Tuning is one of the most important aspects of playing guitar.
After all, one cannot create music if the strings are in any random tuning.
Luckily, there is a wide catalog of alternate tunings to try and experiment with.
Now, even if you decide to try some Sonic Youth-like tuning (A F# E F# E B ? What the Hell is that?), you still need the notes to sound in tune.
So, better to check strings every now and then to see everything is in its right place, what do you think?
Generally, strings stay in tune for two or three days. This, however, varies depending on the strings, type of guitar, and playing techniques applied. It is a great idea to check the strings’ tune every 15 or 30 minutes to notice if there are changes that need to be made.
We have covered all the details regarding tuning in this article.
You’ll understand the causes, and find solutions to those annoying issues.
Here we go!
How long do guitars stay in tune usually?
In most cases, a guitar will stay in tune for a day or two approximately.
This, of course, changes a lot depending on a wide variety of reasons.
For example, the guitar model you have can drastically affect strings’ tuning. Also, the strings themselves could last longer or shorter depending on their lifespan.
Not to mention, the way you tune directly affects the tuning durability.
Let’s analyze these causes more thoroughly so you can understand and avoid these issues.
Factors that could affect the tuning stability of your guitar
Before finding solutions, it is always wiser to understand what causes the problem, to begin with.
That way, you are preventing having to tackle issues in the future.
So, the main factor we could mention is the type of guitar itself.
In other words, whether we are talking about electric or acoustic guitars, the tuning time stability will increase or decrease.
For example, electric guitars are relatively more stable than their other cousins. This occurs in part because electric guitars have a solid body construction.
Also, electrics are “better” because of the neck truss rod. The neck truss rod keeps the fretboard firm, avoiding string instability.
Moreover, this electric guitar’s stability boosts if the guitar has a fixed bridge.
Now, there is a noticeable contrast regarding acoustic guitars.
Since acoustics are hollow, they are more susceptible to temperature changes. It seems a futile detail, but this interferes with the tuning.
See, the weather could shrink or expand the guitar’s wood. As a result, the distance of the string between the bridge and the headstock would change, causing changes in its tuning.
What’s more, acoustic guitars lack a truss rod. This makes the fretboard bend due to a regular pulling of the strings.
In the long run, having a high action makes the strings go out of tune.
Regarding the strings themselves, they also take a pivotal role in tuning durability.
There are quite a few factors to take into account that have to do solely with strings.
First of all, the material they are made of. Guitar strings are mostly made of steel.
These are the most resistant types of strings, thus, the ones that stay longer in tune.
Contrarily, there exist nylon strings. These are so elastic that, once again, the weather could interfere with their size.
Let’s keep focusing on strings. A pivotal factor to take into account is their age.
New strings will probably detune sooner than used strings, believe it or not.
This is because once you install the strings on the guitar, they will stretch.
In other words, you may discover that they have gone out of tune some minutes after you have installed them.
Naturally, this is bound to happen, and there is nothing you can do to prevent the problem.
Truth is, it is not that much of a problem. It is just time-consuming, and a bit of a nuisance.
Other than that, it is merely a matter of time until the strings stretch appropriately.
Now, here’s one of the cruelest jokes God has made upon musicians: old strings detune as well!
Yes. Believe it or not, neither new strings nor old strings are a good choice at the time of finding stability in your tuning.
It seems that in the end, the best option is a balance. Neither too old, nor too new.
But please, enough about complaints. Let’s see other factors to take into account.
We move on to playability. Indeed, the way you play affects tuning.
For instance, using too much bending or strumming the strings too hard is a recipe for detuning. And let’s not even talk about the whammy bar!
Lastly, we need to mention that the mere fact of playing the guitar, whether it is with bending techniques or not, will detune the strings.
The more you play, the more the string stretches, and we have already mentioned how stretching strings make them go out of tune.
Fortunately, detuning your strings because of playing is nothing but a natural process, with little to no solution (not that a solution is required in this case).
Oh, and one more factor: tuning! The way you tune also plays a role in tuning stability.
But we’ll focus on that in the paragraph below.
So, to sum up, here is a list of the factors that affect tuning stability:
- String materials (especially nylon)
- String age (too new, too old)
- Type of guitar (acoustics more prone to detuning)
- Playing style
- Playing frequency
- Tuning from high to low
Tips on how to improve the tuning stability of your guitar
Well, we had quite a ride with the potential factors. Now, let’s find out what you can do to avoid them.
First of all, we highly encourage you to tune from low to high, instead of high to low. In other words, tune the strings up instead of tuning down.
Picture it this way. You want to play Everlong by Foo Fighters, which is in drop D.
You need the low E string to go all the way down to D. However, instead of going down directly to D, we recommend going further.
Tune down to C# or C. The note is not that much important, as long as it is lower than D.
Once there, go all the way up until you reach the desired note.
This way, you avoid it staying loose, thus, avoiding it going out of tune. By tuning up, the string gets “tighter”, so it is harder for it to go out of tune all of a sudden.
Second, install the strings the right way. Come to think about it, this should be the very first step you ought to take.
Installing the strings the right way means firmly seating them on the guitar at the ball end of the string. Moreover, it is better to use fewer neat winds.
The third piece of advice is to take care of your guitar setup. Check that the neck is adjusted, that the saddle and the bridge are also in their proper position, and that the fret is even.
You can always take the instrument to a professional to have it repaired for you.
Lastly, we recommend a cheap and simple trick that will guarantee the strings stay in tune for longer periods: a pencil.
We are not joking, a pencil is more than enough to prevent detuning. All you need to do with it is lubricate the nut with the pencil’s graphite.
You could try other products, such as cleaners or lubricants. However, we strongly believe any pencil is more than enough to ensure a good job.
This pencil trick occurs because the strings always hang up a bit at specific points in the guitar (the nut, the bridge). Lubricating gets rid of the issue.
Here’s a summary to refresh the information:
- Tune from low to high (tune up, not down)
- Seat the strings at the ball end
- Use fewer winds
- Stretch the strings a bit before installing them
- Lubricate the nut and bridge saddles
Can tuning too often damage your guitar?
There are dozens of factors that could damage your guitar, both long and short term.
Luckily, tuning too often is not one of those.
If anything, alternative tunings may damage strings, causing them to break. This occurs because of a constant adjustment in the tension of the strings.
In conclusion, rest calm. You won’t destroy your guitar by changing tuning constantly.
But your strings… Oh, I just wish them the best of luck.
How often should you check the tuning of your guitar?
Examining the state of your guitar tuning is important. However, this is a task that doesn’t need to be done every time, everywhere.
What we recommend, is checking tuning every time before starting playing. This includes rehearsals and live performances.
On some occasions, it is okay to play guitar without having to check for tuning. For example, if you want to play for a while all alone in your bedroom, then you may do it well without adjusting the tuning.
Naturally, if the strings are too out of tune, you’ll notice it and fix them. Otherwise, you may get by easily.
One important aspect, though, if you are a beginner it is of paramount importance that you tune every time before playing.
This will get your ear accustomed to the “right” tune, so in the not-so-distant future, you are able to tune by ear (or at least, realize when the instrument sounds terrible).
Lastly, it is a good idea to check to tune every half an hour or less approximately if you are rehearsing with other people, and maybe every other song (or every fifteen minutes) if you are playing live.
Consider that, in this last example, tuning shouldn’t take too much time. Otherwise, you run the risk of boring the audience.
Also, do not get too obsessive with these details. Simply relax and play.
After all, the very purpose of making music is to enjoy it.
Hello there, my name is Ramiro and I’ve been playing guitar for almost 20 years. I’m obsessed with everything gear-related and I thought it might be worth sharing it. From guitars, pedals, amps, and synths to studio gear and production tips, I hope you find what I post here useful, and I’ll try my best to keep it entertaining also.