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I have guitars that don't stay in tune well - some have tremolos, some not.

I haven't done a google search yet - but I'm sure some here may be able to help me pinpoint that search by sharing an order of things to check. I would like to methodically figure out what is preventing my guitars from staying in tune starting at "the beginning".

Any tips are appreciated - my current list based on things I've read 1.) winding of strings 2.) tremolo system 3.) bridge 4.) nut 5.) weather 6.) wood of the guitar

To eliminate these issues - would locking tuners and a non-floating bridge be a good place to start ?

Also to share one interesting new gadget I hadn't heard of - anybody come across or try this special nut out ? - the nut buster (lol - great name)


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Starting at the tuner, are you winding the strings in a single neat layer around the post?

The string should have a reasonably sharp bend where it exits the tuner hole so that the string begins winding close to the post. The windings should progress downward along the post in a single layer for about three wraps total. There are a few different ways for anchoring the string to a standard tuner. I will try to post a drawing of the one I use, as it's hard to describe.

Many recommend that the strings be "stretched" after bringing them up to pitch. They are not really being stretched, but just fully seating the ends of the strings at the tuner and bridge. To "stretch" them, grap each string at about its midpoint, and pull it away from the fretboard about one inch a few times. I find that when the strings are properly installed, "stretching" is usually not required.

Also, always tune up to pitch, never down. If you end up too sharp when tuning, lower it back down until flat, and bring it up to pitch once again. Friction and gear backlash can prevent the tuning post from following the tuning gear downward completely when tuning down. Then, sometime later, the post slips and takes up the backlash, and the string goes flat.

Finally, turn the tuning key to wind the string onto the post. Don't just wrap it around the post like wrapping cord around a spool. That will put a twist the string.

Fixed bridges, and decked tremolos that only dive, are generally not sources of tuning problems.

Nuts can be a problem if any slots are too tight, causing the string to bind. In that case the string can end up with unequal tension on either side of the nut. Then sometime later the string slips to equalize the tension and the pitch changes. Slot binding at the nut is especially a problem with tremolos. Even if the strings are not binding, graphite or a commercial nut slot lube can also be necessary.

Floating tremolos are notorious for not always returning to pitch. The problem is usually friction somewhere in the movement, especially with the 6 screw mounted types. Tremolos need to be installed carefully to prevent any friction. There are mechanisms that are designed to always return a floating tremolo to the same position, but I haven't tried any of them.

Exactly what type of tuning instability are you having?
Just a string or two going out?
All strings going flat, or all going sharp?

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My guitars rarely have tuning issues once I get them tuned. Don't have time for a story right now but I will check in later with a tuning story


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Graphite for bridge and nut slots helps a lot to prevent binding and then slipping which results in being out of tune as already mentioned. Meticulous winding when installing is vital. Slapping them on and then willy-nilly winding results in slippage and tuning issues every time. It could be as bad as having a faulty tuner with bad gearing maybe or just worn out, it happens. Les Paul style guitars are notorious for the G string going out, something about the design and angle of the string? I can't remember now. If you don't know how to do it, having a professional setup of your guitars can produce amazing results. I have all the tools and measuring devices etc. and it is not hard to learn but is a skill that guitarists need, or at least need to pay for! You find a good Luthier and have them inspect all the guitars. There could be issues that you don't know about causing the problem, some if not most are easily remedied by a professional. Do some research if you go the Luthier route. There are good and bad ones just like anything else.


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Sperzel locking tuners are great. No winding. You thread the string through a hole in the post, tighten the thumb wheel that secures it, and tune. Sometimes the 1st string winds a bit more than one turn, and the other five never get one complete wind on the post.

After replacing the strings, they stretch and seat quicker, and that also helps.

My Parker guitars have them, plus a straight string path from ball end to the tuner with just the slightest break at the nut. It has a whammy bar, and often stays in tune from one gig to the next.

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I think the Sperzels are worth the money.

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This morning I didn't have time to relate this story. I had to finish breakfast, load the dog and head out to assist with a search for a missing boater on a river.

The tuning story: I was in a house band and the other guitarist had a really nice strat. He paid a lot of money for the guitar and it was worth it.
I was playing my 69 SG. I never had tuning issues but he had nothing but tuning issues. He'd tune up and 2 songs into the set he'd be messing with the guitar to get it back in tune. He took it to a luthier and paid for a complete set-up and adjustment. Next show..... Same thing. Out of tune within 2 songs.
After commiserating with him I suggested swapping guitars for the next set. We did. We tuned up before the set.
Within 2 songs my SG was noticeably out of tune while his strat played the entire set perfectly fine and in tune the whole time.

Turned out it wasn't the guitar. It was his playing technique that was taking the guitar he was playing out of tune.


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So basically it was a case of the other guitarist being too heavy handed on his strumming pattern.


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Originally Posted by musiclover
So basically it was a case of the other guitarist being too heavy handed on his strumming pattern.

Essentially, yes.


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Originally Posted by Guitarhacker
Originally Posted by musiclover
So basically it was a case of the other guitarist being too heavy handed on his strumming pattern.

Essentially, yes.

What gauge string was he using? If he wasn't he should have been using 13s as they may have helped his tuning problems.


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Originally Posted by MarioD
Originally Posted by Guitarhacker
Originally Posted by musiclover
So basically it was a case of the other guitarist being too heavy handed on his strumming pattern.

Essentially, yes.

What gauge string was he using? If he wasn't he should have been using 13s as they may have helped his tuning problems.

I do believe he was in fact using a heavier gauge string set that I was. I've always used EBSS .009 on my electrics. I want to say he was using .010s at least. I use 011 on my acoustics.

I was in a band with a different guitarist who was using those .013s. Claimed he liked them for the tone. He played a Les Paul Gold top so not only was he killing his shoulder every night..... yep, he complained about how heavy that axe was..... but he also had strings that essentially prevented any kind of serious string bending and yep... he complained about that as well.


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Originally Posted by Guitarhacker
I do believe he was in fact using a heavier gauge string set that I was. I've always used EBSS .009 on my electrics. I want to say he was using .010s at least. I use 011 on my acoustics.

I was in a band with a different guitarist who was using those .013s. Claimed he liked them for the tone. He played a Les Paul Gold top so not only was he killing his shoulder every night..... yep, he complained about how heavy that axe was..... but he also had strings that essentially prevented any kind of serious string bending and yep... he complained about that as well.

That guitarist must have been a winner! You can't do serious string bending on 13s when it is standard tuning.

I use different string gauges on my guitars, from 8s on my Tele to 13 flat wounds on a jazz box. You know which one goes out of tune the most.


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Notes Norton is correct.

Sperzel's (or equivalent) are what you want.
As a guitar player its makes short order of changing strings.
I don't even think about wraps on wound strings.
Just pull them through and off we go.
For some reason (habit) i do take 2-3 wraps on the 2 plain strings

First thing I do to a new guitar is put 'em on if if it doesnt come with it.

Most all of the guitars built today are incredible how well they stay in tune.

Its just not an issue anymore, at least to me.
I currently play 3 guitars in rotation at gigs. 2 Telecasters and a PRS.


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With the guitar itself.... The tuners are crucial. They have to be well built and smooth. Nothing sucks like hearing pings as you tune up.

I wrap the wound strings 2x and then the amount required to get it tuned. The plain strings get 3 wraps and the slack.

Pull them a little bit and they'll stay in tune nicely.

My SG has a tremelo and it's a bit touchy. I don't use the tremelo bar.


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You mentioned a Strat …

Another trick that most guitarists probably already know. If you have a whammy bar, before tuning the guitar, wiggle it, especially in the down position, a few times.

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Thanks all for your thoughtful and helpful comments...now that I'm playing more often I can pay better attention. I find that several of my strings often become sharp after the guitar sitting for a day or two - not all, but I haven't really kept records.

Probably my bigger issue is string height - which I know is a trickier nut to crack...I realize I need to have a professional do it. I have to watch some videos on this - I'm willing to do the relatively "easier" parts of a setup - which seems to me to be most of it except taking the neck off...but I realize I need to make sure that the neck does not need to be taken off before I try the other things. I would only try this on my less expensive guitars but I need to watch some how-to videos first, including learning the sequence in which to check things, as well as what tools to acquire. Any tips or links to videos greatly appreciated.

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Originally Posted by Joe Videtto2
Thanks all for your thoughtful and helpful comments...now that I'm playing more often I can pay better attention. I find that several of my strings often become sharp after the guitar sitting for a day or two - not all, but I haven't really kept records.

Probably my bigger issue is string height - which I know is a trickier nut to crack...I realize I need to have a professional do it. I have to watch some videos on this - I'm willing to do the relatively "easier" parts of a setup - which seems to me to be most of it except taking the neck off...but I realize I need to make sure that the neck does not need to be taken off before I try the other things. I would only try this on my less expensive guitars but I need to watch some how-to videos first, including learning the sequence in which to check things, as well as what tools to acquire. Any tips or links to videos greatly appreciated.


Actually you don't have to have a professional set your string height. A good straightedge to check the neck and fret height to be sure there's no problems with the neck. I took my SG to a luthier to get an idea of the cost to do a couple of things that I felt should be addressed. I was having a slight buzz on a fret on a certain string. Nothing huge but irritating and solvable if I raised the action. He said the neck had a slight curve but was also warped and had a twist in it. Nothing that would render it unplayable and barely perceptible. The frets were worn and installing new frets would go a long way towards getting the guitar back to a "like new" condition. HOWEVER..... isn't there always a "however?" The decorative binding on the side of the neck was cracked in multiple places on both top and bottom and removing it in a good enough condition to replace it would likely be impossible. New binding would not be a color match. The missing neck fret marker would certainly not match the color due to age and yellowing. And the additional work needed on the guitar.... I was wanting to refinish it to it's original factory red...... well, the price was not affordable. Way more then the cost of a new guitar and in the end, he said he really didn't feel comfortable working on the fret job due to the age and condition of the wood and the binding. So, I opted to spend considerably less and bought a new guitar and simply raised the bridge to lose the buzzing. It's certainly playable and with almost no difference in feel.

Then it's a matter of lowering the strings from the bridge which is adjustable in height either as a group or individually depending on the bridge used on the guitar. I'm not a luthier but I have adjusted the string height and intonation on my guitars that are adjustable with good results. I lower the strings until they start to buzz on one of the frets. This will generally be higher on the neck. Once you hit that point, it's the lowest you can go without bottoming the string. So at this point I raise the string until it stops buzzing and then go slightly further to add clearance. Repeat this for all 6 strings. If you have a bridge like I have on my SG.... I have to check all 6 strings to be sure none of them buzz anywhere. I have a bridge that has 2 adjustment screws so I can only raise or lower them as a group with more movement given to the side with the screw that I'm adjusting. It's necessary to check every string on every fret and find that happy medium. Once you have your height set satisfactorily, and the intonation set for the strings, you can move on to adjusting the pickup height and poles assuming you have an electric guitar.

Acoustic guitars often do not have adjustable bridges in the same way that electric guitars do. So if that is the case, you may wish to employ the services of a luthier for that job. My acoustics were fairly decent so I haven't messed with them however, the bridge on them has a removable string saddle that can be filed down. Be very careful when filing because it's not as easy to raise the strings as it is to lower them. A buddy back in the day decided to lower his action on his guitar and ended up having to buy a new saddle and start over.

So... certainly watch a few videos and get an understanding of the job and then decide if you want to tackle it or not.


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If you want to be very serious about setup and get as accurate as you can with measurements you can use the Music Nomad tools. Here is a link to look. MusicNomad Precision Setup Tools
I use all their tools. A little pricey probably but I find them to be very good. They are professional tools. Plenty of Luthiers use them. Comes with clear instructions and also you can find any number of videos showing how to use every tool. They have everything from action setting gauges, nut height, neck relief (truss rod gauge) for both acoustic and electric guitars and basses. The fretboard radius gauge is helpful as it guides you to the right action setting tools etc. Hard to put down in print but their instructions include pictures and the videos you can watch are very helpful as well.


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Originally Posted by Joe Videtto2
<...snip,...> I find that several of my strings often become sharp after the guitar sitting for a day or two - not all, but I haven't really kept records.<...>
Is the temperature where the guitar is constant?

It's my experience that as the temperature gets colder, the guitar goes sharp. The strings contract in the cold and expand when it's warm.

My sax does the opposite. When it gets colder, the sax gets flatter. I've been told that when it's colder out, the sound moves slower, and that makes the sax seem longer.

In all the guitar bands I've been in, since the sax has only one tuner, I'd have to adjust the sax to stay in tune with the guitars.

Now that I also play guitar, and I gig 3 or 4 days a week outdoors, and use backing tracks that I make myself, when the temperature shifts from day to day, I see the general trend of sharper when cold, flatter when warm.

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Is the temperature where the guitar is constant?
Originally Posted by Notes Norton
[quote=Joe Videtto2]<...snip,...> I find that several of my strings often become sharp after the guitar sitting for a day or two - not all, but I haven't really kept records.<...>

Well, I live in a house in NYC where we shut the heat off at night - so probably this explains it.

As long as the action doesn't dramatically change with temperature changes, I suppose I shouldn't worry about this.

Last edited by Joe Videtto2; 01/02/24 07:51 AM.
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I don't know the limits of temperature change on the truss rod. Since it is also metal, I suppose it goes through the expanding and contracting situation with temperature.

Perhaps someone with more technical guitar knowledge can comment.


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Originally Posted by Notes Norton
I don't know the limits of temperature change on the truss rod. Since it is also metal, I suppose it goes through the expanding and contracting situation with temperature.

Perhaps someone with more technical guitar knowledge can comment.


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I don't claim to be "that person". All I can do is speak from experience with my guitars. Playing in a band we'd often load in from either a hot day into an air conditioned venue, or the opposite. I'd never leave my guitar in the vehicle or in the trailer to be affected by the ambient temperature inside that vehicle. First thing I'd do is open the case and let the guitar adjust to the temperature of the venue. My guitars are quality instruments so quite often there would be very little issue with it being out of tune. Most of the time the tuning issues would be very minimal. I have quite a few times where the guitar was in perfect tune after a few days in it's case. Here in my studio, I have an airconditioned/heated interior but in the winter it does tend to drop below the set temp at night, especially on the floor. So I have had to retune a certain amount of the time.

The wood breathes and contracts and expands slightly with temperature but more so with humidity. I don't think the truss rod is moving as much as the strings since they are thinner and more easily affected by the varying temperature. On cold mornings I notice that they are slightly sharp from the tuning point of the last session. And on the warmer days, the strings can be flat a few cents. Once I retune, they hold that pitch perfectly fine during the entire recording session. It's rare to have to touch up the tuning once I have them back in tune.

Like I said I'm no expert on the mechanics of what is actually happening but this was found on a google search.

I did a quick Google search on this topic and the consensus of what I saw indicated that the truss rod is not a major factor in tuning as it is primarily there to adjust the curve of the neck. It was noted that that curve/relief, can change under temperature extremes but it affects action more than tuning. By allowing slightly more relief, the neck will play fine under a wide range of temperatures.

The strings which are under tension when tuned to pitch, are indeed affected by the temperature as it causes them to contract when cold, thus increasing the tension and raising the pitch, or by expanding when hot thereby decreasing the tension and lowering the pitch.


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I have found much the same thing. Cold, guitars tend to go sharp.

Proper setup does better than gadgets.


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Originally Posted by Notes Norton
I don't know the limits of temperature change on the truss rod. Since it is also metal, I suppose it goes through the expanding and contracting situation with temperature.

Perhaps someone with more technical guitar knowledge can comment.


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For a 25 degree F change in temperature, the strings and truss rod will change their relaxed length by less than a thousandth of an inch. Since the string length is fixed by the tuner and bridge saddle, this change in length translates into a change in tension.

In the case of the truss rod, this is not enough to affect relief. Consider that the truss rod nut will typically require at least a small but significant portion of a turn to affect the relief. This changes the truss rod length by several thousandths of an inch.

The tension of a string is very sensitive to temperature. And pitch is very sensitive to string tension. Think of how little a string stretches when you press it down to the 12th fret. This is well under a thousandth of an inch. And yet, the saddle needs to be moved back to compensate for the increase in pitch that this causes.

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Originally Posted by Joe Videtto2
Is the temperature where the guitar is constant?
Originally Posted by Notes Norton
[quote=Joe Videtto2]<...snip,...> I find that several of my strings often become sharp after the guitar sitting for a day or two - not all, but I haven't really kept records.<...>

Well, I live in a house in NYC where we shut the heat off at night - so probably this explains it.

As long as the action doesn't dramatically change with temperature changes, I suppose I shouldn't worry about this.

Temperature will affect the tuning, and it doesn't affect all strings equally. Generally the heavier plain strings, and the wound strings with a heavier core, will go out of tune first. So with mild temperature changes, you may only notice a couple strings out. With larger temperature changes, all the strings will go noticably out.

Temperature changes don't affect action much at all. What can affect action is seasonal changes, where there are large changes in humidity. The neck wood will noticeably change in size enough to make the neck move and change the relief. When this occurs, an adjustment of neck relief (by a truss rod adjustment) is typically all that's necessary to correct it.

This change in relief will also change the action height, and this is often how you know that the neck moved and the relief has changed. But you don't want to simply readjust the action height. The saddles didn't move, the neck did. So If you simply readjust the action height, the relief would still be wrong.

The most effective way to deal with seasonal relief changes is to simply adjust the truss rod until the original action height is restored. No need to measure the relief itself. Restoring the action height will also restore the relief.

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Originally Posted by Guitarhacker
<...snip...> First thing I'd do is open the case and let the guitar adjust to the temperature of the venue. <...>

I do that with my guitar, flute, and saxophone. If the difference in temperature is severe, I'll do the same thing with my wind MIDI controller.

The last thing I do before we start is tune them up. My Parker guitar usually stays in tune the entire gig. The sax will need a slight touch if it's chilly, because my breath will warm the brass up a bit. The flute is the one that changes the most, but it's not difficult to retune.

Originally Posted by RJ 1911
<...snip...>Temperature will affect the tuning, and it doesn't affect all strings equally. Generally the heavier plain strings, and the wound strings with a heavier core, will go out of tune first.

I've noticed that.

I've also noticed a similar effect in the utility lines strung on poles. There is a lot more sag in the span between the poles in the summer, and they are more taut in the winter.

Originally Posted by RJ 1911
<...snip...>Temperature changes don't affect action much at all. <...>

I'm not a good enough guitar player to notice slight changes in action, it's my 7th instrument. Plus, I live in Florida, where the temperature never freezes.


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Temperature and humidity changes can really mess up guitars. It is best to try to control these as much as possible.


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Originally Posted by etcjoe
Temperature and humidity changes can really mess up guitars. It is best to try to control these as much as possible.
Which, sadly, is difficult for me. One day I may be gigging outdoors when it's 90 degrees (F) and humid, the next day indoors where someone has cranked the AC down to about 68.

My Parker DF522NN handles this better than my Gibson ES330 does. I do love my Gibson but the Parker, being a solid body guitar, is a better one-nighter gigging guitar.


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Originally Posted by etcjoe
Temperature and humidity changes can really mess up guitars. It is best to try to control these as much as possible.

Not so much any more..... but back in the day when I was gigging and my guitar was in and out of different temperature and environments with humidity changes, I had a guitar case humidifier. Dip it in water ever couple of days and it kept the moisture fairly constant in the case... or at least that was the intention. Now, my guitars rarely if ever leave the conditioned space of my studio where the temperature varies slowly depending on the season but the humidity is fairly constant and the guitars mostly live in their cases until a short recording session is called for. Well, I do have one acoustic that hangs on the wall and is often the one I grab to flesh something out when I need that.


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Every time I change strings I use a pencil and lube the nut with that. The “lead” in a pencil isn't actually made from lead. It is made from a form of carbon called graphite. I learned this trick some time ago from some guitar tech video.


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Originally Posted by Brian Hughes
Every time I change strings, I use a pencil and lube the nut with that. The “lead” in a pencil isn't actually made from lead. It is made from a form of carbon called graphite. I learned this trick some time ago from some guitar tech video.
Exactly what I do, and on my guitar with a whammy bar, I do the same on the bridge.

The pencil graphite works well on the neck/body joint of my sax, and the body joints of my flute when they start binding.

A No.2 pencil works great, a No.1 works better, but they aren't as easy to find.


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