Do you happen to have more than one instrument?
Great! That means you are very lucky. Or maybe you are just a hard worker.
Or both, who knows?
And do you happen to have both bass and an electric guitar?
That’s fantastic. You are halfway to recording music on your own!
But I’ll ask you yet another question. Have you ever noticed that guitars go out of tune faster than bass?
Seriously. Play with your bass one day, then leave it for a week, and once you come back, it is still in tune.
Guitars, on the other hand, don’t. You’ll find yourself tuning it over and over again, sometimes during the rehearsal.
Of course, there’s a reason for it.
Basses stay longer in tune due to their thicker strings. As a general rule, the heavier the gauge, the better the tuning stability. Also, bassists don’t play techniques like bending as regularly as guitarists do. Bending affects the tuning in the long run.
Now, let’s dig into this topic more deeply.
See for yourself the strength of these four-string instruments.
Do bass guitars have better tuning stability than guitars?
While it is not a rigid rule, for the most part, bass guitars stay longer in tune than regular guitars.
Of course, many guitars are as stable in tuning as a bass guitar.
This, however, is a result of plenty of reasons, mainly related to how the instrument is constructed, and how well you treat it.
Saving the instrument in a quality case, for example, will extend the tuning lifespan. Also, changing strings every now and then will help too.
Nonetheless, the number of musicians claiming that their bass guitars stay longer in tune than their guitars is not small.
What makes basses stay in tune for longer?
The main reason is the extra tension added by the thicker strings.
The heavier the gauge, the better the tuning stability. However, we’ll develop this information in more detail later.
Plus, the harder you play notes, the more prone they are to go out of tune.
It’s slightly contradictory, because bass strings are harder than guitar strings, and need to be pressed with more firmness. Therefore, the logic is that bass strings should go out of tune faster than guitar strings, right?
The problem is not the strength itself, but the resistance of the strings.
You may push a bass string harder, but they are so strong they won’t be affected that much.
On the contrary, guitar strings are so slim and delicate that they are more prone to being out of tune.
Why can’t guitars work that way?
Guitar tuning stability tends to be weaker than bass stability.
Some of the reasons are the string thinness and the fact they are “weaker” than bass strings, as I mentioned.
Moreover, playing some techniques like bending may result in going out of tune due to strings getting stuck at the nut.
Believe it or not, bending drastically changes tuning, whether you play with your fingers or with a tremolo arm.
It is worth noticing that using a tremolo arm will detune the guitar sooner compared with fingerstyle.
It’s a silly idea but just think about it. Bass guitarists rarely use bending techniques, and not even mention tremolo arms.
And generally, bass tends to avoid solos (which by the way, may involve bending).
Guitars are the opposite. They do use them a lot, thus, leading to a quicker detuning.
Needless to say, there are more variables other than a playing technique.
Always check for string quality (if they are too old, for instance), the nut size, the weather, and where you leave your guitar once you stop playing.
Are thicker strings better for tuning stability?
As I mentioned earlier, thicker strings are one of the reasons why basses stay longer in tune.
The truth is, that a heavier gauge provides better tuning stability. This is because thicker strings have more tension than thinner ones.
Tension changes the way we play and how we feel the playing. If we have to compare tension with a definition, we need to compare it to stiffness.
Tension, then, is how stiff strings are when being played.
The stiffer the string, the more tension it has, and the more stability it provides.
Now, let’s analyze why this happens.
Higher tension strings vibrate at lower amplitude, compared to lesser tension strings. So, the margin of balance and displacement is relatively short.
Every time you play with a string, whether with fingers, picks, or any other technique, you are “moving” or displacing it.
In other words, if you play a string a lot, then it will displace a lot as well. If you displace the string enough, it will go out of tune.
Therefore, playing with strings that have a lower margin of movement, will make it longer for them to detune.
All in all, it is worth mentioning that this fact is not too noticeable.
Thicker strings have more stable tuning, sure. But the other factors that interfere with tuning are more important and should be considered first.
Should you worry if your bass goes out of tune?
Having either a guitar or bass makes tuning every now and then a must.
Tuning your instruments is like watering a plant: you have to do it regularly.
Bass guitars may last longer, but sooner or later, the strings will detune anyway.
This is normal. The weather and humidity affect the tone, or even the simple act of playing is enough to detune it.
The only time you should worry about it is when the instrument goes out of tune too regularly. In that case, ask for advice from professionals.
Other than that, it is a price worth paying for learning to play a beautiful instrument.
Hello there, my name is Ramiro and I’ve been playing guitar for almost 20 years. I’m obsessed with everything gear-related and I thought it might be worth sharing it. From guitars, pedals, amps, and synths to studio gear and production tips, I hope you find what I post here useful, and I’ll try my best to keep it entertaining also.