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Sort it out: Tuning problems

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Tuning problems are perhaps the most common complaint when someone brings an instrument to me. Usually its more than one area all contributing to complete tuning disaster!

Tuning problems fall into 2 categories: intonation and string misbehaviour.

Firstly what you need to understand is that an instruments fretboard is based on the equal temperament scale which is a compromise itself. This means that the very notes of the chromatic scale are "out of tune" (!!!) A guitar's fretboard is a further compromise on this! If you tune an F sharp major barre chord with a tuner and then play an A major chord open it will sound terrible due to the compromised frets.

Other than this there are many factors which when all of them are catered for, will help you reduce your tuning problems:

Wind your strings correctlyTreat your string nice and they treat you nicely back!

If you don't wrap your strings correctly you're asking for string slippage. You need to have a good amount of winding on to secure it to the tuner's capstan.

Stretch your strings in

New sets of strings rarely perform properly straight from the pack. I always stretch them in to secure the windings on the machine head capstan.

Eliminate friction pointsEliminate friction points to stabilise your guitar's tuning

Anywhere the string touches or rests on counts as a friction point. These need the string to be able to slide past it easily. This is why roller nuts/saddles and the locking nut systems exist.

Set your tremolo correctly tune in your tremolo

If you have a Strat style tremolo you may find that having it setup wrong won't help you out either. It's possible to get your Strat tremolo performing at well as a Floyd Rose. The 6 screws that couple the bridge base plate to the body are the key here…

Inspect your machine heads you dont need to spend big to keeop in tune

Yes… They can be the cause of tuning troubles. More often than not you'll find that a fixing nut may be loose or a bushing has come misplaced. Check these before thinking about buying new machine heads. In some circumstances I've seen worn away soft edges to the capstan which allow the string to slide through the machine head – going flat.

My opinion of machine heads is as long as you spend over £30 on a set you're into a decent quality range. I don't think brand name tuners are all they're cracked up to be but a well machined tuner definitely helps.

You'll be pleased to know that all tweaks above are all performed as standard within my setups


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