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Tuning Stability Checklist

Tuning stability with tremolo bridges can be problematic and very frustrating, especially when recording. Solving these problem is not rocket science but with such a complicated mechanical system it can certainly can seem like a black art.  But there is a simple way of thinking through tuning problems which might help…

First, never work with old strings. Old strings don’t stay in tune. Put new strings on your guitar. Learn how to do it properly and stretch them properly.

Now that you have fresh strings and you have tuned up, if you have problems staying in tune, ask your self which strings are going out of tune. Is it one string in particular? If so, does it go sharp or flat?

If one or more strings go sharp, but NOT all strings, they could be binding or catching somewhere, and that means friction. A little lubrication in the nut slots can make a world of difference. I also add a tiny amount to the top of the saddles and to the string trees (if you have any). Be careful with piezo saddles, which may not appreciate any lube getting where it’s not supposed to be. Chapstick, vaseline, pencil lead, lithium grease all work well but only use the minimum amount necessary! I apply with a toothpick or needle or edge of piece of paper. I also clean old lube off during every string change. For a more in depth look at lubricating your guitar, see my article A Little Lube Goes a long Way.

If one string or more strings go flat, but NOT all strings, they may be slipping or stretching, which suggests stringing technique. For non-locking tuners, make sure the string has enough wraps around the tuning posts. If you have locking tuners, make sure to use the correct stringing technique and that the tuning locks are tight. Also check that the ball end is well seated in the trem block before you start winding on the tuner post. Stretch new strings well (without tugging so hard that you break them).

If all strings are sharp or flat after trem use, now we have a situation where the bridge is not returning precisely to its original position. On Floyd rose double locking systems, check the lock nut is stable and firmly attached. On all guitars, look at the knife edges and mounting posts (perhaps clean or light lube if necessary) and make sure that nothing restricts the free motion on the bridge and bridge block in the back cavity.

But we must remember a simple fact – there is no such thing as perfect tuning stability. Friction is the cause of 95% of tuning and trem troubles. But friction is impossible to eliminate completely. The guitar is, by design, an instrument full of compromises and can never be ‘perfectly’ tuned even if our tremolo systems work as well as the laws of physics will allow. Don’t fall into the trap of chasing unobtainable perfection. 

  1. […] when stretched. Repeat for all strings. If you have tuning issues when using the trem, try out my tuning stability checklist for ideas. As I said, if all else fails, get in touch with Music Man customer service. They are […]

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