Want to know more about keeping your guitar in tune?
Guitar tuning is an important part of guitar playing... scratch that, it’s the most important part of playing!
Getting and keeping your guitar in tune requires consistent attention, so minimizing the time and effort spent tuning allows you to spend more time playing.
But you know what else?
Many factors can affect your guitar’s tuning and tuning stability. Here are six ways to help your guitar stay in tune longer.
1. Install Your Strings Properly
When you install new strings, there are a few tips that will help your new strings “settle in” quicker and stay in tune better.
Let’s get started:
a) Make sure the strings are firmly seated on the guitar at the ball end of the string.
On steel-string acoustic guitars, there is typically a bridge pin that secures the string’s ball end.
Drop the ball end of the string into the appropriate opening in the bridge plate and push the bridge pin in with one hand while gently tugging the string with the other.
This will ensure that the ball-end of the string is seated snugly against the bottom of the bridge pin.
This prevents the string from being too far inside the guitar and slipping once you bring it up to pitch.
You may have to hold the bridge pin in place while you bring the string up to pitch as well.
The same principle applies to electric guitar.
Wherever the ball end of the string is seated - stop tailpiece, wrap-around bridge, tremolo block, back of the guitar body - make sure that it is snug before you attempt to bring the string up to pitch.
b) Use a minimum number of neat winds around the tuner post.
A few wraps around the tuner post will usually work for wound strings, more may be required for unwound strings.
As a guideline, strings with a smaller diameter require more wraps.
The goal is to have each wrap neatly stacked, working downward from the tuning peg hole.
This will help the string return to the same spot around the post when the string tension changes.
A tremolo arm, left-hand string bend, or moving the tuners for any reason changes the tension on the string and having stacked windings around the post gives the string a better chance of returning to the same spot once the tension returns to normal.
c) Stretch your strings well.
Once your new strings are installed and up to pitch, gently tug 8-10 times at various places along the length of the string.
Then, push down gently on the string behind the nut and on or behind the bridge to help it seat properly.
Now bring it back to pitch.
Repeat this process for each string, as many times as necessary, until the strings begin to stay in tune. Properly stretched strings tend to stay in tune better over their lifespan.
2. Don’t Let Your Strings Get Old.
Strings have a lifespan; even if they are clean and have a minimum of playing hours on them, strings will reach a point where they won’t intonate as well.
This means that while your open string may be in tune, some fretted notes will not.
If your guitar is set up properly and this occurs, it’s time to change strings.
3. Make Sure Your Guitar is Properly Set Up.
A good set up will help with many aspects of tuning.
For example, uneven frets or an improperly adjusted neck can cause intonation problems.
When turning the tuners, strings can hang up at the nut or bridge if the slots aren’t cut correctly, causing the pitch of the string to “stick,” then jump suddenly.
Another crucial element is correct bridge and saddle adjustment because that’s where the intonation for the entire guitar is set.
A good set up is important to playing in tune.
If you don’t feel comfortable doing a set up yourself, have a professional guitar repairman set up your instrument.
It will play, sound, and stay in tune much better with a pro set up.
4. Lubricate the “Sticking Points” on the Guitar.
Even with a good set-up, strings can hang-up slightly at certain contact points on the guitar.
These are typically the nut and bridge, but can also be anywhere the string makes contact with the guitar, such as string trees.
There are many products that can cleanly, safely, and easily lubricate all of the contact points along your guitar strings.
“DIY” items such as pencil graphite work fine, or you can use commercial products such as Big Bends Nut Sauce, Super Vee Super Glide, and MusicNomad Tune-it Lubricant.
5. Be Aware of Your Playing Technique.
Your fretting hand technique can make a big difference in how well you play in tune.
Pulling down on the strings when holding chords or pressing too firmly against the fretboard when holding notes or chords can cause them to sound sharp in pitch.
Your non-fretting hand can cause problems, too.
If you strike the strings too hard, they will sound sharp on the initial attack.
6. Tune “Up” to Pitch.
Using the tuning keys, start with the string below the target pitch and slowly tighten the string until it is in tune.
If you tune a string tighter than it needs to be and go higher than the target pitch, when you tune back down to the correct pitch you can create slack in the string.
Not only will this make it harder for the string to settle into the correct tension (pitch) but it will also make it easier to knock the string out of tune as you play (fretting, bending, strumming, etc.)
If you notice that the string you are tuning is sharp in pitch, tune down below the target pitch and slowly tighten the string until it’s up to pitch and in tune.
Of course, the essential accessory for staying in tune is a tuner.
Tuners are simple to use, accurate, and come in many formats: clip-on, stomp-box, desktop, etc.
A wide variety of types of tuners are available; choose the one that suits you and use it often.
It’s not uncommon for a guitarist or bassist to tune between each song onstage and in the studio, between each take.
The number one thing you can do to improve your sound is to play in tune!
Take advantage of these tips and use your tuner, and you’ll always be in tune.