Tuning a banjo with a guitar tuner is an easy task, but you'll need the right type of tuner. Chromatic guitar tuners are a bit more expensive, but are designed to tune any type of instrument by "reading" every possible note in the chromatic musical scale. Most tuners come with built-in microphones and audible note tones, but check your tuner for these important features, as they are necessary for tuning your banjo. "G" tuning (DBGDG–First through fifth string) is standard for the banjo.
Tune to Rough Pitch
Turn the tuner on, and place it in your lap or on a table in close proximity to the banjo.
Press the "sound" button on the electronic tuner, which will play an audible tone. Scroll through the notes by pressing the "sound" button until the display reads "G." You will hear a constant audible "G" note tone, which will be the note to which the fifth string will be tuned.
Pluck the fifth string and turn the fifth-string tuning key up or down until the string pitch matches that of the tuner's audible tone. You will need to pluck the string repeatedly during this process until the string's pitch is matched to the tuner's tone.
Press the "sound" button to change the note to "B." The tuner will emit the tone to which the fourth string will be tuned.
Pluck the fourth string repeatedly while turning the fourth-string tuning key up or down to match the tone from the tuner.
Tune the remaining strings in the same manner. Tune the third string to G, the second string to B and the first string to D.
Turn the tuner's sound off by pressing the "mode" switch to fine-tune the banjo.
Pluck the fifth banjo string. The tuner will automatically detect and display the note as a "D" note, and will display its level of accuracy with either a needle or LED lights. When the lights or needles are to the left of the center display, the note is "flat" (b) and will need to be tuned up slightly. If the LED or needle is to the right of the center display, the note is "sharp" (#) and will need to be tuned down slightly. When the LED or needle is in the center display position, the note is in tune.
Fine tune the remaining strings in the same manner. Tune the fourth string to B, the third string to G, the second string to D, and the first string to G.
Depending on your brand of tuner, the "sound," "mode" and display functions may vary slightly. Read the instruction manual of your tuner for specific information.
An inexpensive banjo pitch pipe is helpful as you get used to tuning your banjo. Although chromatic tuners have a multiple octave range in standard mode, they have a one-octave range in "sound" mode. Since notes repeat themselves in each octave, your tuner may not "sound" the selected note in the correct tuning octave. Tuning a string an octave above will cause strings to break, while tuning too low will cause strings to be loose and unplayable.
Keep face away from the banjo while tuning. Strings can break unexpectedly, and the recoil can cause eye or facial lacerations.