Tuning One String Causes Others to Go Out of Tune

Some days it may feel like you just can’t get your guitar in tune. 

Nothing you try works and it feels like playing one of those “Whac-A-Mole” games at the arcade where a new problem pops up every time you fix the last one. 

So let’s see if we can figure out some ways to make it easier.

While it is not a common problem for tuning one string to drastically affect the other strings, it can happen. There isn’t much you can do about changes to tension on the neck, but the type of bridge on a guitar can make tuning much more difficult. Floating bridges are usually to blame for this.

Now there is an obvious culprit that causes other strings to de-tune as you are tuning one string: you. So let’s get that out of the way first. 

It’s pretty easy to bump the other tuners when you are tuning, especially if you get frustrated or you have big fingers. 

I know it sounds stupid but let’s be honest, we’ve all done it at least a few times. So if you find yourself getting frustrated, take a break and come back to it later, just like anything else in life. 

Now let’s tackle some of the less obvious issues.

Is the tuning of all guitar strings correlated?

All of the strings on your guitar are working in concert to exert pressure on your guitar neck (and some other things). 

So even small changes in the pressure of one string can affect the bow of your guitar’s neck. 

This is going to be more noticeable especially on the thicker strings and over time

For example, if you tune your low E string down to a C or B note and then pick up your guitar a day later, the other strings may not be in tune as the change in the pressure on the neck has taken its toll. 

Of course, guitars can have other features that will affect the interaction between strings but this is the baseline that covers all wooden guitars. 

Perhaps roasted maple necks are less susceptible to this due to the baking process but I wouldn’t bet money on it. That’s what the marketing says anyway.

How does tuning work with different kinds of guitar bridges?

Although there isn’t much you can do about the elasticity of wood, the type of bridge you have on your guitar is a big deal. 

A guitar with a tremolo system and especially a floating tremolo bridge will make tuning much more difficult than a bridge that is securely fastened to the guitar body. 

I definitely recommend that beginners go for a hardtail bridge until they get the basics down and learn to take care of their instrument. 

I will also mention that some vintage guitars like Telecasters may use three bridge saddles rather than six so each string is sharing a saddle with another. 

I think this is more of an issue for setting intonation but tuning one string could have an effect on the tuning of the other string sharing that saddle as well. 

But I haven’t personally owned a guitar with three bridge saddles and much prefer the Tune-o-matic style of bridges like on Gibson guitars.

What could be causing other strings to go out of tune?

If you have a guitar with a floating tremolo then any change that you make to the tuning of one string is going to change the tension on the springs that hold the bridge in place. 

So this is going to be the number one suspect for this type of problem. 

And then on top of that, you have the tension causing changes to the neck over time so if you feel like you are chasing your tail you probably are. 

Having your guitar professionally set up might help but if you have this type of bridge on your guitar and don’t use the tremolo you should consider locking it down with extra springs.

How to fix other strings going out of tune?

So besides bumping the tuners, changes in tension on the neck, and the springs of floating/tremolo bridges, what else is there? 

There is the age of your guitar strings of course. 

Ideally, you should always replace all of the strings on an instrument at the same time so they all share the same age and usage.

But if you break a string you may not want to completely restring your guitar and mixing new strings with old ones could open a can of worms if you experience tuning problems with other strings because the new string(s) will stretch and age differently.

I don’t think that the high E strings exert as much tension as the thicker gauge strings so you may get away with replacing just the high E string and I have seen string sets sold with an extra high E string, which I think is a great idea since that is the most common string to break for most people. 

But since things don’t always go ideally, when I change strings I usually keep the old set if there is still some life in them, until I restring again. 

That way if I break a string and don’t want to re-do all of the strings for some reason (maybe it’s late and all of the stores are closed) I at least have the option of using a string that is “broken in” already, similar to the way you aren’t supposed to replace only one tire on a car. 

It may sound crazy but I’m not the only person who occasionally replaces only one string and I would rather throw on an old string than mix used and new strings together and find myself down the tuning rabbit hole. 

But seriously, you should try to replace all of the strings at the same time when possible to avoid tuning problems down the road.

Tips on improving your guitar’s overall tuning stability

Now tuning one string and having it affect the others is a worst-case scenario. 

But if you have a guitar with a fixed bridge or a simple tremolo style, you can still have tuning problems, especially with more affordable instruments. 

The most common problem is strings getting caught in the nut slots because they are not lubricated or properly cut for the string gauge you are using. 

You can lubricate the slots easily at home with lubricant or pencil lead. If the nut needs to be re-cut, doing it yourself will depend on your skills and the tools available. 

The next problem area to check out is poor tuning gears or the strings slipping in the tuners. 

If you want to spend some money you can invest in some locking tuners or simply wind the strings so they trap themselves in place as you rotate the tuners. 

And when you restring be sure to stretch the strings as you tune and expect to re-tune again several times over the first few days. 

If you keep having problems after that it’s time for a trip to the guitar doctor. 

Finally, you should think carefully about whether you really need a guitar with a floating tremolo system, especially if you are just starting out because your time should be spent practicing and not constantly tuning your guitar.