How To Tune A Banjo

Learning how to tune a banjo is the prerequisite for playing one. The process is similar to that of tuning a guitar, just with fewer strings tuned to different notes in some cases. There are, however, two little tricks that will help even someone with a tin ear tune their banjo perfectly. This how to tune a five string banjo. A tenor banjo works pretty much the same way, but with different notes and one less string.. 

To tune a banjo you will need:

  • Piano or electronic tuner or pitch pipes for banjo
  • Quiet place to tune

Tune a Banjo by Ear

  1. Plunk the top string – not the small short one, but the long one on the neck. This is the fourth string or D string. There are other tunings, but once you master this one, it's only a matter of using different notes for the various alternative tunings.
  2. Next sound the pitch pipe or play the D below middle C on the, piano. Both the plucked string and tuning note from the pitch pipe or Second D below middle C. You, should sound the notes close to the same time so the tuning note immediately follows the plucked string.
  3. Tighten the tuning peg if the string needs to be higher. Loosen it to lower the note. When you get close, keep sounding the string and the tuning note together. If you hear a slight warble, they aren't matched. Twiddle with the peg up and down slightly till the waver in the note when both are sounded together goes away. When you hear both string and tuning notes make a single steady sound you've got it.
  4. Continue down the neck tuning to G, B, and D.  Finally tune the fifth string, the short one, to a G above middle C. If you don't have a tuner, you can tune by fretting first the fourth string on the fifth fret and matching the third string to it. Again, adjust the third string till you get a steady note without warble.  Also, another trick is to watch the third string, if it's close to in tune, it will vibrate when you pluck the fourth string fretted on the fixth fret. 
  5. Next Fret the third or G string on the fourth fret, and tune the B or second string to it.  Next pluck the B or second string fretted on the third string and tune the D or first string to it.
  6. Finally, fret the D or first string on the fifth fret and tune the fifth string, a high G, to it.  

 

Tune a banjo using an electronic tuner

  1. Attach the electronic tuner to the banjo headstock and turn it on.  Set it to the banjo tuning you want and start tuning.
  2. Pluck the high G string.  Watch the display on the tuner. It will display an arrow indicating whether to tighten the string and make it higher (right or up arrow depending on the tuner) or to loosen the string to make it lower (down or left depending on the tuner).
  3. Go from top to bottom tuning the strings till the tuner lights up green or gives you whatever indication it gives to say the string is in tune. Then turn off the tuner, unclamp it and put it away. You will need it again. Banjos need a lot of retuning.  A tenor banjo works the same way, just set the tuner for a tenor banjo.

 

Resources:

Tuning the Banjo

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