# A guitar won't stay in tune, also dirty pickup selector

My friend has an Ibanez.. something, and it's not the most expensive guitar. Nevertheless, it is a pretty good guitar for its budget. Lately there have been a few problems with it, which I told him I would do my best to fix.

First off, the pickup selector crackles when it is switched, I assume from being dirty because it hasn't done that in years past. I took a look inside of the guitar at the selector to see how to clean it, and it's a sealed unit. I have been reading online and they have suggested something like compressed air or contact (electrical) cleaner. It also said to spray the air in while working the pickup selector back and forth. I would be willing to test one of these out, but if there are additional tips that I should know I would be most appreciative.

Second, the guitar will just not stay in tune (I've learned that guitars are never truly in tune, but it isn't the same thing.) We have tuned it to a-440 with a chromatic tuner, but.. say I play a G chord, the B or another string would be a little bit out of tune..so I tune that. Then I could play an E, then it B sounds out of tune...But if I tune the B, then the G might be out.. I an thinking that this problem is due to A) incorrect action, which I can fix, or B) (my guitar doesn't have a whammy so I don't know about this one) The whammy unit / springs could have been stretched out over time and just won't stay in tune now.

Once again, any help is greatly appreciated =)

P.S. No, the strings aren't new, and they're not that old either.

-
Simply cleaning the nut may help. Also, if the strings gauge was recently changed, that could also be causing problems. Are the strings binding at the nut? (i.e., are the slots wide enough for the strings to freely move when tuning? They should be.) Is the nut a standard type or is it a locking nut? –  neilfein Aug 31 '11 at 15:04
The crackling isn't persistent, it is only when switching pickups, so I think I will try some compressed air or contact cleaner. As for the strings, the guage HAS been changed lately, except to a lighter guage. The guitar doesn't have alocking nut and the string are able to freely fit through the saddle. The strings aren't the problem, so I think it is possible the neck warping or wear on the bridge springs. The whammy, however, is rarely used at all and shouldn't be too stretched or used. Once I get a look at it tonight I will be able to post some more details. –  ekaj Aug 31 '11 at 16:42

First for the selector.

Is the crackle sound just when switched or persistent when in one position? In the first case, compressed air and contact cleaner have always worked well for me on my near-20 years old Strat. In the second case might as well be the wires/soldering/pickups.

For the tuning part, "tremolo" bridges need always a little more work to get in tune, that's because tuning a string adds/removes some tension on the bridge so all other strings need retuning. You have to do many "passes" on all the string until the variations in tone are so small that the bridge stays stiff.

All this unless the bridge it's a Floyd Rose (or similar concept) which should "resolve", or at least reduce, those problems.

But!

If the guitar goes easily/fast out of tune after some playing, it might be a bad/deformed neck or (as you pointed out) the bridge springs need replacing.

Also, check the nut, most tuning problems originate from a bad nut, it might be worth replacing it.

-

Re: the tuning. It is always best to have a pro do this, but with adjustable saddle and an electric tuner, you can try doing it yourself first. The basic idea is to tune all the open strings according to the tuner, then fret the note at the 12th fret(one octave up). The 12th fret note should be in tune. If the 12th fret note is off, adjust the saddle, retune the open string, and test the 12th fret again. Repeat. Do this for each string.

This is typically referred to as "electric guitar intonation adjustment"

-

In regards to tuning. I guess that it has a floating bridge and a fixed nut.

• Loosen the nut
• set all tune knobs on the bridge to their middle position
• Tune from high to low and cycle this 3 or 4 times so that the strings are pretty tuned.
• Lock the nut
• Now tune the strings by the tune knobs on the bridge.

This approach work fine on my Ibanez RG350 EX.

When you then make a dive bomb it should still be in tune. If its not then this could be caused by

• Old strings
• Wear on the bridge springs
• Incorrect strings (to thick/thin)
• Wear on the bridge itself.

You can check if the bridge has a sharp edge as it could have become blunt. If that is the case then you should bring it in for maintenance to get it sharpened.

You can also lock the bridge if it is rarely used.

Keep in mind that a floating bridges will always be a little out of tune when used due to the stretching of the strings.

-
This is a really good answer in principle, it just does not really apply to non-Floyd-Rose guitars. –  leftaroundabout Aug 31 '11 at 20:47

A whammy has two different "modes of operation": it can either be free-floating or not. The difference is that in free-floating mode, the spring tension just compensates the string tension so that the bridge stays in a non-fixed equilibrium position, so that you can subtly move it, modify the pitch not only down- but also upwards and play actual vibratos. The price to pay is that every change in tension, every bend etc. will always move this equilibrium position a little, thereby detuning all the strings. This mode is probably default in this guitar, it has not necessarily to do with worn out springs.

But you can, and if the vibrato system is rarely used I would actually recommend it, stop this free-floating by increasing the spring tension.

The other possible problem is the saddle. Often, the grooves are not quite wide enough to allow the strings to be tuned without friction-caused causing nonequal tensions, which will then, after some time, be released, detuning the string. It sometimes helps to do some bendings on a string to release any tension differences, re-tune it, bend again etc. until it stays in tune.

-

For my guitars with full floating bridges my tuning method when putting on a new set of strings is to start with the low E and tune it to an F. Then I tune each string to the previous one. By the time I reach the top E it is just about in tune. You will find at this point the tension has lowered the pitch on all the strings.

Then I go back to my bottom E and tune it slightly sharp again, and once again tune the other strings to this.

Then I lock the nut and carry out a couple of divebombs and squeals.

Then a last fine tune using the bridge tuners sorts it out, and it will stay almost in tune, with minor tweaks needed from the bridge tuners, until I replace the strings.

And for the switch - try contact cleaner, as if it is dirt and dust this will sort your problem. If the problem remains, it could be worn contacts, in which case just swap in a new switch.

-

Re. the crackly switch, a squirt of WD-40 worked for me.

-
Terrible idea. WD-40 leaves a residue that attracts dirt. It fixes the problem in the short term, but makes it worse in the long term. –  yossarian Aug 31 '11 at 16:14
What might work is contact cleaner. I got rid of the noise in my headphone amp's faders this way. For more detail, see this answer on the AVP site. –  neilfein Aug 31 '11 at 17:20
People always say that, but I never hear a first hand account of Wd-40 ruining a switch. Have you had this happen to you? –  todd Sep 4 '11 at 18:30