Original articles, lessons, tabs plus the "best of the web" on topics of interest to mandolin enthusiasts by player/teacher Bruce Bernhart
Updated January 8, 2021
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The main frustration of mandolin tuning, particularly with bluegrass instruments, is that the strings always bind in the nut and bridge slots. Here is an example: You decide that one of your strings is very slightly out of tune. You make a fine adjustment at the tuning peg, but the pitch of the string does not change in the slightest. The string is binding, probably in the nut. You turn the tuner a bit more and suddenly the pitch alters dramatically and way too much., as the string suddenly moves in the slot.
The problem can be alleviated to an extent, but is one that you have to live with. Some players prefer to tune up to a note rather than down, believing that the string moves more immediately through the slots when tension is increased rather than decreased. In this method if a string is too sharp you first slacken off enough to detune it and then tune up again to the required pitch. Personally I prefer to adopt a policy of estimating the delayed effect of tuning, like deflection shooting with a gun. When you make a fine adjustment at the tuning peg nothing happens immediately, but as you continue playing the string gradually moves in the nut/bridge and sets at the new tension along its complete length. Another way to approach the problem is to adjust the tuning peg, then pull down hard on the string with your pick to force movement in the nut and bridge slots. This often results in a temporary flattening of the string before it settles back to what you hope is the new, correct pitch. Similarly you can push down on the string between the tuning peg and the nut, which initially sharpens the string before it stabilizes.
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