Hello Troubadourians! This month we’re continuing with the answers to your most-asked questions and a few tips on simple things you can do to help you sound better.
Many players I’ve spoken with have expressed that they are reluctant to change their strings because it takes so long for the strings to “settle in” and stay in tune. They’d rather deal with dead strings than constantly having to tune their guitar. Ironically, as the strings age, these players are likely to end up dealing with both dead strings and tuning problems. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to eliminate tuning problems with fresh strings that will work with acoustic and electric guitars. Here’s how it works….
Let’s assume that you’ve done all of the cleaning and lubricating that you had planned to do, including putting graphite into the nut slots. First, for acoustic guitars, be sure that the ball end of the string is tight against the bridge pin and that the bridge pin is firmly inserted into the bridge. You don’t have to force the pin into the bridge, finger-tight is sufficient. For electric guitars, just be sure the ball end is up against the bridge plate/body/tailpiece/etc. that it normally sits against. We’ll call this step LOCK.
Pull the string taught to the tuning key that it is intended for. Measure roughly 1.75” past the tuner shaft and put a right-angle bend in the string. You don’t need to be exact with your measurement. The distance from the tuner shaft you’re installing the string onto to the next tuner shaft is usually about 1.75”. Or, if you’re using a manual peg winder, the length of the winder from the joint to the end of the cup that fits over the tuning key is approximately 1.75”. The main thing is that you don’t want to have excessive windings around the tuner shaft as this can cause tuning instability throughout the life of the string. Likewise, you don’t want too few windings as this can be just as unstable and can lead to the string breaking prematurely. One wrap over and 2-3 under for the wound strings, and 3-4 under for the plain strings should be good. We’ll call this step BEND.
Now that you have the bend in the string, put the string through the hole in the tuner shaft up to the bend. Keep some tension on the string such that the bend stays against the edge of the tuner shaft hole and begin tightening the tuning key to bring the string up to pitch. Guide the first wrap once over the string and guide the rest of the wraps under the string. Maintain slight tension on the string as you tighten it until it seats into the nut slot on its own. Bend the excess end of the string up and cut it off at the top of the tuner shaft. Tune the string to pitch. Once the string is tuned up to pitch, fret the string at several places along the neck up to the twelfth fret, gently pulling and stretching the string as you go. Retune the string and repeat the stretching/ tuning until the string stays in tune even after stretching. This usually takes four or five times of stretching/tuning until the string becomes stable. We’ll call this step STRETCH & TUNE.
Repeat the steps; LOCK, BEND, STRETCH & TUNE for every string. You may need to repeat the STRETCH & TUNE more often for the wound strings and less often for the plain strings. Likewise, you may need to stretch the wound strings a little more vigorously than the plain strings. Once you’ve done this with all of the strings, your guitar should stay in tune very well and should require only the occasional tuning touch-up. I have to offer this disclaimer: this method works well for most steel-string, six-string acoustic, and electric guitars as stated. For 12-string guitars and nylon string guitars, this method will still work but with variations and a lot more work and patience. If you need help with these guitars, email me and I’ll explain the extra steps you’ll need to perform for these instruments.
Now that you have new strings and you’re staying in tune, what will you do when you’re done playing? If your answer is: “Put my guitar back into its case,” you’re only half correct. You get credit for putting it away but you missed an important step. I mentioned this last month but you need to wipe off those new strings every time you finish playing. You can use any old hand towel but an old T-shirt works well, too. Wipe each string individually and be sure you wipe off the entire string not just the top. Wipe off the strings underneath and along the full length from nut to bridge. If you do this every time you play your guitar, your strings should last much longer than you’re used to. Keep the towel/T-shirt in the case with your guitar so it will always be there to remind you to take care of your strings. But don’t stop with just cleaning your strings, you can use your towel/T-shirt to wipe down the entire guitar. Everywhere you touch it or sweat on it, wipe it down when you’re done. You don’t have to polish your guitar every time – in fact guitars look good with somewhat of a well-played patina – but you don’t want to ruin the finish by letting your sweat and finger schmutz sink into the wood.
Speaking of cases; you do keep your instrument in a case don’t you? At least in a gig bag… I’m all for easy access, and having your instrument readily available encourages you to pick it up and practice, but really, people, hanging your guitar on the wall isn’t the best thing you can do for it. Leaving your guitar out and “hanging around” defeats the purpose of changing the strings in the first place. If you live near the water – especially salt water – leaving your guitar hanging on your wall can ruin your strings without you ever getting to play them. Put ’em in their cases, my friends. You’ll thank me later.
I hope you find this information useful. Taking better care of your instruments is always a good investment in your tone. The better they sound, the better you’ll sound.
Need to know? Just ask… Charlie (firstname.lastname@example.org)