Mandolin Tutorial - Lesson 1.4
First Advice: Don't Panic!
Tuning is one of the first major challenges you'll face as a mandolin
player; even professionals have difficulties from time to time, so don't
get discouraged. There really is no common approach. In fact I'll describe
several methods, and you may choose one which suits you best.
One of the advantages of an electric tuner is that if you have difficulty
with pitch, you may trust technology to help. It can keep the mandolin
tuned within the range it was meant to be played (E-A-D-G). Tuning higher
than that risks damage to your instrument. The cheaper electronic tuners
may be a little tricky to use, resulting in frustration, but it might beat
the frustration of feeling unable to tune at all.
Buy an "A" tuning fork; this coresponds with the second string
on the mandolin (Note: the highest string, the "E", is called
the first string, the second highest, the A is called the
second, and so on). Hold the tuning fork between thumb and forefinger and
knock it against your knee. Then place the base of the fork on the bridge
and listen to the note. Keep it in mind and tune the A string to the note.
Strike the tuning fork again and compare the note with your string. It's
best to tune up rather than down, so if your string is sharp (that is, a
higher note than the one you want), tune it down first and then up to the
The A string is almost always the first string tuned. Tune one of the
strings first, and then its pair to match. Once the A strings are tuned,
you're going to use them to tune the rest of the strings.
The next string is the third string, or "D" string.Place your
finger on the D string at the seventh fret. This should produce the same
note as the open A string. If it sounds sharp, adjust the peg down and
try again. Tune one of the pair of strings at a time. Once the D string
is at the same pitch as the A, match its pair.
The next string to tune is the first string (also known as the "top"
string, or the "E" string, and the same method is used. Place
your finger on the A string at the seventh fret. This should produce the
same note as the open E string. If it doesn't, adjust the peg for the E
string (NOT the A string) until the E is in tune. Now match the other E
string to the one you've tuned.
Finally go to the G string (also called the fourth or bottom string).
Place your finger on the G string at the seventh fret. This should produce
the same note as the open D string. If it sounds sharp, adjust the peg
down and try again. Tune one of the pair of strings at a time. Once the G
string is at the same pitch as the A, match its pair. You'll probably now
have to check all the strings again and make smaller adjustments.
On the right are the four notes on the keyboard which correspond to the
mandolin. If you're using an electronic keyboard, avoid vibrato sounds.
If you're tuning to your piano, are you sure it's in tune?
Because the mandolin is in the same tuning as the fiddle, pitch pipes for
the violin (pictured left) are a good way of getting the right notes.
Blow steadily and even through the pipe with an even strength and adjust
the strings accordingly.
There may be other, more serious reasons for your instrument being out of
- Improper bridge alignment can lead to tuning problems and problems
with intonation. This is easily sorted
(see Maintenance Section).
- Worn frets can cause intonation problems even if your mandolin is
perfectly in tune.
- Old strings are difficult to keep in tune. Some people advise
changing strings once a month, but I think that's a little excessive!
But strings begin to sound dull after a while, and the longer you
leave it, the worse they can sound.
- Warped neck. If this is the problem, it will take a professional
repairer to fix it.
If you find tuning difficult at first, believe me when I say that it gets
better the more you practice. By all means use an electronic tuner if it
works for you, but keep in mind that one day you may prefer to use another