Guitar Keeps Going Flat? Try This.

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Modern Guitar Tuners

Does your guitar keep going flat? Here’s a simple remedy if you’ve tried everything else and it continues to happen.

My new Strat just wouldn’t stay up to pitch, most especially the plain strings. I messed with everything trying to solve this problem to no avail. It seemed like the strings were slipping on the tuner posts. When I played, a bend or two would pull the strings flat. Really annoying!

Guitar Tuner Repair Fig 1Pic 1 shows the tuners on my guitar. See the little screw that looks like it attaches the button to the shaft? Well, it does. It also adjusts the tuner tension.

If these screws aren’t tight enough, the string tension can unwind the tuner slightly, causing your strings to drop in pitch.

Most guitars use the modern tuner style shown in pic 1.

Guitar Tuner Repair Fig 2

If you have vintage or vintage style tuners on your guitar, see pic 2, you’re pretty much out of luck to increase the tension. However, I have never experienced this problem with those tuners. Hmmm… so the new style is better?

Guitar Tuner Repair Fig 3Pic 3 shows how these tuners hold position. Under the button is a curved (or, as I call it, wiggly) washer on top of a nylon washer.

The button is drawn down against these two washers, pinching them between the button and the shaft housing. The nylon washer allows the button to turn with low effort and the wiggly washer provides the tension to keep the tuner in position once the string is up to pitch. Heavier gauge strings will put more tension on the tuner post and may unwind the post if the tension on the wiggly washer isn’t enough. Add tension by tightening the screw in the button – carefully. Don’t crank it down, just snug it up a little and see if that cures your problem.

So, if you wrap more than two winds on your strings and are having the “slippage” problem on a guitar with modern tuners, your tuner tension may not be tight enough. If you are having this problem on vintage tuners, try an extra wind or two before you write them off or switch to a “locking” winding technique to hold the strings better. Also, make sure you adequately stretch new strings at installation. Those coils around your tuner posts need to stretch out before the strings will stay up to pitch reliably.
Happy tuning!!

As an afterthought, as long as we are discussing strings and tuning, if you are having a problem with tuning between chords – an A barre chord is in tune but an A chord in first position is not – you have an intonation problem.

On Strats, Strat copies or any guitar that has a similar floating bridge, sometimes the amount of float in the bridge, as measured at the back of the casting, will shorten the scale length just enough to make accurate intonation almost impossible. This is found more in the copies, off-brands and parts guitars than on Fenders or Squiers. Just be sure to check that the scale length of the guitar (which will be between 25 and 5/8″ to 25 and 3/4″ on a Strat) is long enough for you to adjust each string for intonation without bottoming out the adjustment.

The fix is to lower the bridge just a little (reduce the clearance between the back of the bridge casting and the guitar body). This lengthens the scale length so you can adjust the intonation properly. Just tighten the springs a little to reduce the float. Of course, the down side is you must now readjust the string height, pickup height, neck relief… ain’t it fun being a guitar techie?

Doug Knight

Our “Man on the Street” reporter, with his “What’s New in Music Stores?” series, resides in Coos Bay, OR. You can find him on Friday nights at The Small Events Center at OrCoast Music in Coos Bay.

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