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New to guitar. Recently I took my electric model to Guitar Center for a tune up. They said it was restrung and intonated. But when I got it back, I found that my E strong does not tune “continuously”, that is, for each slight turn of the knob, there is not always a slight change in the pitch of the string. Instead, there are “dead spots” where there is no change over many turns, followed by a jump in pitch. Before taking the guitar for a tune up I never had this problem (I went for a tune up because I had a problem with a pickup). The guitar is always kept in my office where the temperature and humidity are steady. Guitar Center said they would look at it, and they did, but once again when I picked it up the problem remained just as before.

What explains this odd tuning behavior, and what I can to fix it?

  • 1
    I am not a guitarist, but it sounds to me like there is a problem with how the string sits and/or the bridge. – Pyromonk Jan 16 at 21:57
  • More likely to be the fat E rather than the thin one. But specify! – Tim Jan 16 at 23:05
  • Could be the string is slipping in the tuning peg. – ggcg Jan 16 at 23:39
  • Never take it for granted that the new string isn't defective. Strings are cheap - while you do the stuff for the nut, drop a different string in and see how it behaves. – Carl Witthoft Jan 17 at 14:45
  • Perhaps a close photo might assist us ? then we can see his wind style, the angle of the bobbin etc – bigbadmouse Jan 21 at 8:46
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The string is binding at the nut. The nut is the piece of plastic or some other hard material that is at the furthest end of the fingerboard, where fret number zero would be if there were one. The nut has six slots cut into it and the strings rest in the slots.

When you tighten a tuning machine, the tuning post pulls on the string which should slide through the nut so you are tightening the whole string. Sometimes the string gets stuck in the nut and when that happens, tuning up just pulls on the string between the tuning post and the nut, and the string itself (the sounding length) doesn't get tighter at all.

Eventually the tension on the little bit of string between the tuning post and the nut gets so high that it unsticks the string in the nut and the string slips through the nut, pulling the sounding length tighter and raising the pitch all at once. You probably hear a small "ping" sound when this happens.

Your strings might be sticking at the nut because they put larger strings on, and the nut slots are too small for the larger strings. That's possible, but is usually rare unless you specifically asked them to put especially large strings on. This is because most nut slots are made to accommodate a range of string sizes.

It is more likely that it's everyday friction causing the strings to stick. You just need to lubricate the nut slots. Here's how:

  1. Get a pencil with some soft-ish lead. #2 is fine, so is HB, B, F, 2B, 4B, any "B" pencil. A mechanical pencil with a fine point is best, but a regular wood pencil is fine - you want it to be very sharp!
  2. Loosen the all the strings by tuning them down until you can pull them out of the nut slots and move them to the side of the fretboard. Get them out of the way.
  3. Start with the high E strings slot (the smallest) and run the tip of the pencil along the slot. A lot of graphite dust will be left at the edges of the slot, but some will fall into the slot. After going back and forth a few times, move on to the next slot and repeat.
  4. Your pencil should be sharp enough that by the time you get to the D string slot, it might fit all the way in the slot and you can deposit graphite right on to the surface of the slot.
  5. On the low E slot, and maybe the A slot, you might have to rub the pencil tip around a bit to cover the slot surface with graphite.
  6. Put the strings back in place and tune them up a bit. Optionally use a good eraser to remove any excess graphite on the top of the nut. Tune the guitar up as normal.

If you get a good bit of graphite into the nut slots and the strings are still binding, then you should find a good guitar tech (obviously not the ones you've been taking it to already) who can cut the nut slots appropriately.

A quick workaround is to push on the bit of string between the nut and the tuning post every time you tighten the tuning machine to pull it through the nut. If you're tuning down, it can also stick. You might have to tug gently on the sounding length of the string to get it to slack off when tuning down.

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Its possible the string is not correctly anchored in the tuning peg and it is slipping as you tune and then catching and allowing a raise in pitch. This detune can happen erratically, rather than in a linear fashion. what Todd says is also equally possible.

How many turns of string do you have on the bobbin? It would help if you stated which E string. I always leave a string "tail" when winding the string on so I can notice slippage.

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Your Guitar Center restrung it, and could have put on thicker strings than what was on originally. There may not be enough relief at the nut, which could be causing the string to bind. This is a common issue, and can either be solved by changing the strings to a thinner set, or by filing the nut slot to accept the wider string.

Reshaping the slot is not an easy task, and it takes some practice to get right. This task is best left to a professional luthier. Since you are a new player, your fingers are not going to be used to the increased string pressure from the heavier strings.

One other thing is that the string may not be wound onto the tuning post properly, and is causing some string slippage when pressure is applied. The tuner itself may also have an issue. Since this wasn't a problem previously, the string probably is either binding someplace, or slipping.

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I'll add another thing to check, I have one old Favilla Bros. F5 model that I took it upon myself to tighten everything up real snug on. Afterwards I had the same tuning problem and I thought I was going to have to replace the tuners. While looking for replacement tuners I found an article online explaining that the screw securing the cog to the post needed to be loose enough to allow the post to lean slightly in order to tune correctly. I went back and loosened the tuner posts slightly and now it tunes perfectly. I can't help but wonder how many people have made that same mistake because they didn't know any better.

  • 1
    that's an interesting point, its also possible, though not likely, that one single tuner could be defective and slipping of its own volition. Perhaps a close photo might assist us ? – bigbadmouse Jan 21 at 8:45

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