Why Do Guitars Go Out of Tune?

The 7 most likely culprits keeping you from staying in tune.

One of the annoying things guitarists at any level face is an instrument that won’t stay in tune. Whether on stage, in the studio or just in the bedroom, those pesky strings can slip out of tune in an instant, and typically at the most inopportune times.

Why do guitars go out of tune? Here are seven everyday issues to consider:

1. The Strings

It might sound simple, but old strings can keep you from that perfect tuning. As they wear, they lost their capability to hold tension, making them feel brittle and less able to hit the fret. That will make some notes to sound sharp.

2. The Climate

Guitars and their strings are greatly affected by extreme changes in temperature, as they will expand when it’s warm (making it sound flat) and contract when cold (resulting in a sharper sound).

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3. The Capo

A poorly placed capo can mess with your tuning, pulling the strings down towards the fretboard when attaching it and pulling them across the fretboard when taking it off. Be careful with that capo!

4. The Intonation

A guitar must be intonated right or it’s not going to tune properly. Poor intonation can be solved by adjusting the truss rod that runs down the center of the guitar’s neck. You may also have to adjust the height of the bridge and/or nut to achieve ideal action.

5. The Tuning Machines

Wear and tear on a guitar can loosen its tuning pegs to the point that they won’t hold a tuning. Using a screwdriver to tighten then every so often will ensure the tuning machines are attached enough to the headstock and keep you sounding right.

6. The Nut

Each string moves through a slot in the nut at the top of the fretboard, and if they’re not moving through that slot smoothly, the result is tension on one side or the other. If the strings don’t sit in those grooves along the nut’s front edge as they move down the fretboard, you’ll be out of tune throughout the neck. The nut slots might but cut too narrow or shallow for your string gauge, which makes the string bind. You can alleviate this by using a file to address the grooves, or using a form of lubrication.

7. The Tremolo

Every time you press the tremolo arm, the strings gain a little slack, and if they are wound sloppily to the tuning pegs, you'll eventually sound funky. The same goes for when you pull on the vibrato, as it will increase pitch in the strings. This eventually relates to the nut, as movement of the strings can cause them to change position in the nut and affects the way they retun to pitch.

Click here for a full assortment of Fender electronic tuners and here to download the Fender Tune app. And if you'd like to learn more about your guitar and tuning, sign up for a free trial for Fender Play here.