Myth: My Guitar Doesn’t Stay in Tune, My Tuners Must Suck

For a steel string guitar, the tuners are almost never the problem. Most likely, the culprit is one of the following:

  1. New strings which haven’t been properly stretched. When you put in new strings, they need to be stretched tight. This has to do with the wind around the tuning peg as well as the need for the metal in the strings to “settle” into their new jobs. Often, the point which bends down past your bridge starts out a little floppy as well. You can fix all of this by making sure each string is stretched properly: 1) tune to pitch (all strings, verify); 2) tug up on the string; 3) if the string went flat, repeat.
  2. The nut (the thing the strings pass over at the top of your neck) is binding your strings. This is most noticeable when you do a lot of string bends and the open string goes flat after. What’s happening is you’re pulling the string when you bend it, and not all of the string is sliding back over the nut, leaving a slack. You can fix this a number of ways; nut lubricants (usually graphite based), replacing your nut with one made of bone (yes, bone) or a more slippery material or even special roller nuts, slightly widening your nut slots (carefully).
  3. Wood and metal do funny things during temperature and humidity changes. You can expect your guitar to be slightly out of tune every day, and even as it “warms up” while you play it, especially in colder weather.
  4. Improperly wound strings at the tuners. I’ve seen all sorts of crazy things, mostly: too many winds (2 is plenty), “crossed” winding where the string is wound on top of itself, and winding up away from the headstock (should wind down).

Before you return that budget guitar or replace your tuners, make sure you know what the real problem is. Even the cheapest of modern steel string guitar tuners are capable of doing their jobs, and there’s usually just a small difference in quality inside the mechanism between price ranges.

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About Dave Balmer

JavaScript guru, mobile app developer.

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