The banjo has a long history as a traditional instrument among folk, country, bluegrass, Western swing and even jazz bands. In the past, banjos were made with only four or five strings, the five-string banjo being the most common. According to folk music scholar Metro Voloshin, the six-string banjo had its roots in Great Britain in the mid-nineteenth century, when it became a favored instrument for variety show orchestras and even operettas. Recently, however, the six-string banjo has seen a rise in popularity. The addition of an extra string allows for more versatile playing, a deeper and richer tone when strummed (played across multiple strings at once), and an easier way to play in higher registers. In this article, you'll learn how to tune a six-string banjo to a standard tuning that creates the traditional "banjo sound."
Turn the tuner on and place it where you can see it while you hold the banjo. You will be tuning your banjo to the notes (from the bottom up) E-A-D-G-B-E.
Pluck the lowest (thickest) string while watching the needle on the tuner. You will tune this string to E, so see whether the tuner's needle hovers near the E. If it is closer to the F, then the string is tuned too high. Pluck the string continuously with one hand while you turn the string peg downwards. You will hear the pitch begin to get lower. Keep plucking until the tuner shows the needle resting on E when you pluck the string. If the needle is closer to D, then the string is tuned too low. Again, continue plucking and gently turn the peg down a tiny bit and then begin to turn it upwards, very slowly. Listen carefully and watch the tuner as you tighten the string and raise the pitch. When the needle indicates that you are at an E, stop turning the peg.
Pluck the next lowest string and repeat the procedure for tuning it, this time to an A. Watch the needle on the tuner carefully the entire time you are adjusting the string.
Repeat the tuning process for each string, working your way up from the bottom E to the top E.
Turn the pegs slowly. Always lower a peg a tiny bit before starting to raise it---this helps stretch the string evenly and prevents it from breaking.