Classical guitar won’t stay in tune: If you’ve just recently changed your strings, your classical guitar not staying in tune is normal. On the other hand, if your guitar doesn’t stay in tune for days, you might not have prepared or tied the strings properly.
One of the most common problems we see among classical guitar players is that the strings don’t stay in tune as long as a steel-string guitar. If you own a classical guitar, you might have experienced this yourself a number of times before.
Why does this problem seem isolated to classical guitars? What is it with this type of guitar that detunes the strings? Is there a way to solve this problem? Well, there are multiple factors we have to consider before we can answer your question.
So, without further ado, let’s begin our investigation.
What Causes Classical Guitars to Go Out of Tune?
Strings going out of tune is one of the many things classical guitarists share, aside from fingerpicking playing style, of course. Before we can solve this problem, we have to troubleshoot or diagnose what causes it. Here are some possible reasons.
The most prominent culprit of detuning strings in classical guitars is the string itself! Contrary to acoustic guitars that use steel strings, classical guitars use nylon strings. Nylon belongs to a group of plastics known as polyamides. Plastic is elastic.
This means that from the time you purchase your nylon strings to when you’re playing them already, they will continue to stretch to a certain point. When they stretch, they become looser, which then causes them to have a lower pitch.
Heat and Humidity
The next possible reasons why your classical guitar goes out of tune are heat and humidity. Aside from being elastic, nylon strings are sensitive. So much so that warm temperatures cause them to expand, and cool temperatures cause them to shrink. This affects the strings’ tension on the nut, which causes them to go out of tune.
Additionally, and this is also somewhat applicable to steel-string guitars, your instrument’s body is made out of wood. This means that when you pull your guitar from a slightly colder place and hold it close to you, your body heat causes the wood to expand.
While the change is not noticeable, it causes the distance between the saddle and the nut to change, albeit just a little. Nonetheless, the change in the distance still affects the tension on the strings, causing them to take a higher or lower pitch.
Unlike acoustic guitars that have pegs to keep the strings attached to the saddle, classical guitars need to be tied. It takes a little bit of practice restringing a classical guitar because you need to tie the strings tightly.
Loose ties will cause the strings to slip incrementally while you wind the tuning pegs. Ergo, even if you have tuned your classical guitar properly, the constant tension from the pegs pulling the strings will cause them to go out of tune.
Another possible reason why your guitar goes out of tune is loose pegs. The string tension from the bridge to the nut and eventually to the pegs is not something trivial. If the pegs are rather loose, the strings will gradually pull on them, causing them to twist. It’s as if your classical guitar is detuning itself. Check the screws in your tuning pegs and ensure that they’re tightened.
How to Fix Frequent Detuning in Classical Guitars
Now that we know the factors that contribute to the constant detuning of the strings, it’s time to take action. Luckily, there are various methods for you to fix this problem. Below are the easiest and most common options you have.
You always have the option of retuning your classical guitar frequently to keep it in the right pitch. If you notice that it’s out of tune, then just adjust the tension on the strings. Eventually, the strings will settle and reach their maximum stretch, allowing them to stay in tune for longer.
If you’re not a huge fan of tuning your guitar by ear, as most beginners are, you can use various tools to make tuning more convenient. There are numerous guitar tuners you can purchase from your local music store. All you have to do is to clip them to the headstock and adjust the strings accordingly.
On the other hand, your smartphone could do it for you! There are multiple smartphone applications that incorporate this technology. You just have to place your smartphone’s microphone close to your guitar’s soundhole and adjust the strings.
This is a very common technique used by classical guitarists when restring their guitar. If the strings stretch gradually and continuously when you install them to your guitar, then why not stretch them before tuning?
To do this, install the strings like you would when restring the guitar, but don’t tune them yet. When they reach a considerable level of tension, pull one string or all of them manually. You can either use your index finger or thumb to pull one string or place your hand under all the strings with your palm facing upward and pull them all together once or twice.
This should stretch them enough that they don’t have more room to expand after you tune the guitar.
Semi-Tone Higher Tuning
If you play your guitar every day, this method is for you. The driving principle of this technique is to give the strings room to stretch before you play them the next day. To do this, tune your guitar to the standard tuning before playing it.
However, when you’re done, make sure that you tune all the strings semi-tone higher or half-step up. All of them would be half a pitch higher, but after leaving them for several hours, they should be in the right tune when you play them the next day. Continue the process until the strings have settled.
Strings going out of tune are very common in classical guitars. Gladly, there are various ways to solve this problem. No, we’re not saying that you should just switch to steel-string guitars. After all, classical guitars have their own unique sound.
What we’re saying is that you follow the various methods we’ve listed here so that you don’t encounter this problem with your classical guitar.
Eduardo Perez is a multi-instrumentalist with over 20 years of experience playing instruments such as piano, guitar, ukulele, and bass. Having arranged songs and produced music in a recording studio, he has a wealth of knowledge to share about analyzing songs, composing, and producing. Currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Musical Studies at Berklee College School of Music. Featured on Entrepreneur.com. Subscribe to his YouTube channel, or follow him on Instagram.