I’m often asked about guitars that tune up fine, but fall out of tune quickly. This issue isn’t intonation: the guitar can be tuned and plays in tune up the neck, it just won’t stay that way.

I have found that most tuning issues with guitars with a vibrato unit or whammy bar, some of the ones that don’t)  comes down to the string binding in the nut. If you squirt some power graphite (sold where keys are made to lubricate locks) into the slot of the nut before inserting the string, that might make the tuning problems go away. You could use wax, soap, or 3 in one oil, but they tend to make the string sound dead. But they do work as well. In a pinch I have used Chapstik.

If the string can’t slide through the nut easily, then each string is prone to have different tension on either side of the nut. With one wank on the bar, bending of a string or aggressive strum the tension changes…and the guitar is out of tune. If the string is free to pass through the nut without binding, the tension will return to status quo.

You’ll also want to make sure there are plenty of winding of the string on the posts of the tuning gears. The more windings there are, the greater downward angle the string has passing over the nut. If there’s not enough angle, the string will play out of tune. This is the very reason Fender put those string retainers on the headstock for the 1st and 2nd strings.

If your Fender-style  guitar’s tuning issues are with the 3rd and 4th string, you may consider adding a string retainer for those strings as well. Some guitars already have them.

Also, when you string your guitar, you’ll want to make sure that the winding of your strings on the tuner posts are straight with no overlapping. Firmly, but not aggressively, pulling in the string after it is first strung up will help tighten those wrappings and allow the string to settle in sooner.

Jake Kelly is a man on the constant search for enlightenment, if anyone finds it let him know so he can get some. For more of this hombre’s ramblings and the rest of L2P check out L2Pbandspace and L2Pnet.com.

Originally posted 2010-08-26 03:39:03.