|By Jay Jay the Guitar Tech
|Let’s face it, eventually all stringed instruments need to be tuned at some point,
right? However, some players find they need to tune more often than others.
There are several obvious reasons why some of us find tuning to be a never
ending battle. How hard or aggressive we pick, slap, pop, tap the strings can all be
reasons for having to tune more often. Another reason could be just being too lazy
to change our strings FINALLY, after 6 months of gigs, rehearsals and recording
|For those of us that do change our strings often, but forget to properly stretch the strings, will absolutely run into tuning issues until the strings have stretched enough. Mother
Nature’s bipolar, never ending, climate changes can also wreak havoc on tuning stability.
Then there are also several technical, not so obvious (to most players) reasons why our guitars continue to go out of tune. You will find one of the major reason, right down
below, deep, inside the meat and potatoes of this month’s article with me, Jay Jay, The Guitar Tech.
OK, as we are all very aware of, most metal guitarists and bassists are tuning down very low these days. The lower the better to some. But, with low tuning comes thicker
gauged strings being applied to our instruments. Here is my point, unless you are playing a custom boutique guitar or bass made specifically for you, chances are each and
every one of your guitars were set up at the factory to only be strung using .009 through .042 and/or .010 through .052 gauged strings. “Why is this important to know”, you may
ask? Well the nut slots in our common factory built guitars are only gauged to handle a thinner string than you may be trying to fit your guitar with. If your low E nut slot was only
filed to handle a .052 thick string and you are using a .056 string for example, this will cause the string to bind up in the nut slot which will ultimately cause tuning issues because
the string is too big for your nut slot. The same holds true for the rest of the strings running through their individual nut slots.
|Typically when we tune a string to pitch we are changing the tension of the string between the tuning posts, all
the way down to where the string rests on the saddle at the bridge. If your string is too thick for its nut slot what
will happen is you will only be truly changing the tension of the string between the nut and the saddle. This will
actually leave some slack in the strings, from the nut to the tuning post. When you start to play chances are you
will notice the string tuning goes flat within a few strums. This is a good indication that the string is too thick for
the nut slot. Another way to tell if the string is too thick is loosen up the strings in question, pull the string up out
of the nut slot. Does it pull up and out easy or do you feel it stick in the slot before it pulls out? Lesson one - If
the string is too thick you will feel it stick.
The issue mentioned above is actually very easy and a relatively quick to fix on your own. There are several
easy ways to fix the issue without spending a $100+ on professional nut slot files or paying someone like myself
to make the adjustments for you. So, give it a shot! Your fans will thank you for it.
In the next few paragraphs I will explain 3 ways you can fix the string/nut binding issue yourself, but if for some
reason you are not sure you can perform the work on your own, take it to a tech to help you. There is no shame
in asking for help and it shouldn’t cost you more than $20 at most to have a pro set the nut up.
One very easy way to widen the nut slots is use the strings that are sticking as a files or saws. Take the old
string off the guitar and gently run the string back and forth in the nut slot. The string will widen the slot to the
exact thickness off the string. If you use this method you will need to use 400 or 500 grit sandpaper to smooth
out the ridges that the wound strings will make in the nut slot. If you do not sand afterwards the string could still
end up binding on the ridges left behind. One thing to make sure you don’t do is take too much material out of
the slots. The strings should rest in the slot comfortably without too much play in the slot. You also want to make
sure you are not making the slot too deep as this could create buzzing issues which is a whole different topic.
The second way to widen the slots more is to use needle files. If you do not own needle files you can get a set of
them for like $8 at Harbor Freight and they should last you, for at least this one job anyway. Using the needle
files you will want to find the files that will match the string thickness. Gently use the proper thickness file to open
the slot just wide enough, so that the string fits nice without sticking or having too much play in the slot.
|The third DIY way is to use 220 or 320 grit sand paper to widen the slots and then smooth out any rough sanding marks with 400 or 500 grit sandpaper. If you do go the
sandpaper rout, REALLY watch what you are doing because in the blink of an eye you could take too much material away. Lesson 2 – It is easier to take more material out if
needed than it is to try and put material back.
In conclusion once your strings are properly fit into the nut slots, you should notice a huge difference in your tuning stability. It doesn’t matter if you are using a $75 Squier or a
$3000 ESP, if the strings don’t fit, you will not stay in tune for long. On that note keep in mind that if you ever want to go back to the thin gauged strings, you will have to either
put a new nut on or fill the large nut slots in your current nut and then re-slot them to fit the smaller gauge strings.
Well, if you made it this far, I congratulate you! I would also like to thank you for reading my first post with Metal Meat Magazine!
If you have any questions or comments, please send me an e-mail at ASKJJ@METALMEAT.COM.
‘Til next time my Metal Meat brothers and sisters, Keep the metal loud and the pits brutal! PEACE!!
|I am Jay Jay the Guitar Tech. I was born and raised just outside of Rochester, NY.
I have been working on guitars for a bit over 25 years under the business name of Jays Guitar - Repair and
I specialize in custom modifications, repairs and basic maintenance.
Over the last 25 years I have done work for 1000's of people both locally and all across the US.
I have worked for guitarists and bassists in live settings and recording studio settings as well.
I have my repair shop located at my home in North Chili, NY. I also work out of American Music Centre in
Greece NY. I love doing what I do for a living and I am always learning something new still to this day.
I also enjoy being able to share my knowledge with those that want to pick my brain.
Around 2012 I started diving into building custom guitars, basses and custom instrument cases.
I am currently in the process of kicking off a small boutique line of guitars and basses so, stay tuned for
more info on that.
If you are interested in following my journey as a guitar tech feel free to follow me on FaceBook or better
yet, keep reading Metal Meat Magazine to catch my one and only tech
column as well as periodic how to/informational videos.
I encourage anyone with questions or comments to please send an e-mail to ASKJJ@METALMEAT.COM.