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Bass guitar tunings

Page history last edited by Andrew Alder 7 years, 5 months ago

Four string


The modern bass guitar was invented by Leo Fender in 1950 and first produced as the Fender Precision Bass (first released in 1951). It had a solid body and a specially developed magnetic pickup, with two coils each serving two strings and wound in opposite directions to produce a single-pole humbucking pickup. It had a 34" scale and the tuning of a string bass, but was fretted, and was held and played similarly to a solid-body guitar.


There had been at least one previous attempt at a similar instrument, by Audiovox in the 1930s, but it failed to catch on.


Nearly all modern bass guitars are descended from the Precision Bass. Gibson generally used a shorter scale and conventional humbucking pickups, other makers added a fifth string to extend the bass range. Fretless and unfretted, acoustic, electric and hybrid models have appeared, as well as many other string configurations.


Classical guitar ensembles may use a six-string bass guitar tuned an octave lower than the standard guitar, see guitar tunings. See below for identically tuned instruments descended from the Precision Bass.


Scale length


Short scale: 30" or shorter

Medium scale: 30" - 32"

Long scale: 32" - 34"  (most common)

Extra Long Scale: 33.5" - 36"


Standard tuning


The original and still most popular, identical to the standard string bass tuning:

  • E' - A' - D - G




Drop D:

  • D' - A' - D - G

A special tuning head called a D-tuner is available as an aftermarket replacement for the E-string machine head, and allows the player to swap between standard and drop-D tuning while playing.


Five string


  • B' ' - E' - A' - D - G (most common)
  • E' - A' - D - G - c


Paul Dengate's tuning:

  • A' ' - D ' - A' - D - G   (the logical extension of Drop D to five strings - but Paul doesn't use D-tuners)


Six string


  • B' ' - E' - A' - D - G - c
  • E' - A' - D - G - c - f
  • E' - A' - D - G - B - e (Danelectro Baritone, Fender Bass VI, Fender Jaguar Bass VI Custom)


The Danelectro Baritone (1956) preceded the Fender Bass VI (1961) and the subsequent Bass VI Custom, and perhaps was partly responsible for the Bass VI Custom being also at first branded a baritone, see below. 


The Bass VI and Bass VI Custom are both Jaguar-series guitars and differ in scale but not in string gauge or tuning; The Bass VI Custom has a 28.5" scale as opposed to the 30" scale of the Bass VI, and correspondingly lower string tension. The Bass VI Custom body and electrics are almost identical to the Fender Jaguar, but it has no tremolo arm and for the first two years of production was called the Fender Jaguar Baritone Custom, see about Fender and names. The Bass VI has three pickups and a Jaguar style tremolo arm, and was made famous by Jack Bruce in Cream, but he had removed the tremolo arm.


Fender Bass VI string gauges: 25 (top E) - 35 (B) - 45 (G) - 55 (D) - 75 (A) - 95 (low E), all wound.


The baritone guitar is a completely different six-string instrument, a guitar tuned B' - b, a fourth below the standard spanish guitar tuning, and with a scale slightly larger than the standard guitar, see guitar tunings and baritone guitar. Note especially that the Fender Jaguar Baritone Special HH is tuned B' - b and is therefore a genuine baritone guitar.


Eight string

In four courses:


  • E E' - A A' - d D - g G


Chris Squire of Yes often used a mutation tuning:


  • E E' - A A' - A D - d G


Ten string

In five courses.


  • B' B' ' - E E' - A A' - d D - g G


Twelve string

There are two different instruments called twelve string bass.


Four triple courses


  • E E E' - A A A' - d d D - g g G

Developed by Hamer Guitars and made famous by Tom Petersson of Cheap Trick..


Six double courses


  • E E' - A A' - d D - g G - b B - e' e

Based on the Fender Bass VI. A set of heavy-gauge standard guitar strings can be used for the octave strings, and Bass VI strings for the principal strings. Occasionally used by John Paul Jones in Led Zeppelin.


Fifteen string


Five triple courses, each with a higher-tuned string between two principle strings. Rumoured to have been used in the studio by Reginald "Fieldy" Arvizu of Korn, but has not appeared either live or recorded yet. Some of the rumoured mutation tunings of the higher middle strings seem rather improbable.


External links


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