Mike Moxcey ©2005
Stringed instruments must be tuned. Tuning an instrument means you have to adjust the strings to specific pitches for that instrument. On a guitar, banjo, dobro, ukulele, or mandolin, strings are tuned by turning the tuning pegs on the neck by hand. Autoharps, hammered dulcimers, harps, and pianos have a wrench that fits over their tuning pegs.
While each instrument is tuned differently, there are techniques you can use on any of them that help you tune. Tuning an instrument the first time can be frightening. You may think you’re going to break a string. It helps to have someone experienced assist and get the instrument close.
Warning: Strings Break
When tuning, strings may break. Don’t keep your face down where it can get scratched by the broken wire.
Play Loud When Tuning
Many people play quietly when tuning. I think the string sounds different at different volumes. Pluck each string at least as loud as you’re going to play it when it’s finally tuned up.
Tune Strings Up, not Down
You should get in the habit of tuning up to pitch, not down. If the string is too high, then tune down below the correct note and tune up to the correct pitch slowly. I’ve heard many reasons for this, most of which must be pure superstition, but I do know it works
Tune All Strings Close First
- If the instrument is way out of tune, then don’t bother getting each pitch exact.
- Make one pass to get each string close,
- make a second pass to get them closer, and
- then fine tune the strings to exact pitch on the final pass.
The reason for this is that the strings exert a tremendous amount of stress on the neck.
Tightening a string pulls the neck up tighter and loosens the other strings, making them go flat.
So get them all close, then get them all close again, and then you can spend time getting each string perfect. You’re wasting your time fine-tuning on the first pass. This only applies if the instrument, or at least one string, is way out of tune.