dateFriday 19 Jun 2015

Staying in Tune Series

Why Your Guitar Won’t Stay in Tune and How To Quickly Tune It On-the-go or in the Studio

For Full Access to the Entire Video Course on This Series Along with 370+ One-on-one Style Guitar Lessons Visit: The Unstoppable Guitar System

1. Sometimes It’s The Guitar

Strings – Gotta Have ‘em! But What’s Their Condition?

Old Guitar Strings – When strings get old, they lose their tension. When this happens, change them. There is not a set amount of time per se, but if it’s been a year…it’s time!
Gunk Build Up – Get a lint-free cloth, like a t-shirt or wash cloth to clean your strings after each use to prolong the life of the your guitars strings. Dirty strings sound dull and are harder to keep in tune.
New Guitar Strings – New strings need to be stretched out. When you restring your guitar, make sure you stretch them until they stop going out of tune (usually 3-5 times). THEN tune it up and rock out. (see my videos on changing strings)
How Are They Strung

  • How Many Wraps on the Tuning Post? – Most guitar repair guys agree that you should ALWAYS have at least 2 full wraps around each tuning post. If not, you will get slippage. More is not better per se, although the thinner strings should have more wraps if not using a knot. If using a knot most guitar luthiers prefer 2 wraps again. I usually shoot for 2 wraps on the low E and add a wrap per string, so the high E has about 7 wraps. I suggest getting a string winder as this will make the job a lot easier and faster.
  • Add a Knot For the Unwound Strings. Tying a knot for strings 1, 2 and 3 can help keep those strings from slipping without creating too many wraps.
  • Overlapping wraps can also cause problems. Make sure your wraps spiral down.

Nut, Saddles and Tail-piece – Strings Get Hung-up Around “these here parts”

nut saddle tail piece guitar

Nut – Nuts that are not cut at the proper depth or angle can “pinch” or hold on to the strings enough to keep them from moving smoothly within the grooves. An experienced guitar repair person can remedy this with a file or sandpaper.
Saddles – Saddles can hang onto strings just like the nut. Again, an experienced guitar repair person can remedy this with a file or sandpaper. If you feel you need to replace your saddles, Graphtech makes the String Saver saddles, which improve tone, limit string breakage and help circumvent tuning issues.
Tail (piece) – If you have a guitar with a tremolo or “whammy” bar, this can also cause tuning issues if not set up correctly. There are springs in the back of the guitar that “counter” the pull of the strings. If the tremolo bridge is not flush to the body of the guitar, this is called “floating”. This means that you can pull the bar back to sharpen the strings as well as push it down to flatten the strings. Some guitarists like the ability to do this, but the problem is that the tremolo never comes back to the exact position because of string tension and release. Because of this, we can have tuning issues. To remedy this, the screws that hold the springs into place in the back of the guitar (strat-styled tremolo systems) can be tightened to bring the bridge flush against the body of the guitar. This allows for the bridge to come to the same resting position each time. Also, if you should break a guitar string with a floating style tremolo, you WILL go out of tune since the broken string will change the counter-pull of the strings. This is another reason not to have your tremolo “float”.

Are Your Pickups to Close to Your Strings?

Since pickups are magnetic, they pull on guitar strings. If your pickups are too close to your strings, it will be hard to keep them in tune. This pull can also mess with intonation. Since most guitarists prefer to have their strings as close to the pickup as possible for optimal tone, you will need to find a happy medium.

An expert guitar repair person will be able to guide you with this.

It MIGHT Be Your Tuning Pegs!

tuning pegs

  • Loose tuning pegs will cause tuning issues – Tighten them up if possible
    • To neck
    • On some tuning pegs, there is a screw on the outside. If this is loose, this will cause tuning problems. Hand tighten (don’t over tighten) so that the peg will hold the string in tune.
  • Quality – Some tuning pegs can “lock” the string in place, which allows for less windings, which means less slack, which means staying in tune!

Sure The Guitar is Tune, But How is The Intonation?

how to intonate your guitar

A guitar can have every variable addressed here and if not properly intonated, will sound out of tune. This is because there is a specific string length, from nut to saddle, that each string MUST have to stay in tune across the entire fretboard. Each open string and it’s 12th fret harmonic must measure precisely in the same place on a tuner. If not, adjustments to the saddle must be made to correct intonation.

Make sure your guitar is properly intonated like I prescribe in

Is Your Capo Pressing Too Hard on the Strings?

If the tension of your capo creates too much pressure on the strings, it will bend them slightly up in pitch, rendering them sharp. Purchase an adjustable capo like a Shubb, especially for electric guitars.

Your Guitar Neck Can Cause Many Tuning Problems

guitar neck

Truss rod adjustments – There is a bar that runs through the center of most guitar necks. If this is not adjusted correctly to suit your style of playing, you can have intonation/tuning issues. I prefer to have an expert adjust this, although I have adjusted these with my guitars in the past.
High or scalloped frets – High frets can create issues because of the distance that the string has to travel from unfretted to fretted position. If you are playing a guitar with a “scalloped” neck, very light playing is required or you will bend the pitches sharp by merely fretting too hard.
Loose necks are WACK! – If your guitar neck is loose like an old Gibson SG, etc., tuning will be an issue. If it’s a bolt-on neck, make sure the bolts holding the neck to the guitar are hand-tightened. If it’s a glued-on neck or neck-thru guitar, see your local guitar repair person.
Tie on guitar straps on the neck (Don’t Do It!) – Some acoustic guitars don’t have a guitar strap button installed on the heel of the guitar neck. Guitarists that want to play standing up will usually tie the guitar strap on with a shoe-lace or small piece of twine. However, this will pull and release your guitar neck tension causing tuning issues. Don’t do it! Have a guitar strap button installed on the heel of your guitar neck. Although I have done this myself, I would advise seeking out a pro to do this, depending on your expertise.
Warped neck (Oh No!) – if you have a warped neck(bent), see a professional guitar repair person.

2. Sometimes It’s You and Not The Guitar

How hard are you fingering your guitar strings?

If you are fretting too hard, especially with high or scalloped frets, you will bend each note sharp by merely fretting too hard. To remedy this, practice a LOT and be mindful of how hard you are fretting. Be conscious of playing lighter. The faster the player, the lighter they play.

Are you applying too much pressure on the bridge or pulling the neck?

Especially if you have a floating tremolo system, if you apply too much pressure on the bridge, you will push your strings sharp. To remedy this, don’t press as hard on the bridge when you play guitar. Being mindful of your playing will help with this.

Picking very hard creates a sharpening effect.

Strings tend to go sharp before settling down to their proper pitch.

Your body chemistry can ruin strings

Your sweat and skin acids can corrode strings. On rarer occasions I have known guitar players that can play a guitar one time and the strings will rust overnight. If this is you, try a more alkaline based diet consisting of more fruits and veggies. Animal flesh, their milk, alcohol, tobacco and wheat will cause acidity in your body which not only corrode your strings but will also challenge your health.

How Are You Tuning Your Guitar? (Tuning techniques)

precise tuning

BONUS VIDEO: Press Play Below to Watch a Sample Video Inside the Members Area of the Unstoppable Guitar System (10 minutes long)

  • ALWAYS tune up to a note. Never down. Follow my tuning protocol in
  • Don’t forget to tune to some chords. – After open notes are tuned, play some chords and compensate for those chords as well. The guitar is not perfect and sometimes you need to compromise your tuning. If one chord is in tune, but another is not, try compensating the tuning between the two chords as I discuss in my Staying in Tune Series at

How Climate Affects Tuning – Humidity and Temperature (expansion/contraction)

  • Optimal humidity range is 42-55% – mainly for acoustic guitars
    • Purchase and use a humidifier/dehumidifier depending on your climate.
    • Purchase and use a hygrometer
  • Temperature – if it’s uncomfortable for you, it’s uncomfortable for your guitars. Like a dog or baby, NEVER leave your guitar in a hot or cold car.


Posted byErich

About Erich

Erich Andreas has been playing and teaching guitar for nearly 30 years. He has taught 100s of students for 1000s of hours, has authored several books on the subject, has over 40,000,000 video views on his collective YouTube channels and is passionate about creating guitar ninjas all over the world. His philosophy is, if you have the right instruction and do the practice there is NOTHING that you cannot accomplish!