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That pesky G string. Why does it always seem to be the G string that drifts out of tune before any of the others? Are you just imagining this, or is something actually happening with this particular string?
It turns out it is not just your imagination; there is something to this.
Of course, the G string is not the only string that goes out of tune. However, it is typically the most common string to go out of tune. While constantly tuning your guitar will not necessarily cause any harm to your guitar, it is certainly annoying.
So why is this? Why is the G string always out of tune?
Several reasons might explain why the G string is always out of tune, but three of the most common reasons are the location of the G string tuning peg on the headstock, the angle of the headstock, and issues at the nut. These are excellent choices when determining the source of your tuning issues.
Let’s dive deeper into six reasons why the G string is always out of tune.
1. Location of the Tuning Pegs
Location. Location. Location. It is true in real estate, and it is true in tuning. One of the biggest reasons the G string tends to drift out of tune is its location on the headstock.
This, of course, depends on the brand of guitar and the type of headstock that you have.
While there is a growing diversity of headstock styles, such as the Ernie Ball Music Man style with four tuning pegs on one side and two on the other, the most common designs are the 3+3 (three on each side of the headstock) and straight-line design.
Iconic brands such as Gibson, Epiphone, Gretsch, and many Paul Reed Smith and ESP models utilize the 3+3-design method. In contrast, Stratocaster and Telecaster-style guitars, along with many models in the Jackson line, use a straight-line design with their tuning pegs.
The tuning peg location matters because where the pegs are located affects how the strings are angled as they are placed through the nut.
This is where many 3+3-style headstocks lose out regarding the G string. The sharper angle created by the location of the G string tuning peg can generate a lot of instability, resulting in the string moving out of tune more frequently.
Of course, not all 3+3-style headstocks are created equal. Typically, Gibson, Epiphone, and Gretsch guitars will have a sharper angle than a Paul Reed Smith, which in theory, means those brands, as mentioned earlier, will have more issues with the G string staying in tune.
The same is true for straight-line designed headstocks as well. Many Jackson guitars will have a sharper angle than other strat-style guitar brands such as Fender.
As you can see from some of my guitars, there is a wide variety of angles. Even among the same brands you will see differences:
2. Headstock Angle
Keeping with the angle theme, the headstock angle itself can affect the tuning stability of the G string.
Most Les Paul-style guitars (such as Gibson or Epiphone) have an angled headstock (versus a flatter headstock, as you can see below). As the video above explains, many Epiphone Les Pauls have around a 14-degree angle, whereas many Gibsons have a 17-degree angle and you can see that difference here:
The general idea is that the larger the headstock angle, the more tuning instability potential there is, especially regarding the G string. The increased headstock angle, coupled with the tuning peg location, creates increased strain on the string as it vibrates through the nut when played.
However, just because you have a flat headstock doesn’t mean you won’t experience tuning issues. While a flat headstock can help reduce tuning instability issues, the quality and setup of the nut are vital.
3. Issue with the Nut
The overall quality of a guitar’s nut is a significant factor in tuning issues. You will likely find higher-quality nut material, such as bone, on high-end guitars. However, many high-end guitars may use plastic or graphite, the most common materials used across guitars.
The big problem with lower quality material being used as the nut, such as plastic, is that they wear down more quickly than bone and graphite, which causes tension issues that impact the ability of the G string to stay in tune.
Further, the nut may not allow adequate space for the G string to move when plucked or strummed. In this case, you can use some type of lubrication such as Vaseline, graphite from a pencil, or a specifically designed nut lubrication product.
Another issue at the nut is that the action might be too high, which can be solved by lowering the entire nut.
Alternatively, you can file down the nut slot where the G string rests or even replace the entire nut with a higher-quality material. However, at this point, it is a good idea to take your guitar to a professional luthier to ensure it is done correctly.
4. String Winding Issues
Believe it or not, you can’t just put strings through the tuning peg, crank around the tuner, and call it good.
The strings should wind down toward the headstock, not up. Pay attention to how many times the string has wound around the tuning peg as well.
As the video explains, too few windings and you risk string instability. While this is important on all strings, it is essential on the G string due to its location and likelihood of moving out of tune.
Locking tuners not only drastically reduce the time it takes to change strings but can also help solve your G string tuning issues.
5. Intonation Issues
When we tune, we typically do so without pressing down on the string anywhere on the guitar. This means we are tuning the open strings to ensure they are at their correct pitch.
However, ensuring the string is in tune with itself is also important. In other words, it needs to be intonated correctly, says Jeff Owens at Fender. To check if the G string is properly intonated, you check the tuning at the 12th fret by checking the fretted note and the harmonic.
While this step may seem tedious, ensuring proper tuning stability for the G string across the entire length of the fretboard is essential.
6. Playing Style
Let’s say everything has worked out perfectly. You have the perfect step up, and there are no physical issues with your guitar, yet you still seem to catch that G string wandering out of tune more than its companions.
What could be the problem now? Well, it could be your playing style.
If you use a whammy bar, that constant loosening and resetting of tension can wreak havoc on the tuning stability of the G string. This is why many players that utilize whammy bars also use a locking nut on their guitars to prevent such a thing from occurring.
Apart from whammy bar playing, if you are a fan of 80’s style shredding, love the blues, or want to play more like Steve Vai, chances are you spend a lot of time bending your strings while playing.
Since the G string is often used in soloing, there is a good chance you are bending that string more than many of the other strings on the guitar. This, coupled with many of the issues discussed above, can often result in the G string going out of tune much faster than the rest of the strings.
The G string always being out of tune is a common plight that has plagued guitarists since the dawn of (guitar) time. While it is unlikely this problem will ever be eliminated, knowing some of the most common reasons why this is occurring gives you the best chance at preparing for this likely issue.
I hope you have found this article meaningful and now understand why the G string is always out of tune and how to help solve the problem.
Hi everyone! I have been involved with music most of my life, beginning in grade school with the trumpet. I am a largely self-taught multi-instrumentalist (drums, guitar, bass, and starting the piano and violin). I currently play drums in two bands and write and produce many genres of music in my home recording studio. I am also an avid guitar and drum collector.