Keeping your acoustic guitar in tune is very important if you expect it to sound good when you are playing. It’s easy to hear a guitar that is out of tune so you will need to make sure that your guitar stays in tune at all times when you’re playing it. However, many people have problems with this and find themselves tuning it more often than they should.
While it is normal, excessive tuning issues could indicate that there is an issue with your instrument.
It’s natural for a wooden instrument to go out of tune due to temperature and humidity fluctuations. This is one of the most common causes but there are many other ways in which you can find your guitar out of tune.
If you are having trouble keeping your guitar in tune and have to tune it each time you pick it up to play, you may have a serious issue. If it stays in tune most of the time but occasionally gets a little off, this is normal.
Over the years of playing the acoustic guitar regularly, I have found a few reasons that my guitars go out of tune. I know that when my acoustic guitar is not in tune, it is probably due to one of the following reasons listed below.
1) Bending And Stretching Of The Strings
When you bend and stretch strings on your guitar through normal play, the strings will go out of tune. This will generally cause the strings to go down in pitch and you will need to tune them up back up. This can happen numerous times throughout a playing session depending on how much you stretch and bend the strings on your guitar.
This isn’t always avoidable if you are a serious string bender but if not, you can avoid this. When you install your strings, be sure that you stretch them out a few times as you are tuning them in order to help them to fully stretch out. You will also need to do this a few more times as you are playing with new strings.
Once the strings have been stretched out enough, you shouldn’t notice it going out of tune as much.
2) Wood Changing During Temperature & Humidity Swings
Guitars are wooden instruments and they are susceptible to temperature and humidity changes. These changes can cause guitars to expand and contract and may change the tuning as it does so.
This is very common for people who travel with their guitar or play gigs. These people are often taking their guitar from a warm house and putting it into a cold car and then going back into a warm place again. These temperature changes can cause the wood to expand and contract, making it a tuning nightmare.
This is easy to fix once you are ready to play but this is a common reason that people find their acoustic guitars out of tune. You should expect this anytime you take your guitar from one environment to another.
If you leave your guitar sitting for a while without playing it, you can also expect it to be out of tune. It will have likely experienced temperature and humidity changes during this time, which would cause this problem. It’s completely normal.
3) Bumping The Tuning Keys
One common way that guitars go out of tune is accidental bumping of the tuning keys. I am guilty of this and sometimes lay my guitar down in a way to where the tuning keys slightly get turned. This will cause one or more of my strings to go out of tune and I will need to re-tune it once I pick my guitar back up.
If you are careful with your guitar and avoid anything that can bump the tuning keys, you won’t have to worry about this. However, this is a fact of life if you play guitar and carry it from place to place. It’s going to happen sooner or later that you accidentally bump a tuning key or rub it up against something accidentally and it turns slightly.
This is an easy fix if you know when it was bumped. Otherwise, you won’t even know it and you will find a string out of tune and you won’t even know why. This could have been the culprit.
4) Bad Tuners Slipping
If the strings are slipping and you know you have them installed correctly, you could have tuners that are going bad. The gears inside the tuners might be slipping, causing the strings to loosen. The only way to fix this is to swap out the tuners with some new ones. You could probably do this yourself or you could hire a professional to do this work for you.
This is fairly common and tuners do go bad. I have had a few go bad over the years but they are easy to change out. It isn’t a big deal as long as you know that this is your problem.
5) Strings Not Properly Installed
One reason that guitars do not stay in tune is that the strings slip, even if ever so slightly from time to time. This could be caused by a variety of reasons and one of those reasons could be that the strings were not installed correctly to begin with.
This is a common problem for newbies but can happen with seasoned players as well. There can be a few ways in which the strings are not properly installed. One way is that the string was not wound enough around the tuning peg and there isn’t enough friction holding the string tight.
This can cause the string to slip ever so slightly making it to where you continually have to re-tighten it. This can be avoided by making sure that you have enough string wrapped around the tuning peg when installing the strings.
Another common reason for strings slipping is that the slack wasn’t pulled out all the way when pushing down the bridge pin. This slack usually works itself out when you begin tightening the string but I have seen it cause problems before. I have had this issue before and the slack slowly worked itself out over a few days. I kept having to re-tighten the string for it to be in tune and I realized that this was the problem.
Make sure all of the slack is out of the string when you push the bridge pin down.
6) Bowing Neck
If you have a guitar that has a problem with the neck bowing, you might notice that it is starting to go more and more out of tune. This often happens with cheaper guitars that don’t have a truss rod. Most guitars nowadays have a truss rod installed and it’s easy to fix a bowing neck by tightening or loosening it with the screw provided.
I have only had to adjust my truss rod one time in my Gibson acoustic guitar over the past five years. This isn’t a problem usually but can sometimes be an issue for those who have their guitars in changing weather environments.
As the strings pull on the neck of the guitar, it could cause the neck to bend. The bending of the neck can cause the strings to go out of tune and will need to be tightened for tuning.
This isn’t usually a problem and isn’t something that has to be changed very often so if you know that your truss rod is adjusted correctly, this is likely not your issue.
7) Cheap Guitar
As mentioned above, I have had tuner issues on a guitar before. This problem was in a cheap guitar that I owned. In fact, it was my first guitar and over the years, the low E string would not stay tight. The tuner was slipping and you could easily see it. The only option was to change out this tuner to a newer one. This is what I did and it fixed the issue and got me back on track.
Cheap guitars often use inferior parts and are not quality controlled as well as more expensive guitars are. These are mass-produced and so they typically will have issues that you don’t expect from expensive ones. That’s not to say that expensive guitars are not prone to problems. I have also had tuners go bad on an expensive Gibson guitar.
If you purchase a cheap guitar, you should expect issues like this ever so often. This isn’t always the case and it certainly isn’t a knock on cheap guitars. It’s just a fact that cheaper, mass-produced guitars do not have the quality that you can expect from a solid wood, handcrafted guitar.
Keeping a guitar in tune is essential so you should know when you have a problem or if it’s just something common that you are experiencing. All guitars go out of tune but if you find yourself tuning your guitar more often than you think you should be, you may have an issue that needs addressing.
If you are in this position, it’s probably best to have a professional look at the guitar and fix as needed. I play my guitar around the house all the time and I rarely need to tune it. Of course, if I were playing in front of people in a serious setting, I would always make sure it’s in tune. However, just for casual play, I rarely notice an issue with my guitar being so out of tune that I can hear it.
If you keep your guitar in a temperature-controlled environment and humidified properly, you shouldn’t have issues. If you do, it could be one of the reasons mentioned above or it could be something more serious going on with your guitar.