How to Tune a Pickin Stick Dulcimer (in G) | Stick Dulcimer

Stick Dulcimer Tuning

So if you're gonna play an instrument it better be in tune right, kind of sucks if it's not. So let's learn how to do that. I'm using a Pickin Stick, aka a Strumstick. There are a couple different ways you can tune an instrument. I'll run through three of them. I think there's three, we'll just take it from there.

Relative Tuning

The first one is what I like to refer to as a relative tuning. This is the easiest in that you don't need any extra stuff for it. I intentionally untuned or detuned, whatever you want to call it. Again relative tuning is tuning to itself, so I would just start with whatever note this is. Relative Tuning is good if you're like out and about and you don't have a tuner nearby, which most people have a phone now so that'll work, or you're just in a hurry you don't care right. So you just take this low string, you're gonna reference the low string, so the way to do that is to go the 1 2 3 4 fret, hold that down, and then you're just trying to get the middle string to be the same note as the low string. So a thing that I like to recommend people do when you're tuning, especially if you're new and you don't know which direction, up or down, sharp or flat, to go: start tuning by going down. Then work your way back up.

So you know at that point two things. One: you know exactly from what point you're starting, lower, then working up to try and find that balance point of the two strings being in tune. The other thing is you're releasing any tension that's been built up between here and here. Now this particular model has a nut, and a nut has more friction in it than a zero fret would. When you're happy with that, move on to the next string. You need one, two, three, third fret on the middle string, the same note as the top string. I'm going to take it down, as per what I just said, and I know I need to bring it up. Close enough.

Strobe Tuner

Now that's way one: Relative Tuning. You have to get that one right because you won't always have a tuner handy, you won't always feel like pulling out a tuner, and you need to know the way you do it. In other words, the fingers, which frets, how to hear, etc. This helps for if you have a strobe tuner. You can see when I tuned it earlier, I was tuning it relative and it thinks I'm way, way under. I'm tuning this one to G and it thinks I'm way down near G flat. So I would use this, which I cannot do at the same time that I’m holding this. See how the needle’s moving?

So the goal here is to get that green light in the middle and that strobe to hit whatever note you're after. The great thing about having a tuner is you could tune up or down by a whole step or a half step depending on the string tension and how you feel about it. If you have a G tuned instrument like this you could potentially get it up to A, that's getting pretty tight, but you could definitely get it down to like F or something, F sharp or F. At some point the strings will feel too loose for it to make sense, but generally speaking you can go up or down a little bit. So you could use the tuner to find where that note is and then you tune from that. So I'm tuning it to G. According to my tuner that's that's a G, so now I do what I said before: I fret the low string at the 4th fret. You're listening for the two notes, which are always going to be kind of in flux against one another, you hit one you hit the other, but you're listening for when they kind of do this. You'll hear it in the vibration.

If you're new to music, if you're new to this kind of thing, if you're new to tuning or whatever, this is not something you're gonna hear right away. The more you do it, the more your ear will start to pick up on the very nuanced way those waveforms are going, and then suddenly you hear it one day you're like Oh. That's because you finally got them on the same pitch. Then again third fret middle string. I said three ways, this is the first two ways.

(If you're looking for a Clip-on Tuner, we've got them!)

Tuning App

The third way really is just using the app on your phone, I assume you have a phone. If not there's probably one for your computer, and if not a phone or a computer I don't know how you're watching this video.

Hopefully that helps, feel free to send us an email with a question at hello@stickdulcimer.com happy to give you a hand however we can and happy strumming!