As a guitarist, there are few things more frustrating than constantly being out of tune.
Even worse when you have to retune during every song, because your whammy bar is making the guitar to go out of tune whenever you use it.
We’ve been there. And even if your case isn’t as bad as this, it’s not pleasant.
Fortunately, if using your whammy bar is causing your guitar to go out of tune, there are a few things we can do to fix this problem. While no guitar will ever stay perfectly in tune forever, by the end of this article you’ll know what you need to do to ensure you can slam on your whammy bar as much as you want, without having to worry about what it’ll do to your tuning. Note that a whammy bar isn’t the only vibrato system on electric guitars, so these tips may be applicable for those as well.
Let’s get into it!
1. Make Sure Your Guitar Is Set Up Properly
It’s important to know that modern guitars are designed to stay pretty well in tune, even when using the tremolo system excessively. While in the past going out of tune was an inevitability, today it’s not really meant to happen all that often.
The most common cause of this – especially if it’s happening frequently, is poor setup of the guitar. This is especially true on cheaper guitars, that may not have the same level of quality control as their more expensive counterparts.
Poor setup can cause strings to get stuck or move without returning to the proper position when using the whammy bar, which causes them to become out of tune – among other issues.
Most guitars can benefit from being professionally set up after purchase. In our opinion, it’s worth paying extra to have it done by someone that will let you watch and talk to you about what you’re doing, so you can learn more about your guitar. Taking it to a local music shop instead of a big chain like Guitar Center will hopefully also make you feel good about supporting your local music scene!
2. Ensure The Nut Is Not Binding The Strings
Gently pluck the string area above the nut, up near the tuning pegs.
Hear that high-pitched, tinging sound?
This is not something you want to hear when using your whammy bar or tuning. This means the nut is too tight against the string, and the string is getting caught in the nut.
In other words, another reason to have your guitar set up professionally. That being said, there is another thing you can try…
3. Lubricate Your Guitar’s Nut
Lubricating the little slots on your guitar’s nut, underneath the strings, can help reduce friction and prevent your guitar from going out of tune when using your whammy bar. This also has the added benefit of helping your strings to break less frequently.
Ideally, you’d use something like Big Bends Nut Sauce, which is good to have on hand anyway. It’s great to put on while changing strings, but if you don’t want to change them just loosen the strings by detuning them, lift them up gently, and lubricate the nut underneath.
If you don’t want to buy lubricant, you can also take a sharp number 2 pencil – or any other source of graphite, and gently scribble a line in the nut slot. It doesn’t need to be excessive, you just want a little bit of graphite dust in the slots for the strings to push into.
4. Stretch The Guitar Strings Before Tuning
Guitar strings may stay in tune better if they are stretched a bit before you do your final tune. This is especially true if it’s been a long time since you’ve last tuned or played your guitar.
Tune a string, then stretch it by using your whammy bar or bending the string. When it goes out of tune, tune it again and repeat the process.
This process only takes a couple of minutes and can help the strings stay in tune longer after you’re done.
5. Invest In Some Better Parts
There are a few things you can buy that will help your guitar stay in tune:
1. Locking Nut
The use of a locking nut can prevent this problem entirely, helping your guitar to stay in tune when using your tremolo system. The issue is that not all guitars can have locking nuts installed, and it can be very difficult to set things up so you can still tune your guitar without it being a huge hassle.
2. Locking Tuners
Locking tuners have little clamps inside of them that hold your string in place, preventing them from moving while you play the guitar. While not quite as effective as a locking nut, they can still be a great investment if you play guitar frequently. Personally, I really like these ones for my Fender Stratocaster.
3. Grab A GraphTech Nut
At the very least, consider purchasing a GraphTech, self-lubricating nut. It’s usually under $15 and can make a noticeable difference, especially over the cheap plastic nuts that come with many guitars.
Note that there may be a very slight tone difference with a different nut material. Of course, this only applies when playing open strings, as the vibration will never reach the nut while playing anything else.
IMPORTANT: Different GraphTech nuts are suitable for different types of guitars.
No matter what you do, no guitar will stay 100% in tune forever.
That being said, there are a lot of things you can do to help prevent your guitar from going out in tune, especially when using your tremolo system or whammy bar.
I hope that you’ve found this article helpful. Taking care of this inconvenience can make playing guitar a lot more enjoyable, and it’s worth the time and effort to fix it.
Best of luck!