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  1. #1

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    My Comins GCS-1 is a great guitar. Well, in every way but one. It doesn't hold tune all that well. I have to check and, often, retune after a song or two. Not by much, but I have to do it.

    I've had other guitars that were stable for a three hour gig.

    To be fair to the guitar, it may be that it's because I have it strung very light. 11 13 16 24 32 42. (I buy a 9-42 set and add a separate 13).

    Can anybody help me understand why this happens and if there's anything to be done about it (without going to heavier strings)?

    BTW, as far as I see, the neck joint looks fine.

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  3. #2

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    Maybe the way it’s strung? Some people swear best tuning stability happens when the strings have a couple of wraps on the post. No overlaps or half-hitches. And the wraps need to extend below the hole in the post.

  4. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by TedBPhx
    Maybe the way it’s strung? Some people swear best tuning stability happens when the strings have a couple of wraps on the post. No overlaps or half-hitches. And the wraps need to extend below the hole in the post.
    Interesting point. When I got the guitar new, the strings were wrapped like that.

    But I've always done it in a way Hideo Kamimoto showed me years ago. You put it through the hole then bend it back over itself so that when you turn it, the new wrap locks part of the string underneath. Maybe I should try it the other way. My strings do come off the peg at the bottom, below the hole.

  5. #4

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    The other thing is to get the nut cut properly. If you need to restring try that first. If it still doesn’t hold check those nut slots.


    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

  6. #5

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    What TedBPhx said

    plus

    have some graphite or 2B pencil dust dropped in the grooves of your nut

  7. #6

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    A guitar is never better than its last setup. Here's the short list of issues causing tuning problems:

    Friction

    • Nut slots rough or too narrow for the current string gauge (very common)
    • Nut slots not curved to match the nut string break angle (very common)
    • Bridge slots too narrow for the current string gauge (common)
    • Bridge slots not aligned with the string path to the tailpiece
    • Steep string break angles causing high friction in the string slots (very common pertaining to certain guitar makes)

    Intonation
    "A guitar that can't be tuned, can hold nothing but bad tune." (JCat)

    • Worn out or dirty strings (very common)
    • Bridge intonation is off (very common)
    • High nut action (very common)
    • Effective bridge radius doesn't match fretboard (very common, especially when the bridge leans forward or backwards or is slanted, one side higher)
    • Bridge not aligned with the neck (common on archtops and bolted necks and adds friction too)
    • Forward bow (very common)
    • Uneven action (very common)
    • High action, i.e. high overall string height relative to string gauge (common)
    • Worn, poorly crowned frets (It would have to be pretty bad, before you run into tuning issues, but assume 12th fret is bad and you couldn't use it for intonation.)



    Storage and transportation

    • Guitar hard case stresses neck
    • Guitar stand stresses the neck
    • High fluctuation of humidity or temperature

    Tip: Always warm up an instrument to body temperature before you adjust it.
    Good luck

  8. #7

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    If you narrow the problem down to the string "binding" at the nut, once the nut has been reprofiled, consider applying a little "Nut Sauce" from Big Bends. I put a drop in the nut slots of all my guitars once or twice a year and it keeps the strong fully free to move.

  9. #8

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    Binding at the bridge saddle is also not uncommon. IME the main cause of tuning instability is not the tuners, but binding somewhere, and there are multiple possibilities. As above, having a wide headstock and thus a relatively large bend at the nut is common, and hurts tuning stability. That can also happen at the bridge on some guitars. My standard tuning method includes pulling strongly on the string after tuning, then retuning, more than once. I get the string in tune, then stretch it, and it's low. If you tune it too high, then have to back off a little, the string is a tiny bit loose on the capstan, and needs to be stretched to remove that looseness. If I don't stretch the strings during tuning, it always goes desafinado after playing awhile, no matter which guitar.

  10. #9

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    Oh, yeah. Always tune up. If the string is sharp make it flat then bring it up.

  11. #10

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    But even if you come up to pitch, stretch the string and check again.

  12. #11
    Whatever rotten technique I'm tuning with, it works better on my Yamaha than my Comins. I lock-wrap the string (per Kamimoto), stretch the **** out of it, tune up and stretch some more. If the string is a trifle sharp, on this guitar I can sometimes tune it by pulling hard on the string. It's as if I can't get all the stretch out of it. Maybe that's the string itself?

    I have nutsauce and applied it yesterday. I'm also going to try a different brand of string, on general principles.

    My strings are thinner or equal to the originals -- and Comins guitars are known for great setup. So, I'm guessing there's no improvement to be had there (and I don't know how to figure out if I'm wrong about that). I understand binding at the nut because the slot is too narrow, but do you get problems from a slot being too big?

  13. #12

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    I don't see many problems caused by slots being too wide, but who knows. The nut and saddle slots need to be smooth, with no roughness. I would be surprised if that were the case on a Comins, but I've been surprised before. Not having a straight path from the front of the nut to the tuner capstan can be an issue, but I don't have a photo of a Comins handy, and can't remember the details of the headstock. It's possible that the strings need to be replaced, perhaps one or more is just defective. Is it usually the same string that goes out, or is it random? Changing the strings is easy enough. If pulling strongly on the string(s) makes a difference, then it's either binding somewhere or the string is bad. That's all I can think of.

  14. #13

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    One thing I do once the string is close to stable after multiple stretchings is to press down on the string at the bridge and nut to remove the slight upward bow at those points. One must be cautious, too much pressure just repeats the problem with down-bow. The main thing is to get rid of stored tension that can lead to strings going slowly flat.

  15. #14

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    I use a Teflon impregnated white grease that is used by model train enthusiasts to grease their tracks. Works like a charm and after 20yrs I’m still on my second tube of the stuff. Much cheaper than nut sauce as well.

    I have noticed that I need to tune up my Comins more often than, say, a Tele, but I think that has something to do with the wider headstock and it’s lack of a straight string pull.

    Bill C. set my guitar up with 11’s on request, though I since use a plain 19 G and a 12 on top.

  16. #15

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    For guitars, like most Gibsons, where the break angle between nut and tuner can be large,, I've known quite a few people to use the String Butler which seems to reduce the problem significantly by keeping the string running in a straight line immediately behind the nut......

  17. #16

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    You know the saying; "It's always the nut".

    It goes a long way, but not necessarily all the way.

    For tuning to be stable the frame must be stable and the bridge system must be stable.

    Frame
    Neck and bridge adjustments are not immediate. Things happen immediately when you turn a screw, but the guitar will continue to move, slowly, over the next few days until it has settled in. If you adjust the bridge every day, never put that truss rod cover back in place, the guitar will never find a resting place but will remain unstable. Be patient and give the guitar time to accept a new balance.

    New guitars may require repeated tightening of the truss rod until the truss rod anchors have settled. If not, the neck develops forward bow, leading to all kind of problems.
    The truss rod must be tight enough to stabilize the neck. But if it's tightened into back bow, the neck would become unstable.
    Truss adjustments and bridge adjustments go together. You can't change one without affecting the other.

    Bridge system
    The bridge must balance the nut, fretboard and string set. Bridge saddle slots, radius and intonation are of great importance as well as the tailpiece and string tension pressing down the bridge. Too high down force and the bridge posts become unstable. Too low down force and the bridge seating become unstable. When the string break angle is right for the string set, the guitar feels good, it sounds good and stands a better chance to stay in tune.

    Playing the guitar is a great job or hobby. Just make sure that you actually play the guitar and not waste time tinkering

  18. #17

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    This thread is an interesting read. I'm always really careful with how I put strings on my guitars, but one of them has one string that when tuning it, takes a fair amount of turn before it moves, then, It really moves. It generally stays tuned for the session, so, I've never given it much thought. Now, I have something else to think about, but nut too much!

    Thanks, and cheers!
    S

  19. #18
    Thanks for all the responses.

    Here's what I did.

    Nutsauce for the bridge saddles and nut slots.

    New strings. I got most of them on with about 6 wraps, carefully done with the string coming off the peg at the lowest wrap.

    I then tuned up and repeatedly stretched the strings.

    The D string was the worst. I stretch the **** out of it, tune it up, and then stretch it again. It would then be flat, but the other strings would not change.

    I think that tells me it isn't the neck. If the neck were creating the problem, I'd expect other strings to be affected, but they weren't.

    The slots felt rough to the edge of my fingernail, so I might get a really gentle skinny file and just try to smooth the bottoms of the slots without making them larger. But, I could lift the strings up and put them back without changing the pitch -- so I don't think they were binding in the slots.

    That leaves the wraps -- and I don't know how to do those any better -- or the string itself. Or maybe I was wrong and the slots need to be filed.

    Still puzzled. I'll check it later today and see if 16 hours on the instrument improves anything.

  20. #19

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    some guitars move around a lot with temperature / humidity ....
    some don’t

    that’s a longer term thing and doesnt
    matter that much practically speaking

    in my experience
    if the guitar is going out of tune in
    the short term , during an hour or an evening
    then it’s most probably the
    string binding in the nut
    (or maybe the bridge but less likely)
    (or possibly the tuners but unlikely)

    so yes sort out the nut first ....

  21. #20

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    One way to smooth the nut slots is to use a piece of old roundwound string about the same diameter as the strings you use. Just cut a piece and run it through the slot repeatedly, with some pressure. Not as much pressure as you can, just with some. It's slower than a file, but it eventually does the job, and it's safer than using a file, because it won't deepen the slot much. You'll need a piece of string for each slot, but that's a way to reuse old strings that are going to be thrown away. You can also buy dedicated tools. One tool that people use is a set of tip cleaners for welders. They come in many sizes, from about the diameter of the treble E to near the bass E. They're a little more aggressive than strings, and useful for deepening the slots just a little, but silll much less aggressive than a file. If you have a set, they're fine, but if not you can use old strings and work a little longer. Be very careful with files, because they cut bone quicly and you may have to refill the slots. There are threads available discussing how to do that.

  22. #21

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    Since the OP mentioned stretching strings, I’ve always wondered if pulling the string with a finger risked stretching the string unevenly or might overstretch or even break it, so I decided to stretch strings by tuning them a half or whole step sharp (depending on gauge). For nylon strings I’ll leave the guitar tuned sharp overnight. It works great.
    Last edited by KirkP; 11-27-2020 at 09:20 PM.

  23. #22

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    Never heard of 'Nut Sauce'. Told my wife I was buying some to try, and she asked me 'What'? Had to explain it to her! Funny.

  24. #23

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    I had one that stayed in tune very well, I'd assume the nut has an issue probably

  25. #24
    I played outside today for three hours.

    The G string was a little unstable.

    The E string was also a little unstable, which isn't unusual.

    But, the other strings held tune well, which is new.

    I did three things.

    I wrapped the new strings carefully. No folding them back. Just a neat spiral.

    I stretched them repeatedly and then stretched them some more.

    I applied nutsauce to the nut and bridge.

    I don't know what helped. It's hard for me to believe that the other style of stringing continued to feed slack for many weeks. Same thing for the stretching -- I've always done that. I've changed strings before. Nut sauce?

    Thanks to all who replied.

    BTW, it's an unwound g string -- I recall reading someplace that the g string is prone to problems for some reason. Low E too.

  26. #25

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    The unwound G is the thickest string, and thus the stiffest. Having a stiff, thick string makes the wrap around the capstan more unstable. If you lower the pitch slightly, the string doesn't always straighten completely at the capstan, and can slowly do that when played. The same happens when tuning up to pitch - the string can doesn't immediately bend completely, and can take awhile to do so. This is especially true for the G and D strings, which are the furthest from the nut and usually have a bend at the nut. IME these two strings are the least stable when tuning. Stretching them when tuning seems to help. At least this seems to be the case from what I've observed. Maybe I'm wrong about all of it,, and I've done no actual scientific testing, but that's what seems logical to me.

  27. #26
    If the issue is stiffness, presumably that can vary from one string to another.

    Is there a brand that is consistently less stiff?

  28. #27

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    Quote Originally Posted by rpjazzguitar
    If the issue is stiffness, presumably that can vary from one string to another.

    Is there a brand that is consistently less stiff?
    All the steel alloys have about the same modulus of elasticity. Monel (a nickel alloy) is about 10% lower, but I doubt that would make a noticeable difference in tuning stability.
    Modulus of Elasticity for Metals

    For a wound string, the winding contributes essentially nothing to stiffness, relative to the stiffness of the core, so if one brand of string used a lower gauge of core than another (with a higher gauge winding to compensate) it should be less stiff. Do any string brands list the core gauges? A unwound string would have a greater stiffness than wound, which is what the previous post was referring to.

  29. #28

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    Great info! However, aside from these considerations, those who play electric guitar with steel strings have been spoiled beyond belief with string stability. Classical guitarists tune constantly during performance, between performance--all the time. It's part of the deal when you play a quality, all wood instrument. But, it is my opinion that quality, all wood Jazz guitars are equally susceptible to many of the same tuning considerations as Classical guitars since they are more effected by humidity than say a solid body guitar or a laminate. For me, it's a small price to pay for a quality instrument.
    Play live . . . Marinero

  30. #29

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    Interesting discussion. Something not mentioned is the tuning machines themselves. Can they cause small amounts of detuning if they are or have become defective? I would understand a major malfunction but could something else be going on?

  31. #30

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    Quote Originally Posted by Marinero
    Great info! However, aside from these considerations, those who play electric guitar with steel strings have been spoiled beyond belief with string stability. Classical guitarists tune constantly during performance, between performance--all the time. It's part of the deal when you play a quality, all wood instrument. But, it is my opinion that quality, all wood Jazz guitars are equally susceptible to many of the same tuning considerations as Classical guitars since they are more effected by humidity than say a solid body guitar or a laminate. For me, it's a small price to pay for a quality instrument.
    Play live . . . Marinero
    When your classical with nylon strings starts to stay in tune, it's time to change the strings !

  32. #31

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dave24309
    Interesting discussion. Something not mentioned is the tuning machines themselves. Can they cause small amounts of detuning if they are or have become defective? I would understand a major malfunction but could something else be going on?
    Tuners could obviously contribute if the tuning knobs had such little friction that they spontaneously slip under string tension, but I think only the worst tuners would have that problem.

    Slop in gears and shafts can cause tuning to slip, but I think most of that is eliminated by always making the final adjustment upward. It’s common practice when a string is sharp to drop below then bring it up to pitch. Of course a precision tuners and a well cut nut make it easier.

    Martin Taylor has a nice video about tuning that goes beyond the mechanical/mathematical approach to account for psychoacoustic effects.

  33. #32

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    Six wraps seems like a lot. I use the "half hitch" method as you called it, but only 2-3 wraps total.

    One thing to remember is that when a new string stretches, the part of the string wrapped around the post ALSO needs to stretch, but each successive wrap hinders the ability of the previous wraps to be able to stretch. My completely unscientific assumption is that normal tuning and pulling on a new string to get it to stabilize only really stretches the first wrap or maybe two. Beyond that, there's too much resistance to the pull from being wrapped around the post. BUT, over time, days, changes in temperature and humidity and playing a tiny bit of those first few wraps around the post also start to stretch a bit, but never really get to a point of stability.

    ...just my .02¢

  34. #33

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    There are many factors involved, some of which make a greater contribution than others. Yes, I think the number of wraps around the capstan, and the method of wrapping the string make some difference. If you loosen the string, the wraps loosen slightly, and may not return to tension immediately, or to the same tension as before. I do the under/back around method, and I think that helps with this, although I have no scientific proof. Having too many wraps, so that the string rides on the previous wrap, more or less, is less than ideal, IMO. This acts to make the capstan diameter effectively larger, and also allows the string to move the wraps slightly over time. I tend to put somewhere around three wraps, but I'm not religious about it. I do try to keep the wraps up on the capstan and not have the string all the way to the bottom. This is easier on the treble strings, a little more care is needed for the E. I think most tuners work well enough, but the gear ratio does affect the ease of tuning. It's easier with a higher gear ratio, because small movements of the tuner have less effect, so it's easier to find the exact tension to put the string in tune. Most of these seem to have marginal effects, though. IME pulling on the string before and after it is at pitch helps more than most other things I've tried. This is all anecdotal, from years of tuning, not something I've actually analyzed, and I would be happy to be proved wrong. I'm always trying to learn something new.

  35. #34

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    The chosen stringing method affects string break angle at the nut, so does effective tuner peg height (that's the main reasons why tuners sometimes make a difference). Anyone who's owned a Fender Strat knows that string trees can make it or break it, that string trees are different and why staggered tuners are available as an option. We can't ignore what happens behind the front edge of the nut. Therefore re-stringing must be systematic, to maintain integrity of the break angles.

    Here's the stringing method I prefer, presented by tech Bill Baker. It's fast and precise and allows strings to be removed and re-winded without fuss. No need to tie the strings.

  36. #35

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    I don't see how the stringing method affects the break angle. You can wrap the string down to any level with any method, and that's what sets the break angle. There are multiple ways to do the job, and they all work if there are enough wraps. Judging where to start the wraps is the hardest part, no matter which method is used, and it's slightly different for different guitars, with different headstocks. Once that length is determined, it's all easy enough.

  37. #36

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    ...2, 3 or 6 wraps makes a difference depending on the gauge. If one day I use 6 wraps for the D-string and 2 wraps for the high E and then the other way around next time I replace strings, there will be problems. If I'm systematic, like Bill Baker cutting strings to lengths 3 fingers past the tuner, then I like the nut slots to be filed for the corresponding string break angle, simple as that.

  38. #37

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    Well, yeah, that's pretty much what I said. You choose the number of wraps to get the angle you want. That generally means more wraps on the skinny strings and fewer on the fat ones. That's obvious. You just need to tailor the length past the nut for the guitar. Three fingers may be fine on a Strat but not quite perfect on a Gibson. And some fingers are thicker than others. It just takes a few tries to get the best length for the guitar. Then you can consistently get the number of wraps you prefer.

  39. #38

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    Yes, and we see clearly when somebody, like Bill, strives for a consistent stringing method to maintain many guitars on a regular basis;
    String break angle is not only affected by the headstock angle, but also the effective height of the tuner peg. The latter also sets the limit for how many wraps the peg can take. Sometimes, three fingers of gauge 52 would be too much.

    Another conclusion is that a headstock angle of 17 degrees could create the same string break as a headstock of 14 degrees, depending on the tuners. An example of why tuners sometimes make a difference (and an example of why locking tuners wouldn't always produce the expected result).