Improving Tuning Stability

How to make your guitar stay in tune a little better.

Ultimate Guitar
Sick of your guitar going out of tune? There are things you can do to help. I'll start from the top of the guitar and work down.


01. Machine heads a. Fitting Locking Tuners b. Other Tricks 02. The Nut 03. Tremelos 04. Strings 05. String trees

01. Machine heads

a. Fitting Locking Tuners The first and most effective method of sorting out tuning issues is locking tuners, such as Sperzel, Gotoh or Schaller. What this does is to do something similar to the Floyd Rose's locking nut, and make certain that the strings cannot slip by clamping them down at the tuner instead of the nut. On a hard tail, this will end virtually all tuning issues, however it does cost a small amount of money and there are installation issues such as the fact that with some lucking tuners (eg Gotoh) the hole for the machine head in the headstock needs enlarging to accommodate for the new tuner. b. Other Tricks If your machine heads are rather loose take a small screwdriver and tighten the screw in the middle of the button you turn, however not all have this most do but not all (thanks Silent Def you akward sod). If it is bone or wood take care not to over tighten, because you will split it. While we are on machine heads, when you re-string make sure the string is wrapped round the post at least 3 times to prevent slippage, which wrecks your tuning.

02. The Nut

There could be two problems here, the worse of the two is that the grooves are too tight and squeezing the string. A temporary solution is to put graphite (pencil lead) in there either by colouring the slot in or dropping powdered graphite (break a pencil open and crush the lead to make this). A more permanent solution is to simply widen the slots with nut files. If you are not confident about doing this yourself, take it to a professional as you can really damage your guitar if this goes wrong. The second is just friction from the string pressing against the nut. Once again this can be solved with some graphite in there to the decrease friction which is a major cause of tuning instability, unless it's locking (i.e. Floyd Rose) in which case this section is irrelevant.

03. Tremelos

Unless it is locking (even then if it's a cheap model you'll have grief from it) it will go out of tune fairly fast. If you don't use it, lock the trem and turn it into a hard-tail - this can be done either by adding/tightening the springs in the back so it can't move or wedging it with bits of wood. Or even both if you want to go for overkill. However if you use it quite a bit then you need to reduce the amount of friction. Once again graphite is your friend, but it can only do so much before you find what you need is actually a better trem.

04. Strings

When you change your strings stretch them. This will get most if not all of the excess "give" in them, personally I stretch them as far as possible for 60 seconds each, and have absolutely no problem from them. However this may differ between gauges (I use 9's). The other thing to take into account is down tuning, unless you're Tony Iommi and chopped the tips of your fingers off, don't down tune 9's to drop C! They will be too floppy and go out of tune; do a Stevie Ray and compensate with a heavier gauge (just don't go overboard and use 18's like he did at one point).

05. String Trees

These don't appear on all guitars but on those the do have them make sure they are not screwed down too far. You need some downward angle on them but not too much or you will create too much friction both here and also at the nut. Well hope that helped you out and I hope you stay in tune a little better for longer -Sillybuuger12

50 comments sorted by best / new / date

    thank you! really helped... personally when i stretch a string i hold down my 12 fret, grab the string and PULL repeat on 7, 3, and then open (not to hard, dont pop the string)
    Great article, actually helped me as i'm fixing up my guitars tuning sh*ttyness a-t-m...
    try lots out and see what's best for you try lots of different guages and brands. personaly i use 9's but that's because i play at normal tension sometimes tuning UP a step on some strings and bend allot so i need them but if you down tune use 10's or heavier
    i have grover locking tuners, a graphite nut, stretch my strings and my guitar still comes out of tune like a mother. probably cuz it's a p.o.s. Epiphone Special that I got for 200 bucks.
    i have played on 18s but it wasnt that bad 9s are way to thin try like 12s
    im using 10's and tune to Drop C...i dont have problems with them falling out of tune..unless im bending them...i think 11's would be better to use..
    I liked it...i've been thinking about getting some sperzels, this kinda confirmed the need for me to. I hate tuning.
    another problem that ive had is that since ive got a gibson and a hard case for it, the 'd' and 'g' string machine heads press against the case and knock about when carrying it (its not a gibson case) this means that the strings go out of tunes often and you need to replace the machine heads ever so often.
    It actually did halp me on how to keep my strings in tune and i appreciate it a lot. Thank You.
    i have a bridge which is way to high...i tried using sandpaper but no good,it's still ruining my guitar's tuning!what should i do?
    i always got told not to wrap the string around the tuner more than twice :s
    From what I understand, string stretching is a bad idea. The chances of someone damaging the strings are VERY high. If the stretching occurs naturally, the string is more evenly stretched as well. Of course, that's not such a big deal to guitarists. I mean, what's a high $ set of guitar strings cost, $10 or so?
    they are most common on strats, on the headstock the little tab thing you put your strings under it when you restring it. The 3 times idea really works well.
    The thing about stretching the strings is good advice. I actually string my guitar and tune it, then pull each string away from the guitar to stretch for me.
    I respectfully disagree with the overstretching part. But, that's my only difference and that's basically personal preference. Excellent basic reference column. 5 stars.
    dreamnaspire: oh, you mean if u want to have a drop c tuning u have to use thicker strings?
    it's not nesesarry as it can be done but i would recomend using thicker strings unless you want 3 tone bends or somthing crazy like that
    i use 9s and i drop down to drop c...they never go out of tune at all...and some of my tuning keys are loose too..anyway ill rate this later because im eating a taco...
    give love to tuning ....because it is essential ...I like tuning ...makes me sound average ...instead of just really bad it is your friend , ok peeps?