If your Strat won’t stay in tune and you’re wondering how to fix it, this post is for you!
The first measure I have in mind is a preventive one. Poor-quality strings are one of the common reasons behind poor tuning stability. Whether you play a Strat or any other guitar, this is the first thing to check.
Most of the regular brands are a safe bet. If you want to be super safe, I always recommend giving Elixir strings a chance. They might be a bit more expensive. However, their awesome tone, longevity, and durability make up for it.
Check Your Hardware
Strats of all kinds are famous for having good tuning stability. This is mostly due to the strings staying in a straight line after breaking over the nut.
However, if your hardware is faulty, there’s hardly any chance that you’ll have stable tuning. Check your tuning machines and the guitar’s bridge.
Try and check the tuning peg screws on the top of their buttons, if your Strat has them. It’s not uncommon for them to get too loose. Tighten them up, but not too much.
As for the bridge, check if all the parts are in place. Regular Strat bridges are relatively simple. But sometimes, a faulty intonation screw can mess with one of the strings. See if they’re all working properly. If one of them is stuck, you can easily swap it. The same goes for an entire saddle.
Are You Using a Proper Gauge for Your Tuning?
It’s not uncommon to have tuning stability issues if you down tune. Sure, Stratocasters almost exclusively have a longer scale length, 25.5 inches. And this can help you keep some tension with thinner string gauges or some lower tunings.
However, if you’re playing in C# standard, C standard, or any noticeably lower tuning, you may have issues. Lower string tension can cause tuning stability issues. And the only way to get things to work in such settings is to get thicker strings.
For D standard or C# standard, I advise getting a .011-gauge set. A Strat can even handle B standard, but you’ll need at least .012-gauge strings for that. Your regular 10s or 9s won’t really help you.
Are You Playing With Proper Technique?
Beginner or intermediate players might notice that their guitar sounds a bit out of tune. Before I say anything, bear in mind that guitars aren’t perfect in terms of the pitch. Fretboard design isn’t perfect. This means that your guitar will always be slightly out of tune as you go up the fretboard. The only solution to this is a true temperament guitar design. But these are rare and expensive.
However, another reason why you might sound out of tune is improper playing technique. This can either be your fretting hand or the picking hand.
If you press strings too hard you may inadvertently bend the note causing it to go sharp. The issue is especially pronounced on guitars with jumbo frets and scalloped fretboards. If you pick them too hard, they’ll also go sharp.
To check this, have a more experienced player play your guitar. If they don’t have this issue, then have patience and practice more.
Stretch Your Strings
When restringing your Strat, stretch the strings. As you tune them to the desired pitch, stop once in a while and pull them up. It’s best to do it somewhere around the 12th fret.
When you finally tune your guitar, stretch the strings again. It will go out of tune, but that’s what we want here. Tune it up again and let it rest. If it’s once again out of tune, repeat the process.
Here’s a brief guide on how to do string stretching.
If your string is not sitting well in place in the tuning machine, it can also go out of tune. The best way to sort this out is to properly wind the strings.
Firstly, I advise that you put one winding above and below the string where it goes out through the hole on the tuner. Then wind it slowly and thoroughly. One winding should go directly below the other.
For this to work, you should also put just enough of the string through the tuner. If you have too much, you’ll end up with a messy bulky winding.
Here’s one simple guide for Strats:
Proper Setup and Intonation
What’s great about classic Strat bridges is that they aren’t that hard to set up. You can adjust each saddle, including height and intonation. For the height, you have two small hex screws on each saddle. And for the intonation, you have screws on the backside of the bridge.
The intonation is crucial here. A poorly intonated guitar sounds out of tune more as you go up the fretboard. Even when you tune it perfectly, chords and intervals will sound off.
In order to check intonation, you’ll need a tuner. Do a natural harmonic on one of the strings on the 12th fret. Tune it to where it should be as precise as you can. Then press the string on the 12th fret and check the tuning. If it’s out of tune, then your Strat needs to be intonated.
The process is a bit time-consuming at first. However, it’s not too hard. Here’s a guide on how to do that.
Of course, all of this should work hand-in-hand with proper string height and neck relief. A full setup is not that hard to do, but you’ll still need to learn how to do it. And you’ll need some basic tools. Here are simple guides for string height and truss rod adjustment.
But remember that if any of this seems too difficult, you can always contact a luthier, or instrument maker and repairer, and (s)he should be able to help you.
External Factors and How to Mitigate Them
Believe it or not, temperature and humidity are a factor here. Not just your strings but your entire instrument is susceptible to external factors like these.
Issues, however, are noticeable in more extreme regions. If you live in an extremely humid or arid region, then you’ll have to consider sorting things out. Luckily, affordable solutions like humidifiers or de-humidifiers can help depending on your situation. You can store them in your guitar case or wherever your guitar is located.
What’s more, there are even so-called two-way humidity control accessories. They keep the stable relative humidity in the guitar case both in humid and arid settings. As for humid climates, you can use simple silica gel packages.
And as for the temperature, proper air conditioning is the only solution. Both humidity and temperature can not only affect tuning stability but also your instrument’s longevity. So it’s important to take these factors into account if you want to maximize the longevity of your instrument.
What to Do if Your Strat Won’t Stay in Tune: Conclusion
I hope this article has given you some ideas of how to troubleshoot your Strat tuning issue.
And remember, if you ever feel in over your head, just reach out to a luthier and they will likely be able to help.
Lastly, feel free to message me in the comments below if you have further questions!