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Thread: How often should my mandolin need to be tuned?

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    Default How often should my mandolin need to be tuned?

    I'm new to mandolin. All I'm familiar with is my banjo and I hardly ever need to retune it.
    It seems my mandolin needs to be retuned almost every time I pick it up to play. Not much but it goes just a little flat. Is that normal for mandolin? Is it just something I need to get used to? I should mention that it has waverly tuners.

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    Default Re: How often should my mandolin need to be tuned?

    It’s normal to check the tuning each time you pick it up to play. Whether or how well it stays in tune varies from one instrument to another, varies with weather changes and with several other variables. Just make a habit of tuning every time you play and it’ll become quick and easy.
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    small instrument, big fun Dan in NH's Avatar
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    Default Re: How often should my mandolin need to be tuned?

    Every time you pick it up. And if you've played more than 3 tunes, or have been noodling for more than 10 minutes, check the tuning.

    I keep a clip on microtuner on my headstock, and never take it off.

    Mandolin players spend half their time tuning, and the other half playing out of tune.
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    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: How often should my mandolin need to be tuned?

    Mandolin is the Italian word for out of tune.
    "It's comparable to playing a cheese slicer."
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    Default Re: How often should my mandolin need to be tuned?

    Sorry, but if you are asking this question, I fear that you might be challenged in hearing what is in tune or out of tune at ANY time. The answer to your question is : you need to check your tuning CONSTANTLY with an electronic tuner, as I think that you might not be able to trust your own ear. This is not a criticism, just a sincere suggestion that it’s really important, if you are playing with others, to check your tuning for every tune.
    I can’t tell you how painful it is for those who have a good ear to play with folks who don’t recognize that they are out of tune. I am one who has been guilty of being out of tune and the pained look of some folks that I admire has cut me to the core and taught me to have consideration for others
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    Default Re: How often should my mandolin need to be tuned?

    Anonymous: "Mandolin players spend half their time tuning, and the other half playing out of tune."

    Seriously, if you're used to playing flat-top or electric guitar and now have an acoustic arch-top mandolin (pretty much the most common type), that arch tends to swell and/or contract far more, and far faster, than the typical flat-top does.
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  11. #7

    Default Re: How often should my mandolin need to be tuned?

    It is surprising that your banjo rarely needs tuned. They are almost as notorious as the mandolin for requiring regular tuning. I first heard the saying Ed quotes about spending half your time tuning said about banjos.

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    Registered User lowtone2's Avatar
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    Default Re: How often should my mandolin need to be tuned?

    Every time you think of it, tune it. It will still be out of tune, but we must at least try.

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    Default Re: How often should my mandolin need to be tuned?

    wait.... mandolins can be in tune? What is this sorcery?
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    Default Re: How often should my mandolin need to be tuned?

    My tenor banjo rarely needs retuning if played regularly, but if it's been unplayed for a week or more then the strings may be a wee bit flat or sharp depending on climatic conditions. On the other hand my mandolin needs retuning every day, nothing major, usually it's the A course that has gone slightly flat but this gets more pronounced the older the strings are. I've always been in the habit of checking my mandolin's tuning regularly, every few tunes when playing.
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    Registered User John Kelly's Avatar
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    Default Re: How often should my mandolin need to be tuned?

    Since the advent of clip-on tuners a great majority of us has become accustomed to tuning by eye and not by ear. I think this might be akin to painting by ear (Van Gogh being an exception). When I first started playing guitar away back in the late 1950s there were no modern tuners; if you had a set of pitch pipes this was seen as being really on the cutting edge! We tuned to a piano or other instrument which might be expected to give a close approximation to the pitches we wanted, and in many of the small village halls we later played in the hall's piano was quite often in real need of being tuned! This gave our accordion players especially quite a problem before the advent of electric pianos that we could carry to gigs with us and would be in concert pitch. At times the piano just remained unused id it was too far out with the accordion. Now, playing a lot with fiddlers I see two distinct groups there - those who tune effortlessly by ear and the others who have the clip-ons attached to their fiddles and use them. One or two players are constantly checking their open strings with their tuners but have not yet realised that the open strings are in tune - it is just that their intonation can be off when fingering the closed notes. I like to try to tune by ear as much as possible, but I do rely on the trusty clip-on especially in our pub sessions and here I find it necessary to check fairly regularly throughout the session. With all the extraneous noises in the pub setting and the other instruments around the group the tuner can be a big advantage.
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    Default Re: How often should my mandolin need to be tuned?

    Well, that's one thing off my mind. Lol.

    Totally new to mandolin and was wondering 🤔

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    working musician Jim Bevan's Avatar
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    Default Re: How often should my mandolin need to be tuned?

    Ya, what everyone else said, but...

    It doesn't "need" tuning, it's not like "how often should I change my car's motor oil?"

    When you pick it up in the morning after a cold night, it will have gone sharp, but if you're not playing along with any other instruments, if you're not playing along with recorded music, if the strings went sharp the same amount and the instrument's "in tune with itself", if it sounds okay to you, you don't need to tune it.
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    bon vivant jaycat's Avatar
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    Default Re: How often should my mandolin need to be tuned?

    Quote Originally Posted by John Kelly View Post
    This gave our accordion players especially quite a problem . . .
    I guess you could have tuned to the accordion, though I suppose that would just encourage them.
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    Default Re: How often should my mandolin need to be tuned?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Bevan View Post
    Ya, what everyone else said, but...

    It doesn't "need" tuning, it's not like "how often should I change my car's motor oil?"

    When you pick it up in the morning after a cold night, it will have gone sharp, but if you're not playing along with any other instruments, if you're not playing along with recorded music, if the strings went sharp the same amount and the instrument's "in tune with itself", if it sounds okay to you, you don't need to tune it.
    Jim, your position strikes me as rather contrarian

    I highly admire people who can tune by ear and aspire to reach that pinnacle.
    As practice, Ive seen the suggestion to listen and do one's best and then check with the electronic tuner.
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    Default Re: How often should my mandolin need to be tuned?

    Another thought, based on experience: My "music room" (finished basement) is a bit cooler than the rest of the house, so instruments start out cool-ish. But in 10-15 minutes of vigorous playing, your hands warm quite at bit, thus warming the strings and lowering their pitch. Relative to guitar strings, our mandolin hands are "twice as big", so the effect is more pronounced.
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    Default Re: How often should my mandolin need to be tuned?

    Also, as a matter of physics, mandolin strings have a relatively short vibrating length. Thus relatively small changes in temperature, top deflection, etc, have bigger effect compared to a banjo.
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    🎶 Play Pretty 🎶 Greg Connor's Avatar
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    Default Re: How often should my mandolin need to be tuned?

    I think you’ll find you have more friends that stick around to play with you if you keep your instrument in tune. Mandolins seem especially vulnerable to going out of tune. It’s easy enough to check, tweak and adjust.

    I have a friend, professional player, who has several old Gibsons. He is constantly tuning between songs (mostly by ear).

  29. #19

    Default Re: How often should my mandolin need to be tuned?

    A mandolin needs to be tuned when it goes out of tune, ' simples '

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    Default Re: How often should my mandolin need to be tuned?

    If it sounds out of tune, check the A strings first. For some reason unbeknown to mankind, A strings will flatly (no pun intended) refuse to stay in tune.

    I too come from the heady days before the invention of the electronic tuner; I just about remember the migration of piezo elements from telephones to musical instruments!

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    Default Re: How often should my mandolin need to be tuned?

    Quote Originally Posted by Whimpsta View Post
    I'm new to mandolin. All I'm familiar with is my banjo and I hardly ever need to retune it.
    It seems my mandolin needs to be retuned almost every time I pick it up to play. Not much but it goes just a little flat. Is that normal for mandolin? Is it just something I need to get used to? I should mention that it has waverly tuners.
    Many of us discretely check tuning between every song.

    Tuning a fine, lightly built mandolin is like trying to tune 8 strings over a beach ball. It often seems that when you change the tension of one string, every other string is tuning-affected.

    The most helpful suggestion I can make is learn about and use an electronic tuner, and have it handy to use at any time. Electronic tuners have had a dramatically positive effect on jams because finally, everyone tunes objectively by-vision to the same pitch, and can do so discretely at any time. Previously, everyone tuned to their own device subjectively by-ear (tuning fork, pitch pipe, other instrument, etc.), or even exclusively by their own ear, and tuning in a jam could -- and often did -- turn into a nightmare.

    Setup of a mandolin can also partially determine how easy it is to tune. The string notches in the nut and in the bridge need to be cut just right for the thickness and angle of each string. The bridge itself, if it has an adjustable-height saddle and if the holes for the adjusters are too big or worn, can tilt with tuning individual strings and pull other strings out of tune. Tuners of course can make a big difference in how easy it is to tune a mandolin too. These are things that can be corrected by a competent setup person.

    Weather and even just playing the instrument also can affect tuning. When temperatures get colder, the metal in the strings contracts, making the tuning of the strings go sharp. When temperatures get hotter, the opposite occurs. Various fretting-hand techniques can pull strings out of tune. Heavy picking can also pull them out of tune. How a string is attached to a tuner and/or to the tailpiece can also make a difference in tuning; strings can slip in both areas if they are not solidly installed.

    Time and experience also help the ears with tuning. A person can get a sense for how the overtones of a string should sound compared with the overtones of its course mate. When absolutely necessary, relative tuning by ear using harmonics also becomes possible with experience. Electronic tuners do not replace a person's ears during tuning, but they definitely help set the target.

    Tuning a mandolin becomes easier with experience, but really, no one gets it absolutely perfect all the time. Aiming to get as close as possible within a practical period of tuning time is often as good as it gets.
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    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: How often should my mandolin need to be tuned?

    "New to mandolin" may = new, or nearly new, strings. Almost all musical instrument strings with which I'm familiar take a while to "settle in." and during the "settling" period require frequent tweaking to proper pitch.

    I am surprised that you have a banjo that you "hardly ever have to retune." Banjos, since their vibrating surface is a membrane of animal skin or plastic, tend to be more in need of frequent tuning adjustments. Plus, like many 5-string banjoists, I put the instrument into a variety of tunings, and use a capo constantly -- both procedures that result in the need to tune frequently.

    In contrast, my mandolin-family instruments stay in tune more reliably, but like many of us, I use clip-on tuners, check right after I take an instrument out of its case, and check again periodically during a session.

    They put fairly-easy-to-manipulate tuning machines on stringed instruments, because they need frequent manipulation. (Contrast zither-family instruments like piano, hammered dulcimer, or Autoharp where you have to drag out a tuning wrench; of course, strings on these instruments aren't fretted by your fingers, a stretching motion that contributes to the need to retune.)

    When I worked, briefly, selling instruments with the Stutzmans, one of the most common questions -- especially from parents buying a first instrument for a child -- was "Will it stay in tune/" I invariably replied "No," and not just motivated by the hope of selling them a tuner! I harken back to the tuning-fork days (still have A and E tuning forks stashed in a junk drawer), when we tuned one string, then tuned all others to it. Those were the days...
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    Orrig Onion HonketyHank's Avatar
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    Default Re: How often should my mandolin need to be tuned?

    Since this thread seems have covered the bases re the OP's question, I don't mind going OT and saying that there actually was such a thing as an "electronic tuner" back then. Our symphonic band director had one. A bit expensive. About 8" cubical, with a speaker. Tubes and wires and stuff inside. Push a button and it gave you a steady concert Bb. Of course you still had to tune to it by ear. Dunno why it didnt play a concert A. Maybe it needed a different tube or something.
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    Default Re: How often should my mandolin need to be tuned?

    Quote Originally Posted by allenhopkins View Post
    ...
    I am surprised that you have a banjo that you "hardly ever have to retune." Banjos, since their vibrating surface is a membrane of animal skin or plastic, tend to be more in need of frequent tuning adjustments. Plus, like many 5-string banjoists, I put the instrument into a variety of tunings, and use a capo constantly -- both procedures that result in the need to tune frequently.
    ...
    I think it depends on the build of the banjo, the string tension, the kind of head and how tight it is. I've got a number of banjos; all of them are tuned in relatively low tension tunings compared to standard mandolin tuning, and many of them have Nomex or Mylar, or other synthetic heads. My main playing banjo is a heavy tone ring maple instrument, it has a tight Mylar head on it and I rarely have to tune it. It is much more reliable regarding tuning than any mandolin I have.

    If the OP's banjo is like the one I mentioned above, I can easily see why tuning a mandolin so often might raise questions.
    -- Don

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    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: How often should my mandolin need to be tuned?

    Quote Originally Posted by HonketyHank View Post
    Since this thread seems have covered the bases re the OP's question, I don't mind going OT and saying that there actually was such a thing as an "electronic tuner" back then. Our symphonic band director had one. A bit expensive. About 8" cubical, with a speaker. Tubes and wires and stuff inside. Push a button and it gave you a steady concert Bb. Of course you still had to tune to it by ear. Dunno why it didnt play a concert A. Maybe it needed a different tube or something.
    Bb is the natural tuning note for most orchestral wind instruments. Apparently nobody cared that the stringed instruments were generally A.
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