8 Reasons Guitars Goes out of Tune (And How to Fix It)


Are you wondering why you guitar keeps going out of tune, and what you can do about it? Here are the top 8 reasons why a guitar goes out of tune!

Why do guitars go out of tune?

  1. The strings are old
  2. The strings are low quality
  3. Bending the strings
  4. The intonation isn’t correct
  5. String slippage
  6. The nut is cut incorrectly
  7. Temperature and humidity changes
  8. Incorrect capo placement 

How to Keep a Guitar in Tune:

  1. Replace the strings after every 100 hours of playing
  2. Use high quality strings
  3. Don’t overuse the tremolo if possible
  4. Make sure the guitar is intonated
  5. Use locking tuners
  6. Lubricate the guitar’s nut
  7. Keep the guitar in a low-humidity environment 
  8. If using a capo, place it just behind the fret bar

What Keeps a Guitar in Tune?

Before we jump into the reasons why a guitar goes out of tune, it’s best to get clear about what mechanisms are designed to keep your guitar in tune.

The tension on the strings affects the note of the string. The tension has to be just right to make sure the string is in tune. Here are the most important parts of a guitar which affect it. 

  • Machine heads (tuners): turning these winds the string more, or winds it less. This either increases of decreases the string tension.
  • The Nut: this is the part of the guitar where the headstock and neck meet. It has a slot for each string to sit in.
  • The bridge/ saddle: this acts as the end point of the strings on the guitar’s body. 

Now you know what keeps a guitar in tune, here’s what makes it go out of tune. 

1. The Strings are Old

One of the biggest reasons why a guitar goes out of tune quickly, is because the strings are old. As strings get old and worn, they become less tense. You already know that the tension of the string is the ultimate factor which decides if the string is in tune or not. Old strings tend to sound sharper, because it’s harder to hold them down on the fret.

How to fix it

This one is super easy to fix. Just get some new strings! You should change your strings after every 100 hours of playing, or every 3 months, whichever comes first. Also remember to clean your strings to stop them corroding and becoming worn faster. Check out this guitar string 101, to learn how they affect the sound and feel of your guitar. 

2. The Strings are Low Quality

Another reason why your guitar might keep going out of tune, is because you’ve got low quality strings on it. The lower the string quality, the quicker they become worn and lose their tension. This is related to the first reason and can again  make them sound sharp.

How to fix it

Make sure you don’t skimp on the string quality when you re-string your guitar. It might seem like a waste of money if you have to keep replacing them, but it’s an investment. The better the strings are, the less often they need changing and the better they’ll sound. 

3. Bending the Strings

It probably won’t come as a huge suprise, but bending the strings will cause them to go out of tune faster. This happens when you bend the string manually, but the effect is a lot more significant when you use a tremolo arm. If you have a double locking tremolo bridge like the Floyd-Rose, then you’ll have less of an issue. But if you use a classic single-locking Fender-style bridge, then using the tremolo arm can pull the strings way out of tune if you’re particularly heavy handed.

how to fix it

Bending the strings less, both manually and by using a tremolo arm, will prevent the strings going out of tune as fast. But if this is key to your playing, but you don’t want the lack of tuning stability that comes with it, then consider getting a tremolo effects pedal like the Boss TR2

4. The Intonation Isn't Correct

If the intonation on your guitar isn’t correct, then your guitar will always sound a bit out of tune, no matter how much you try and tweak it. Here’s how to check your intonation:

  • Play a note on the 12th fret
  • Play the 12th fret harmonic of the same note
  • Compare the pitch of the two sounds.
  • If they’re the same, you’re all good!
  • If not, your guitar needs some adjustments.

How to fix it

There are several adjustments that can be made to put the intonation right including: truss rod adjustment, bridge height adjustment, and changing the strings. If you’re not experienced in making adjustments to your guitar, then take it to a guitar store and they’ll be able to look at it and make the alterations. 

5. String Slippage

If you look at your guitar’s headstock, you’ll see that the strings are wrapped around individual pegs. If the strings start slipping off the peg, then this is known as string slippage. It causes the guitar string to lose it’s tension causing to sound flat (out of tune).

How to fix it

Investing in locking tuners is a great way to avoid string slippage. They clamp the string around the peg to stop it slipping off. If you want to invest in some locking tuners then check out the following models:

6. The Nut Is Cut Incorrectly

You’ll remember that the nut is located at the joining between the guitar’s headstock and neck. It holds all the strings in position and has a slot for each individual string. The slots need to be the correct size, otherwise it causes tension, which makes it go out of tune. 

How to fix it

You can use lubrication or file the grooves to change the size of the slots for the strings. Sometimes, you may need a new nut if it’s worn. The best thing to do, is take your guitar to a luthier to check if the nut is cut correctly, and make any adjustments if necessary. 

7. Temperature and Humidity Changes

Temperature and humidity changes are a guitar’s worth nightmare. They cause a number of physical changes in the guitar which can cause many issues, from fret-buzz to tuning instability. When it’s too warm, the strings will expand, when it’s cold, they’ll contract. This affects the string tension, and consequently, whether it sounds in tune or not.

How to fix it

Make sure you don’t subject your guitar to extreme temperatures. You want to keep your guitar at constant room temperature and avoid storing it outside for example in your garage or car. 

8. Incorrect Capo Placement

Finally, another thing that can cause your guitar to sound out of tune, is incorrect capo placement. Capos clamp the strings down, hence causing them to bend, which can pull them out of tune and make them sound sharp. 

How to fix it

Proper capo placement is really important to make sure using one, doesn’t cause your strings to go out of tune. You should place the capo just behind the fret bar to avoid pulling the strings sharp. 

More Frequently Asked Question

Why won’t my guitar stay in tune after restringing?

Don’t worry if your guitar strings go out of tune quickly after having it re-strung. This can happen for a couple of weeks after changing the strings. It’s because the new strings are stretching out faster and losing tension quickly.

You can accelerate this stretching out process by tucking your finger around each string at the 20th fret, then pushing your thumb down on it for a few seconds. Repeat this on the 12th and 5th frets. Try this 5 times to stretch the strings faster. 

How long should a guitar stay in tune for?

The length of time it takes for the guitar to go out of tune depends on many things including your playing style, the string age and quality, temperature, humidity, and your bridge and nut. 

New strings, go out of tune faster at the start, then once they’re stretched out, they’ll have better tuning stability. However, when they’re more worn, they go out of tune faster again. 

how do you check a guitar is in tune?

If you have a good ear, then you can check if your guitar is out of tune by checking it and listening carefully. But if you don’t know how to do this, then there are three main methods you can use.

is it bad to tune a guitar a lot?

Tuning the guitar often, and changing the tune setup, isn’t bad for a guitar. It can cause the strings to lose some tension each time you change the tune, which can cause them to wear faster, but not by a lot. 

why does my guitar always sound out of tune? 

This is most likely due to incorrect intonation. Here’s how to check it:

  • Play a note on the 12th fret
  • Play the 12th fret harmonic of the same note
  • Compare the pitch of the two sounds.
  • If they’re the same, you’re all good!
  • If not, your guitar needs some adjustments.

If the intonation is off, then take your guitar to a luthier to check it over and make the adjustments. 

 

So there you go! That’s why guitars go out of tune! I hope you’ve found this article helpful, thanks for reading. Here are some other posts you might find useful:

Heather

Hey, I'm Heather. I started playing an electric guitar when I was given a Squier Strat for my birthday around 15 years ago. I now own an acoustic guitar and several electric guitars including my personal favourite, a PRS SE Custom 24.

Recent Posts