Keeping Your Guitar in Tune
Getting your guitar in tune can be a problem, but most often when guitar players talk about tuning problems, they are talking about problems with staying in tune. Many factors contribute to difficulties with keeping your guitar in tune, and complex technical discussions are beyond the scope of this article. However, binding at the nut, the many problems associated with tuning machines, and loose fitting bridges and bridge parts are among the biggest contributors to difficulties with staying in tune, and are a good starting point for troubleshooting your tuning instability problems.
The string nut's slots should support the strings properly without binding the strings. The slots must be properly shaped and polished to accomplish this. You may be thinking, "What difference does it make? As long as the string is in tune, it shouldn't make any difference if it is in a bind in the nut slot." If your guitar has a tremolo bridge, when you use it to lower the strings' pitch, it loosens the tension of the strings. This causes a portion of each string to slide from the fretboard side of the nut, through the slot, to the headstock side of the nut. When the tremolo is released to return the strings to standard pitch, ideally, the strings should slide back through the slots to return to their original position. However, if the strings bind in the slots, the resulting pitch will be sharp. Likewise, using the tremolo to pull the strings sharp can result in the strings being flat after the tremolo is released. Proper slot shaping, polishing, and the use of one of the various lubes on the market for this purpose will all contribute to eliminating binding.
Binding can also cause problems with non-tremolo guitars as changes in tension of the strings from bending notes can result in strings becoming sharp or flat.
Tuning machines can also cause intonation problems. Shaft wobble, backlash, end-play, and multiple string wraps can all cause the strings to go sharp or flat during playing. Many tuning machines suffer from slippage so badly that a single whole-step bend can cause a string to go terribly flat. These are the reasons that we so strongly recommend Sperzel Trim Lock or Sound Lock tuners. Sperzel's locking feature effectively eliminates shaft wobble, backlash, end-play, and slippage by doing away with multiple string wraps. Sperzel Trim Lock and Sound Lock tuners also allow for very quick string changes.
Quite often, Gibson-style tune-o-matic bridges are somewhat loose on their posts. This can also cause problems staying in tune, and we recommend TonePros locking bridges to eliminate this looseness, and increase sustain. TonePros locking tailpieces and locking studs provide these same benefits for the Stop Tailpiece as well.