April 9, 2014
By Morgan Brunner
The Gretsch Roots collection includes several ukulele models of varying sizes and styles. Given the resurgence of the instrument’s popularity in recent years, many who acquire a ukulele for the first time often find themselves wondering how to tune it.
Of several ways to tune ukuleles, the most common standard tuning is gCEA. The third-string C equals middle C on a piano, and that lowercase G indicates that this is a reentrant tuning in which the strings are not tuned in an ascending (or descending) order of pitches. That first G is actually not the G pitched below the second-string C by a perfect fourth; it’s actually one octave higher than that, which makes it fall between the pitches of the third-string E and fourth-string A. This non-linear kind of tuning arrangement is partially responsible for the distinctively lilting tone of the instrument.
Of the four common ukulele sizes, three of them—soprano, concert and tenor (smallest to largest)—frequently use the reentrant gCEA tuning. The fourth and largest, the baritone ukulele—typically uses the non-reentrant version of this tuning, GCEA, in which the first-string G is tuned a perfect fourth below the second-string C.
Having said that, soprano, concert and tenor ukuleles less often can and do use non-reentrant tunings such as the GCEA arrangement just described.
Simply tuning a uke as you would the top four strings of a guitar presents a non-standard baritone-style tuning of DGBE (low to high). While this is clearly quite different than the standard gCEA uke tuning, note that applying a capo to the fifth fret of a guitar in standard tuning does yield a non-reentrant GCEA tuning.
A popular alternate ukulele tuning—especially for tenor and baritone models—is aDF#B (and its non-reentrant version, ADF#B), which is one whole step higher than standard ukulele tuning. Other alternate uke tunings include FBbDG, EbAbCF and EAC#F#.