Getting tired of your guitar going out of tune?
We’ve all been there! Having your guitar slip in and out of tune to various degrees is both the bane of a guitarists life, and could also be the indication of a genuine problem with your guitar.
Let’s take a look over some of the ways that your guitar can go out of tune, and also what that could mean in terms of a larger problem!
10 reasons your guitar can go out of tune
Any guitar, even if you have a locking tremolo, is going to go out of tune at some point. And that’s okay. But if you’re experiencing tuning problems consistently over an extended period of time, then it will be best to have a look over the following points:
1. New strings haven’t had time to ‘settle’
I was initially surprised when speaking to other guitarists who didn’t know that it’s very common for a new set of string to slip in and out of tune. You need to give your fresh strings time to ‘settle’, and I usually do this over a period of a few days. That doesn’t mean stretching the life out of them either. The way I break my new strings in is split between:
- Legato – Repetitive hammer-ons and pull-offs to get the strings set against the neck
- Chord runs – I’ll play the same chord in several different shapes, meaning that nearly every note up to the top frets is given a look
- Playing until the tuning slips – I feel this is important as you can’t just play when the new strings are in tune. Ideally, you want to get to the point fairly quickly where your new strings are settled and you’re just having to do micro-adjustments so you can carry on playing in tune
2. It’s time for a string change
Old strings can be just as much of a problem as old ones. As strings age they can obviously become worn, and even reduce in density due to continual wear. The wear is one of the more common causes that will cause the tuning to slip, as the strings become more worn when in place within the nut.
Personally, I change my strings every 2 months. However, as a guitar teacher I’m playing at least 5 hours per day on and off, so this may be a little overkill for most players.
3. You leave it next to a radiator
Wondering if you can leave your guitar next to a radiator? Please, please don’t do this! Any level of heat is likely to cause even minimal warping, and could in fact cause serious damage to your instrument. Naturally, the first thing to slip will be the tuning, and if left long enough your guitar will also experience:
- A continual drop in pitch as the heat expands the strings
- Possible internal issues such as a metal casing or rod become heated and expanded, resulting in warp to the neck or body
Just let me say it again just to be sure (as I’ve learnt the hard way on this one). Keep your guitar away from continual heat, radiator or otherwise!
4. Constant Whammy Bar Use
The nut of your guitar can be surprisingly temperamental if it isn’t set up properly, and this is never truer when it comes to using your tremolo. Sustained use of the whammy bar will cause your strings to move around in the nut, and naturally become both slack and then tight in repetitive movements.
Ultimately, without a locking system like a Floyd Rose, the movement can cause your tuning to shift just purely based on the level of movement in the nut.
Having said that, if you’re experiencing a tuning slip every time you so much as lightly feather your tremolo, then you might want to get your guitar checked out by a professional.
5. Tone-down your playing intensity
This is a really common one for beginner players, especially when experimenting with something like a delay pedal and wanting to see how far effects can be pushed, or how loud they can play.
Naturally, your guitar can only take so much continual playing intensity. To put it lightly, if you’re truly decimating your guitar with every strum and experiencing a slip in tuning, it might be worth getting a teacher just to revisit technique!
6. Intense string bending
Bending itself isn’t usually an issue when it comes to tuning, but something like continual bends that exceed standard tonal jumps will naturally cause the string to slip in the nut.
This was something I experienced when going through my shredding phase (does it ever really end?), and after experiencing minor tuning slips I made the jump to a guitar with a locking tremolo system. Now, if you’re just experimenting, I wouldn’t recommend this, as a locking system comes with it’s own set of problems.
But, if you know you’re going to be doing things like constant whammy dive bombs and intense bends, then it might be worth checking a locking nut out.
A floating bridge is usually paired with a locking nut, and if its not set up properly then your tuning is likely to be all over the place. Most floating bridges will have micro-tuners that you can use, however you are very likely to experience tuning issues if you’re having to undo the locking nut to tune your guitar.
8. Your capo has seen better days
It’s easy to blame capo issues on general placement, but you might also be using one that is super old or just not suited to the neck of your guitar. Your capo is putting tension on the neck of your guitar, and one that is poor quality can very easily cause tonality and tuning issues. I’ve done a guide to capos if you’re stuck on where to start with buying one for your guitar.
9. Nut filing is required
If you’re the type of player who likes to experiment with different strings widths and gauges, then your nut is naturally going to see the wear and tear of constant changes and different sizes.
If you’re using something like 0.8 gauge strings on a guitar that originally came with something like 0.11’s, then you may need a nut filing to ensure that your strings ‘sit’ in place properly, ensuring that there’s no chance of your strings moving around the place and causing a tuning issue.
10. It might be time for a setup
As I play guitar every day for at least several hours a day, I get a full set up every 6 months. This includes nut cleaning, treatment to the neck, along with inspection of the frets (to stop that annoying fret buzz) and setting of the action. I saved up for a PRS SE anniversary addition, there’s now way I’m not giving it the best treatment!
The easiest way to ensure your guitar stays in tune
Okay, so we’ve covered some of the more common reasons that could cause a slip in tuning, But, once your guitar is in tune, what’re you supposed to do to keep it that way? Based on what we’ve outlined, here’s a really quick summary on some of the important takeaways (so that you don’t end up spending a fortune on any expensive repairs later along your playing career):
- Change strings every few months and get a full setup at least once per year
- Get a locking nut and floating bridge if you’re prone to continual whammy bar usage
- Ensure you’re using proper technique when playing, and that you’re not striking the strings with over-the-top intensity
Tuning and these types of issues are often the ones that we as guitarists will either tend to ignore, or not want to address directly because, let’s face it, it’s simply boring.
However, your guitar should be purchased with the view of you wanting it to last, and that means taking good care of it too! Follow the steps mentioned and you’ll reduce the time you’re sat around tuning your guitar in no time.
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