Watch the Tuning The Bass online guitar lesson by John Goldsby from Upright Bass Handbook
There are several ways to tune the upright bass. The easiest is with an electronic tuner: just play the open G, D, A, and E and let the tuner do the work. You can get a more precise read on the pitch of the string by using the high octave harmonic, halfway up each string. And now that we're talking about harmonics, let's talk about how to tune your bass using your ears.
Note that in this lesson, I sometimes refer to the location or number of a fret. Of course, the upright bass does not have frets! But if you play electric bass, you might find it useful to think of the position of certain notes on the upright as you find them (by fret) on the electric bass guitar. I refer to “dividing the string in half” (the 12th fret on the electric bass), “dividing the string in thirds” (the 7th fret on the electric bass) and “dividing the string in quarters” (the 5th fret on the electric bass).
To tune the bass using harmonics, get one string in tune to start. Check your G string with a keyboard or tuner. Or, ask your guitar player to play an open G string, and match your octave G harmonic to that pitch.
Now play the high D harmonic on the G string. This is the harmonic that divides the string in thirds. Play that harmonic with your 4th finger, and match the pitch to the high D harmonic on the D string, which will be under your 1st finger. Adjust the D string until those two pitches match. Your G and D strings are now in tune.
Now repeat the procedure using the high A harmonic on the D string under your 4th finger; matching that pitch to the high A harmonic on the A string, found under your 1st finger. Adjust the A string until the pitches match. Your A, D, and G strings are now in tune.
Now repeat the procedure using the high E harmonic on the A string under your 4th finger; matching that pitch to the high E harmonic on the E string, found under your 1st finger. Adjust the E string until the pitches match.
Now you have all four strings in tune--and you did it all by using your ears!