Each string on a banjo is given and number and a name. The skinniest string is #1 and the fattest string is #4. The shortest string is #5. The name of each the strings depends on the note it is to be tuned to on the banjo. Many tunings are available for the 5-string banjo such as the ‘G’ tuning, ‘C’ tuning, ‘D’ tuning, minor tunings, modal tunings, long neck folk tunings, etc. I will use only the standard ‘G’ bluegrass tuning here.
The string names are: D – first string, B – second string, G – third string, D – fourth string, G – fifth string.
PITCH PIPE METHOD
A pitch pipe is similar to a small harmonica. Pitch pipes are available for 4-string banjos, 5-string banjos, guitars, fiddles, and mandolins. Be sure to get the correct pitch pipe. Another pitch pipe type is called a ‘chromatic’, which has all 12 notes of the scale. This is the one your music teacher may have had when they were trying to teach you to sing. Pitch pipes have a separate hole to blow into for each note. Choose the string name note and blow into that hole. Turn the banjo tuning peg until you match the same sound of the string with the pitch pipe. This is ‘tuning by ear’. It is difficult for beginners. The danger is you could break a string trying to match the sounds. Get some help or try another method.
TUNING FORK METHOD
Tuning forks are available in different notes. One fork for each note. The note name and frequency is marked on the fork stem. The’A’, ‘C’, and ‘G’ forks were most common, but expensive. With a ‘G’ fork, hold it by the stem, strike the tines against your knee, and hold the base of the fork on your banjo bridge. Turn the middle ‘G’ banjo tuning peg until you match the sound of the string with the sound of the fork. This may take several tries to get the string tuned. This is more difficult than using a pitch pipe, but when you get it right, the string will vibrate and you can feel the string move when you touch it lightly with your finger. Again, get help.