Tuning Woes – 5 Ways to Keep Your Guitar in Tune

Keep Guitar in Tune1.) Do you have more than 2 wraps?
The improperly wound string is the biggest offender when it comes to guitar tuning. I see people come in all the time with the entire string wrapped around the post, often times with the winding being tied in some elaborate knot. This is the best way to insure that you guitar will never play in tune. The strings on your guitar are made of metal, which is not elastic. If you have too many wraps on the tuner and excess gaps in the windings, the slack is taken out of all that extra winding when you stretch out the string (either bending notes or just simply strumming). When the strings go slack, the string pitch will go flat. We like to see one or two good full wraps, with no gaps between the string wrap and the tuning post. We do cinch the unwound strings with a “string tie”. It’s double secret, and I can’t divulge company secrets. However, I do recommend cinching the unwound strings in as simple a way as possible.

2.) How’s your nut?
The second most frequent tuning problem is a poorly made nut. The nut is the bone or plastic piece at the top of the fingerboard where the strings rest before they hit the tuning keys. If the nut slots are not cut at a proper angle or depth, the string will have a tendency to catch at a point in the slot. You can hear the “ting” when you’re trying to tune up. We use special nut slot files to correctly cut slots when we do a set up or if we’re making a new nut. Often, this just happens as the years go on and the string wears burrs into the soft nut material, but sometimes people have bigger strings than the factory installed on the guitar originally, or it has been miss cut or was never cut right from the start. All are easily remedied in the course of a good pro tech set up.

3.) Back in the saddle.
The saddle on either an electric or an acoustic can have the same problem with burrs as you have in the nut slots. This can cause string breakage as well as tuning problems. Once again, we just use the nut files on metal saddles or some sanding paper on acoustic saddles to elevate this common problem. I also like using liquid Teflon on all string contact points (keeps ‘em lubed up). If you have continuous problems, I would recommend replacement saddles. The String Saver saddles from Graphtech are wonderful and I highly recommend them (you can get those at most local guitar stores, or you can order a set from us). But if you want to stay original, most major manufacturers make replacements.

4.) Your tail.
If you have a Strat with a tremolo, and the bridge does not rest against the body when you’re not playing it, this may cause great tuning hassles. The bridge will never come back to rest in the same spot if you bend a string or use the trem. It’s been happening since 1954. Tack the bridge down to the body using the springs located in the back. This will let the bridge always return to the same position when you bend or wang on the trem. Or you can have the Hipshot Trem-setter installed. The Trem-setter allows the bridge to float and come back to rest at one spot, stabilizing the tuning. This should be professionally installed. Expect to pay about $45-50 for the piece and $30-$45 for install (not including a set up). If you have a Les Paul, the tailpiece should be no tighter than what allows the string to pass freely over the back of the bridge. If you have the tailpiece cranked down, the string will tend to bind up on the back of the bridge, and that won’t help with string breakage either. Just make sure the sting clears over the back of the bridge.

5.) It could be the Key.
Some times all of the afore mentioned elements are peachy, but your guitar won’t stay in tune. This means that your first hunch was right and it’s time to replace your crappy old tuners. Tuners come in a vast array of shapes, design and price. Many people prefer the locking tuners from Schaller or Spirtzel. These are great because they eliminate the need to wrap the string around the post (see #1). They don’t lock the string down like a double locking Floyd Rose trem system does, the just pinch the string so it has no winds. Very ingenious. Others just prefer the old fashion Grover Rotos (my favorite) or plane old Schallers or Gotoh. Tuners can be very expensive, so choose wisely. Also, if you don’t have much experience with drills and woodworking, I’d advise you see a qualified repair tech to install, as you can really maul your headstock, and the keys might not function properly. Be prepared to spend $15-$40 on this operation depending on the type of key and where you live!

11 Responses

  1. Nate says:

    this is great, except i dont quite understand what you mean by ‘Tack the bridge down to the body using the springs located in the back.’ maybe im just not understanding correctly.

  2. chris says:

    A Stratocaster style guitar has springs that pull the bridge down towards the body in the back of the guitar. Most people use their tremolo arm infrequently, so we usually tighten those springs up so the bridge rests on the body. You can still pull down (flat) on the tremolo for effect, just not back (sharp). This really helps Strats stay in tune.

  3. Howard Powell says:

    I can’t find a tuner for my broken g-string tuner. The plastic key cap broke off. I have upcoming gigs and need one bad. It is on a Godin XTSA guitar. I can replace it myself I just need the part. Do you have access to these? Can I buy one? If not, do you know where I can get a Godin tuner? Your help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks, Howard

  4. chris says:

    We do have quite a few buttons in stock but to assure proper fit, I would order them straight from Godin. They may only be able to sell them in a set, but their prices are really reasonable and it’s a good idea to have more than a few in case there is a problem with the other buttons. Godin’s phone is514-457-7977

  5. August Lord says:

    I have been looking for a set of tuners for an old Fender Mustang Bass. I have never seen them other than on my guitar. The keys are oval and Fender is printed on each tuner. Guitar Center referred me to you for assistance. I was hoping to email you a picture of them.

  6. chris says:

    Please send me a photo and I will see if I can help you. Send photos to thirdcoastguitar@ameritech.net

  7. Richard H says:

    Godin, besides making exceptional instruments, has excellent service. I just got two tuners for my ’02 Seagull S6, $3.50 each, shipping was more than the parts cost. Took about ten days to get ‘em ordered, shipped and delivered.

    Godin’s customer support is noted for it’s high quality on the Seagull-specific boards. Here’s a link to Godin’s site:

    http://www.godinguitars.com/indexlanguage.htm

  8. Jon says:

    I would have to disagree with your strat bridge setup method. After years of playing and adjusting strat bridges the correct way is to turn in all 6 hold down screws to where they just start to lift the bridge from the body ( no strings or springs installed)then install strings and springs and adjust springs so aft edge of bridge is approximatly 1/8″ off the body. This allows good forward motion and a little back motion not only for playing but the back motion allows you to (whip)the bar back a little to keep your tuning right. Downfall is that when you break a string, guitar change!

  9. chris says:

    Jon,
    I don’t disagree ;with you at all, but most people don’t ever use the tremolo on their Strats! If a customer wants to have the action on their tremolo arm so they can pull sharp, we do exactly what you are suggesting though we don’t usually set the tremolo so high off the body. The Fender spec is about a nickel’s (like $.05) thickness which is about .70″. The drawback is just like you said, you have to pull the guitar back into tune, if you do a double bend it is nearly impossible to keep the two notes in tune together and if you break a string, you are completely out of tune. If you set the tremolo to hit the top of the guitar body with just enough spring tension to make it easy to bend but enough to allow it to return to the top if you break a string, it is much more stable as far as tuning goes. This is why we set up Strats that way, because most people only use the bar for accent and they don’t know how to pull the guitar back into tune. Thanks for your comment!

  10. All my guitars have floating Floyd Rose’s on ‘em. I picked up a used Ibanez and it up has issues with staying in tune. I can setup a Floyd trem, but are the knifepoint edges possibly in need of resharpening? Does a trem ever need to be completely replaced? Fine tuners look like they’ve had better days as well. Thanks!

  11. chris says:

    Alan,
    We do see the knife edges and the trem studs get work out, especially on Licensed Floyd Rose products. Those are not usually made from top of the line materials like the Original Floyds. We usually recommend replacing the studs and sanding the knife edge smooth again and use a good bit of lubricant as well. If that doesn’t work then, yes, we may look into replacing the system. Gotoh and a few other companies make very nice replacement products for not too much money, unless you want to go with good old fashioned Original Floyd Rose products (never a bad idea). Floyd Rose does sell upgraded Stainless Steel and Titanium pieces that we highly recommend for the Whammy Happy customer….

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