That said, these machines aren't perfect. You'll almost always get a bit of gear slippage. It's so common it feels silly to mention it, but just in case you've never noticed gear slippage, here's a trick.
When you need to tune a string down, always do this: work the tuning machine so the string goes flat – flatter than you want it – and then slowly tune back upward until you nail it. This will ensure you've dealt with gear slippage in the machine. It'll happen every time you tune down. Go further down and back up. That's it.
I've tried that, but my feckin guitar still won't stay in tune. Stop yelling at me. Stable tuning doesn't begin and end with the tuning machines. The next thing to consider is the nut. If the slots are too thin they grip the string, and you don't want that. You've probably heard the dreaded ping. Just when you think you're about to get the note perfect, there's the ping, and the note flies sharp. This is the string getting hung up in the nut: too much friction. A healthy guitar has even tension all along the string: from the machine, through the nut, right down over the saddles and into that hard tail we talked about.
You're a filthy liar, I don't have any of this stupid ping nonsense and it's still going out of tune. Well I never. If the guitar is in good order, then it's time to swallow the most bitter of pills: it's you. Your stringing technique is letting you down. I sound like a broken record here, but it's all about tension. When you bend notes or play hard, you increase string tension momentarily. Those increases shouldn't be a problem. Strings are elastic, and they should return to pitch. The problem arises when that momentary extra tension has access to available slack.
Take a look at this Tele. Too much slack leaves room for the string to nestle into the winds. Don't do that.
But BB King used to wind his whole… Stop it. You're not BB King. And don't do the opposite. Too few windings around the post means the string won't have enough grip. The post will stay exactly where it is, but the string will slip slowly out.
When you change strings, don't rush. Take time to guide the strings onto the post while you wind them, ensuring they have ample grip, but don't bunch up.
Right. I've done everything you've said, and it's still going out of tune. It's possible I'm going to kill you now. So angry. But listen, there's an old adage: new strings always go out of tune. It's true they need to settle. Some say this takes time. It does, but that's really vague. You can shorten this time by stretching in the strings. Once you're strung, and at pitch, tug on the string to stretch it in, and retune. Have your guitar plugged into to a tuner to see just how far out the pitch goes. Do this a few times for each string until they keep their tune within a few cents. If you've never done this before, there's a chance you'll go too far and break a treble string, but that's all part of the learning process. If you think this is going to happen, wear safety glasses.
Musicians should never shy away from the mechanics of their instruments. Just because you're an artiste doesn't mean a bit of physics is beyond you. Give this stuff a whirl, and enjoy. Your audience will appreciate you for it. You'll inflict less dead air on them, tuning between songs.
Uh oh. You're playing guitar quite happily, and suddenly you smell burning, or see smoke, hear crackling, or worse… bleak silence. The inevitable has occurred. It's time to bring your gear in for repair.
We can get through this.
If you're anxious about handing over your precious things to a stranger, read on. While I can't guarantee you a cheap, pain-free experience, perhaps I can at least share some tips on how to approach these mysterious workshop wizards – guitar techs and luthiers.
First, let's set down some principles. You should absolutely feel comfortable leaving your music gear with someone who cares about:
• your relationship with it
• doing a good job
• staying in business.
I can't speak for every guitar magician, but here are some things I wish all my potential customers knew in advance.
A real-life conversation is good! Get on the phone, or better yet, pop in for a quick chat. No matter your skill level, whether you're a pro or hobbyist, it is completely reasonable to want to put a name, face, and voice to the person handling your instrument. Email and social media only go so far. Sometimes an online conversation gets so long and complicated, you're driven into a tizzy, unable to make a decision. Further, any repair tech can sound like an expert on the internet. In the <em>real world</em>, if they don't strike you as honest and competent, run away!
Don't say "I don't want to be a bother." We're here to help! Your gear is not a hassle. If you have five guitars and they all need some work, bring them in! All you should worry about is whether the place is dry, warm, and secure. The only thing you need to do is…
Bring your guitar in a case or gig bag. A repair shop can get a little dusty, and things may get moved around, so make sure your gear is protected. Or, just ask your tech if they have a spare gig bag.
The customer is always right. LOL, only joking. I've lost track the number of times a customer has said "I have this guitar and the problem is <em>such-and-such</em>." They bring it in, and I discover the problem isn't what they thought it was, so we have the conversation and go from there. For this reason alone, you should…
Never ask for a quote. Especially before having a chat. And there are two more reasons for this. Once your tech disassembles a piece of kit, they might discover further issues. It's unfair to expect her/him to fix many faults for the price of one. Now… this is where I sound like an ogre… if you really want a quote – especially before the tech has a chance to inspect the instrument – it sounds like you're not interested in quality work, you only want <em>cheap</em>. Personally, I find cheapskates hard to please, and I'd rather avoid the stress of trying to meet an unrealistic target.
Ask for a rough price and timescale. It's totally reasonable to ask for a <em>ballpark</em> figure, and to get an idea of how long you'll be without your precious things. But be aware that as mentioned above, issues can pop up, and parts may need to be ordered.
Never ask for a "deal". Small businesses and sole traders are in business to stay in business. We have good (expensive) tools, rent and insurance bills, and we support the local music community with skills honed through decades of experience. In this day and age, when you struggle to find bespoke customer service, the personal touch you get from a good tech is worth the money.
Is it really an emergency? This should go without saying, but if you need your guitar repaired for a gig next Friday, don't leave it until Thursday to get seen. The sooner the better.
Finally, some words of encouragement to techs. But hey musicians, this is also good for you to overhear. Let's say you're a tech, and you've encountered a head-scratcher, something you've never seen before. You're stressed about doing a good job for the customer. First off – that's a good sign. Doing a poor job quickly is a one-way ticket to obscurity. Put down the tools for a moment and remind yourself:
• you didn't design it
• you didn't build it
• you didn't break it
• nobody knows everything
• the answers are out there.
The best advice for everyone: chill. Customers and techs should be honest with each other. Customers, if your tech respects you, they'll go the extra mile. Techs, if you respect your customers they'll come back.
Now, venture forth and make each other happy. This is still the music bizz. It should be personal and fun.