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Not able to get your guitar to stay in tune? Want to take your guitar and toss it? Don’t panic, keep your guitar! All you need are a few easy preparations and precautions to have your guitar stay in tune. To get your guitar to stay in tune, you need to be able to get it in tune. For this, you need a guitar that is properly intonated.
A guitar is in proper intonation when notes and chords don’t become more and more out of tune as you play up the neck. Proper intonation doesn’t mean that it’s in perfect tune at every fret, only that it is equally out of tune at any given point. Having a properly intonated guitar means the sound should be acceptably in tune from the first fret to the highest fret.
To attain proper intonation you should make sure that the distance from the nut to fret 12 is the same distance as from fret 12 to the bridge. You can check this by lightly touching the string at fret 12 as you pick, thus creating harmonics. Plucking the string at the same fret should achieve a note of the same pitch. The harmonic should always be the same as the open string whether the intonation is correct or not. If you have a sharp fretted note compared to the harmonic, it’s bridge point should be moved farther from the 12th fret; if it sounds flat it should be closer.
Bridge Types: A lot of electric guitars and Basses have adjustable bridge saddles for each string, which means they can be individually be adjusted closer or farther as needed. Some guitars, such as vintage Teles and basses use one saddle for two strings. You have a choice of either splitting the difference or bend the intonation screw until each string is perfected intonated and acute.
Classical and steel string Acoustic Guitars usually have just one saddle for all six strings, or individual saddles that can’t be adjusted. You can experiment with different brands and gauges and brands of strings can definitely improve intonation.
Some arch-top jazz guitars offer a single wooden saddle mounted on a floating bridge. Some of these are pre-compensated. Remember now, that they were adjusted for thick, flatwound, jazz strings with a wound G string. You will need to modify the saddle or have a new one made or change to an adjustable Tune-o-Matic bridge if you want to use thinner, roundwound strings with a plain G. (These can be found on Les Pauls).
Dirty String Problem:
A very important step in improving your guitar’s tone is to use new strings. Old strings make it impossible to properly tune your guitar. If you have old dirty strings, your guitar will not stay in tune. To stay in tune, buy new ones.
Buying a new guitar does not mean you have new quality strings. Any guitar you buy at a store may have collected dirt from people just trying out the guitar before you bought it. So change those strings.
Want to know how to get new, quality guitar strings? Something in a package would be a great bet, although sometimes even then you may be getting a bad string. If only one string is giving you trouble you should replace it.
How often you should replace your strings? This would depend on how often you play and if your hands sweat a lot. You should change your strings often if you want accurate intonation because your sweat is corrosive to the strings. If your hands don’t sweat much, you can probably go weeks before changing the strings. Clean them often with a lint free cloth. Don’t use liquids and solvents.
Now that your guitar is intonated, you have new strings and still you are having tone problems. You should now check the frets. If your guitar has high frets or you’ve had them installed in your guitar, you may experience problems playing chords in tune. This may be because playing on high frets is something like playing a scalloped neck. By pressing the string to the fret you can achieve a proper note. Applying pressure from different fingers should make a chord sound out of tune as one or more notes are pushed sharp. A softer touch and listening is required to play a guitar with high frets in tune.
Action is the distance of the strings from the frets. Most guitar players prefer low action for easier playing. If you prefer higher action for it’s tonal properaties and ease of string bending, you may have to compensate. for the added distance that you are pushing the string. If the nut is raised or the strings are raised at the bridge, the note at the 12th fret may not match the harmonic when properly intonated, but the guitar will play in tune.
Acoustic and some Electric Guitars and bass pickups are magnetic. By placing them too close to the strings, they will exert a pull, making overtones that make accurate intonation impossible. This is especially true with hot pickups. You can increase output and reduce high-end response by adjusting the pickups toward the strings. You will reduce output and increase high-end response by moving them away. The exact height is a matter of preference. You can make sure you are not too close by fretting the guitar at the highest or near highest fret and listening for unusual overtones.
Staying in Tune: People assume that when their guitar won’t stay in tune that the tuners are slipping, or may not be doing their job. Although this may sound logical most of the time it is wrong. Now that we have covered all the intonation factors and getting the guitar in tune in the first place, the most common reason would be, you guessed it, guitar strings.
When putting on new strings, the windings around the tuners should be tightened by pulling the string until it no longer goes flat when pulled. This would require repeated pulling, retuning, pulling, retuning, until you get it right.
There are a number of points to remember about how to string a guitar properly.
(1) Wrap the pegs properly.
(2) Cut them to proper length so there are not too many wraps around the pegs.
(3) Use a good quality. I prefer Brass wound for acoustic. They have a richer full body tone.
(4) Wear eye protection!!. Many people have suffered eye injuries because they were flicked in the eye.
You should pull the string away from the fingerboard, not across it to avoid breaking the nut. By not doing this, everytime you play a song or bend a string you will be tightening those windings which would cause the string to go flat. By the time they settle in, it will be long overdue to change your strings, thus starting this whole scenario over again.
You may find when stretching the string that it will keep going flat and eventually pulls out of the tuner. It is possible that you may be stringing your guitar improperly. Pull the string through the tuner – or cut off the end and insert it, leaving just enough slack for two to four windings. Winding too many times makes stretching difficult.
There are many good places to buy strings. Most good music stores will have what you want. Just remember, buy good quality. At least as good as you can afford. They will stay in tune longer and will sound a lot better.