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How to Tune a Banjo with an Electric Tuner or Fretted Notes

Today we’re going to learn two methods for producing quick and accurate banjo tunings. Follow these steps and you’ll be tuning like a pro in no time! Up your banjo game by joining Tony Trischka's Banjo School on ArtistWorks, learn more here.


Using an Electronic Tuner

When it comes to banjo tuning, it’s best to keep things simple by purchasing an electronic tuner. These can be purchased at most music stores for as little as $20, are easily portable and will yield accurate tuning results.

It’s recommended that you start from at least ½ step below the desired pitch on each string, slowly turning the tuning peg until you reach concert pitch. If you watch the screen of the electronic tuner while doing so, you’ll notice that the arrow will move to the center of the meter, changing from red to green when you’re in tune.

Pro tip: Make sure to take a pencil and lightly mark the position of the bridge before you begin changing strings. This is necessary because banjos have “floating bridges,” meaning that the bridge can move, thereby throwing off the intonation. We’ll discuss this in a moment.

Tuning With Fretted Notes

Let’s start by using standard banjo tuning: G-D-G-B-D.

Play the 4th string at the 5th fret. Make sure that the G string is the same pitch. Next, play the G string at the 4th fret. The open B string should also sound the same. Fret the B string at the 3rd fret, which should be matched by the sound of the open 1st string. Finally, play the 1st string at the 5th fret, which the 5th string (high G) should match.

Now let’s discuss a few details of how to ensure that your banjo tuning is accurate and doesn’t slip or produce false notes.

Bringing Strings Up to Pitch

There’s nothing worse than popping a brand new string, so you’ll want to bring them up to pitch gradually.

The trick here is to use a cross-string tuning method, similar to the way that you would use a star pattern to change loosen and tighten lug nuts when changing a tire. This is so that the tension on the banjo is evenly dispersed across the fretboard, bridge, and nut.

Start by tuning the 4th string, then the 2nd, 3rd, 1st, and finally the 5th string. After you’ve brought the strings gradually up to pitch, stretch each string by slipping your index finger underneath and tugging gently upward.

Repeat this process several times, retuning each string immediately after each stretching. Once that’s done, you’re ready for the final step — checking your intonation.

Check Your Intonation

Intonation refers to bridge placement, and the relationship between harmonics (open strings) and fretted notes. If the bridge of your banjo moves during tuning, it can cause your intonation to be off, causing fretted notes to go sharp or flat.

You’ll need an electronic tuner to properly check your intonation. Start by playing an open string, then fretting it at the 12th fret, which should produce the same pitch, just an octave higher.

If the fretted note is sharp, it means that the bridge is too close to the neck, and if the note is flat, the bridge has moved to close to the tailpiece.

To move the bridge, do not drag it against the skin of the banjo head. Rather, gently lift it (pulling the strings with it) and replace it in the new position, working in small increments.

Once you’ve adjusted the bridge so that all strings play in tune, you’re all set. Enjoy your new strings and the simple pleasure of breathing new life into your instrument! Up your banjo game by joining Tony Trischka's Banjo School on ArtistWorks, learn more here.

Read more about Banjo:

Howdy Partner- Meet Our Newest Pals at the Deering Banjo Company

Pick Tips: A Guide to Banjo Finger Picks from Tony Trischka

3rd Times the Charm: Playing 3rds on Banjo




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