If you ask 100 bassists about detuning your bass, you will get 100 different answers. Some will hold that you should always detune your bass after playing, while some will say that you should never do it. But is either of these opinions fully correct, and should you detune your bass guitar after playing?
If you regularly play your bass guitar, detuning it after playing will not assist in maintaining the condition of the instrument. When a bass is stored away for longer periods of time, or exposed to humidity changes, detuning can help preserve the condition of the neck.
Therefore, there is a time and space for detuning. However, it`s not something you will regularly have to pay any mind to.
I have written this guide to tell you all you need to know about detuning your bass. You will be shown when you should detune and why, and when it can be insignificant or even damaging to your instrument to do so.
How do you detune a bass guitar?
A bass is detuned by loosening the tension of the strings by turning the tuning pegs on the headstock of the bass. Bass guitars can be detuned purely for the sake of loosening string tension, or in order to switch to an alternate tuning such as Drop D or C Standard.
If you do decide to detune your bass, I recommend using a tuner. Even if you are detuning just to loosen string tension, you want to be aware of exactly how much you are loosening the strings.
If you keep your bass in E standard, you can use the tuner below to detune it down 1 whole step. This will turn your bass to D standard. This is about as far as you can tune down without needing a string change or setup. It is thus a great place to start if you are looking to explore alternate tunings, or if you just want to loosen the string tension after playing.
If you are just loosening the string tension you don`t have to pay much mind to whether the bass is in tune. Tuning about a half step to a whole step down is a good range when loosening tension. Thus, you can use the tuner above to make sure that you don`t tune down too much.
Should you detune your bass?
In general, detuning a bass regularly will lessen the stability of its neck and is thus not beneficial for maintaining the condition of the instrument. A bass guitar can however benefit from being detuned when exposed to drastic changes in humidity and temperature.
I have heard about some bassists detuning their basses every time they pack them away in the case. If the bass will be played again in a day or two, this will only be harmful to the instrument. As long as the bass is set up correctly, it will get used to the tension of being in tune. Regular detuning only makes this job harder on the bass.
Over my 15 years as a bassist, I have owned multiple basses and left some of them unplayed for longer periods of time. I never detuned any of them, and leaving them tuned did no noticeable damage to any of them.
However, some bassists consider detuning a best practice when storing away a bass. My basses were not exposed to major humidity or temperature changes when they were stored. Thus, If you cannot guarantee that your bass will stay at room temperature when stored, I do recommend detuning it.
Detuning in order to achieve an alternate tuning is however a common practice. This can be beneficial for covering artists that play in a different tuning or to achieve a heavier sound.
In general, tuning down will require your bass to be set up, and for you to get a heavier set of strings. This holds especially true if you are tuning down multiple whole steps to tunings such as A standard.
Should you loosen bass strings when shipping?
As a general rule, bass strings should be slightly detuned prior to shipping your instrument. This is to reduce the chance of the bass getting damaged during shipment and is recommended by multiple carriers such as FedEx.
When shipping your bass, you want your instrument to remain as secure as possible. You also want to avoid being liable if it gets damaged or lost.
Related reading: Shipping Your Bass Guitar
This mainly consists in packing the instrument safely and insuring it. However, it is also beneficial to loosen the strings on your bass slightly. This will result in reduced strain on the neck of the bass, which in turn decreases the chance of it being damaged.
FedEx Recommends loosening the strings when shipping your bass. While carrier guidelines will wary, it is a best practice to follow them. This is because whether you follow them or not can impact your liability if the instrument is damaged or lost.
Some bassists argue that detuning your bass prior to shipping is unnecessary. The reason for this is generally that major manufacturers ship their instruments without detuning them. Many bassists have also shipped their basses tuned, without running into any issues.
I agree that string tension will rarely have an impact on what happens to your bass during shipment. However, shipping a bass is all about it keeping it as safe as possible and avoiding liability. As slight detuning can help you slightly in both of these areas I do personally recommend it.
Over my 15 years as a bassist, I have never felt the need to detune a bass that I played regularly. From what I can tell, this has not had any type of negative impact on my instruments.
If you are shipping a bass or it is exposed to drastic changes in humidity and temperature, detuning is a best practice. Your bass will often be fine without detuning, but any measure you can take to lessen the chance of your bass being damaged is one that I would recommend.
Also, keep in mind that all basses are different. A Headless bass guitar`s neck can behave vastly different than one of a vintage bass, or a 6-string.
Thus, if one bass had a certain need for detuning, do not make the mistake of assuming that this will apply to every single bass. This holds especially true if the instrument is exposed to a new environment, or you vastly change how often you play it.
Bassists hold vastly different opinions about how beneficial it is to detune their instruments