Although primarily a 4-stringed instrument, 6-string bass guitars have become more common over the years. The main benefit of six strings on a bass is that it allows bassists to experiment with a larger range of notes and tones.
When switching from a guitar or 4-string bass to a a 6-string bass, one question that often comes up is whether or not you can still tune a 6-string bass the same way as a guitar, or if it needs unique tuning.
A 6-string bass can be tuned like a guitar. However, 6-String basses are usually tuned to B standard, while guitars are typically tuned to E-Standard. 6-String basses can be tuned to E-standard like a guitar, but it will change the range of notes that they can play.
In this article we’ll dive into the differences in tuning 6-string basses vs guitars, and best practices when it comes to each.
How to Tune a Guitar
Guitar Tuning Notes
The standard order of the guitar string open notes is E, A, D, G, B, E. As you can see, the highest and lowest notes are both E. This is the same note spaced two octaves apart.
Each of these notes corresponds to the pitch your guitar will play when the string is played open. When a guitar is played open, your fingers aren’t on any of the frets. When stringing and tuning a guitar, it is recommended to start with the 6th string (E) and work your way down.
Using a Tuner
Most guitarists use an electric tuner or app in order to get their guitar as in tune as possible. While there are a few types of guitar tuners, the chromatic tuner is the most popular type. A chromatic tuner listens to the note you’re playing and then has the ability to display the pitch your string is tuned to. It will display whether your instrument is sharp or flat. It will also show you if the sting has been adjusted to the right note.
Tuning by Ear
You can tune a guitar by ear. However, if you are not an experienced guitarist, it is extremely hard to do.
To tune a guitar by ear, hold down the sixth string on the fifth fret. You will now be playing an A on your E string, which will allow you to tune your A string to your E string on the fifth fret while the A string is open.
Make sure the two notes match each other. It is also helpful to hum the correct note while tuning your open string to see if the string is tuned too tight or too loose.
From there, the pattern will continue with holding the subsequent string’s note on the 5th and 4th frets as you work your way down to the high E.
Use a Keyboard
If you have access to a piano but don’t have access to a guitar tuner, use the piano to help you tune your guitar. All you will need to do is tune your sixth string to your piano’s E 2 octaves below middle C. From there, you can continue to match each pitch to the right notes as you go up the keyboard.
However, before you tune your guitar using notes from your piano, make sure your piano is tuned properly.
How to Tune a 6-String Bass
The notes on a 6-string bass guitar are B, E, A, D, G, and C, featuring a lower B note compared to a standard bass (E, A, D, G), and a higher C note. This setup gives you a range of 0B to 5C across 24 frets.
If you wanted to tune your 6-string bass like a guitar, you’d instead tune E, A, D, G, B, E, leaving you with a range of E2-E6 with 24 frets.
For a visual example, check out this helpful walkthrough by ExpertVillage:
Tuning your 6-string bass guitar with an electric tuner is one of the easiest and fastest ways to ensure that it is perfectly tuned almost every time. These electric tuners simply clip onto your 6-string bass and are able to identify whether or not the note you are playing is sharp or flat. We highly recommend using electric tuners because they are very inexpensive and accurate.
There are hundreds of tuner apps available for smartphones that are free and very simple to use. Your device’s microphone has the ability to detect the pitch of the guitar string you are playing. As you adjust the tuning peg on your 6-string bass, your device will tell you when you are in tune.
Use Another Instrument
It is relatively hard to use a piano to tune a 6-string bass because you are technically tuning your bass by ear. However, as you use this tuning method, it will become easier to match the note and pitch of your bass to your piano (as long as the piano is in tune from the start).
Other Differences Between 6-String Basses and Guitars
As we’ve already seen from the tuning and stringing topics above, there are quite a few differences between guitars and 6-string basses, even if they share the same amount of strings. Some of the most notable differences include:
A 6-string bass also has thicker and more spaced-out strings, while a regular guitar has thinner strings. With thicker strings, the 6-string bass is played an octave lower than a normal guitar, because a guitar is typically played in the medium/high register.
The distance between the bridge and the nut is longer on a 6-string bass, meaning that the scale of notes is longer than that of a guitar. Due to the bass’s higher string tension and wider scale length, the sound is more defined and articulate.
A 6-string bass is played differently from a guitar in terms of style. Guitarists frequently play chords and lead melodies, but bassists frequently play single notes and concentrate on playing chords’ root notes. A 6-string bass’s increased range enables bassists to play more intricate and melodic bass lines, but it necessitates a different style of playing than a guitar.
How Often Should you Tune your 6-String Bass?
You should tune your bass every single time you play. Even if one string sounds a little out of tune, tune your bass entirely to ensure that you are getting used to playing the right pitches on your bass. Your bass may be out of tune if it has low-quality pegs. If you bought a cheaper bass, it’s a good idea to upgrade your tuning pegs so your instrument actually stays in tune while you’re playing.
A bass can become out of tune because of a sudden weather change as well. Changes in humidity and temperature will contribute to your bass falling out of tune.
Luckily, it typically only takes a few minutes to tune a guitar or a 6-string bass. While it may be irritating to tune your bass every time you use it, doing so is necessary, especially if you haven’t played it in a long time.
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