Guitar Life Hacks: Pencil Tuning Trick

Improve your tuning with this simple, accessible method.

Ultimate Guitar
Guitar Life Hacks: Pencil Tuning Trick

As someone who has only owned one guitar in the past with a Floyd-rose bridge system and locking nuts (BC Rich Mockingbird ST), I can safely say that changing the strings on my Stratocasters used to be the most annoying part of playing guitar. Not because it was time-consuming, but because of the speed which my strings used to go out of tune in week post string change, especially hearing that ‘ping’ sound regularly and having to tune all the way back up again (after extensive whammy bar usage!). This was before I was taught one very simple, very effective method to ensure that new strings stayed in tune longer.

I was doing home recordings with the bassist in my band at the time, and he brought a friend over one evening who was also a lifelong Stratocaster enthusiast. We got chatting and I brought up this tuning issue I had been having with new strings (for the record, I have used Ernie Ball Super Slinky strings for as long as I can remember). He told me he had THE solution to my problems, and pulled out a pencil from his guitar toolbox. His instructions were these:

  • Slacken strings off so you can easily access the nut
  • Sharpen a pencil to the point that it cannot be thinner
  • Take the pencil and effectively colour in the string grooves in the nut so that each groove contains lead
  • Tune guitar back up so strings are back in grooves

Why does this work?

Graphite/ lead works as a lubricant in the nut. It stops your string from binding in the nut, so when you’re subtly tuning the string will slide without catching. Obviously it helps if the nut and string corroborate in terms of size, but even with the best guitars the lead still works wonders. I urge everyone to try it, tuning problems or not, to improve your tuning by even the smallest amount.

7 comments sorted by best / new / date

    I've done this for years with my cheaper guitars that have plastic nuts and Strat-style trem systems. Other materials will yield different results (bone nuts are apparently much better, and you can buy fully-graphite nuts), but for cheap plastic nuts this is probably the best solution.