By Wayne Erbsen
Mandolins are fun to play, but they’re a pain in the you-know-what to tune.
Because the double strings are like quarreling siblings who never seem to agree with each other.
Nonetheless, in this article, I will show you how to easily get your mandolin more or less in tune.
As you already know, your mandolin has four pairs of strings. Each pair is tuned to the same note.
Hold the mandolin on your lap in playing position. The 1st string is the one closest to the floor and is an E. Here are the names of the other notes.
1 2 3 4
E A D G
Tuning the mandolin to Itself. 1) Adjust the 1st or E strings so they are in tune to each other. 2) Put your left index finger on the 2nd or A string of the mandolin at the 7th fret and make that string sound the same as the 1st string played “open” or unfretted. 3) Put your left index finger on the 3rd or D string at the seventh fret, and tune that string so it sounds the same as the 2nd or A string played open. 4) Finally, put your left index finger on the 4th or G string at the seventh fret, and make that string sound the same as the 3rd string played open.
Important Tuning Tip: Always play a string before you begin turning a tuning peg, That way, you’ll know if you’re turning the correct peg in the right direction.
Tuning to a Guitar: The E string on the guitar is the same as the 1st or E string on a mandolin. The third string at the 2nd fret of the guitar matches the 2nd or A string of the mandolin. The 4th string on the guitar matches the D or 3rd string on the mandolin. The 3rd string of the guitar is the same as the 4th string of the mandolin. Before you tune to a guitar, first make sure it’s in tune.
Electronic Tuners: These little jewels are worth their weight in gold to a mandolin player. Before you fire up your electronic tuner, you should get your mandolin roughly in the ballpark, using the instructions above on tuning the mandolin to itself or tuning to a guitar. Electronic tuners are best used to fine-tune your instrument.
Wayne Erbsen has been teaching banjo, fiddle, guitar, and mandolin since dinosaurs roamed the earth (really, about 50 years). Originally from California, he now makes his home in Asheville, North Carolina. He has written 30 songbooks and instruction books for banjo, fiddle, guitar, and mandolin.