is out of tune, does not fit into the scale. The next step is to find the note, of the out-of-tune string on the rest of the fret board. The following is an example.

A-------------------------------------( String out of tune)

In the above example, string A or the string that plays the note 'A', is out of tune. The note 'A' is also played on the 5th fret of string E. Hence string A should sound like the note 'A', that is played on the 5th fret of string E. The next step depends entirely on the player's hearing senses.

All that a guitarist has to do is to match up string A with the note 'A' on string E. The best way to do that is to adjust the tuning key in such a manner that the 'wah' sound disappears. If the 'wah', sound gets extremely heavy, loosen the string and if it gets too soft, tighten the string.

Tuning a bass guitar with the help of the hearing sense of an (imperfect) guitar player is not 100% accurate, as developing the sense of playing the (perfect) bass guitar, is very difficult. Due to the enormous size of strings, matching the notations of the strings and the notes played, also becomes difficult. To achieve perfection in the task, one needs a lot of practice.