I’m still going with this series on tuning problems. Next time around we’ll start to look at tremolo/vibrato bridges and the issues that can lurk there but, before we get to that can of worms, let’s consider a completely different worm-filled container…
I’m going to run over some stuff that may cause some readers to groan and say, “Well, duh,” but you might be surprised by how often one of these can be the source of tuning problems.
So, “Well, duh,” notwithstanding, here we go. I hope you’ll bear with me.
Tune up to the note
Once you turn that tuning key to lower the tuning, you introduce some slack into the system. If you are tuning and go a little shaper than the note you’re aiming for, you can’t just back the tuner off until you are spot on. Slack!
First time you play on that string, especially if you bend, you’ll pull the slack back into the string and it’ll be flat.
Always tune up to the note you're aiming for. If you go past it, go back down below it and start again, tuning up in pitch until you get there.
Re-stretch for alternate tunings
It’s the slack again. If you tune down to any altered tuning, it’s not a bad idea to give the strings a quick stretch again. Once will probably do it.
Don’t forget the strings
Replace them regularly. They can do all sorts of squirrelly things as they get older and dirtier.
Don’t skimp on strings. Don’t buy those bargain basement things. They’re cheap for a reason.
Don’t spend heaps (unless you really want to). I’ve had intermittently infuriating troubles with a particular brand of more expensive, hand-made strings so don’t feel you have to shell-out if you don’t want to.
And, on the subject of squirrelly strings, sometimes you get a squirrelly string for no good reason. If you come across an odd tuning problem, a new set of strings can sometimes be all that’s needed.
Try not to press too hard
Some players are more heavy-handed than others. If you tend to press notes pretty hard when you fret, it can pull them sharp. This can be particularly problematic on instruments with higher frets or (god forbid) a scalloped fingerboard.
Now, it’s not for me to tell any player to change their style. Buuuuut, as with many things in the guitar world, there’s frequently a compromise between style and a ‘perfect result’. If you’re a fret-masher (no judgement 😉) it might be necessary to consider where the compromise lies for you.
A good setup, matched to your style, will go a fair way towards helping. During setup, try to replicate your ‘real-world’ playing as much as possible. Try to match your intonation to that playing as much as possible. If you’re comfortable with it, try some heavier strings — the extra tension could resist your vice-like fingers a little more.
Keep your hardware clean
Try not to get everything gunked-up. Just give the damn thing a clean off now and then. Strings will last longer and be less potentially troublesome. Your guitar will last longer and be less potentially troublesome.
Keep your saddles and nut slots free of gunk. Keep your string trees and tuners free of gunk. Keep your fingerboard free of—look, just give it a clean, ok?
Ok, that's your lot for today. Sorry if you went, “Well, duh,” but for every thing everyone knows by the time they’re adults, 10,000 people in the US alone are hearing about it for the first time today. Sorry also for falling into a cleaning rant. 😉