Banjo Tuning

So, you've just purchased your shiny new five-string, all ready to learn to play, but you still need to learn banjo tuning. No matter how well you may pick up the instrument, it'll sound terrible until you tune your new toy. Have no fear, though, banjo tuning is relatively easy, and the more you do it, the quicker it will go. 

Things You'll Need:

  • 5 String Banjo
  • Electronic chromatic tuner, or pitch pipe
  • Measuring tape
  1. Properly place your bridge. There are two methods to bridge placement. The easy method is to measure from the nut at the top of the neck, to the middle of the 12th fret. Now, the distance of the bridge from the center of the 12th fret should be equal to the distance. Adjust accordingly. This method should be satisfactory for any beginner. For those desiring a more precise placement, touch a string directly over the 12th fret, without holding it down. Pick the string and quickly remove your finger. It should have stopped the vibrating across the full length, but continued a vibration wave which alternates between either side of the spot where your finger was. This oscillating note will be one octave higher than the untouched string when plucked. Fret the same string at the 12th fret. It should be the same note. Use an electronic tuner to determine this. If it isn't, then adjust your bridge accordingly. If the fretted note is higher, move the bridge away from the neck; if it's lower, do the opposite. Once correct, move on to the next string. You can no longer move the whole bridge, of course, so just pivot the bridge from the first string spot until correct. Fine tune until you're satisfied. Mark the position of the bridge with a pen for future reference.
  2. Adjust your strings. The most typical key that banjos are tuned to is G, and is what is outlined here. Each string is assigned a note to be tuned to, and an octave. Tighten the string you are adjusting to make the pitch go up, and loosen to pitch it down, until each string matched up with these notes when you check it on your electronic tuner. Only use a pitch pipe if you are experienced at tuning an instrument by ear. You can remember the following tuning for G with the anagram: "Good Dogs Get Bad Dogs". The 1st string refers to the bottom string, continuing to the 5th string, which is the one on the top of the heap, closest to your face.
  • 5th string: G
  • 4th string: D
  • 3rd string: G
  • 2nd strong: B
  • 1st string: D


  • Old, worn, or rusty strings will not produce a good sound. Replace them before tuning.
  • If your banjo will not hold to a tuning, take it onto your local music shop for repair.
  • If you don't want to spend the money on a tuner, and have a good musical ear, you can use an online banjo tuner for reference.
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