Downtuning Mega-Thread

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by socialleper, Oct 1, 2017.

  1. socialleper

    socialleper Bringer of doom and top shelf beer Supporting Member

    May 31, 2009
    Canyon Country, CA
    Weekly we all see questions from bass players on TB about downtuning their instruments, so I thought I would start a single thread to act as a resource to current and future users.
    Tuning a bass lower than the standard EADG, BEADG, or BEADGC is a little bit of a dark art. It is something that bassists do enough to warrant a discussion about it, but not enough to garner a broad discussion with solid procedures for getting it just right.
    That's where this thread comes in.
    I want to share some of my successes, frustrations, and failures with trying to bend the rules to make an instrument set up for one tuning, work in another. Feel free to add your tips and tricks as well.
    What this is not a thread for is the response "Why do you need to tune lower" or things along the lines of "Just use a 5 string if you need a low D or C." Sometimes people need to go lower than E; deal with it. If, by now, you don't understand why a player needs an open D C, B, or anything lower, I don't know if explaining it would be a good use of time.
    Regardless, if you think your response will be anything close to the two trains of thought above, do everyone a favor, and just don't.
  2. BigBasserino


    Apr 30, 2017
    Not to bust or anything, but a couple general questions because frankly...I can't think of matching guitarists that downtune when relating to the situation myself...

    Is fret buzz a compromise in "playing lower"? And are the notes/altered tunings more feeling related than sonically related? I have a 5, I play in B....honestly unless I'm plugged in, I have difficulty telling the half steps apart. Granted I treat the 5th as the extension it's meant to be, but the one thing I've noticed with amplifying the B is there's a considerable drop in attack dynamics and tone in compromise for the depth that comes with it.
    bassdude51 likes this.
  3. bassdude51

    bassdude51 "You never even called me by my name." Supporting Member

    Nov 1, 2008
    Central Ohio
    Anything lower than a D is pushing it with the speakers. As for downing tuning a 4 banger, I'm all for it as long as it's not lower than D. As BigBasserino mentioned, there are issues with down tuning a 4 banger. Once the strings are loosened for lower tuning, the truss rod pushes a straighter neck and the action goes lower and ahhh, there is more fret banging and rattle sounds. So, higher action might be needed for down tuning.

    I'm all for it as long as it doesn't go lower than D. I love the sound of low D any lower than that and it just sounds like a wet towel swatting an ass.
  4. Selta


    Feb 6, 2002
    Pacific Northwet
    Total fanboi of: Fractal Audio, AudiKinesis Cabs, Dingwall basses
    I... don't even know where to start with this. It's easier to just point out that nothing you said is true. This is coming from someone who plays tuned to F# often.
    Let's take it piece by piece I guess...

    I'm not certain what you mean here. My AudioKinesis has -zero- issue with F# at everything from quiet to loud stage volume. Every greenboy fEarful I've played also had no issues with it. Even some of the better big-box cabs from Ampeg and Genzler don't have issues with it at all. I'd love to hear why you think speakers have an issue here.
    If you're talking PA, then you're still way off the mark. The subs in a PA don't even break a sweat at E, or B.

    This is why someone who is downtuning should use proper gear (strings) and do a proper setup on their bass. Again, I go clear down to F# and have none of these issues what so ever. If you are suggesting that folks take their normal ~.100 string and just simply tune that to something low, then that is your entire problem. Spouting what you are as fact though, is wrong.

    Absolutely false. I have just as low action on my F# bass as I do on my 4 string standard tuned bass. Actually, it might even be lower on the F# bass, but it's also just all around a much better built bass.

    Proper selection of gear, and knowing how to setup is important. This is true for even standard tuning, but it is very important for downtuning consideration. The farther down you want to go, the more you should consider and pay attention to, which I believe is the entire point of this thread. I've also played basses tuned a full octave below standard, which have -none- of the supposed issues you're claiming.
  5. BigBasserino


    Apr 30, 2017
    But the question "OK, so what do you do with it?" never comes up? For sub-unisons?

    I'm all for bass having a voice, but in our case vs guitars, it's costly from every angle, where a guitar can prettymuch get away with whatever tuning possible; even the most recent developments haven't changed the amps or speakers that guitarists need to ... get things done.
  6. bassdude51

    bassdude51 "You never even called me by my name." Supporting Member

    Nov 1, 2008
    Central Ohio
    Well, ya did some excellent comments here. Compliments!

    It doesn't really matter what someone wants to do to their bass or sound. How low they want to tune. It's completely up to each bassist how they want to go. I can't criticize or find fault. I am nobody.

    I do personally feel that lower than D just doesn't sound good to my ears. But, that means nothing. It's an opinion.

    I will say that if you look at the specs for speakers. 10", 15", 18", they struggle to produce lower than 40hz. and yes, they may produce 30 hz or whatever but it is produced at negative -db territory. Or I mean to say, below flat response. Example, I have the Acme B210 Low B speaker cab. It is perhaps the best speaker for the Low B string. And yes, the fEarful Greenboy cabs are top of the line for low end too. And yet, the Acme produces the Low B string, 30 hz at -6 db below flat but it can produce the open E string 40 hz at flat response. Most bass cabs can't even do the open E!

    Anyway, I respect your comments. Your points are well stated. And, I'm gonna say again that I like the sound of the Low D and any lower just doesn't sound right to me. But, "that is just like my opinion, man" (Big Lebowski).

    Low F#? WOW! That's pretty low!
    Last edited: Mar 17, 2018
    Anders Barfod and Duder like this.
  7. Cuzzie

    Cuzzie Supporting Member

    Jan 1, 2016
    For my pennies worth I am generally half a step down and have a D tuner on the ‘E’ string peg

    I like the sound of it being heavier
    bobba66 likes this.
  8. socialleper

    socialleper Bringer of doom and top shelf beer Supporting Member

    May 31, 2009
    Canyon Country, CA
    My experiences\observations:
    Before doing anything, know your bass. Sounds stupid, but it isn't. You are messing with the physics behind the original design of your bass, so fully understanding its specs is helpful. What is your scale length, how do you adjust the bridge saddles, how do you adjust your truss rod, etc. Then ask yourself "Am I comfortable with adjusting these things, or making adjustments to my nut?" If you aren't, consult a professional luthier, or at the very least, some YouTube Videos.
    It is your bass. What you do to it is on you.

    There is a lot of math that goes into producing a certain frequency of sound. Over centuries, people have figured out how to get the right perceived note out from a certain tautness of string. For the last 70 years or so, a rough estimate of how to get a solid EADG out of an electric bass has been more or less settled. The benchmark, or standard, by general consensus is that a 34 inch scale instrument can use .105, .085, .065, and .045 strings to get the right pitches at the right plucking tension; give or take .005 inches for personal preference.
    Great! All done, right?

    Unless you want to do anything besides EADG on a 4 string. Then things get weird.
    My personal opinion is that if a player wants to tune down one half step, or semitone, on all the strings, which is a common blues tuning, to Eb, Ab, Db, Gb, a .105 set of strings with a hexagon core will work just fine without any further adjustments. The shape of the core grips the steel or nickle winding material more, making the string stiffer, or "stable", enough for me.

    When you tune a full step, or two semitones, to a DGCF tuning, most players find it preferable to go to a thicker gauge of string. A .110 .090 .070 .050 set of strings isn't impossible to find in stores, but not easy. There are many places all over TB that discuss places to buy strings that will carry them. The added winding increases the mass of the string, making it thicker, stiffer, and more taut if used at a standard tuning. However, at a hole step lower tuning, I find that a .110 set is perfect.
    There are other options.
    If you raise the height of your bridge saddles, sometimes called the action, it increases the tension on your strings. The strings on a guitar or bass are part of a sort of triangle composed of the nut, bridge saddle, where the string enters the bridge, and an imaginary plane going up the fret broad. If you raise the bridge saddle, it increases the steepness of the angle going to the nut, and creates a minor increase in length between the nut and the bridge saddle. This can help get more tension into a string at lower tuning, but it also increases the distance between the string and the frets, as well as the pickups. Some people hate this.
    Another option is finding a 35" scale bass. That is the distance between the nut and the bridge saddle, and by increasing the length, you add tension to the string. Unfortunately, 35" scale four string basses aren't very common; and even 35" 5 string basses aren't as common as they could\should be. Some players find that they feel odd, but I've never had that problem. I have a 35" ESP\LTD bass that is great for downtuing because of the 35" scale. A .105 set is very tight at EADG but feels fine at DGCF.

    Lets say you want to tune a step and a half or two steps down. Now you are entering a no-mans land that is often ignored and a lot of compromises have to be made.
    For whatever reason bass manufactures and string makers have completely ignored the large (and growing) group of players that use C# and C tuning variants. These tunings have been around since the 70s, thanks to Black Sabbath, so this isn't new ground. Yet offerings are few and far between.
    If .105 is good for E and .110 is good for D, then logic would suggest that a .115 is good for a C#\C tuning. However, to the best of my knowledge, only GHS Boomers produce a .115 set that is readily available to retail markets. There are rumors of .115 strings from DR produced custom for Geezer Butler, but I've never see one in person.
    That means I am left using a .110 with a hex core, and higher action, or on a 35" scale bass, or using a .120 which is a little tight for C# and doesn't sit well on a lot of bridges or nuts.
    Things are about to get ugly.
    One of the facts of life of downtuning is the very real chance you will have to file out the nut of your bass to accommodate a thicker string. The precision way to do it is with a properly sized slotting file, or, since I'm cheap, to use a needle file and eye-ball the thickness. If the slot isn't big enough for the string, it will sit funny in the slot, mess up your intonation, and screw with the tone a little. If you aren't comfortable filing your nut, take it to a professional. You can reset your bridge saddle height, or your truss rod, but once you file your nut, it is a done deal; you can't un-file it.
    I like a drop C tuning, which means I'm really hosed. CGCF is far from uncommon, but I have never found a worth while pre-packaged set that would work. D'Addario had a "balanced tension" set that should have worked, but the strings died very quickly. Generally, I have to order a .110 set online, with an additional .120. This is expensive and wasteful. But what can I do?

    String problems go away with a 4 string bass tuned BEAD. Just buy a 5 string set and pitch the G. There are some companies offering 4 string BEAD sets, or "thick core" sets for this. That's nice.
    The real trick becomes adjusting the bass. At this tuning, filing the nut is enviable. The lack of tension on a .105 or .110 with even extreme adjustments to the saddles and truss rod lead to a floppy mess that I can't work with. One of the only way out of this I'm aware of is to switch to a thicker flat wound string, usually around .109. The winding on a flatwound string makes it very stiff, and very stable at lower tunings. However, I personally despise flat wound strings, and don't care for them at any tuning. However, I know a lot of stoner and doom metal bass players tune low and use flats; my suspicion is because of the stability.
    The bridge becomes a problem at this point too. The holes for stringing the instrument may not accommodate the thicker strings. The saddles may be too narrow for the thicker strings to sit in them properly , which messes with your tone. If the strings don't install properly on the bass, they will never sound right. Old Bad @$$ bridges work well because they often are rigorously notched, and the newer clones of this design can handle thicker strings. The last gotcha with the bridge is your intonation. Again, because there is a triangle involved, getting your open note pitch to match the pitches up and down the scale requires the angle the bridge saddle creates to be in exactly the right place. Sometimes that place isn't achievable when you monkey around with the tuning the instrument was designed for. I have a bass that I can't get the intonation right on because I can't move the saddle back far enough due to the length of the intonation screw and how far you can compress the bridge spring. To get the setup perfect, I may need to cut the screw and the spring.
    One last complication of BEAD, or just BEADG, tuning, is that there isn't a lot of consensus over what gauge is right for a low B. The range is anywhere from .120 to .140! That is a lot of variation. Personally, I don't like the tone or feel of a string thicker than .130.

    I don't personally have any experience with tuning below BEAD. Going to A#, A, or even as low as F just compounds the existing problems further. If I needed to get to those low notes, I would personally be inclined to get a 5 string with a 35" scale, or multi-scale neck, and work from there. The complications of A# or lower on a 4 string are too many for me to image.

    One overlooked aspect of a bass when tuning lower is the pickups. People don't think about this much, but if a pickup was designed to work well with E being the lowest pitch it has to worry about, is it going to like C or B? It sounds stupid, but this is a real concern. That pickup with deep lows you love so much when tuned to E might sound like a muddy mess that is producing frequencies only whales can sense when trying handle lower tunings. Those nice crisp highs at E might turn into ear piercing rattle when the tension of the string changes. Don't forget that your guitar pals are probably tuning down too, which means they are totally invading your sonic space. Mids are your best friend at lower tunings. That goes for your amp too. The low mids will become your lows, and the attack of the highs changes completely because of the thicker strings. Scooped pickups and "dark" pickups often having trouble working right at lower tunings.
    blue4, nice_hat, Cuzzie and 2 others like this.
  9. Selta


    Feb 6, 2002
    Pacific Northwet
    Total fanboi of: Fractal Audio, AudiKinesis Cabs, Dingwall basses
    The ampeg 810 doesn't even reproduce the fundamental of an E at "flat". Reproducing the fundamental of the wave isn't ideal for E, and when you get down to B and lower, the fundamental would heavily interfere with the kick and any other super-low content going on (I play with synth often, and there's some serious low end there at times). Most cases you are really hearing and processing the 2nd harmonic and up. Psychoacoustics come into play as well, even on the E string, where you will more or less mentally fill in the "missing" content. Humans are pretty terrible about hearing the actual low frequencies.
    For my F# bass, I have a pretty heavy high pass... I think it's set to 80Hz with a steep drop off. I think by the time it hits about 70Hz, the HPC is cutting stuff by 10dB or more. Knowing EQ'ing and interaction with other instruments (how to fill gaps, and not over saturate places where other instruments are) is pretty crucial.
    MDBass, bassdude51 and EMoneySC2 like this.
  10. socialleper

    socialleper Bringer of doom and top shelf beer Supporting Member

    May 31, 2009
    Canyon Country, CA
    Fret buzz doesn't have to be a part of it.
    If the strings you are using for the tuning you want don't have enough tension, the bow in the neck created by the strings isn't strong enough, and the neck is too flat or curving the wrong way.
    You can use a thicker string, raise your bridge saddles, or adjust your truss rod to compensate for the change in tension.
    In extreme cases, you may want to replace your nut with one that is slotted higher, so you have more clearance.

    The change in dynamics with a B is a common problem. It comes from when the pickups aren't really designed to deal with the frequencies, or the built of the instrument doesn't properly support the strings you are using. You may need to adjust your typical amp settings to increase the mids, or look at your overall setup for that tuning.
  11. socialleper

    socialleper Bringer of doom and top shelf beer Supporting Member

    May 31, 2009
    Canyon Country, CA
    Yes there are issues. That is what this thread is designed to address.
    The "That's too low" line of thought is something I want to avoid. This isn't an opinion thread on the merits of downtuning.
  12. monsterthompson

    monsterthompson The Eighth Note Wonder Of The World Supporting Member

    Nov 25, 2008
    Currently meditating on converting my EBMM StingRay to a BEAD, but I'm hesitant, as I'll likely want to file the nut, but replacement ones are hard to find (compensated nut). Any thoughts? My current idea is to get a new nut (non compensated) and file it, while retaining the original. Need to do a search on using compensated and non-compensated nuts on the same bass. Not sure if that creates intonation issues.
  13. micguy


    May 17, 2011
    I keep one bass tuned to D standard. I also like really low tension. The string on that bass are 45/69/80/110.

    Anyone tuning lower than standard should be looking at string tension charts to pick strings. If you don't, what you'll get is a crap shoot -unpredictable results.
    wmmj likes this.
  14. socialleper

    socialleper Bringer of doom and top shelf beer Supporting Member

    May 31, 2009
    Canyon Country, CA
    Compensated is a new term to me. Explain.
  15. monsterthompson

    monsterthompson The Eighth Note Wonder Of The World Supporting Member

    Nov 25, 2008

    From their site:
    The new nut is called a Compensated Nut. We have a patent on this design.
    The purpose of this new nut design is to improve note accuracy all over the fretboard. This is most apparent at the lower frets.

    There is no special tuner, setup, or intonation required.

    This nut is standard on all Music Man guitars and basses - even SUBs.

    The Compensated Nut has been engineered to improve your Music Man instrument's potential to play perfectly in tune up an down the fretboard. Each string has an individual intonation pocket that slightly changes the effective string length, causing notes that traditionally play sharp to be more in tune.

    The design has been optimized for standard string gauges and tunings, but will be of benefit when used with alternate tunings, string gauges, and playing styles.
    Maureen M likes this.
  16. Korladis

    Korladis Inactive

    I use BEAD tuning on three of my basses.

    Interestingly, they're three very different price points.

    My very first bass started out as a Peavey beginner P-bass copy. I modded it with a Rickenbacker bridge pickup and a Badass2 bridge.

    The second is an Epiphone neck through T-bird, modded with Thunderbucker pickups and a Babicz bridge.

    The last is a Rickenbacker 4003S, with no mods aside from the tuning. Stock pickups, etc.

    On all of them, I use D'Addario nickel XLs, in the gauges 130, 100, 80, 60.

    Nothing was required for the tuning other than a setup and filing the nut. The first two basses are 34" scale, the Rickenbacker is, of course, 33.25" scale. A lot of people on talkbass seem to think that you need 35" scale for a low B, but I have not found this to be the case at all.

    As far as amplification, I use either a Mesa D-180 (currently in the shop after taking a fall) tube head, or a Sunn Concert Lead solid state amplifier (basically my backup).

    The cab is a Sunn 2000S 2x15. While the design originally called for JBL D-140 drivers, I have Faital Pro 15PR400 drivers mounted currently.
    knumbskull likes this.
  17. socialleper

    socialleper Bringer of doom and top shelf beer Supporting Member

    May 31, 2009
    Canyon Country, CA
    Nuts are one of those things where I wish making them was easier, so I could keep a few different ones handy. Unfortunately, when I looked into making my own, the calculations were so intense that I don't think it would be right.
    I lucked out with one bass that has a Fender sized slot. I bought a pre-slotted Tusq nut and bam, all done. I wish they made pre-slotted nuts of other sizes and for different gauges.

    Getting a nut in and out of the slot is easy, and I've never seen gluing them in as a necessity. Keeping two around is a cool idea. Getting the 2nd one done would be the biggest hurdle.
    On the other side of that, I have a BC Rich with a nut so old and worn out that it will accommodate thicker strings. When i put regular .105 strings in it, sure there is a gap, but the string doesn't go anywhere. It is under tremendous tension. It isn't going to slop around in the slot.
    monsterthompson likes this.
  18. socialleper

    socialleper Bringer of doom and top shelf beer Supporting Member

    May 31, 2009
    Canyon Country, CA
    Ricks are weird in so many ways. A LOT of people down tune with them, probably because of the mid focused pickups and retro look, but so much else seems "wrong" for down tuning.
    By the same token, I think all SG basses are short scale, and yet are very popular with the doom\stoner crowd, which down tune a lot. I think people like them because of the retro look, more than the tone. I'm not sure. Whatever the case, shorter scale basses can be made into BEAD with all the same setup, it just seems counter-intuitive.
    I think the tone you want is important with this. A short scale sounds a little darker. If someone wants a BEAD where the B has all the same tonal qualities as an E, just lower pitch, a 35" scale is helpful. B strings, even on 5 string basses tend to be a little lifeless on a lot of basses due to lack of thought put into the bridge and the pickups.
  19. Korladis

    Korladis Inactive

    I have pretty consistent string to string tone with all my basses. The B wears out a little quicker, but that's probably because I use it pretty frequently (the same is true of the E on my EADG tuned basses).
  20. BigBasserino


    Apr 30, 2017
    Ya I'm not much of an expert but I had a tech set it up with a lighter pair of strings but I needed a more regular Guage.

    As for mids I generally use a lot to begin with but I still think the B has a different sound from the rest of the strings. Dynamically it's not an issue because there's no real change in volume, just there's a particular attack on a .105 string vs a .130 string as Guages of string head more to cable.
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