Tuning a bass ukulele can be tricky at first. Once you get the hang of it, though, it’ll become first nature. Here are a few tips to help you if it’s your first time tuning a bass ukulele.
Standard Bass Ukulele Tuning
The bass ukulele is tuned exactly like an upright bass or bass guitar, E-A-D-G. This is one full octave lower than the first four strings of a regular guitar, and two and a half octaves below standard ukulele tuning (g-c-e-a).
These low frequencies can be hard to hear, not only for a person’s ear, but for a tuner! Many cheaper ukulele tuners or phone tuning apps have trouble with the lower strings. Tuners that plug into the instrument like the Boss TU-3 will do a better job.
You can also tune the top two strings to a tuner, and then the bottom two by ear. Not only will this help if your tuner is having problems with the low notes, it helps train your ears! Plus, it’s pretty easy.
If you fret the third (D) string at the second fret, it will play exactly an octave above the first (E) string. The fourth (G) string fretted at the second fret will play an octave above the second (A) string. Tune those octaves in until they sound right to you, and you’ll be all set to play on!
Pull The Slack Out
Because of their thickness and unique material, bass ukulele strings tend to stick to the nut more than other strings. This can cause a buildup of tension on one side of the nut, and make the strings go out of tune more quickly. It’s especially annoying when you’ve just bought a new bass uke or put on new strings, and you’re waiting for them to properly stretch out!
To combat this, once you’ve tuned the strings, take each string and pull it gently away from the body. Not only will this help stretch the strings out a little faster, it will unstick the strings from the nut, releasing that built-up tension. Just be sure to pull gently; it doesn’t take much force at all!
Tune Up, Not Down
This will also help with the stickiness of bass ukulele strings, and is good practice for any instrument. When you’re tuning, always tune from below the note you’re trying to reach. That means that if you’re above that note, tune down past it before tuning up.
Again, this is because tension can build up at the nut. Tuning up rather than down helps prevent the string from sticking, which means that the string will hold tune for longer.
Change Those Strings!
Many bass ukuleles are sold with subpar strings that don’t sound good and are hard to tune. It’s good to give them a little time to settle in, but if they’re still not working, change them for a better set. Kala, D’Addario, and Aquila all make great strings that will save you a lot of frustration.
Just like any other instrument, bass ukulele strings wear out. They will slowly (but surely) become more brittle with age, get small indentation and damage from being pressed on the frets, and retain some of the oils from the player’s hands. How often you change them is up to you, but it’s good practice to do it every so often. Plus, a new set of strings can make your old bass ukulele sound like a whole new instrument!
Also published on Medium.