We’ve all been there—you decide to put down your guitar and continue your practice session tomorrow. But when you pick up your guitar and start playing the next day, it sounds terribly out of tune! How could it possibly have lost its tune in so little time?
How long a guitar stays in tune is determined by how new the strings are, storage climate, and the player’s technique. Making adjustments in these areas can prolong or shorten the amount of time a guitar will stay in tune.
Read on to find out why your guitar is losing its tune so quickly and what you can do to slow the process.
Why Guitars Lose Their Tuning Over Time
There are a variety of reasons a guitar might lose its tune. As I mentioned above, your guitar could be losing its tune due to climate changes, the newness of its strings, or the style with which you play it.
One of the most common reasons a guitar might lose its tune quickly is that its strings are brand new. If you recently changed the strings on your guitar, the changes in their tension could be the explanation for your guitar falling out of tune.
How a Guitar Works
To understand how your strings affect the tuning of your guitar, you need a basic understanding of how a guitar works. Firstly, you need to grasp how guitar strings produce specific notes.
Vibrations create sound. In the case of a guitar, strings produce these vibrations. Each string is pulled tightly enough to trigger a vibration when you pluck or strum it.
As you may have noticed, each string on a guitar is a different thickness. These different gauges help determine whether the notes played are higher or lower-pitched. For example, the lighter-gauge strings produce higher notes.
This is because the thinner the string is, the more quickly it can vibrate; The more quickly a string can vibrate, the higher the frequency (and pitch) it can create.
The string’s gauge isn’t the only factor determining what pitch it creates; the tension in each string is also significant. The more tightly a string is stretched, the higher a pitch it’ll create.
When you tune a guitar by twisting the tuning pegs, you adjust the tautness of the string, which in turn alters the pitch it can create.
How New Strings Affect Tuning
So, we know that string tension affects the pitch produced. After you put new strings on a guitar, it can take some time for the strings to adjust to being pulled so tightly. As a result, they lose tension quickly as they adapt to the new strain. This loss of tension results in a decrease in the string’s pitch as the slack increases.
It takes some time for new strings to become fully stretched out. But with time, they’ll adapt to the tension and start to hold a tune for a more extended amount of time. Later in the article, I’ll discuss some ways to speed up this process.
Changes in Climate
The climate of the room you store your guitar in can also affect how quickly it falls out of tune. Most often, temperature and humidity are the environmental factors that impact guitar tuning.
Depending on the temperature, the air surrounding your guitar can change its tuning, especially if you store your guitar in one place for extended amounts of time. Hot weather lowers the pitch, which makes your guitar sound flat.
This change in pitch happens due to the higher temperatures loosening the string, which reduces their tension and, in turn, lowers their pitch. Thicker strings are more drastically affected by hot temperatures, while the thinner strings don’t change in pitch as significantly.
Cold weather doesn’t usually affect a guitar’s pitch significantly. When left in a cold environment, a guitar may start to sound sharp (raised in pitch), but this typically isn’t drastic enough to be noticeable. However, experts recommend keeping your guitar out of cold temperatures for long periods to protect the wood body of the instrument.
Humidity doesn’t directly affect the tension in your guitar’s strings; however, high humidity levels can lead to warping in the instrument’s neck and body. Excess humidity in the air can lead to the wood expanding, which often causes the strings to shift. These seemingly minor shifts can significantly impact the sound and tuning of your guitar.
Playing Too Aggressively
Believe it or not, your playing style can affect how long your guitar holds a tune. If you’re playing too aggressively, your instrument might not stay tuned for as long. Applying too much pressure can cause the strings to pull on the tuning pegs, thus unintentionally tuning each string’s pitch down. This concept applies to both your fretting hand and your strumming (or picking) hand.
If you’re an aggressive guitar player, and find that your guitar is constantly falling out of tune, consider playing more gently. This slight shift in technique will help your tuning last longer.
Mechanical Parts Working Improperly
Although less common, another reason guitars fall out of tune is because mechanical parts, like the nut or the tuning pegs, aren’t working properly.
The nut is the part of your guitar at the top of the fretboard that secures your strings and keeps them spaced evenly apart. It does this through tiny grooves that hold each string. If these grooves are too small or their placement is incorrect, the tension in the strings is affected.
If you examine your guitar’s nut and determine the grooves are too small, you can file down the grooves to fit the strings better.
For a detailed tutorial on how to file your guitar’s nut, check out this video by Fender on YouTube:
Loose Tuning Pegs
Another mechanical issue that can make your guitar fall out of tune is loose tuning pegs. The tuning pegs are the small knobs located on the headstock of your guitar that you twist to adjust the tension (and pitch) of each string. If these pegs are loose, they won’t hold tension in the string after a tune-up.
If your tuning pegs are loose, use a screwdriver to fasten each tuning mechanism more tightly to your guitar. If your guitar has wood buttons instead of metal screws, you can secure them with super glue.
For a visual demonstration, check out this YouTube video posted by Acoustic Guitar:
How To Help Your Guitar Hold a Tune
If your guitar is quickly falling out of tune, fret not! Here are a few additional ways you can help your guitar hold a tune for longer:
- Create a consistent storage climate
- Replace your strings periodically
- Stretch out your new strings
- Tune your guitar correctly
1. Create a Consistent Storage Climate
Because temperature and humidity can have such a significant effect on your guitar’s tuning, it’s essential to store your instrument in a room that aligns with its climate needs.
Experts recommend storing your guitar in a room with a temperature of 70-75 ºF (21-24 ºC). As a general rule, avoid exposing your instrument to any extreme temperatures—whether high or low—for extended periods.
Most experienced guitarists agree you should store your instrument in an environment with humidity levels between 40% and 50%. Humidity control is especially true for wooden acoustic guitars, which are susceptible to warping and swelling.
2. Replace Your Strings Periodically
Many guitar novices don’t realize that guitar strings can get more difficult to work with as they age.
The dirt, sweat, and oils from your hands can wear on your strings and affect how well they hold a tune. Old strings are also more prone to breaking, so it’s a good idea to replace your strings periodically.
Most experts recommend replacing your strings every few months, depending on how often you play and for how long. Someone that plays guitar every day might need to replace their strings every three months, while a more casual player might only restore their guitar every six months.
For a tutorial on how to put new strings on your guitar, check out this video posted by YouTube user Acoustic Life:
3. Stretch Out Your New Strings
As previously mentioned, brand-new guitar strings struggle to maintain a consistent amount of tension over time. Although this can be frustrating, you don’t have to wait for them to stretch on their own. Rather, you can stretch out the strings to instantly help them hold a tune for longer.
The best way to do this is to stretch your strings while putting them on the guitar. Before you begin, stretch your strings in a relatively open area. It’s not uncommon for strings to snap when being stretched, and you don’t want to hurt anyone nearby.
Once you fasten the string to the guitar, tune it to the correct pitch. Then, while holding the guitar in playing position, gently pull the string outwards and away from the neck—about half an inch. It’s crucial to start pulling gently to avoid snapping the string.
Once you have put a little bit of pressure on the string and it continues to hold, you can gradually begin to pull a little harder. Some guitarists like to move their grip along the string as they pull outward to ensure an even stretch. This technique is an excellent way to ensure strings aren’t weaker in some areas than others.
For a quick visual demonstration of stretching guitar strings, take a look at this video posted by YouTube user ExpertVillage Leaf Group:
4. Tune Your Guitar Correctly
Although it may seem straightforward to an experienced player, some beginners struggle with understanding the proper way to tune a guitar. Guitar tuning involves twisting the tuning pegs on the headstock of the instrument; Each peg alters the pitch of a specific string.
When you tune your guitar, the string’s pitch should go upward as you twist the peg, not downward. Also try to avoid tuning a string higher than necessary; this can overstretch the string and create slack, making it more difficult for a string to hold its tune.
A multitude of reasons might cause a guitar to lose its tune, including the climate, string age, and even your guitarist’s playing style. Nonetheless, you can easily help to keep your guitar in tune longer by replacing and stretching strings periodically, using proper playing and tuning techniques, and creating a consistent storage climate.