Guitar question

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What makes some guitars stay in tune well and others not? I’m thinking about plain old guitars - not the ones with fancy things on the nut or bridge to lock in the tuning. ???

Quote (TomS @ Jan. 04 2005,08:08)
What makes some guitars stay in tune well and others not? I'm thinking about plain old guitars - not the ones with fancy things on the nut or bridge to lock in the tuning. ???

Could be any number of things. Most likely suspects are slipping (or just plain cheap) tuning keys or the nut. My personal fave keys are Grovers - had tuning problems on my SG years and years ago, had Grovers installed and now I can tune it once and it pretty much stays there and this is after 25+ years of fairly hard use. Schallers are pretty good too - I've got those installed (they came stock) on a couple of guitars and they stay in tune fairly well. Could be the strings binding in the nut; if you do a lot of string bending (with whammy or not), the string can get bound up in the nut and prevent it from returning to pitch. Might want to make sure that the nut slots are cut appropriately for the string gauge you're using or just put some graphite in the slots to provide a little lubrication (heh, heh, heh - he said "lubrication"), a no. 2 pencil will do the trick. Could be intonation - that would be a clue if you can get it in tune with, say, an open E chord but it's out of tune farther up the neck. Could also be neck warpage - if the neck is twisted or out of alignment (if a bolt-on), that could cause the problem. Sight down the neck from the headstock and it should be level from side-to-side and almost perfectly straight down the neck. There *may* be a slight bow to it to allow for relief - this is okay. Some players prefer a perfectly flat neck, others prefer a very slight relief to prevent string buzz. Could be something as simple as old, worn-out strings...those are next to impossible to tune.

Sidebar: I went into a Mars store a few years back and wanted to try out one of the Pete Townshend SG's. Now, this was a guitar carrying a price tag of $2000, and the strings they had on it were so old and nasty that there was NO way to get it tuned properly. I was fairly appalled that they'd have a guitar with that high of a price tag on it and then let the strings get so nasty that you couldn't tune it.

Some tuning variations are just the natural expansion/contraction of the wood/metal etc with temperature.

Properly fitted strings are one of the biggest contributors to a stable guitar that I’ve found. (Three or four nice neat, non-overlapping turns on the tuners. Especially on the thinner high strings).


Mark

I have been totally sold on locking tuners. NO wraps. String changes are a breeze. No wraps means no slippage as well.

TG

Weather is alot of the trouble with tuning, high or low humidity can affect the wood temendously, also change of seasons causes this, with AC running then open windows to The heating system coming on. Necks especially change to adverse temps and humidity. (Including the one holding up my head!)

Grover Tuners Rule!
Proper stringing is highly important!
Locking tuners are great TG!:D

Yeah, a locking nut and micro/fine tuners on the bridge will fix almost any tuning slippage problem. I added a fine tuner to my LP and Melody maker (the ones that were stolen) and the tuning problems (not that they HAD tuning problems to speak of) went away.

My old telecaster has a graphite nut. I got that because the strings were grabbing and popping in the nut. A string would be slightly flat then pop slightly sharp, or the other way around. The graphite nut helped a little but it’s started doing it again. Normally this kind of thing shows that the nut isn’t smooth, but that doesn’t seem to be the case right now, and wasn’t before either. The tuners are Schallers, which are a good choice as well (Grovers are choice one). I think the graphite nut, being softer than bone or hard plastic is getting grooved quicker than the other kinds. I’m not sure I’d recommend it after using it on this guitar. This guitar has always held tune well for the most part…then the original nut chipped. It was an experiment.

But, if the nut is grabbing and it is smooth then a little pencil lead (which happens to be graphite) will work as a good nut lubricant. The saddles need to be smooth as well, but it depends on the bridge how much slippage you get down there. there is usually more pressure on the bridge saddles than the nut so most slippage will happen at the nut end.

Anyway, don’t most musician want well lubed nuts? :)

Yo, we talking lubing the nuts, YES!:D

As Mark and Yaz said, humidity can be a major prob.

A friend of mine’s Les Paul used to suffer from that terribly. Scotland being a very damp country, caused the neck on his axe to visibly bow. His solution was to keep several silica gel desiccant bags in the case.

I never have tuning probs with my Strat though. Lacquered maple neck, Spiegel locking machine heads (with you all the way there TG :) ), Wilkinson roller nut (which was a bastard for buzzing on the top E until I got the shims right) and a blocked tremolo, (correct set-up of the Tremsetter is good, but if you don’t use the trem, block it!). But even so, I bend a lot, so a good nut is important.

And of course, heavier strings help, but, don’t forget to pre-stretch them.

But otherwise Tom, I expect it’s as people say, poor machine heads and/or strings not tied and wound around enough (especially nylon).

Ali

You know, it was an SG that got me thinking about this again - had one a long time ago, never understood how I sounded SOOOO bad on it and that guy from the Who sounded SOOOO good. Never would stay in tune.

Thanks for the info guys! :)

Quote (TomS @ Jan. 04 2005,08:08)
What makes some guitars stay in tune well and others not? I'm thinking about plain old guitars - not the ones with fancy things on the nut or bridge to lock in the tuning. ???

I get so many guitars in for "repair" that just need a few things done to make it play in tune. Here is a list for checking for problems.

1. Check truss rod neck relief.

2. Check for action height. Strings that are various heights can make a guitar play and sound poor.

3. Check intonation of each string individually.

4. Check nut height to make sure the slots are not too high. An improperly cut nut (most of them are) can make the guitar play out of tune on the first few frets.

5. Graphite the nut.

6. Restring with no more than 3 windings around each post. Also, the string should be wound around the post properly so that it cannot slip. There is a simple method for this... check out a new Martin guitar and see how they wind the strings around the post.

If you do all of this, your guitar should stay in tune. Of course this assumes that your guitar has a properly fitted neck and that the tuners aren't crap.

take care,

Mike
Quote (TomS @ Jan. 04 2005,18:35)
You know, it was an SG that got me thinking about this again - had one a long time ago, never understood how I sounded SOOOO bad on it and that guy from the Who sounded SOOOO good. Never would stay in tune.

Thanks for the info guys! :)

My SG is a '68 or '69 Custom (Gibson's not sure - serial numbers seem to indicate '68 but for some unknown reason they think it *might* be a '69). I had the tuners replaced somewhere around 1975, I think (I've had it since '72). The original Gibson tuners that were on it were crap, had Grovers installed and the nut sanded and the tuning problem was solved. My tuning problem with it now is worn frets which I just haven't gotten around to having redone - it's quite expensive and it's not like I don't have other guitars that I like to play these days, unlike the old days when it was the only guitar I owned. :D Actually got the SG because of Townshend, saw it hanging in the music store for cheap and Dad was cool enough to buy it for me (me being almost 15 at the time). After having it for nearly 33 years, it's beat all to #### (just ask phoo) and I think the only original parts left on it are the nut and the wood. Everything else has either just quit working or broke (again, just ask phoo. Ranks as one of my most embarrassing stage moments :p). When I got it, there wasn't a mark on it. Now....worn finish on the neck and body, lots of little dings and scratches, but still very, very cool with great tone. It can be heard on "ELO Kiddies" at http://fartones.phootoons.com or on "Go Down" under the reunion music files link at http://cirkus.phootoons.com (as well as seen - check the reunion pictures on the Cirkus site. Or any of the pictures on the Cirkus site, for that matter.)

Ever thought about re-fretting by yourself Sean?

It really isn’t that difficult, not if you’re careful.

It’s much harder on a laquered maple Strat neck, but on a Gibson, it’s no prob.

Just tap out the old ones, and tap in the new. Use a burin to lift one end, then it’s just like pulling teeth. And when you tap in the new, use a sledgehammer! (Only kidding :D).

Dressing them is a wee bit harder, but there’s lots of good books that will help you there. You can make your own dressing files, and like everything else, it’s just a question of being careful.

And one thing you can be sure of; like any DIY, you’re going to do it with more love and TLC than anyone else will. :)

But, try it out on an old piece of crap first. :D

Ali

Quote (Ali @ Jan. 04 2005,19:52)
Ever thought about re-fretting by yourself Sean?

It really isn't that difficult, not if you're careful.

It's much harder on a laquered maple Strat neck, but on a Gibson, it's no prob.

Just tap out the old ones, and tap in the new. Dressing them is a wee bit harder, but there's lots of good books that will help you there. You can make you own dressing files, and like everything else, it's just a question of being careful.

But, try it out on an old piece of crap first. :)

Ali

Thought about it? Yes. Done it? Not a chance. Fretwork is one of the few things that I won't do...I'll string it, put new pickups in it, re-wire it, even took the whole thing apart down to nothing but the body itself a few years ago so I could buff all the year's accumulations of smoke, flash powder, fog juice residue and crud off of it then put it all back together but I'm not messing with fretwork. As Clint Eastwood said: "a man's got to know his limitations". :D

I still say it aint that hard Sean. :)

And, your axe is your lady…

You really want some other bloke pawing over her? :D

Ali

Quote (Ali @ Jan. 04 2005,20:06)
I still say it aint that hard Sean. :)

And, your axe is your lady.....

You really want some other bloke pawing over her? :D

Ali

Nah, any kind of work that involves sawing, cutting, filing, sanding, etc., you don't want me doing.

You could give me a circular saw with a rip guide and a laser guide with the straight line marked in glowing fluorescent colors and I'd STILL manage to cut that sucker crooked. Just not my forte. :p

All this talk of refretting has me curious… I have a basterdised epiphone les paul (or gibson or something). I got it of some guy for 25 bucks… The neck is ancient, and it could do with being refretted (more like it desperately needs it). How much is a lot of money? $50-$100? I guess I should be asking my local store about this…

the diff tomsy tween bands usin sg’s like yer used is cos dey got guitar techs doin gobs o’ custom stuff’’’’ letronics n pikups n internal gitter wiring n tuners’’’ n the blinkin umidity is a stopper’’’ oi never liked da tunin pegs on sg’s so ya ad ta gett better ones’’’’ so i jus used a gitter tech ta set em up rite’’’’ too blinkin lazy ta figur out fer meself’’’‘on sg’s yer gotta get rite bindin o the strings on tunin peg i wos told’’‘bands o’ dat era wos usin lotsa custom stuff appnin’’’‘who once ad a blinkin big red roller car sorta burgundy if i rember’’’ oi fink dey prolly even did it up custom loike as well’’’ in those crazy dayz yerd see bands play live wiv a stack o’ amps but often jus show fer da payin punters n quite often a likkle custom gitter amp hidden away n modded to da gills wos wot gave the sound cos bonds often used baby amps in makin albums n stuff’’’’ i once went behind scenes at a concert n a cuple o’ baby amps wos doin da gig fer lead player’’’’ sum bands went ta 2 amps per player cos in early days dey got probs if uno amp went on fritz’’’’ blokes often go on bout one amp snd versus a nuvver but wot yer general public dont know is all sortsa factors of an sg or tele or strat make da sound that blokes can never fathom out wen dey go ta store n buy it n find dont sound same’’’‘reason y yer cant dupe snd wiv same gear as lead gitter player did on big song is mebe bloke usin diffrent pik, strings, gitter lectronics, tubes in amps n whole bunch custom
fings even callouses on fingerz can make a diff n gitter teknique’’’’ chek out a modded sg thru a old hi watt wiv some mods n pedal board stuff fer sum glory snds’’’ :D :D

I’ve got an SG Special from around 1970 which gives me no tuning problems at all (see photo ) with the original Kluson “3-in-a-row” machine heads, but used to have an SG Standard from around the same period that used to drift in and out of tune wildly. I never really got to the bottom of why, though always assumed the the cheaper SG Special machine heads were actually better. In terms of sound, the original P90s on mine sound fab, though they are very prone to hum pickup - which is why I’ve changed all my computer monitors to LCD flat screens which has worked wonders.

Quote (TheBronzGod @ Jan. 05 2005,06:14)
All this talk of refretting has me curious... I have a basterdised epiphone les paul (or gibson or something). I got it of some guy for 25 bucks... The neck is ancient, and it could do with being refretted (more like it desperately needs it). How much is a lot of money? $50-$100? I guess I should be asking my local store about this...

Locally (Atlanta area), refret jobs are going for $175-$200 depending on which tech you go to. That's for total fret replacement/filing/dressing. I could probably get away with just having a few of them totally replaced and have it dressed 'cause there's really only a couple-three of them with really deep grooves in them - too deep for mere filing and dressing. Bottom line is that I'm pretty much of a cheap ba**ard and just haven't gotten around to taking it in. I've acquired a few other guitars over the last several years that I enjoy playing so I really haven't missed my SG not being fully available for a while although here recently, I can hear it calling to me from inside it's case. :p