How to Tune Down a Bass Guitar

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A bass guitar, like any stringed instrument, must be tuned properly to sound its best. While the standard tuning of EADG, from low to high, is quite versatile, many rock performers choose to tune down a half step, whole step, or more to get those real deep, heavy tones.

Things You'll Need

  • Bass guitar Tuner (optional) Heavy gauge strings (optional)
  • Choose a tuning. The bass guitar usually is tuned to reflect how the guitar is tuned, but it doesn't necessarily have to be this way. The entire purpose of alternate tuning is to make playing as easy as possible, so let that be your guide.

  • Tune the lowest string first. The most common alternate tuning is probably the "drop-D", which merely lowers the low E by a whole step, resulting in DADG. While this makes power chords easier for guitar, it's primarily used on bass to hit that low D note, and to facilitate pull-offs to open position. But however the guitar will be detuned, lowering the low string first provides an anchor at the low end where the bass is most felt.

  • Tune the remaining strings to the low string. Rather than tuning each string to the appropriate note, the best results are usually had by tuning the higher strings to the lowest note, thereby ensuring the proper spacing and relative intonation.

Tips & Warnings

  • Besides drop-D, other alternate tunings to try include tuning down a half step (Eb, Ab, Db, Gb), tuning down a whole step (D, G, C, F), and drop-C, which is drop-D tuned down a whole step (C, G,C,F). The lowest detunings practical on the bass guitar are to low C (C,F,Bb, Eb) or low B (B, E, A, D). The wood of a guitar tends to adapt to the tension of a particular tuning and, when seriously detuned, will tend to not stay tuned until the neck readjusts. If possible, keep the guitar tuned or detuned on a consistent fashion to prevent damage to the neck. It may be necessary to adjust the truss rod on the neck if tuning to low B to prevent excessive slack in the strings. Generally, larger instruments will handle detuning better than smaller learning instruments. The standard low E string on a bass is a .040 gauge. If tuning consistently to low C or low B, it might be helpful to get a heavier gauge, such as a .050 or .056, depending on the instrument.

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  • Photo Credit Jaakonam (GFDL 1.2)
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