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One of the most important parts of having a great-sounding banjo is keeping it in tune. It’s easy to tune a banjo but the type of tuner to use may be in question. If you have a banjo that needs tuning and have a guitar tuner, you may be in luck.
A guitar tuner can be used to tune your banjo. A chromatic tuner will give you the best results and may be in the form of a sound detection tuner or a clip-on vibration tuner. Tuners are available that are designed to work with multiple instruments including banjo and guitar.
If you are tuning a 5-string banjo, the standard tuning will be different than that of a guitar. The following chart will show the differences between the guitar and different types of banjos.
NOTE: The chart shows standard tuning starting with the top string as you are holding the instrument.
|4-String Tenor Banjo||C-D-G-A|
|4-String Plectrum Banjo||C-G-B-D|
Best Tuners For Tuning A Banjo
A chromatic tuner is the suggested way to tune your guitar as well as your banjo. These types of tuners read all notes that fall within the chromatic music scale. These are accurate, easy to use, affordable, and easy to find at most any music store.
I have used a chromatic tuner ever since I began playing instruments at the young age of 8. These tuners have always worked well for me and I have used them to tune guitars as well as banjos and other instruments over the years.
I have owned the same Quik Tune tuner for over 20 years and it has always worked great for me. With this tuner, you simply hold it close to where you are plucking the strings and it will pick up the sound and determine the pitch. They generally have a needle that moves like a speedometer that tells you when the exact key is reached. If you are a little less than perfect pitch, you will be flat and a little more than perfect will make your string sharp.
The ideal location when tuning with one of these tuners is to make sure you are directly on target. You may need to go back to each string once all strings have been tuned. Many times, tuning one string may throw other strings off pitch with the extra pull on the neck of the instrument.
Chromatic Tuner Example
KLIQ MetroPitch – Metronome Tuner for All Instruments (Affiliate link) – This chromatic tuner is ideal for your guitar or banjo and measures the pitch of the string based on the sound. As a bonus, it also includes a metronome to keep you in perfect time.
Clip-on Vibration Tuner
Clip-on tuners commonly work by measuring the vibrations of the instrument which allows the pitch of the sound to be registered. The result is then shown on the screen of the tuner allowing you to make adjustments until the instrument is in tune. These are handy since they attach to your instrument and allow you to tune your instrument no matter where you are.
They are also not affected by other sounds in the room since they are detecting the pitch from your instrument’s vibrations.
Clip-On Tuner Example
KLIQ UberTuner – Professional Clip-On Tuner (Affiliate link) – This tuner is designed for all instruments, which includes the guitar and banjo. It uses vibrations to detect the pitch of the string being plucked. It’s a handy item to keep on the headstock of your instrument for quick tweaks while playing during a jam session.
Is there anything that can’t be done with an app these days? Tuning an instrument is a simple task for a basic app that can be added to your phone or tablet. If you don’t want to have an extra device dedicated to tuning your banjo, you can easily download one of the following apps depending on the type of phone system that you have.
- Ultimate Banjo Tuner (Android)
- Simple Banjo Tuner (IOS)
Other Ways To Tune a Banjo
Using Another Guitar Or Instrument
One of the easiest ways to tune a banjo is to use another person’s instrument. Whether it’s another banjo or another type of instrument such as a guitar or piano. It doesn’t really matter what the instrument is as long as you can compare it to the same note that you are trying to tune each string to.
If someone already has a banjo that is in tune, it’s easy to have them pluck a string, and then you can tune your string to that string. You would simply do this for all of the strings on your banjo until they are all in tune. It may not be quite as perfect as a tuner would get it but it’ll do in a pinch.
Perhaps the easiest and cheapest way to tune your banjo is to check out one of the many videos on YouTube. These videos provide a simple in-tune string plucking for you to follow along with. You only need to tune each of your strings to match the pitch of the one being plucked in the video until all the strings on your banjo are in tune.
This is similar to using another guitar or instrument as mentioned above except it’s more for loners or those who have no playing partner :(.
The following video is a great source for tuning a 5-string banjo in the standard G tuning.
Relative tuning is one of the most convenient ways to tune an instrument as long as you have one string in tune. Once one sting is in proper tune, you can then tune all the other strings by fretting the instrument at various locations. I use this tuning quite often combined with using another instrument. If I am playing with someone who has a tuned instrument, I can tune my guitar’s low E string to theirs, and then I can tune the rest of my strings on my own using relative tuning.
To understand relative tuning, let’s first look at how this works with a guitar.
The first step is to tune the low E string. You can do this by using another instrument, a tuner, or by ear if you can do it with accuracy. Once the first string is in tune, you can tune the rest by fretting each string and then tuning them to the previous string.
The same can be done with a banjo except you’ll fret the string in different locations than you will a guitar. You can see an example by watching the video below.
Many people are able to tune their banjo by ear. This is a skill that I do not possess but have seen it done many times. Many professional musicians are able to tune their instruments during a gig without any kind of tuning mechanism. This is done using the sound alone. It may be done by tuning one string by ear and then using relative tuning on all the other strings on the banjo.
Tuning by ear comes from a lot of experience as well as a keen sense of sound. Many times an instrument might sound good to me but someone who can hear these nuisances may say it’s out of tune. This is great to possess such a keen sense of pitch but in the end, I’d rather rely on some kind of tuning mechanism that I know will be correct.
Tuning any instrument is simple nowadays since so many options are available. Since everyone carries a smartphone in their pocket, you can always have a tuner on hand if you choose to go that route. A banjo and guitar can share the same tuner and it will generally work for many other stringed instruments.
If you are on the market for a dedicated tuner, just make sure you purchase a chromatic tuner designed for all instruments.