If you’re interested in standard and alternate piccolo bass tuning, this guide is for you.
And if you need a refresher on what exactly a piccolo bass is and why it’s unique, check out my guide to the piccolo bass.
Let’s dive in.
So what’s standard piccolo bass tuning?
It’s E2-A2-D3-G3, one octave higher than standard bass tuning and the exact same as the tuning of the last four strings on a standard guitar.
I’ll discuss alternate piccolo bass tunings in the sections below.
Piccolo Bass Alternate Tunings
The purpose of altering the standard tuning of an instrument is to reach notes that could not be reached otherwise.
There are multiple ways in which you can alter the standard tuning of your bass guitar:
- Tuning up or down: You can safely tune up or down each string about one half-step or a whole-step without straining them too much. Consider that going up or down more than a whole-step leaves your bass guitar with strings that are either too loose or too tense to stay in tune. This happens because each string was made to reach a specific note. Therefore, going any further either up or down alters the ability of a string to stay in tune.
- Replacing strings: You can replace one string with another in order to reach a certain tuning easily. For example, you can replace your low E-string for another A-string, making it easier to tune the 4th string to G. Of course, the same can be done with the remaining strings.
- Using a different string gauge: You can just use a thicker or thinner string gauge in order to tune comfortably to your desired notes. This is the safest way to reach lower/higher tunings, without straining the strings or the instrument too much.
Keep in mind that altering the tuning of your bass for a long period may affect the trust rod. Or you may want to make truss rod adjustments for a long-term alternate tuning, particularly if you are modifying a standard bass to be a piccolo bass.
Piccolo Bass Tuning
The name “piccolo” is Italian for “little”; therefore the term is used to describe smaller versions of regular-size instruments.
Usually, a piccolo instrument will be tuned higher than the normal-size version. In this case:
- The piccolo bass is tuned one octave higher than a bass guitar – E2-A2-D3-G3.
- The instrument is about 4” smaller than a bass guitar.
The piccolo bass relies on different string gauges to achieve stable and reliable tuning.
To to transform your bass into a piccolo bass, you need to use piccolo strings. This is because a piccolo bass is tuned 1 octave higher than a standard-tuning bass. So, to accomplish this, you will need a new set of strings especially crafted to handle that tuning.
Be warned that tuning your standard strings up is not an option, since they cannot support that higher tension and will almost certainly break before you reach the higher octave and cause undue stress on your instrument.
Piccolo bass strings come in a .020-.052 gauge. They are not quite the same as a standard guitar (even though the tuning will be the same as the last 4 strings on a standard guitar) because a bass guitar’s scale is longer than a guitar’s.
Piccolo Bass Tuning – Advantages
The piccolo bass standard tuning – E2-A2-D3-G3 – allows you to:
- Play chord-melody arrangements easily: The balance between registers allows you to play strong bass lines along with melodies.
- Mid and high range melodies will be easily-heard: Sometimes bass notes get lost in the supporting sounds of an arrangement. But a piccolo bass will have sounds more like a lead instrument.
- Performing some maneuvers more easily: Four-hand tapping, complex chord shapes, and bendings will likely be easier to perform on thinner strings.
- Perform the same chord shapes and licks of the bass guitar: Since the tuning is still EADG, you can rely on the chord and scale shapes you already know from your bass (or guitar) playing.
Piccolo Bass Tuning – Alternate Tuning
Here are some of the most common piccolo bass alternate tunings.
And don’t forget to use proper piccolo bass strings like these.
Drop D Tuning: DADG
As with the bass or standard guitar, drop D tuning consists of lowering the 4th string from E to D.
This tuning will enhance the low register of the piccolo bass, allowing you to play more chords with a strong low-end.
Also, you will have an easier time playing music in the keys of D major, D minor, G major or G minor. Thanks to the open low D-string you can easily play chords using this note as the root.
Eb Standard Tuning: EbAbDbGb
In order to get your piccolo bass in Eb standard, you need to tune each string 1 half-step down.
This tuning will get you a slightly darker tone than the standard tuning. No significant changes can be seen in terms of expanding the tone range of the instrument.
However, you can now play in a lot of keys that are harder in standard tuning, such as E-flat major/minor, A-flat major/minor, D-flat major/minor, and other keys. This tuning is ideal if you were to play with a horn section, considering that horns are naturally tuned in the keys of Bb and Eb.
D Standard Tuning: DGCF
This tuning consists of tuning all strings 1 whole step down. This will get you a darker and heavier sound than the standard E tuning.
In this case, the overall low ranger of the piccolo bass will be enhanced. You will be able to easily play through the keys of D major/minor, B major, F major/minor, C major/minor.
As always, remember to adjust the truss rod accordingly to ensure tuning stability!
Which Piccolo Bass Tuning Is Better?
The best alternate tuning is the one that serves your musical ideas the best.
Of course, you should think in practical terms too!
Playing with a horn section? Try the Eb standard tuning
Want to play heavier songs in D minor? Try the D standard tuning
If you have questions about piccolo bass tuning, let me know in the comments!
Also, if you have other alternate tunings for the piccolo bass, comment below!