One of the more common
problems I hear about is "my guitar won't play / stay in tune." Sometimes it's not the guitar set up that's the problem.
Tall Frets / Intonation
In recent guitar making history it has become popular to install tall or "jumbo" frets on many models of
electric guitars. This can facilitate a "faster" action as well as aiding in the use of vibrato and string bending. Players
all too often come to my shop complaining of guitars that "wont stay in tune" citing a possible manufacturer flaw. Most often
the problem stems from a number of factors which players can easily overlook.
If the guitar is properly set up and calibrated to factory specifications, and the strings are fresh, then
most common tuning problems occur due to improper string installation (too many or un-tidy wraps around the tuning gear shaft),
lack of sufficient string stretching before final tuning and playing, and loose hardware (tuning gears, neck bolts, etc.).
Also, nut slots not cut wide enough can cause strings to bind up in the slot and wont pass or slide freely with bending, vibrato,
etc. And nut slots not cut deep enough will cause first fret notes to play sharp. Too deep, and the open string will buzz
on the 1st fret wire. Sometimes a nut will be loose in the slot. A drop of glue takes care of that.
If all these issues are addressed and trouble still occurs, then most likely the player is simply pressing
too hard with the left hand fingers, or playing in the middle of the frets (just behind and slightly touching the fret wire
is the correct LH technique), or both. When you combine tall frets, light gauge strings, and a "heavy" left hand technique
(acoustic guitar players syndrome), the effect can be analogous to jumping on a trampoline. The string stretches when pressed
and causes the note to play sharp. This is especially evident when playing chords that incorporate both open string notes
and fretted notes.
As a simple experiment, tune an open string to an electronic tuner. Then play any fretted note. If the
fretted note appears sharp on the tuner and the guitar is fully calibrated, then youre most likely pressing too hard. Re-tune
the open string (new strings can be a little finicky), and try playing the same fretted note using only minimal LH pressure
and snug the LH finger up to the fret wire (the one toward the body, not the nut). The note should now be in tune and you
have just discovered how to add years onto your playing life by not causing undue pressure and wear and tear on the LH finger
joints. There are of course many other technical factors that come into play depending on musical style, quality of instrument
construction, etc. But most often, this technique will solve the greater degree of intonation problems (that, and having the
instrument in tune to begin with J ).
Some players feel they simply cannot change their heavy LH technique. Then, the only solution is to play
only guitars with low fret wire so the string stretching (trampoline effect) is minimized. You can have some of the tallness
ground down and the frets re-leveled by a reliable technician to achieve the same result if you dont want to get rid of your
current favorite guitar.
Good luck and happy playing!