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Bass Tuners Guide

Choosing the Right Electronic Bass Tuner

Even though the bass tuner is free and useful, you may still need a decent electronic bass tuner when you don’t have computer access. Or, you might need one if you’re new to all this tuning stuff, or to setup your bass properly. Below is everything you could possibly want to know about what to look for in an electronic bass tuner.

Types of Electronic Bass Tuners

There are two kinds of bass tuners. The first is simply called a ‘bass tuner’ or ‘guitar and bass tuner’. These just detect the standard 4-string bass tuning notes E, A, D, & G, and often the low B for 5-string basses. These simple bass tuners are usually pretty cheap - $15 on up. I don’t recommend these to my students since they are limited to just those notes.

The other kind of tuner is a ‘chromatic tuner’. Chromatic means all 12 notes. That means you have the option of tuning to any note you please, not just the standard tuning notes. Having a chromatic tuner is a lot more useful. For instance, you may need to play in non-standard tunings. It’s also good for checking intonation all over the neck. And, it’s good for practicing accuracy on a fretless bass. If it has a microphone on it (many do), it can be good for practicing singing and ear training exercises.

Bass Tuner Designs

Bass tuners come in several styles. There are basic small ones you can hold in your hand. This style is often the cheapest, but slower and less accurate. You can plug your bass cable into them or use the microphone feature.

Then there are pedal tuners. These run a little more, but can be handy on gigs. You can just step on the pedal to mute your bass while you tune. One of my biggest pet peeves is hearing someone tune on stage. It’s very unprofessional sounding.

Rack tuners go into rack enclosures. Racks, as they are called, are boxes where you can put amp heads, surge protectors, effects and other devices neatly into one place. There they stay all hooked up ready to go for every gig. Rack mount tuners are often the most expensive, but it’s nice to have everything all hooked up and there are no dead batteries to replace since it runs on AC power. Also, you are less likely to lose or damage a rack tuner.

Bass Tuner Displays

This is important—you want to choose a tuner that has an easy-to-read display. Keep in mind one hand will be turning the tuning key and the other will be plucking the string. You won’t be able to hold the tuner, too!

Bass tuner displays may have meters with mechanical needles, meters with Light-Emitting-Diodes (LED), or Liquid Crystal Displays (LCD). Even if you’re not playing gigs yet, my motto is always buy for the future. What display is most useful for gigs? I prefer to have both a mechanical needle and LED in one tuner or have one of each type. If you’re on stage and you try to tune in the dark, you can only see the LED display. But, if you’re playing outside in bright sunlight, you’ll only be able to see a mechanical needle. So plan ahead for these situations – you will be in both whether you expect it or not.

This article continues on Bass Tuners page 2