I've recently come into a problem with my guitar. Simply enough, I'm having trouble keeping one of the guitar strings in tune.

I've played flamenco guitar for about four years and blues guitar for a further three or so. I've always found a classical guitar to be the best fit for me.

There seems to be a fault with my guitar. The issue is with the high E string. Whenever I attempt to add a new string, I can get the string to a certain tension, before it just drops out and the string detunes several octaves. I then tighten it back up again, only for it to do the same thing. I assume it's because the string is losing tension, only if I keep turning the machine head, eventually the string will snap.

This tells me that somewhere on the string tension is being maintained but the string itself isn't holding the note at all. I can't get it anywhere near the correct note. Has anyone experienced this before and has any solutions?

2 Answers 2


I have seen and experienced similar things. This is typically indicative of a tuning machine head being broken or worn out. A lot of times the gears will wear out and slip as the tension gets too high, causing the pitch/tension to drop considerably, usually to a place that the tuning gear is capable of holding, though not a couple octaves in my experience. The only thing about your question that makes me think otherwise is that you are saying that the string will eventually break. Often times the slipping gear will not allow the string to get up to proper tension, let alone enough to break the string. It is possible that the stress caused by the tension changing repeatedly is wearing the string to a point of breakage, perhaps encouraged by the nylon material (assuming this is on your Classical guitar). I would recommend replacing the tuning mechanism. It may be a good idea to replace all the machine heads, since one getting to a place of improper function will likely indicate that the others are on their way out.

  • I expected it was a problem with the machine heads. I'm currently attempting to get a string to the correct tension and I'm keeping my eye on the machine head (not too close because I don't want to lose it). It doesn't appear to be slipping out of place. This is definitely a good analysis though and I will keep it in mind. +1 Sep 15, 2014 at 19:49
  • I've just had another look, and I'm fairly sure this is the problem. The cog on the outside isn't slipping but I think the peg that the string wraps around is what is slipping. It was a relatively cheap guitar (~£150) so I guess I had this coming. Frustrating when I've just restrung, cleaned and oiled the whole guitar! But thankyou for your answer. Sep 15, 2014 at 20:11

This usually happens with lower end or cheaper guitars. If it comes with friction pegs (old flamenco guitars) or when the machine head is of low quality or is worn out/broken.

When this happens, the string will lose tension as you play it, as you store it, or even as you tune it (in order of severity). Although it should not change pitch by a magnitude of octave(s)...

The string is likely undergoing cyclic/repeated stresses and fatigue will cause it to lose strength and break.

Try to get new geared machine heads.

  • I'll be taking my guitar to store today to see what they say. Will keep you guys updated. Thanks for the answer though, this explains it very well. +1 Sep 16, 2014 at 8:47

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