Guitar Tuning Peg Not Tightening Strings? Here’s What To Do

acoustic guitar | Sandy Music Lab

Tuning a guitar is second nature to seasoned musicians. But what happens when the tuning process only leads to more pitchiness? Luckily, there are plenty of ways to fix this problem.

If your guitar tuning peg is not tightening strings, identify the problem first. Common issues include a faulty tuning mechanism, poorly wound strings, or strings wound in the wrong direction. If none of these causes apply, it is time to seek a professional repair person’s help.

Read on to learn how you can fix your guitar’s tuning issues. If none of these solutions work, keep reading to learn how to find a quality guitar repair person.

Most Common Tuning Peg Tightening Strings Issues and How To Fix Them

Fixing tuning pegs that refuse to tighten strings is an easy process as long as you can diagnose the problem. For your convenience, we gathered some of the most common causes, along with some how-to fixing guides below.

Malfunctioning Tuning Peg or Machine Head

One typical, if not reasonably obvious cause, might be a faulty tuning mechanism. On classical guitars with nylon strings, these are the tuning pegs. Steel-string acoustic and electric guitars, on the other hand, use machine heads. You are more likely to encounter this issue with nylon-stringed classical guitars and their tuning pegs (go here to learn how to tune classical guitar by ear).

Nylon-String Classical Guitars

If your nylon-stringed classical guitar is not tuning correctly, there’s a good chance a tuning peg is malfunctioning (Question: how long should a guitar stay in tune?). This problem usually presents itself as a gear that slips or may not even tighten at all. Here’s how to check for this problem and fix it:

  1. Eliminate tension: Loosen the guitar string to eliminate any tension.
  2. Operate with a screwdriver: Next, grab a Phillips-head screwdriver and get to work. Gently turn the tuning peg screw to see if it has loosened. If you do notice slack, tightening the screw with the screwdriver should do the trick. Be careful not to tighten too much, or you can damage the tuning mechanism or the whole instrument.
  3. Fix an improperly placed gear: If you notice no positive changes after using your screwdriver, then the issue may be an incorrect gear or post-placement. In this instance, it is best to remove the screw and gear. Then, push the post closer to where the gear is supposed to be.
  4. Replace the peg: If removing the gear does not work, then you should replace the tuning peg altogether.

Steel String Guitars (Including Western Acoustic and Electrical)

The tuning mechanisms on western acoustic and electric guitars, known as machine heads, are more complex. In this scenario, the most typical problem is loose bushings and washers. Another possible conundrum is a loose tuning button. We will tell you how to handle both issues in the how-to guide below.

  • Tighten the bushing and washer: The first solution is very straightforward. If you have ever worked with bushings and washers before, you know you can handle them with a wrench or nut driver. Tighten the bushing and washer as you normally would with a wrench or nut driver. Be mindful of these two things: First, you need to remove the strings first before attempting this. Second, do not over-tighten! 
  • Tighten the tuning button: Tuning buttons have a small screw up-top that you can turn with a Phillips-head screwdriver. Handle them with care, as you would with the tuning peg of a classical guitar. Give a gentle turn to check for looseness, and then tighten the screw. Remember not to tighten too much! You only need to screw it enough that you feel some tension while turning it.
  • Broken machine head: Unfortunately, if neither of those solutions worked, you need to replace the tuning machine with a new one.

Badly Wound String

What does it mean if your instrument slips out of pitch and goes flat after being wound? In this scenario, the falling pitch most likely indicates a guitar string that is poorly wound. For visual confirmation, take a look at the wound string. If there is uneven space between the string and its adjacent strings, it is wound wrong. You need to restring your guitar.

Otherwise, you will experience unstable tuning and unexpected instances of pitch slipping in performance.

Strings Wound in the Incorrect Direction

When a guitar is restrung and tuned, it is vital to turn the pegs counter-clockwise. Furthermore, turning the tuning mechanism counter-clockwise should tighten the guitar string and raise the pitch. Examine your tuning mechanism and turn it counter-clockwise. Does the string loosen and lower in pitch? If so, then it is wound in the wrong direction.

To fix this, you need to restring the guitar and wind them in the correct direction. Take your time and restring clean and evenly.

Choosing a Repair Person (or When Your Other Fixes Have Failed)

So, let’s say you have tried every fix so far, and nothing seems to work. When this happens, it is time to ask for professional help. Luckily, there are guitar repair people who can handle these significant problems. But choosing a stranger to adjust and tinker with your beloved instrument is not a decision to be taken lightly. How do you find the right one for you and your instrument?

Handles Pressure Well

You may wonder if an overbooked professional is the wrong choice for you. How do you know they will give your instrument the time and attention it needs? On the other hand, if they get a lot of business, they must be good. Busy is not a bad thing, as long as the repair person can handle the pressure. Check their body language and how they interact with you and other customers.

Can Diagnose the Problem and Explain It to You

This quality comes from a passion for the instrument. Repair people who care take the time to listen to your issues and look for a solution as if the guitar was their own. They will also explain the problem to you in an uncomplicated manner. Some repair people can be curt or require specific terminology from you. However, if they know their stuff, their abruptness is likely in your best interest.

They Make a Plan and Share It With You

Finding a problem is one thing, but fixing it is the real skill test. If the repair person knows what they are doing, they will construct a plan in haste. More importantly, they should be transparent with you. Your guitar matters to you: otherwise, you would not be seeking a repair. The person repairing it should respect that and be completely upfront about what they will do to it.

They Go the Extra Mile

When it comes down to it, you need a repair person that will put the same amount of effort, if not more, into your guitar as you would. This consideration presents itself in different ways. Maybe they decide to fix a minor problem for you free-of-charge. Or perhaps they avoid price-gouging by focusing on the issue over the higher invoice. You care, so they should too.

Positive References

Before meeting a new repair person, it helps to check their references. In the age of review sites, like Yelp, it is easy to find customer reviews. However, seeking the recommendation of a trusted musician is another excellent way to go. Use the guidelines above to ask the right questions when getting your options.

Final Thoughts

In short, if your guitar’s tuning pegs do not tighten the strings, there is either a problem with the tuning mechanism or the strings themselves (here’s how to keep a guitar tuning peg from slipping). Tuning mechanism issues usually require some adjustments using standard hardware. Incorrectly wound strings need you to restring the guitar. Unfortunately, there are some tuning problems that a musician cannot solve on their own. In this case, it is vital to seek help from a professional guitar repair person.

David Sandy

Hey there! My name is David Sandy and I'm the founder of Sandy Music Lab. I've been playing guitar for several years now and created this site to be able to share and explore music with others. Check out my recommended guitar gear!

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