How to tune a Ukulele

There are many ways to tune a Ukulele, or any string instrument for that matter. The following guide takes you through the most common and easiest methods.

What tuning?

First things first, you need to know what tuning you're going for. Check out our Ukulele Tunings guide if you need help, but generally G-C-E-A is most common for your average soprano or tenor uke (where the G is the closest string to you when holding the uke in the playing position).

Electronic Tuners

There are many electronic tuners available on the market now starting from around £10. It's pretty simple - play the string you want to tune and the tuner will tell you if it's sharp or flat, so adjust accordingly and check again until it's right.

Electronic Ukulele Tuner

My top tip for buying an electronic tuner is to get a chromatic tuner rather than a ukulele specific one. Chromatic tuners allow you to tune to any note - this will be useful if you want to try more adventurous tunings or use the tuner for a different instrument.

If your uke, like most, is totally acoustic then you'll need to make sure you get a tuner which includes a microphone. Electro-acoustic ukes might be better off with something you can plug your cable straight into.

In addition, you get what you pay for. I'm not saying you should splash out on a £100 rack mounted uber-tuner, but the cheapest isn't likely to be that good either. £20 and up should be a safe investment.

A couple of drawbacks to be aware of - they need batteries and tend to die when you least need it, and if you're using a microphone based tuner they tend not to work so well in noisy situations so you'll have to find somewhere quieter.

Your Phone

Sounds a bit odd, but I've got a brilliant app on my iPhone called Cleartune which uses the built in microphone to simulate a standard electronic chromatic tuner.

Phone Ukulele Tuner

It's not quite as fast at picking up the notes as a purpose built electronic tuner, but it's much cheaper and it's super handy to have it in your pocket at all times. I use this most of the time now - one of the most genuinely useful apps I've ever bought.

Pitch Pipes

There's a lot to be said for the trusty pitch pipe - it won't run out of batteries, it's cheap, and it's pretty simple.

Pitch Pipes

Just blow the relevant note for the string your tuning and pluck the string simultaneously. When the tuning is close you should hear a pulsating sound - this will slow down as you get closer to being perfectly in tune. When you can't hear it any more ou've nailed it.

The only caveat with pitch pipes is that if you haven't got a good ear, you're screwed.

Piano

The same concept as pitch pipes - hit the note on the piano, pluck the string on your uke and adjust as necessary.

Piano

Online Tuners

There are loads out there - just Google 'ukulele tuner' and you'll find plenty. I quite like this one as it lets you choose whatever tuning you like.

Using them is the same as the two techniques above - click the note on the tuner, pluck your string, adjust.

Relative Tuning

If you're not too bothered about being pitch perfect, but want the uke to sound in tune when you play a chord, you can simply tune the strings relative to one another.

For a standard soprano/tenor uke in C (G-C-E-A) I usually play the bottom G string and play the E string at the 3rd fret. These should be the same as each other, and you get the same pulsating sound as with pitch pipes etc to help you.

Once these sound ok, I tune the C string. Play the C string on the 4th fret, and adjust the tuning so that it's the same pitch as the open E string.

Finally, the open top A string should be adjusted so that it' the same as the 5th fret on the E string.

I'm sure there's a simpler way to do/explain this, but this is just how I do it. One quick warning - if the bottom G string is really sharp you run the risk of snapping the rest of the strings if you tune them up too much. Rarely happens, but if the strings feel like they're getting really tight when you're tuning them up, stop and find a tuner or something.

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