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If you’re just starting to play guitar, you might find tuning up a chore, especially when you want to be learning.
A common question from players, especially new ones, is: “How often should I tune my guitar?”
Generally speaking, you should check the tuning of your guitar every time you play and fix any out of tune strings. It’s normal to have to make small adjustments most times you pick up your instrument, but if you notice the guitar regularly going out of tune while playing it, something might be wrong.
Let’s look at a few common questions players have about tuning their guitar, how to make sure things stay in tune, and how to fix any possible tuning problems.
Should I Tune My Guitar Every Day?
If you’re just learning to play guitar, you might wonder: “Should I tune my guitar every day?”
How often you need to tune a guitar depends on a variety of factors, but if you play your guitar every day, you should expect to at least check the tuning at the start of the session, as well as any time you notice something sounding off while playing.
If, on the other hand, you play only a few days a week, you shouldn’t feel obligated to get your guitar out every day and tune it up — regular tuning won’t hurt it, but it also won’t help keep it in tune any longer.
There are a lot of reasons that strings go out of tune, from changes in temperature to the way metal is stretched and distorted when you bend a string. No matter the cause, what happens is the same: The tension on the string changes and the string changes length, thus changing its pitch.
This video gives an overview of how tension affects the frequency of a string.
But while you should expect to tune up every time you play, guitar strings generally should be able to hold their tune while you play, depending at least somewhat on your style.
After all, if you have a vintage Stratocaster and you’re doing Jimi Hendrix inspired whammy bar moves, you should expect to have to re-tune regularly. You’re physically stretching the strings, and without a locking nut and locking tremolo system, that is likely to cause the guitar to go out of tune.
Do I Have To Tune My Guitar Every Day?
If you play your guitar every day, you really do need to tune your guitar, or at least double check the tuning, every day.
That’s because relatively small changes in temperature and humidity affect the structure of the string, as well, changing the tension and sending the string out of tune. Short of keeping your instrument in a room with an extremely stable temperature and humidity levels, there’s not much you can do about that.
Keeping your guitar in a case, as well as avoiding keeping it in any place too hot or too cold — like, say, a car — can help, but it won’t stop the strings from stretching entirely.
And the act of playing itself will eventually push your strings out of tune. The changes in pressure as you fret strings and bend them eventually cause the string to loosen slightly.
But unless you’re doing something extreme, like the Hendrix moves I mentioned above, your strings shouldn’t go too far out of tune while you’re playing. It’s normal for you to notice some change in pitch, but if you need to tune up between every song there is probably a larger issue.
Let’s look at what that issue could be as well as some solutions.
Is It Normal To Need To Tune Your Guitar Every Day?
Not being able to keep a guitar in tune is something that frustrates many new players, leading them to ask whether it is normal to need to tune your guitar every day.
It is normal to need to tune your guitar every day, but if you find your strings more than half a step off or find yourself having to stop playing to re-tune regularly, there is something else happening. As I mentioned above, there could be a technique issue at the heart of the problem, but there could be some other things causing trouble, as well.
Some causes of poor tuning can be solved very easily, but others might have multiple causes. Still, if there’s no underlying problem there isn’t a problem with tuning your guitar a lot.
Let’s look at what could be going wrong and how to fix it.
Why Do New Guitar Strings Go Out Of Tune?
One frequent cause of really poor tuning stability is new guitar strings. While it might seem counterintuitive — after all, aren’t new strings better than old ones? — it has to do with the way strings are made.
The metal alloys used to make most guitar strings can shrink and stretch, and that effect is much more pronounced on strings fresh from the pack. The way to combat that is to stretch the strings when installing them.
- Lay your guitar on its back and remove the old strings
- Install the new strings one at a time, as you normally would
- Bring the low E string to pitch and then use both hands to stretch the string into a gentle arc
- Re-tune the string
- Repeat for all six strings
This video looks at how stretching strings works and what it does.
Why Do Old Guitar Strings Go Out Of Tune?
While new strings have a habit of going out of tune until they’re properly stretched, strings that are too old can cause tuning issues, too.
While strings that stretch too much might drift out of tune, the problem with old strings is somewhat more than that. After enough playing, the structure of the string starts to weaken.
That means the strings can no longer hold the level of tension required to keep them at the proper pitch. This will most often manifest as a guitar that loses its tuning in the middle of a song.
The only solution is to install new strings — be sure to stretch them!
How Can You Keep Strings From Slipping?
Like we’ve already covered, if a string changes tension — and therefore changes length — it goes out of tune. That can happen with new strings as well as worn out strings, but it can happen on just about any kind of string if you don’t have your guitar strung properly.
Strings that aren’t attached properly can move, slide, or otherwise change length. They can also be pulled by string bends or use of a guitar’s tremolo bar.
Keeping strings from moving is the idea behind both locking tuners and locking tremolo systems that use a locking nut.
Installing locking tuners is a fairly straightforward operation and can help with tuning stability on just about any guitar. A locking tremolo system is a bigger commitment, but it can be done.
If you don’t want to do either of those things, though, there is another way to keep your strings in place on the tuning mechanism and prevent slipping.
- Attach a string to the bridge and thread it through the tuner, pulling it taut
- Use one hand to hold down the string at the first fret
- Use the other hand to wrap the string once around the tuning post
- Thread the string under itself and then over, creating a slip knot
- Tune the string to pitch
- Stretch the string as in the earlier example
- Re-tune the string
- Repeat for the other strings
Can Broken Tuners Cause Strings To Go Out Of Tune?
An issue that doesn’t have to do with the strings themselves is often harder to diagnose and usually harder to fix, as well. That’s certainly the case with tuners that are worn out or broken.
Guitar tuners use a gear to turn the tuning post to tighten or loosen the strings. The knob and post that turn the gear, the gear itself, and the tuning post all have to be in the correct alignment and installed correctly.
If the knob or post that turn the tuning gear is damaged, you can usually use a pair of pliers and a vise to straighten it, but you might also want to just replace the tuner. If you change one machine, it’s usually worth changing the others, as well, though, so in some cases, fixing the post might make more sense.
If you notice one string is regularly going out of tune, test the mechanism by moving the knob back and forth. You shouldn’t feel any play but there also shouldn’t be any binding.
You can try using oil to lubricate the gears, and you can also check to make sure the tuning mechanism is firmly installed, but, again, is able to turn freely.
Check to make sure the tuning post isn’t bent and that the proper size of bushing is in place, as well.
If you’re having trouble with tuning stability on an older guitar, especially one with less expensive tuners, it might be worth replacing them and seeing if that solves your issue.
Can A Bad Set Up Cause Your Guitar To Go Out Of Tune?
A final thing to consider is the way your guitar is set up. While the set up mostly doesn’t affect the tuning of the guitar, it does affect the intonation and it can affect the tuning stability, as well.
A full rundown of what goes into properly setting up a guitar is beyond our scope here, but there are some basic things to check. Action that is too high can cause a guitar to play out of tune, for example, and improper break angle at either the nut or the bridge can allow strings to move out of place and, thus, out of tune.
If you think your set up might be the issue, take your guitar to a reputable repair person to get their opinion.
Tuning stability is a huge topic, and it’s hard to cover all the factors that go into keeping a guitar in tune as much as possible.
But no matter what, keep this in mind: Guitars are physical objects, and things like temperature or humidity changes are bound to affect them.
If you’re finding tuning your guitar a chore, you might want to invest in a clip-on guitar tuner, which allows you to keep your eye on tuning at all times. That should help you figure out if you’re actually having a tuning problem as well as what might be causing it.
I’ve been a musician, particularly a guitarist, for more than 25 years. I love writing about guitars, gear, recording, music in general and more.