Guitars will naturally go out of tune over time for a number of reasons. But does it seem like your guitar loses its tune much quicker than it should?
A guitar can go out of tune quickly if the strings are old or if they’re new but not broken in properly. It may also be due to how frequently you bend your strings or the way your guitar is set up in general: improper string tension and bridge height or loose tuning pegs can quickly detune your guitar.
Let’s look at each of these factors in more detail, as well as how you can fix them.
8 Reasons Why Your Guitar Goes Out of Tune Quickly
1. Old Strings
Old worn out strings are the most common reason your guitar won’t hold a tune for long. Most guitar strings are made of steel or have a steel core: and though it may not seem like it, steel is actually quite elastic. The more you play, the more your strings will stretch out over time.
Eventually, the strings will lose their elastic quality, no longer rebounding to their original length after being stretched or bent. When this happens, they’ll begin to drop in tune.
Fixing this issue is pretty straightforward: if you’re needing to re-tune your guitar frequently, then try changing your strings!
For reference, if you play daily then you should replace your strings about every two months. For less frequent playing, you can adjust the frequency down. For example, if you play 3 days per week, changing the strings every 4-5 months could work well. This will also vary depending on how hard you play your strings, so feel free to experiment until you find out what schedule works for you.
2. New Strings
Old strings can cause your guitar to lose its tune quickly, but so can new strings…if they haven’t been properly stretched and broken in. New strings will stretch quite a bit for the first few playing sessions. You might even find you need to re-tune your guitar every time you play for the first couple weeks. This is completely normal, and easily correctable.
After installing a new set of strings on your guitar, you’ll want to stretch them to speed up the break-in process. To do so, check out our article on properly stretching your guitar strings for some tips as well as a video tutorial.
3. Frequently Bending Your Strings
Some music genres and songs are known for a lot of tremolo and diving notes (think Eddie Van Halen). Achieving these cool effects does place a lot of stress on your strings however. Frequent bending will cause your strings to stretch out much faster, speeding up wear and tear.
If your playing style incorporates a lot of string bending, your strings are going to lose their elasticity quicker and become loose, struggling to hold a tune. This process happens even faster if your guitar has a Floyd Rose bridge: this bridge constantly changes the string tension and stretches them at the bridge as well as along the fretboard.
Well, there really isn’t a fix for this one. If you love the sounds you can achieve with a Floyd Rose bridge and tremolo arm, keep shredding that way! Just know you’ll need to tune your guitar more frequently.
You can mitigate these effects by replacing your strings regularly. You could even choose a set of heavier gauge strings that are more resistant to stretching, though this would also impact your guitar’s tone and may not be desirable depending on the kind of music you like to play. But it’s an option to consider.
4. Frequent Drop Tuning
Your guitar might be going out of tune quickly because you frequently tune it down. This is a common technique in many music styles, but is especially prevalent in hard rock and metal, and may include tuning down every string or just the lowest string.
It’s not necessarily the act of down tuning that will cause your guitar to go out of tune faster, but the frequent changes in string tension as you tune to different pitches. This places more stress on your strings over time and will cause them to wear out faster.
Just like frequent string bending, there’s really no way to avoid the effects of drop tuning if the music you like to play requires it. You just need to be on top of replacing your strings before they get too old and worn out.
You can also choose a heavier gauge string set that better resists changes in tension. Some strings are designed specifically with drop tuning in mind, and may be worth a look.
5. Loose Tuning Pegs
Tuning pegs let you tune your guitar, but they’re also responsible for keeping your guitar in tune.
Rotating the pegs tightens or loosens the string tension, adjusting the string’s pitch up or down. But once you’ve achieved the desired pitch, those tuning pegs are supposed to remain in place. If they don’t stay put, they can’t effectively keep your strings tuned.
Loose tuning pegs can cause string slippage, where the strings loosen and unwrap themselves from around the peg. A guitar with broken tuning pegs just won’t stay tuned very long, especially if your playing style is aggressive or involves a lot of string bending.
Broken or loose tuning pegs that can’t be tightened will need to be replaced. And if you aren’t using locking tuners, this would be a good time for an upgrade.
Locking tuners feature a hole tapped through the retaining pin on the guitar headstock which the string is inserted through before it’s wrapped around. This helps keep the string tight and in place without requiring it to be wrapped around the pin so many times, which can lead to breakage.
6. Nut is Not Cut Properly
The nut holds your strings in place as they stretch from the guitar headstock down the fretboard. Without the nut, your strings would be able to slide back and forth across the fretboard. The nut also keeps them at the right height above the fretboard to make playing notes possible.
However, if the spaces in the nut that hold the strings are not sized correctly, they can increase string tension, which can cause them to go out of tune.
You may be able to adjust the size of the gaps with a file, but if you’re not comfortable doing this, it’s a good idea to have a professional do it for you. If the nut is worn down too much (which can happen, as the strings produce friction at this point), it might need to be replaced.
7. Improper String Tension
Strings need to be tensioned at just the right level to produce a certain pitch. Aside from the tuning pegs, there are other ways your string tension could be affected, and not in a good way.
The first occurs at the bridge. The height of the bridge is adjustable, which alters the height of the strings above the fretboard and pickups. If your bridge is too high, it will place excess tension on the strings and make fretting notes difficult. Too low, and fretting notes becomes easier but tension may not be enough to keep the strings elevated off the fretboard.
The second occurs at the guitar neck. A guitar neck may have a degree of natural bend to it, but excessive concave or convex bend will impact string tension. Additionally, this could put too much stress on the neck, causing it to break.
Improper string tension caused by either of these factors will make it more difficult for your guitar to hold a tune.
To adjust bridge height, turn the bridge screws to raise or lower the strings above the fretboard. Make sure you turn both screws evenly to raise or lower both sides of the bridge the same amount. Consult your guitar manufacturer’s website to find the proper bridge height for your specific guitar model.
Adjusting the bend of your guitar neck requires accessing the truss rod. For more information, see this article which describes how to find and adjust the truss rod.
This is something you really want to get right: turning the truss rod too much can place more stress on your guitar neck and damage it. If in doubt, take your guitar to a professional and let them take care of it.
8. Drastic Climate Changes
Guitars can be very sensitive to temperature and humidity. Drastic temperature swings and exposure to excess humidity or severely dry conditions can cause a guitar to swell, contract, or separate at its joints.
As the wood of your guitar swells or contracts, string tension will be altered, which can cause it to go out of tune. If your guitar has been irreparably damaged or its shape has been altered, it may not be able to hold a tune anymore.
Properly storing or transporting your guitar to prevent exposure to less than ideal weather conditions is the best way to keep humidity or temperature swings from causing harm.
Check out these articles for more on how to protect your guitar from humidity and moisture and how to keep it safe from cold temperatures.
How Long a Guitar Should Stay in Tune
How long a guitar should stay in tune depends on a number of factors: how often you play, your playing style, the type and gauge of strings you use, and whether your guitar has a Floyd Rose bridge.
It’s hard to say how long you can expect your guitar to hold a tune without specifically identifying the factors above. However, if you find your guitar seems to be out of tune every time you pick it up to play, there’s probably an issue that needs to be addressed.
A guitar should be able to hold its tune for at least a couple of practice sessions, assuming you practice regularly.
How Often Should You Tune a Guitar?
This one’s a little easier to answer: whenever it sounds out of tune!
If your playing sounds a little off, it might just be that your guitar needs a quick tune. Nothing can ruin a good song and make you doubt your playing skills like an out of tune guitar.
If you frequently tune to different pitches to play different songs, then you’ll obviously be tuning more often; possibly after every song if that’s how you’ve structured your practice.
4 Tips to Keep a Guitar in Tune Longer
1. Buy High Quality Strings
A good set of strings will not only sound better, but they’ll hold their tune much longer than cheap strings. Even high quality strings are relatively cheap (compared to the price of a guitar) so there’s no reason not to spend a few extra dollars.
2. Properly Adjust Guitar
But, even good strings won’t sound good if your guitar isn’t properly adjusted.
This means making sure the bridge height is correct, the neck angle is set correctly to provide the right string tension, and the tuning pegs are tight and holding the strings in place.
3. Store Your Guitar Properly
Guitars do best at a temperature between 70-75 degrees Fahrenheit and a humidity between 40-50%: this keeps the wood from getting too hot or too cold and causing damage. Ideally you want to store your guitar in these conditions. Depending on where you live, this might mean investing in a humidifier or dehumidifier.
If you’re transporting your guitar, keeping it in a hard case is best. Hard cases regulate temperature better and provide more insulation than a gig bag. You can also buy a guitar case humidifier if you’re traveling through a cold, dry climate. This will keep your guitar at the proper humidity and prevent the wood from drying out and cracking.
4. Buy a Tuner
It’s hard to keep your guitar in tune if you don’t know how to properly tune it in the first place!
It takes a lot of practice to tune a guitar by ear. If you’re not there yet, there’s nothing wrong with buying a tuner (or using a tuner app on your phone). This ensures your guitar is always in tune, which will make your playing sound way better.
It will also keep you from constantly adjusting your strings when the songs you’re playing don’t sound quite right. Frequently fiddling with the tuning pegs and altering string tension will only make your strings wear out faster.