Written by Tom of TomGuitar
Every guitar player suffers from tuning problems from time to time – it’s a natural part of playing a stringed instrument.
Tuning problems are particularly common in cheaper instruments, and even more expensive ones can be difficult to keep in tune in they’re not maintained well. Constantly having to retune your guitar can be very frustrating!
Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be that way. In this article I’ll reveal the top 4 tips you can use to eliminate tuning difficulties for good!
Use New, Good Quality Strings
The type and brand of strings you use has a massive effect on the tuning stability of your guitar, so it’s really important to give them some consideration.
If your guitar is equipped with cheap, old and rusty strings then keeping it in tune will be a nightmare. By using good quality, new strings though, tuning stability will be greatly increased.
If you want to keep your guitar in tune then I’d suggest using the best strings that you can find. You might end up paying more for them per set, but in the long run you’ll save money because they last so much longer. I personally use Elixir brand strings, because they have a coating on the string that prevents the build-up of dirt and helps the tone to last far longer than with other strings. There are other brands of coated strings too, so have a look in your local guitar shop and see what you can find.
Changing strings regularly is also very important. Strings that were changed last week will stay in tune far better than ones that were changed six months ago, so change strings regularly to make sure they stay fresh.
How regularly you decide to change them is up to you (and depends on how often you play), but I’d say around once every month or two is enough for a beginner.
Change Your Strings Correctly
The second tip is to make sure that when you change strings, you do it well. There are a few keys to doing it properly, but the main one is to make sure the string windings are done well.
Make sure the string windings are neat. When you change strings be sure to leave a little bit of the string slack so that you can get a few good windings around the tuner, and make sure that the windings are tight and secure. Tuning problems can be caused by messy, loose windings because the string will occasionally slip out of position, sending it out of tune. Make your windings neat, and you won’t get this problem.
Stretch Your Strings
After you’ve changed strings it can take a while for the strings and neck to “settle” again and become stable. Until this happens, your tuning will be all over the place! You can make this “settling” process happen much faster if you follow this tip. After you’ve changed strings, tune up your guitar and then grab the low E string. Stretch it away from the fretboard all the way down the length of the string, and then release it and re-tune. Keep doing this until you can stretch the string without it going out of tune. Give the string a good pull, but be careful not to snap it! Then, go on to the next string and continue until you’ve done all of them.
This might take a while but in the long run you’ll save loads of time and effort. Once you’ve done it your guitar’s tuning stability will be way better, and you’ll be able to play freely without tuning problems.
You can even follow this tip if you haven’t recently changed your strings, as the stretching process is still the same. It’ll help to settle your strings in and eliminate any dodgy/messy spots in the string windings.
If your problems are particularly bad, then repeat the same process the following day. After that your tuning should be really solid.
Lubricate the Nut
The nut is the little (usually plastic) slot at the top of your guitar neck (by the headstock) where the strings slot through. If the nut isn’t lubricated then the friction can cause the strings to get caught in there, before suddenly and randomly releasing themselves and sending your guitar out of tune. You don’t need any specialist tools or equipment to do this – just a sharp pencil.
Loosen off your strings by loosening the tuners until the strings can be gently lifted out of the nut slots. Then, rub each slot with the pencil so that it gets covered in graphite. Finally, put the strings back into the slots and re-tune. You can also do this in between taking old strings off and putting new ones on.
The graphite from the pencil acts as a lubricant that allows the string to move more freely in the nut slot. This tip is particularly good if your guitar goes out of tune when you bend strings, as the strings will be able to slide in the nut freely without getting stuck as you bend.
Final Thoughts on Tuning Problems
If you use these tips then your tuning problems will disappear. If you’re a beginner player then I’d recommend getting your guitar set-up by a professional; a well set-up cheap guitar will play like one many times the price that’s badly set up, and the tuning stability will also be greatly improved.
I hope this article has been helpful – happy playing!
Tom has been playing guitar for over a decade and has a wealth of experience playing, performing and teaching. His website TomGuitar is full of articles, lessons and reviews to help guitarists become the best players they can be. His free guide “47 Awesome and Easy Guitar Solos Any Beginner Can Learn Right Now” has helped hundreds of beginners start to learn lead guitar!