You are currently viewing 7 Reasons Why Your Guitar Won’t Stay in Tune – And How to Fix it!

Last Updated on March 5, 2024 by Teemu Suomala

Author: Santiago Motto

Aka. Sandel. Telecasters and all-mahogany Martins lover.

Besides that, Sandel is a professional writer, guitar player, confessed guitar nerd, and all-things-guitar consumer. He has been playing for 25 years which makes him a nineties kid with serious low-tuning youngster years, and a pop palate for melodies, ballads, and world music.

Whenever Santiago is not pouring all that experience and love for the instrument into articles, you can find him playing live shows supporting his music and poetry books as “Sandel”. If he’s not doing either of those, you can also find him gigging with his band, “San Juan”, writing, reading, or enjoying the Sun.

photo reveals owner of

Editing & Research: Teemu Suomala

I first grabbed the guitar in 2009. I started this website in January 2020 because I couldn’t do window installation anymore due to my health problems. I love guitars and have played dozens and dozens of different guitars through different amps and pedals over the years, and also, building a website interested me, so I decided to just go for it! I got lucky and managed to get awesome people to help me with my website.

I also got lucky because I have you visiting my website right now. Thank you. I do all this for you guys. If you have any recommendations, tips, or feedback, just leave a comment, I would love to chat with you. I have also been fortunate to produce content for several large guitar websites, such as SongsterrMusicnotesGuitarGuitar, and Ultimate Guitar.

I spend my spare time exercising and hanging out with my wife and crazy dog (I guess that went the right way…).

If you’re like me, guitar playing when a guitar won’t stay in tune is a definition of punishment and pure agony.

Yes, regardless if you’re as fast as Steve Vai, have the sense of melody of John Mayer, or can play the most thunderous riffs on the planet, if you have tuning problems, you’ll never sound very good.

Furthermore, this doesn’t just apply to electric guitars but to any guitar or stringed instrument for that matter. So, if your guitar won’t stay in tune, it’s about time to fix it once and for all to enjoy your time playing the instrument more than ever.

Read on, solve your guitar’s tuning issues, and be a happier and better guitarist.

7 Most Common Reasons for guitar tuning stability issues

Do you regularly use a tuner and find that some strings sound flat and other strings sharp? Well, let me tell you that playing in tune depends on many technical aspects of your instrument rather than your playing style.

So, before visiting your trusty guitar tech to solve fret buzz and other tuning problems, we’re going to go through the most common tuning issues and how to solve each so you can attempt a DIY approach.

1. Intonation Issues

displays Tune O Matic guitar bridge that makes intonation adjustments easy

Poor intonation on your guitar might cause its tuning stability to fail completely. Moreover, if it’s an intonation issue, you can change strings multiple times and tune them to a desired pitch but your guitar will sound out of tune anyway.

Let’s talk about intonation issues in the most critical section of your instrument first.

Let’s Talk About Bridge Intonation

Let’s get started with bridge intonation. Bear in mind that this step is exclusive to electric guitars (which make up 65% of the global guitar market). Yes, electric guitar strings begin with a ball end that’s locked in your guitar’s bridge and go through individual saddles for intonation purposes (unless they have a wrap-around bridge).

But how can you tell if your guitar’s bridge has poor intonation? Well, if you tune your instrument and then fret a note at the 12th fret, and it has a flat pitch or sharp pitch (use a tuner to measure this), then it means your guitar’s bridge has faulty intonation.


The solution is in your guitar’s bridge saddles. This applies to Fender-style tremolos, tune-o-matic bridges, and Floyd Rose tremolos. But how does it work? Well, you need a screwdriver (or Allen wrench (aka. hex key), depending on the guitar) and a tuner. Play an open note, then fret it at the 12th fret and play it again.

If you decide to DIY- fix yout tunging issues, check our picks for the best guitar setup & tool kits here.

If the fretted note is flat, adjust the saddle toward the nut. On the contrary, if the fretted note is sharp, adjust the saddle toward the bridge. Repeat the process for every string.

Here’s a video that clarifies the bridge intonation process even more:

2. Truss Rod Issues

photo reveals truss rod access of acoustic and electric guitar

As you might know, your guitar neck withstands string tension pulling it up. But how does the neck put up with tension without bending or cracking? Well, there’s a metal bar called a truss rod that runs inside the entire neck making the opposite force to keep the neck straight (note that some classical guitars don’t have a truss rod).

How does a straight neck affect your guitar’s tuning? Well, for starters, it affects string height but it also affects your guitar’s tuning in the sense that open and fretted notes are not the same.

In other words, you can tune your guitar a zillion times using open strings (as you should), but the moment you fret a chord, it will sound completely different.


We’re going to go to the solution but you need to understand that turning the metal truss rod can have a huge impact on your guitar’s neck integrity. If you tighten it too much, you can even crack the neck’s wood. So, if you’ve never done this before, take it to a seasoned guitar tech to have it adjusted.

If you still want to do it yourself, here’s how to do it on a Gibson, a Fender, a Taylor, and a Martin. It is far from an impossible task.

displays Guitar Truss Rod Directions

Check our full truss rod guide here.

3. Tuning Pegs Issues

displays best tuners of squier bullet stratocaster
Tuning machines of cheap Squier Bullet Strat HSS.

Regardless if you abuse the tremolo arm on your guitar or not, machine heads play a massive role in your guitar staying in tune.

Yes, the big difference between tuning issues that cascade from intonation and tuning issues directly related to tuning pegs is that with the first, your guitar will never be in tune (it’s physically impossible) but if the problem is with the faulty or low-quality tuning machines, your guitar will go out of tune quickly.

Believe me, there are few worse things than taking your favorite guitar to a big show only to find it’s out of tune halfway through the first song.


The best solution for problematic tuning pegs is to install new, better ones on your guitar. This is not something I came up with, but a common solution pros use all the time. 

For example, legendary guitar player Keith Richards installed locking tuners on his beloved blackguard tele. Following Uncle Keith on that, you’ll tune faster and will be able to abuse your tremolo arm without having to adjust your guitar’s machine heads all the time.

Find guitars with locking tuners here.

Other than that, make sure the strings are cut correctly and wound up with a minimalistic approach not to put too much pressure on the tuning pegs. Here’s how to do it according to Fender for an acoustic guitar and an electric guitar

4. Issues with the Nut

image displays the nut of Donner DST 152
The nut of Donner DST-152.

The guitar nut is the unsung hero of guitar tuning.

Wait, what’s the nut? Well, it’s that small black, white, or metal thing at the end of the fretboard through which strings pass to reach the tuning pegs.

The impact the nut has on tuning is huge, and the number of problems you can have with it isn’t small either. Yes, from string slippage to tuning instability, it can all be fixed from your guitar’s nut.

One very common symptom that will tell you that your guitar’s nut is not working properly is that you turn the tuning peg and it seems to have no effect on that particular string until you hear a loud “ping” noise and suddenly, the string is sharp.

That means your guitar strings are getting stuck in the nut slots instead of moving at ease through them. In other words, if your strings don’t seat properly on their slots, you get tuning problems.


The best DIY solution for this is, the next time you change the strings, use an old pencil and put some of the graphite from its pencil lead inside each nut slot. If that doesn’t solve it, I suggest you take it to a technician instead of making the hole bigger yourself. 

Don’t get me wrong, the nut isn’t expensive or hard to find, but changing it is a whole different story.

Oh, and bear in mind that if you change the string gauge, you might need to adjust the nut accordingly.

5. Let’s Talk About String Age

displays guitar strings and part of a guitar tuning machine

Talking about string gauges, what about the myth that new strings will never stay in tune? I’m sure you heard it more than once (especially from the other guitar player in the band as an excuse for playing out of tune the whole show).

Well, the thing is that if you keep the same string for an entire year and you play your guitar every day, the frets will start making small holes in the wounded strings causing them to enlarge. Furthermore, the continuous pulling of the tuning pegs will do the same on every plain guitar string as well.

Hey, and this happens eventually with all sets, regardless if you spend more on high-quality strings.

Also, another common myth is that a heavier string gauge brings more tuning stability to the instrument. Well, to that myth we have to say that it depends on the instrument setup; a properly set up guitar shouldn’t have any tuning issues regardless of string gauge (Billy Gibbons rocks 0.07 strings staying in tune the entire show).

Back to old strings, they can be the reason why your guitar goes out of tune. If that’s the case, then it’s great news, because it’s the easiest and cheapest way to fix the problem.


The solution to this problem is to take out the old strings and put fresh ones in. When you’re done, tune the guitar to the perfect pitch and then pull and stretch each string separately several times tuning it to the perfect pitch right after.

If the guitar stays in tune better, then it was just an old-string issue. On the other hand, if the tuning issues persist, then try the intonation solutions seen above.

Also, if you have a new guitar or just new strings, stretching them is a wise move, here’s a Youtube short we made that explains how to stretch strings and lubricate a nut using a pen.

Check our definitive guide on how to choose acoustic guitar strings here.

6. Weather Issues

Displays a high humidity environment and acoustic guitar

Other major elements affecting your guitar’s tuning accuracy are temperature and humidity changes. Yes, these changes in the air around your guitar might cause the entire guitar (regardless if it’s a solid-body electric guitar or an acoustic guitar) to shrink or expand.

For example, if you live in a warm building with high humidity, your guitar might be swollen causing the neck and body to move and change affecting the instrument’s intonation.

On the other hand, if your guitars are in a dry climate, the wood might begin to shrink which will cause the intonation to change as well, putting your guitar out of tune very often, or making it impossible to tune at perfect pitch.


According to Taylor Guitars, the perfect humidity for a guitar is between 45 and 55%. Likewise, according to Fender Guitars, the optimum temperature for guitars is between 19 and 25° Celsius (66 to 77° Fahrenheit). Learn more about humidity from our guitar humidity guide.

There are two possible ways to keep your guitar within optimum parameters.

The first is to keep your guitar in its case and buy a humidifier to keep it within the levels above. The thing is that this approach will only work for one guitar.

The second works if you have several guitars. Get an inexpensive hygrometer to measure your humidity starting point and then adjust room’s humidity with a humidifier or dehumidifier.

Bear in mind humidity and temperature change with yearly seasons, and you might have to adjust accordingly.

7. Capo Issues

displays a guitar capo and guitars neck

Playing with a capo can be a great way to, for example, accommodate your guitar playing to the voice of many singers. Yes, you can just play the same chords and notes of a song respecting the intervals but in a different key.

Wait; do you know what a capo is? Have you ever seen one? A capo is a small gadget that, roughly speaking, moves your guitar’s nut all over the fretboard.

Now, if you’re playing with the capo and you notice that your guitars go out of tune, without removing the capo plug into a tuner and play one string at a time. Each note should be exactly that open string fretted at the capo’s fret.

For example, if you place the capo at the third fret, your low E string played open should be G instead of E.


The first thing to do is to remove the capo and change its position to another fret. Plug the guitar into the tuner again and find the perfect spot where no string will sound sharp or flat. If such a spot doesn’t exist, you might have to replace the capo (either the rubber or the mechanism wore out).

Note that a guitar with extra-jumbo frets and a tight capo might not be a good fit, since a tight capo can make notes sound sharp when the frets are large.

A Couple of More Rare Tuning Issues

  • You press the strings with too much force. This can make notes sound sharp. Pay attention to this, especially if your guitar has tall, jumbo, or extra-jumbo frets.
  • Heavy tremolo arm use. Especially if you have a cheap guitar with cheap tuners, this can be an issue.


Is it Normal for A New Guitar to Not Stay in Tune?

Let’s divide this into two answers:

  • New strings – New guitars have new strings; if they haven’t been stretched properly, they’ll go out of tune easily. Try stretching them thoroughly.
  • Cheap guitars and wood – Another response to the question is that, sometimes, inexpensive guitars are made with wood that hasn’t been stationed well and keeps moving after the guitar is built. If that’s the case, you’ll have to play it until it stabilizes completely and you can play the guitar in tune.

How Long Should A Guitar Hold A Tune?

The answer to this question depends on many factors like tuners, tremolo system (if applicable), and the player’s touch. That being said, if a guitar won’t stay in tune (strings sound sharp or flat), the cheapest experiment is to change strings and stretch them properly. Also, check that the ball end is perfectly tight in its hole.

Is it Normal to Tune A Guitar Every Day?

To keep a guitar in tune, you need to take into consideration weather changes. So, if you move a lot or the guitar experiences drastic humidity and temperature changes, the guitar won’t stay in tune. On the other hand, keeping it in its case with a humidity control system, you can expect it to be in tune throughout the day.

Finally, if you play it a lot and bend strings like there’s no tomorrow, any guitar will go out of tune in a few songs (unless you are rocking a Floyd Rose tremolo, of course).

How Long Does it Take for New Guitar Strings to Stay in Tune?

The myth that new strings always go out of tune is very popular. Yet, guitar strings are not to blame for that phenomenon, because if you install fresh strings and stretch and pull them properly you’ll keep your guitar in tune.

Furthermore, many pros often change strings right before their shows to avoid breakage and enjoy maximum brightness and tone.

Why Do Cheap Guitars Go Out of Tune?

Cheap guitars go out of tune because of a plethora of reasons:

  • They ship with cheap guitar strings
  • Most companies use low-quality tuning pegs to keep costs low
  • The wood used to make the guitar wasn’t stationed properly and is still moving
  • They need proper setup by a qualified technician to fix intonation issues


I think if I ever become the character of a videogame and I receive the worst curse a magician can give me, that will be that my guitar won’t stay in tune ever again.

Yes, believe it or not, that’s my worst nightmare.

That being said, plenty of small adjustments can help any guitar stay in tune without the need for guitar techs or modifications to the guitar or the fretboard.

So, take this piece as a recurring read, a place you can come to every time you have a problem with your guitar’s tuning stability. Yes, you can go through these pieces of advice, troubleshoot your axe, and make your guitar stay in tune for the longest time.

Happy (in tune) playing!

Santiago Motto

Aka. Sandel. Pure Telecasters and all-mahogany Martins lover. Besides that, Sandel is a professional writer, guitar player, confessed guitar nerd, and all-things-guitar consumer. He has been playing for 25 years which makes him a nineties kid with serious low-tuning youngster years, and a pop palate for melodies, ballads, and world music. You can connect with Santiago on LinkedIn or just email him.
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Tyler Connaghan

Anyone here using locking tuners that they absolutely love?