Troubleshooting tuning problems

What if your guitar doesn't stay in tune?

This page will help you narrow down which area of your steel guitar is probably causing problems you may be encountering when trying to maintain accurate tuning.

What is Mechanical Detuning?

Mechanical detuning is defined as the failure of a string to return to true pitch when pedals or knee levers are used.

Where to look for the problem

Use your electronic tuner to help determine the most likely source of the mechanical detuning:

Mechanical detuning causes and solutions
Cause Solution
Strings not wound straight on tuning machines cause roller to bind or pinch. Wrap string at tuning machine to pull straight across roller.
Roller is burred or binding. Check to see if roller moves freely, then correct cause of binding.
Lack of lubrication on rollers. Lubricate rollers and shaft with lightweight machine oil or musical instrument (sax, clarinet, etc.) key oil.
Levers or pedals are binding. Check the ease of movement and correct cause of binding.
Lack of travel (slack) results in overtuning of tuning nut, causing the string to stop before the finger engages stop mechanism. Back off tuning nut until finger engages stop bar. Adjust pedal or lever stop to increase movement.
RARE: Return spring is not properly calibrated. Adjust spring by adjustment or removal of coils (one at a time) to increase tension. {Please note that this will rarely need to be done.}
Temperature-related tuning problems

Temperature variations cause expansion and contraction of the metal used in strings, causing the open strings to go "out of tune". For example, tune your E-string to 440 on your tuning meter. Rub your hand back and forth along the strings 4 to 5 times, then check the E-string with the tuning meter. The E-string will be flat approximately 1-3 Hz. (Do not try this with a tuning fork, as it will not work. An E-string cannot be tuned to A-440. However, on most tuning meters, the 440 designation indicates "on pitch", as opposed to Herz or cycles.)

The solution is to let the guitar stabilize to room temperature approximately 10 to 20 minutes. Rub the strings length-wise before tuning and before playing to help them warm up.