View Full Version : tuning woes

Oct-26-2005, 1:14pm
My living quarters have shrunk dramatically after a move to DC, and I wanted to get rid of the guitar I haven't touched for two years, a thousand dollar Tacoma model. Long story short, I traded it for a Johnson cheap F mandolin. The good new is I am playing mando again after many years of not playing (!!).

After a week I have regained my calluses, and am working through some of the early pages of Jethro Burns Mandolin book that have images on Amazon. (I had discarded all my mandolin learning material some years ago in frustration). I am progressing in a way that I never have previously. I even took a few lessons with Jethro himself in Evanston, IL, that's how long this mandolin thing has gripped me in my life.

Anyway, the bad news is tuning. I remember well the woes of the beginner in tuning, and am trying to take that into consideration here, but something seems not right; it doesn't stay in tune for the course of a song or a scale run sometimes. And sometimes 10 whole minutes can go by without needing to tune it. I have an electric tuner. I believe the intonation is ok on the instrument; the 12th fret harmonics are in tune with the open string.

I am tempted to return to the shop for a conversation with the owner, possibly to ask for my guitar back, which was playable at least. I'm thinking I could possibly get a better trade-in value somewhere else, or just buy a better mandolin for cash. But I don't want to be crazy or nuts; I am improving, I just spend about half of my practice time tuning instead of playing. With my other mandolins (Kentucky 650, Weber flatiron), I could play with much less tuning.

Does anybody have a point of view on this they could share with me?

Oct-26-2005, 2:04pm
Does it go sharp or flat?

New strings or old?

Oct-26-2005, 3:12pm
I believe the strings are new; at least they aren't used, n the sense that they were shinier before I started using them.

Frankly, ithe strings go both sharp and flat (but not at the same time); usually flat, but sometimes sharp. I find that surprising.

Oct-26-2005, 3:30pm
I would try the "pencil lead in the nut slots" trick. The nut slots may need lubrication. If that is the case, the tension is uneven on either side of the nut but after you play some it will equalize by working through the nut slots slowly.

Do you stay in one place? If you go outside and back in the humidity can do it.

Oct-26-2005, 3:35pm
I'll try the pencil lead tonight after work.

I stay inside and play, so there shouldn't be humidity to contend with. Thanks for your help.

Oct-26-2005, 3:59pm
Mine was consistently going sharp ( I always tune up to the note), pencil lead helped some, but I eventually had a luthier re-work the fret slots to match the heavier guage of strings I was using.

Oct-26-2005, 4:05pm
Don't fool yourself - there is humidity INDOORS as well as outdoors. And indoor humidity fluctuates varying degrees, depending upon where you live, if air conditioning is used, if there is a heat source, etc.

And the proper control of it INDOORS is a critical factor for many fine instruments. I've seen a lot of guitars have severe, almost irreparable damage caused by a lack of concern for indoor himidity. Cracks, seam separations, etc.

I'm not saying that this is the cause of your woes, but it is a factor for all wooden instruments.

Oct-27-2005, 12:59pm
The likely truth here is that you do not have a good quality mandolin. Probably all the tricks in the world aren't going to help. It is true that when the heat comes on or things like that it can affect tuning, but bottom line, my suggestion is if you can get the guitar back, do it and then pick up a better mando, and that shouldn't be difficult probably since you've managed to hit about the bottom of the barrel. (This is from someone who bought a Rogue) You could get somebody to work on and it might stay in tune better, but then you've just got a cheap mando that doesn't go out of tune as badly. My advice--if you can undo your deal do it ASAP.

Oct-27-2005, 1:33pm
Pat is probably right. I just re-read your post. A "thousand dollar Tacoma" for a "Johnson cheap F mandolin"? Take a look at these Johnson F mandolins (http://www.janetdavismusic.com/johnman.html). I hope you didn't get a Savannah.

Oct-27-2005, 4:16pm

If you get your guitar back, there are a couple of stores I could recomend in the area. The one I deal with in Catonsville, Appalacian Bluegrass (Baltimore suburb) is great. There is also an acoustic shop in Tacoma Park with whom I have no experience. I'm sure a better mandolin would make a world of difference.

Oct-28-2005, 8:50am
Yeah, I think I got taken. I put new strings on yesterday, and now that they are done stretching, I think it is much better. I called the shop (The Guitar Shop on Connecticut Ave in DC) but he says he doesn't have my guitar anymore. He got his deal, good luck to him I guess. He's a good talker, I have to give him that.

While I was buying my strings at another shop, I saw a Weber Bitterroot for about 1700 dollars that played like soft butter.

All in all, things are probably OK. I was literally giving up on music, getting rid of my final instrument, and now I am playing. Financially I got hit (which I can't really afford), but I have to believe that things are working out ok.

Oct-28-2005, 9:36am
Okay. I like your attitude. You got lemons, make lemonade, and you're right a played mando is better than a non-played guitar. And, let's face it you weren't going to get near what the guitar was worth on a trade. So--some suggestions: You might try getting it set up by a pro, and see if that doesn't help. Then maybe you can eventually trade it back to the same guy for something good. Another suggestion: buy one of the kits from International Violin, make your own and that ought to keep you happy for a while for about $100--150 depending on how many tools and supplies you have to buy..

Oct-28-2005, 9:53am
Sorry you got took... but even so, it's a good thing that this trade got you playing again... and if you continue, you can join the rest of us in our constant quest for best instrument we can afford.

re: tuning...a couple of things might help...
1- learn how put on new strings and stretch them in the process so you will have less of that to deal with as you play.
2- graphite in the nut slot (as mentioned above) is virtually free and may help and certainly won't hurt
3- check your tuners. Make sure they're clean and not slipping. check to make sure that the screws are not loose, but are firm (but not over-tight or stuck).
4- If you continue to have bad tuning problems, you may want to replace your tuners. Your mando probably has the cheapest possible tuners on it, and to spend $35-45 on a new set of Grovers or Schallers might be an intermediate step if you don't want to/can't afford to upgrade the whole mando. You can replace tuners yourself...you just unscrew the old ones (by taking out those tiny wood screws) and pop in the new ones.

good luck! and keep playing!!