Learning to tune your mandolin is just as important as playing; you cannot do one without the other. There are several things a mandolin player has to be aware of as they are tuning. This guide will help you become familiar with the parts of your mandolin along with teaching you how to keep your instrument tuned.
Before you can tune your mandolin, you need to get to know the parts. The mandolin primarily consists of a body, neck, head, and strings. Each part plays an important role in how the mandolin works, played and tuned. Below is a brief summary of each part.
The body of the mandolin is the largest part of the instrument. Sound or music is produced by this hollow wooden chamber. The type of wood a mandolin is made of plays a big part in the tone it will produce. Typically the top of the mandolin is made of spruce while the back and sides are made of rosewood, maple, birch or mahogany. The mandolin body consists of sound holes, pick guard (optional), bridge and tailpiece and guard.
The bridge and tailpiece and guard are important pieces when it comes to tuning your mandolin. The bridge is a wooden piece that sits on top of the mandolin body. It is held in place by the pressure of the strings. The bridge transfers vibration from the strings to the soundboard which is located on the inside of the top of the mandolin body. When replacing strings, it is important only to replace one set at a time to maintain the bridge in its location.
The tail piece and guard are located at the end of the body. The loop ends of mandolin strings are attached to the tailpiece and are normally covered with the decorative tail guard. There are tail pieces that do not have a guard over them.
The mandolin neck is the large, long part that is attached to the body. It allows the strings to run parallel along its length, across the frets. This is the section where notes are played to produce music.
The head of the violin consists of a couple of pieces. The nut is located at the end of the neck/fingerboard, and it guides the strings towards the tuners. The nut can be made of bone or plastic. The headstock is the large, decorative piece at the end of the neck. It is where you can normally find name or manufacturer of the mandolin, and it is where the tuners are found.
The tuners are gear driven pegs onto which the strings are attached. There are a total of 8 tuners, one for each string. To tune your mandolin, you will need to turn the knob of each tuner in the proper direction.
Place your mandolin, body resting on your lap and the head facing you. Looking from left to right at the strings, they are tuned from low to high in pairs. Traditionally a mandolin is tuned GG DD AA EE. If you have installed new strings, keep in mind, they will stretch over a couple of days causing you to tune repeatedly.
There are a couple of ways to tune your mandolin. The easiest and probably most popular way is by using an electronic tuner. Another way is by sound, also referred to as ear tuning. Let’s explore both methods.
Electronic tuners seem to be an easy solution to tuning your mandolin. They do exactly what they are meant to do, keep your mandolin in tune! Digital tuners can clip on the headstock, or sit near you when you are holding your mandolin. They will either work by the vibration or the sound of your instrument. Plucking one string at a time, listen to the tone and watch the electronic tuner. Turn the tuning peg to increase or decrease tension accordingly. Continue with the following seven strings in the same fashion until your mandolin is tuned.
You can tune your mandolin without using an electronic tuner. This is referred to as sound or ear tuning. Sound tuning has advantages because you do not have to mess with carrying an electronic tuner around, and it helps train your ear to hear the tones and to know if you are keeping good intonation or not. This is an important skill for musicians to learn.
Below is a breakdown of each set of strings on how to tune by sound or ear. You want to tune each string in the pair separately.
– G String
Listen first to one of your G strings, making sure the string is in tune and carrying the correct tone. Check the second G string against the first to make sure they are in tune together.
– D String
Playing the seventh fret of your G string, match the tone to one of your open D strings. The G string played on the seventh fret will match the sound of the open D string when the D string is in tune. Adjust accordingly and move on to the second D string. You can either tune the second D string to the G in the seventh fret or the tuned open D string.
– A String
You will want to tune the A string in the same fashion as the D string but using the D string in the seventh fret. Be sure to only tune one A string at a time.
– E String
Following the same steps at the A and D strings, tune the E string to the A string played on the seventh fret.
Repeat the process again until each string stays in tune. You can go from the G string to the E string or the E string to the G string. Either method is acceptable.
A recommended way to check yourself after tuning is to play a note in different octaves so you can hear if you are in tune or not. By pressing the G string on the second fret and comparing it to the open A string, they should sound the same. You can do the same by pressing the second fret of the D string and comparing it to the open E string. Keep in mind that mandolins do not perfectly match notes, and this can vary from mandolin to mandolin, even when the instrument is the same model. Make adjustments to the strings so they do sound the same.
Special Tuning Notes
– When tuning, it is important to keep to the GG DD AA EE tuning rule. Tuning lower won’t hurt your mandolin. However, tuning and maintaining a higher tone, particularly over a long period, can cause damage to your mandolin. It is important to maintain the tuning rule for optimum playing and protection of your instrument.
– Be sure to make a couple of passes over each string as you are tuning. As the strings are increasing and decreasing in tension on the mandolin, the strings that were previously tuned will become slightly out of tune. Don’t get discouraged!
– Tuning pegs should turn in a clockwise pattern on the headstock when you are increasing the tension of the string.
– If you are having a hard time maintaining a tuned mandolin, it could be time to change your strings. Older strings that become worn out will fall out of tune quickly. It is important to change your strings frequently to maintain a tuned mandolin.
– When tuning each string by sound or ear, the term open is used when you are playing the string without pressing down your fingers in the frets.