Tuning (mandolin and related instruments)

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     The tuning of each of the instruments, relies to some extent upon the effect you wish to create with the strings. Bronze wound strings will produce a much warmer sound. Heavier strings, requiring more tension to bring to the note, will produce more power and a more striking sound. Lighter strings, conversely, make for a lighter more melodious tone. The balance of heavier and lighter strings, will be what gives the instrument it's characteristic sound. Because of the different qualities of each instrument's construction, (wood used, sound hole shape and size, volume of the body, the style of bridge adopted, etc.), a given set of strings will produce different effects on different instruments. The rule is to try, to experiment, until you achieve a sound that you like. Thus, the following notes can only be an outline guidance.

    A look at the range of strings available will give some idea of the possibilities, but only trying them on your instrument will tell you what they sound like. You can use a commercial set, or adapt one by replacing given strings with slightly heavier or lighter ones. Some suppliers will supply individual strings. Online suppliers will be found on the links page. The general view is to try and balance the tension across the string set, so as not to place unbalanced stresses on the instrument, but if you achieve complete balanced tension, the effect will sound rather bland. There will need to be an emphasis somewhere, but because everyone's hearing is attuned differently, what you find agreeable will depend on you.

 

   I will start by trying to outline where middle C is on each instrument, so that they are tuned in the correct octave. If unsure, tune an octave lower, then no strings will be broken. It will be obvious if it is an octave too low, because the strings , especially the lower ones, will seem much too slack, and will rattle. If you have no piano for middle C, the chart should allow you to tune from other strung instruments, (provided they are roughly in tune!)

   The original 'Grand Stave' of 11 ledger lines was divided into 2, treble and bass, for ease of use. Middle C is on the on the line above the bass clef, and on the line below the treble.

   (Warning for guitarists: guitar music is often written in 'Transposed Pitch', an octave higher than it actually is!!)

   The modern system is based on the note A above middle C being 440Hz, but this has not always been the case. Many older instrument are tuned to an A at 435 (which is why many old melodeons sound flat!) or even as low as 415Hz.

     

Care should be taken when using these charts..... I have set up the tunings below to match the English chart, but Helmholtz system is often seen as well. Middle C is still the same note.

Middle 'C'

Instrument (click for instrument page) Scale Length Where is it? Traditional Tuning: bottom up
Guitar around 65cms 1st fret on 2nd string. E,,A,,D,G,B,E
Mandolin/mandriola 30-36cms 5th fret on 4th string. G,DAe
Mandola 42-50cms 5th fret on 3rd string. C,G,DA
Irish Bouzouki 53-58cms 3rd fret on 2nd string. G,,D,A,E
Waldzither (D) 39-45cms 3rd fret on 4th string D, A,A, DD F#F# AA
Waldzither (C) 46-50cms Open 3rd string C, G,G, CC EE GG
Greek Bouzouki (C tuning) 64-69cms 3rd fret on 2nd string. C,C F,F A,A, DD
Greek Bouzouki (D tuning) 64-69cms 1st fret on 2nd string. D,,D,  G,,G,  B,B,  EE
Lombardy Mandolin 30-31cms 1st fret on 5th string. G, B, E A d g
Bandurria 27cms 4th fret on 6th string. G,# C# F# B e a
Laud   1st fret on 3rd string. G,,# C,#  F,#  B, E A octave below bandurria
Cittern: 

see alternative waldzither tunings.

54-66cms 3rd fret on 2nd string.

3rd fret on 3rd string.

DGDAD zook with extra bass

GDADA zook with extra top

Mandolin Banjo

Tenor Banjo

30-36cms

55-58cms

5th fret on 4th string.

3rd fret on 2nd string.

G,DAe

Tenor banjo an octave lower than mandolin

Fado Guitar, Lisbon

Fado Guitar, Coimbra

44-46cms

47cms

1st fret on 4th string.

3rd fret on the 4th string.

bb, aa, ee, Bb, Aa, Dd

aa, gg, dd, Aa, Gg, Cc