Mike Moxcey ©2005

Fine Tuning (Don’t Trust the Electronic Tuner)

Even if you’ve gotten an instrument in tune with an electronic tuner, if it doesn’t sound quite right, you’ve got to adjust it. Beginners can’t usually hear the problems so they don’t have to worry about it. But usually, each instrument has its own perfect place. And that can change depending on the keys you play in and whether you use a capo or not and whether you use flat picks or fingerpicks or bare hands for plucking.

If, after tuning up an instrument, you find you’re regularly changing one of the strings up or down just a tad, then put the tuner on it and see what it says. Tune there next time and see if you’re happy. There is a lot of information about well-tempered vs. equal-tempered tunings and you can read up on them if you wish. My take is that if it sounds good, it is good. Don’t believe the tuner, believe your ears.

Tune the frets and strings you use most to each other. On the banjo, I make sure the notes I double up on the most match exactly. It’s more important that they match than that everything sounds perfect when strummed open.


Chimes are where you touch the string with your left hand at the halfway point (12th fret) without pushing the string down to the fret board. Pluck the string and a bell-like sound should emanate. Touch directly above the fret, not behind as if you were actually fretting a string. This “chime” sound is one octave higher than the basic sound and should match a string that is supposed to be one octave higher. If you press at the ¼ point (5th fret), it will be two octaves higher.

Matching chimes to strings is one way of fine-tuning an instrument.
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