Though it's normal, it can be really annoying when your guitar goes out of tune. Sometimes, it seems like as soon as you tune it up, before you know it, it's again out of tune. So, what do you do about it? It would help to know why this keeps on happening. Well, in short:
The main causes of guitars going out of tune are the strings not being stretched properly, low quality or old strings, the climate where you play, or parts like capos, tuning pegs or nuts messing with the tuning.
There are other potential causes as well, all of which we share and elaborate on in this article. Once you know these reasons, you can take steps to stop your guitar from going out of tune. Keep on reading, as we will cover 9 reasons why guitars go out of tune and what you can do to keep your guitar in tune longer.
Table of Contents
The Strings Are Not Stretched
One of the main reasons why guitars do not stay tuned is that their strings have not been stretched. This is a mistake that many new guitarists make, and chances are that this plays a part in your guitar's poor tuning stability.
New guitar strings should be stretched for a few minutes before they can be expected to hold the tension necessary to stay in tune.
How Do You Stretch Your Strings?
Stretching your strings is not hard to do, though it may take a good chunk of time. Follow the below steps to stretch your guitar strings the right way:
- Go away from other people and important items. When stretching your guitars, it is not abnormal for your strings to pop out and go flying. If someone is in the vicinity, they could get popped by your strings.
- Hold your guitar as if you are going to play it. This keeps the strings from hitting you as you attempt to stretch them out. You should also use the guitar strap so that you don't drop your guitar.
- Begin by stretching the low E. Grab the middle of the string and pull it near the bridge. Continue to stretch the string a little at a time as you move toward the headstock. Once you have reached the nut, continue stretching but slowly move your way back down to the bridge. This video will show you exactly how to stretch your guitar's strings.
- Tune the string you just stretched out. After you have stretched your string, you now need to re-tune it.
- Stretch again and retune the string. Once your string is tuned up, it's time to stretch it again and retune it.
- Repeat the above steps for all of the other strings on your guitar.
Here are some tips that you can use to make sure that you are stretching your strings properly:
- Don't stretch too far. If you pull the string out too far, you can damage the nut slot and/or cause the string to pop out.
- Be patient. Stretching your strings can take a considerable amount of time if you're not used to doing it. So, don't be surprised if it takes you a half hour to finish. The whole purpose of stretching your strings is to make sure that you don't have to do this again for a while.
Once your guitar's strings are significantly stretched, they are not likely to go out of tune as often.
Your String Quality Is Low
If you bought cheap strings from a bargain mart, there is no wonder your strings won't stay in tune. Low-quality strings are not manufactured to give you the best guitar playing experience. It is not unusual for cheap guitar strings to be damaged right out of the box. Cheap strings will not stay in tune for very long, and this could be precisely why your guitar stays out of tune.
A tell-tale sign of cheap strings is visible kinks on the string's surface. If you notice this, you should return the strings immediately and pick up some high-quality strings.
Where Can You Get Good Strings?
The obvious remedy to cheap strings is replacement with good strings. You don't have to buy the most expensive strings that you can find, but you should avoid any that have bad online reviews or are priced at a too-good-to-be-true price.
If you have an electric guitar, you can try the D'Addario NYXL1046 Nickel Plated Electric Guitar Strings. These strings are made of a high carbon steel alloy, and this is what makes them durable. They have a ton of positive reviews that confirm the company's claim that these strings stay in tune.
If you have an acoustic guitar, the D'Addario EJ42 Phosphor Bronze Acoustic Guitar Strings will stay in tune. They are made of corrosion-resistant phosphor. Thousands of customers have shared their love for these strings via 5-star reviews.
Your Climate Is To Blame
Your guitar strings are sensitive to temperature and humidity, so your climate could be playing a role in your guitar's inability to stay tuned. If you live in a cool climate, chances are you've been outside with your guitar and brought it into a warm building for a performance or practice. This can cause tuning issues.
There is little you can do about the climate, but you can do your best to try to keep the temperature and humidity around your guitar as constant as possible. Try the following things to help control temperature fluctuations:
- When you go out with your guitar, keep the guitar in a guitar bag. In the short term, the bag will act as a buffer, keeping out harsh cold winds and extreme temperatures.
- If you live in a really hot climate, don't leave the guitar out in the sun, especially if you plan to take it into an air-conditioned area. You may end up with a flat guitar.
Ultimately, if the climate is the reason why your guitar is out of tune, tune your guitar up as often as necessary and try to protect the guitar from extreme temperature changes.
Your Strings Are Old
Old strings are not known for staying perfectly tuned- they are known for the opposite. The longer you use a certain set of strings, the less time they will stay tuned. This is because, over time, strings can lose their ability to hold tension.
In case you weren't aware, guitar strings do not last for a long time. On average, they last about 3 months. This estimate is based on daily use.
If you play your guitar less often than once a day, your strings will last longer than 90 days.
If you haven't changed your strings in a long time, and you play your instrument fairly frequently, you should invest in some new strings.
Your Capo Is Not Situated Properly
This section is for guitars with a capo. An ill-fitting capo can pull on the strings of your guitar incorrectly and cause it to sound out of tune.
If you use a capo on your guitar, make sure that it is put on correctly. Read the following steps to make sure that your capo is correctly clamped on:
- Hold your guitar as if you are going to play it. Use the guitar's straps as well.
- Clamp your capo on whichever fret you want.
- Inspect the guitar's neck and make sure that the capo is sitting slightly behind the fret bar. About ¼ of an inch is ideal.
Once your capo fits correctly, you should hear a difference in your sound. If your strings are still going out of tune frequently, you could be dealing with a different problem entirely.
Your Tuning Pegs Are Loose
It is normal for your tuning pegs to become loose over time. If your guitar is old, the chances of this being the issue are higher than if your guitar is new.
How To Check Your Tuning Pegs
Checking your tuning pegs is essential when troubleshooting a tuning problem. You can take the following steps to see if they are loose:
- Use a nut driver to check the tightness of the washers and bushings. If the nut driver won't' work, you can use an adjustable wrench.
- Tighten the bushings. If the bushings can freely turn, this means that they have loosened significantly. In this case, you need to tighten them up. Make sure that you don't tighten them too much, as this can make the tuning pegs impossible to turn.
Once your guitar's tuning pegs are sufficiently tightened, your guitar strings will hold a tune longer.
The Nut Is The Problem
The nut, which is situated at the top of the fretboard, is where all of your strings move through. If your strings are not able to move smoothly through that slot, you will have uneven tension on the strings. This is another one of the most common causes of a guitar that goes out of tune quickly.
To see if this is your issue, take a close look at the nut of your guitar and see how your strings fit into its grooves. If the grooves are too small for the strings you use, you'll need to make some adjustments.
Fixing A Nut Problem
There are two main solutions to this issue:
- You can use a file to widen the nut grooves so that they will fit your strings better.
- You can add lubrication to the grooves so that your strings will glide through the slots freely.
How To File The Nut Grooves
If filing the guitar nut sounds like the way to go, you should know that the process is somewhat intricate and difficult to get right. Due to this, it is important to follow the below steps to the letter:
- Gather your supplies: You will need Feeler gauges, a capo, and some files.
- Put a capo on the third fret.
- Measure the height of the string at the first fret. There should be .2-.3 mm between the bottom of the string and the fret. If the string is too high or low, you will need to file the nut groove down to be at the appropriate height.
- Move the string out of the nut groove and begin filing the nut groove down. You should take your time to make sure that you don't accidentally over file the nut and ruin it. As you file, you should angle the file to the same degree as the string sits; angled downward and towards the head of the guitar.
- Complete the last two steps for the rest of the strings.
You can watch this video for a full demonstration of how to adjust the nut height on a guitar:
Use A Lubricant Instead
If you'd rather not take a file to your guitar, you can use StewMac Guitar Grease Graphite Lubricant Paste. This paste is specifically designed to lubricate nut slots to make for a better tuning experience. All you need to do is apply some of the paste to the nut slots and play.
But you should keep in mind that this may not work if your nut grooves' sizes are extremely out of whack. You may find that the paste is not working and that you need to have the nut grooves filed down. A guitar repair professional can help you with this repair if you don't feel comfortable going through the process.
You Are Using Your Strap Improperly
If you have tied your strap to the headstock, this can be the cause of your guitar staying out of tune. Once you tie your strap to the headstock, this can pull your guitar's strings sharp. Luckily, there is an easy fix for this issue.
Instead of securing your strap to the headstock directly, you should take your guitar to a professional and have a strap button added to the heel of your guitar. You could even do this yourself.
Here are some instructions that you can use to add a strap button to your guitar:
- Gather your materials: You will need a strap button, masking tape, a drill, and a drill bit.
- Determine where you want to install your strap button. Once you choose a spot, mark that spot with a pencil or place some tape on the guitar and mark the spot on the tape. This is ideal if you want to protect the finish of the guitar.
- Drill a hole in your chosen spot. Make sure that your drill bit is a good size for your strap button screw. If it is too large, the strap button screw will be too small to grip the wood. If the hole is too small, you will have trouble getting the strap button screw to fit into the hole.
- Use your hand to screw the strap button in. You could use a powered screwdriver to screw it in, but this is not recommended. This is because, if your hand slips, the heavy tool could damage your guitar. Your best bet is to use a non-powered screwdriver or your hand. If you aren't able to screw it in with your hand, you may need to drill a large pilot hole.
You Are Rough With Your Guitar
Sometimes, the issue is that you are a rough guitarist. This means that you get into the music and strum your guitar too vigorously. This is a sure way to knock your strings out of tune.
The probability of this being your issue is higher if you play an electric guitar or you regularly play high-energy music.
The easiest fix for this issue is to play more gently. This is probably a no-go for many guitarists because when you are in the moment and feeling that music, you probably aren't thinking about anything else. However, it's good to know that this is another common reason why your guitar may be out of tune frequently.
Your Guitar Is Not Intonated Properly
Guitar intonation is closely related to whether a guitar will be in tune. When your guitar is not intonated correctly, your strings will not produce the right sound.
The best fix for this problem requires you to change the position of the metal truss rod, which is located inside the neck of the guitar under the fingerboard. Most guitarists reach out to professionals to fix a problem like this because this repair requires a bit of advanced guitar knowledge.
It requires you to look down your guitar's neck and tighten the rod if the neck curve bows down and away from the strings.
If none of these tips work for you, reaching out to a professional is the best course of action.
How Often Does A Guitar Go Out of Tune?
It is important to know how often a guitar goes out of tune. This way, you can gauge whether you are actually dealing with a problem or not. It is normal to have to tune your guitar every time you play it, but it's not normal to have to tune it multiple times during a performance.
The number of times you will need to tune your guitar will depend largely on the type of guitar you have and the material your strings are made of.
Why Guitars Go Out of Tune – Final Thoughts
Now you know all you need to know about why guitars go out of tune frequently. We hope that this article will help you in your pursuit of a well-tuned guitar.
Side note, do you want to learn to play guitar songs the easy way? Learn how here – results are guaranteed!