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5 Reasons Your Guitar Goes Out of Tune When Bending

The moment when you bend the G string just right to hit the perfect blues note is glorious – the occasional following moment when you play the next lick and the guitar is out of tune is a worst-case scenario we all have been through. 

The main reasons a guitar goes out of tune when bending are related to the setup, strings, and occasionally faulty hardware. No matter their price tag, all guitars go through tuning issues, yet all are fixable either at home or by a luthier.

If your guitar goes out of tune when bending and you still haven’t figured out why, I’ll share the main reasons and solutions that worked for me and could work for you.

The Strings Are Getting Stuck In the Nut Slot

The nut is the hidden culprit in almost every problem with tunning. Checking the tuners and bridge first is tempting, yet if there’s no visual damage to the guitar, I suggest first checking the nut whenever the strings go out of tune when bending.

Ideally, the strings should be fixed in the nut, yet not as much as to get stuck in the nut slots. This balance is critical but hard to keep and easy to miss if you’re not experienced. Out of the many things that could go wrong, the most common are the following.

  • The nut could be consumed by time or cracked, and the slots are deeper than they should be. Changing to a new one is the best alternative.
  • The nut is a cheap plastic one. Upgrade to a more pricey TUSQ nut, or, as I call it, a “fake bone” nut. They are still inexpensive compared to all other guitar hardware.
  • You might have changed string gauge, and the new strings are either too thick or too thin. Changing one size gauge, either higher or lower, is generally okay, yet you only know once you check.

Using your ears is a good tip for spotting if it’s the nut causing the string to go out of tune when bending. If you hear a crackling noise when bending, it’s most likely the strings getting unstuck from the nut due to the string’s tension.

Check my guide on the basic guitar setup steps first if you find nothing wrong with the nut.

The Strings Are Not Properly Wound at the Headstock

Wounding strings at the headstock is a trendy topic with guitarists and the promised savior of all your tunning issues if you go down a YouTube rabbit hole. In reality, there are multiple ways to wound strings properly at the headstock, and just a few no no’s you want to avoid.

I suggest going for whatever technique you have seen works for others but avoid too many wraps or too few. Many wraps equal more possible tunning issues, while no wrapping equals less vibrant strings. If you find the last statement odd, I didn’t believe it myself until an experienced session guitarist in the studio proved it to me.

If you want to avoid all that,  get a locking tuner set. I don’t find they improve tunning stability as advertised, yet they make re-restringing easy, fast, and with fewer faulty points.

The Strings Need Stretching

New strings come with new issues, luckily only temporary ones. Whenever you change strings, no matter their material or price, they stretch and adjust to the tension.

What I always do when putting new strings is pull them from near the bridge until they go out of tune. I redo the process until the strings settle and preferably don’t need tuning, even after some wild whammy action.

Guitars that use locking mechanisms or modern bridges like the Evertune don’t generally have this issue. Quality classic style guitars, if set up right with quality strings, might never go through a ‘bad’ stretching period – or in the worst case, it just lasts a few minutes.

Just to make sure, I recommend you always play for a few hours with a new set before a gig or recording session.

The Strings Need Replacing

Worn-out strings with a warm, rounded tone might be enjoyable to play, yet after a while, they become unplayable. Tarnish and eventually rust will physically damage the strings, ruin the guitar’s intonation and make snapping one live much more likely.

It’s sometimes tricky to tell tarnished strings vs. rusted strings, and I’ve prepared a separate guide only for that. It will help you better understand when a new set is no longer an option.

Coated strings might resist a bit longer without going out of tune when bending, yet not much more than standard strings.

You Have a Floating Tremolo

Guitarist and floating tremolos have been in a love-hate relationship from the moment Fender introduced them decades back. Probably no one apart from the late Jeff Beck mastered them to the point of not caring about the major downside –  bending changes the tension of the strings, thus slightly detuning them momentarily.

Single-string bends are fine, as the pitch of the string you bend does not change. Unison bends become tricky as one of the strings will go slightly flat.

Some of the workaround and fixes are the following.

  • Compensate for the pitch by pressing down on the tremolo when bending. This can be tricky and not 100% correct, yet when I have to use a floating trem on stage, that’s my only resort.
  • Block the tremolo in old-style fashion by putting something solid under it, or if the guitar allows it, you can do it with a switch. My old Guthrie Govan signature Charvel had a small switch that blocked the much problematic Floyd Rose.

Sweetwater has a great guide on blocking a tremolo and even suggests some new products that help.

The ‘good’ side of having tunning issues when bending is that no matter how hard I try, nothing I can write about playing technique could lead to it. So don’t blame yourself if your solo goes out of tune after the first bend and the other guys’ doesn’t.

A good setup will fix your tuning issue and leave you free to bend even David Gilmour Style, two steps and a half, at will.