Do You Know Whats Wrong With My Guitar?

Ok, I said had a few “Dear Lazyweb”s. This is the second in the series.

I put my home ‘studio’ back together to work on Jokosher as I had moved my PC, laptops, guitars and amp to my parents house before I went on holiday in case I was broken into while I was away. I have been twanging away quite a bit since I got back and now a problem with one of my guitars is really starting to bug me.

My Telecaster seems to have a tuning problem, it’s something that I noticed shortly after I bought it and at first I just thought I wasn’t tuning accurately enough, but it has become quite apparent the more I play it. It’s not that it won’t stay in tune which is a common problem with cheap guitars, more that it is out of tune after it has been tuned.

Basically, on a guitar, you have the body, which is the large part, the neck, which is the long thin bit with the wire strips across it and the head which is the bit on the end of the neck with with the tuning pegs on it. The strings are wound around the tuning pegs (aka machine heads) and then rest on a thing called the nut which sits on the join of the head and neck. At the other end, the strings rest on something called the bridge before going through the tail piece to keep them in place. When you pluck a string, it vibrates between the nut and the bridge and the vibration over the length of the string result in the pitch of the note that is heard. On the neck, those wire strips that go across the width are called frets and when you put your fingers between them, it causes the string to be shortened and hence create a higher note as the vibration is over a shorter distance.

Now, the problem I have is that when the the strings are in tune and played open, ie not using any frets, the note is in tune. When you play the note at the 12th fret, the string is in tune. If that isn’t the case it means the bridge or string saddles need to be adjusted. This wasn’t the case at first on my Tele and I had to adjust the saddles but it didn’t solve the main problem. The problem is that despite being in tune when open and when ‘fretted’ on the 12th fret, 2 strings particularly, B and G are out of tune on the second and surrounding frets, which makes playing chords or notes near that fret sound ugly as hell. Which means the guitar has a serious problem and can’t be played properly.

The problem gets better nearer the 12th fret, but that isn’t the point. The only other thing I can think of is either a) the guitar is fucked and needs to go back, which is a hell of a shame, or b) the truss rod needs adjusting, which is the limit of my knowledge about being a guitar technician and also, is beyond my experience which means it needs to go back to the shop. The truss rod is a metal rod in the neck of the guitar to keep the neck from bending or folding altogether under the tension of the strings. Anyone who knows better than me is welcome to make suggestions.

12 thoughts on “Do You Know Whats Wrong With My Guitar?

  1. If you have an incredibly good ear for tuning (I haven’t) then you may be detecting a problem with all stringed instruments. It isn’t possible for every fret on a guitar to be perfectly in tune. Yamaha made a special guitar for a jazz player with your illness that has bent frets to correct the places where this effect was worst:,,CNTID%25253D60016%252526CTID%25253D600012,00.html
    Have a look at ‘Musical tuning’ and ‘Equal temperament’ on Wikipedia. I don’t understand a word of it but you might.

  2. I also have a problem with the tuning part!! It’s annoying like mad!! I tune the guitar and it souns great until i strike other notes!! I checked the saddles and the nut and they seem to be right but its driving me mad!!

  3. I’m having the same problem but for me it just happened yesterday.
    it was fine. and when i use my tuner, it says that the note is right… but when i try to play the 1st fret of the A string it twangs and sounds completely wronG!
    if your have an idea of whats wrong… please tell me

  4. I am having the same problem, open it sounds great, if I have my finger on the 2nd fret and play E it sounds fine but move to the 3rd fret and PING the 4this ok> I thought it is my short fat fingers putting too much pressure or not enough… what have you found out?

  5. As as a few people have asked what I figured out since I posted this I thought I should update.

    The short answer is that I haven’t solved the problem, I only use this guitar for rhythm guitar when recording, which hasn’t happened in more than a year and I generally use barre chords for rhythm guitar as I play open chords on a Les Paul.

    The most likely cause I’ve been able to find is that it may be down to a bad nut (you know, the thing your strings rest on next to the headstock). The bad tuning is localised and is particularly bad around the second or 3rds frets, but the tuning is fine when played open and corrects itself the closer you fret to the 12th fret. If your tuning doesn’t correct itself towards the 12th fret then your saddles at the bridge are out and that’s a different problem. To solve this you should (always) replace your strings, tune up, allow them slacken naturally and tune up again, then adjust the saddles until the open strings and 12th frets are both in tune with a tuner.

    I can’t find a link right now, but the suggestion I saw regarding the localised bad tuning was to take your guitar to a reputable guitar tech and have them replace the nut, which may or may not be an expensive job. I haven’t done this or sought a professional opinion myself.

    In my uneducated experience, this problem could also highlight issues with your guitar’s neck, either your truss rod needs adjusting if you have one, or your frets are badly placed. As I said, my opinion is no substitute for a professional opinion, just find someone with a good reputation as there are enough butchers out there.

  6. I’m a guitar Tech [30 years] I work for Les Paul [fixing] all sorts of musicians Les Paul. The solution to this problem is BUY A NEW GUITAR!

  7. I have a problem with my Jackson RR3 pro series, it would stay in tune for long time, until i changed the strings. Everything went wrong. So i put the new strings on, tune it and tighten the locking nut at the top. After a few seconds, everything went out of tune. So I loosened the nuts, tuned them again and tighten the nuts, oh look here, same thing happens. I eventually got so frustrated i cut the strings off, and threw it in the case.

  8. I have the same tuning problem. My ear is also quite good, maybe this is because of the ever-detuning guitar I have.
    Now, I’m waiting for my new guitar that I ordered. It can still take several months. Meanwhile I try not to play guitar, because this old guitar of mine frustrates the helle out of me. This is what happens every time: I tune it with great care and patience, but it seems as if the guitar cannot be in perfect tune, not even for one moment. My frustration runs to the maximum after half an hour or more (only tuning) so I pull the high strings so hard they just break and then I throw my guitar on the floor as hard as I can I curse for the next 5 minutes. Then I find some other strings , I put them on and the same thing happens over and over. Finally the day is almost at it’s end and I go out drinking my anger away… by the way : it’s a 400 euro squier by fender.

    I would like to go to the squier fabric and show them what junk they make. Ok, its a cheap guitar. But shouldn’t any guitar at least stay in tune for a l’ll while.

    Its good to hear I’m not alone. thanks for letting me let out my frustrations

  9. Ok, well it took a long time to get around to it, but I was in my local guitar shop and got talking to them about this problem. They assured me that it was very unlikely that the guitar was screwed beyond repair and to take it in for a full set-up.

    I got it back today and on having played it for about 30 mins, the problem seems to be cured.

    They said it was in pretty bad shape when I took it in. They had to adjust the truss rod to straighten the neck out and improve the action, adjust the saddles to correct the intonation and then file the nut where the strings went through.

    The combination of the bent neck, high action and high nut meant that when fretting close to the neck, the in-tune strings had to be pushed down further than normal, resulting in the fretted notes close to the nut sounding sharp, which is exactly the problem I was having.

    So, for all you people who have been having this problem, ignore the guy who said throw your guitar away, take it to a good guitar tech and have it set up properly.

    I strongly advise not messing with the truss rod yourself, you can make your problem worse or even permanently damage your neck if you don’t know what you’re doing, but they did say in the shop that the worst case if the problem can’t be corrected is to replace the neck.

    A lot of the people in these comments seem to be reporting a problem where they tune up and the guitar goes out of tune quickly and they have to tune up again, that’s a different problem, probably poor quality machine heads which aren’t holding or the strings are slipping through the nut after tuning causing a loss of tension. My problem was specifically to do with in-tune strings being really out when fretted around the 2nd/3rd frets and correcting towards the 12th fret, but still in tune when played open again.

    Hope that helps everyone, I’m glad it’s resolved 🙂

  10. I have a bc rich warlock guitar and ive had it for about two years and never had a problem. Then one day I go to play it and no sound is coming out of the amp. Its not the amp or the connection chord because the amp turns on and make noise. You think you have any ideas what could be the problem

  11. I’m no guitar tech as you can probably tell, but it sounds quite obviously like the wiring inside your guitar has come loose. Just to confirm that your cable and amp are fine you should use a friend’s guitar or try some other instrument with a jack connector as a loose guitar lead will still make a static sound regardless of whether it is connected properly or not.

    There’s quite a bit of wiring connecting your pick-ups to the tone and volume controls and then to the jack socket where your lead plugs in. I’d start by dismantling your jack socket as it’s the most accessible place, then look at your tone and volume controls, before looking at the wiring to your pickups.

    If you can’t work out where a particular loose wire is supposed to connect to, then you should probably take it to your local guitar store as you can make things a whole lot worse by doing the wrong thing 🙂

  12. Thanx for the thread… Just read through it and it about sums up what I’m struggling with as well as solves it…

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