No matter how good you are at bass, if you’re out of tune during a live gig, the audience – and your bandmates – will be less than impressed. Even if your bass is properly intonated and you’ve used an electronic tuner to tune it up before the first downbeat, a variety of factors may cause you to step on that tuner pedal a little more than you’d like, which can really slow the momentum of your band’s live show. But don’t worry- this post will help you get to the root of the problem.
Even the highest quality, most expensive instruments won’t stay in tune forever. But if you find your instrument going out of tune a lot during practice – or more importantly, on the gig – take the time to check out the following factors:
- The tuning pegs. If your tuners are loose or rattling, this can seriously affect your tuning stability. Make sure all the screws are aligned and tight and that the nut on the tuning peg is nice and snug. Be careful not to over tighten anything- remember, your tuning peg is supposed to be able to move.
- The type, age, and gauge of strings. Not all strings are created equal, and some may hold tuning better than others. If your bass is constantly going out of tune, the next time it’s time to change them, try going with a different brand. They may work better for you! If you can’t remember the last time you changed your bass strings, this could be a big reason why it won’t stay in tune. Chances are a fresh set will work wonders. Also, it’s also important to consider your playing style. If you play with a heavy touch and are using lighter gauge strings, or down tuning your bass a lot, it’s probably a good idea to make the move to a heavier string gauge. You can also try playing more gently, but simply switching up your string choice is a lot easier!
- The temperature. Your bass is made of wood, and wood is affected by temperature changes. If you’re driving to the gig in freezing weather and then bringing the bass onto a warm stage in a crowded club, it’s going to need some time to settle in. Try tuning your bass before you set your amp, pedals, and other stage gear up, and then tuning it again once you’re ready to start the set. If there are breaks between the first few songs, take the time to check your tuning and make any necessary adjustments. The audience members may think you’re an obsessive tuner, but that sure is better than the alternative- which is you being out of tune and the audience wondering why your band doesn’t sound very good live.
- The nut. Your bass’s nut is extremely important to its tuning stability. Each string needs to be properly seated in the nut slots. A good way to check for this is to tune your bass and listen for a sharp, metallic “pinging” sound as you tune upwards in pitch. This sound means that your string is binding in the nut because the slots are too narrow. The proper fix to this issue is to have a tech modify or widen the slots in the nut or even replace the nut, but there is also a quick DIY fix.
The graphite used in automatic pencils is a great way to lubricate your nut slots so the strings won’t get stuck. Simply remove some slack from your strings and use the pencil to fill in the nut slots.
Have you had a bass that just won’t stay in tune? How did you handle it? Let us know in the comments!