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Thread: Tuning Issue

  1. #1

    Default Tuning Issue

    I have a problem with tuning. My AA strings keep going out of tune. Almost as soon as I strum a few times over the string, the upper A will go flat about 5 cents and the lower string will go sharp about 10-15 cents. When I tune, the string will get near the note then suddenly go up so that I have to lower the pitch and retune repeatedly. It only happens on the AA strings.

    I've tried putting a little pencil lead on the nut and saddle notches.

    I've tried loosening and tightening the bushing screw.

    I have removed the strings and carefully rewrapped them to the tuner post to make sure they aren't overlapping.

    I have changed strings.

    I tune by releasing tension then tuning up to the note.

    I'm out of ideas. Help, please!

  2. #2
    Jim1Hays
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    Default Re: Tuning Issue

    I had the same issue for a while with my Washburn F body. I found the loop on the strings were catching on the bottom plate of the tail piece. I put a thin strip of rawhide between the strings and the tail piece bottom plate and this took care of it. I also had to put a thin piece of rawhide over the strings so they would not hit the top slide on cover on the tail piece. Another suggestion would be to watch the loop at the tail piece and see if it is slipping on itself. I had to replace them a couple of times before I found ones that would not slip.

  3. #3
    Lurkist dhergert's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tuning Issue

    Cliff, what kind of mandolin is this happening with?

    I note this happening to a much lesser degree with my mandolins with the 2nd (normally A) course. The difference is usually one or two cents, and it occurs when tuning, not playing. So I tune the 2nd string of the course slightly low and then tune the 1st string of the course exactly; by the time the 1st string is in tune, that tuning process brings up the 2nd string and they're both in tune. But this is only one or two cents.

    Mandolins are living, breathing organisms. If all else is properly setup with the tuners, the nut, the bridge and the tailpiece (and the strings), I could imagine that top flexing might have something to do with minor examples of this. But 5 and 10-15 cents is a big change occurring and I would think there might be something more involved.
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  4. #4
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    Default Re: Tuning Issue

    I would still suspect string binding at the nut, based on your constellation of symptoms. One possibility is that you did not manage to get enough pencil lead lubricant into the slot. I usually "shave it in," using a flat razor blade against the pencil point, so the graphite dust falls and collects directly in the slot and nearly fills it, blowing away any excess AFTER introducing the string into the slot (or, you can collect a bunch of graphite dust in a simple fold of paper, and then blow or shake it very gently into the slot to fill it up). You might also consider trying one of the commercial nut lubricants, like Nut Sauce. But I usually find this to be unnecessary unless the slots are really giving trouble -- in which case, they probably need to be re-cut, anyway. A serious possibility to consider is that the nut slots for your A strings may be cut too deeply, or too narrowly, so that strings are binding to the sides of the slot. Check for this! The top portion of each A string should protrude a bit above the level top surface of the nut itself. If not, then the slot may be too deep. Also check for the proper angle of the string leaving the rear of the nut slot (towards the tuners). Could it be that you are now using a heavier gauge A string, for example, than the kind that first came with your mandolin?

    Anyway, it definitely sounds like nut binding to me! If proper lubrication doesn't fix it, you will need to re-do the A-string slots. This might simply involve widening these slightly with an appropriate file, but it might also involve filling the slots up before filing them down to the right dimensions (you can use the old cyanoacrylate glue and baking soda trick described elsewhere on the MC to fill them -- just search old threads for for it). Or, it might involve making up a new nut entirely, if all the other slots are also too deep. If you lack experience, or are not confident about trying this yourself, you might need to take your mandolin to a luthier. But it's a pretty easy job.
    Last edited by sblock; Feb-09-2018 at 3:09pm.

  5. #5
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tuning Issue

    Your strings are sticking somewhere. When you pick them, the resultant vibration loosens the constriction that's holding them, the tension along the entire string length equalizes, and they go sharp/flat/whatever. The "jumping" in pitch when you tune the A string also indicates that the string's sticking, then releasing as you increase the tension on the part of the string between nut and tuners, by continuing to rotate the peg.

    Most likely place is still the nut slots. The graphite lubrication may not have been adequate to overcome the problem, and the slots may need to be re-cut. That's a job for a pro.

    Bridge saddle slots are seldom deep enough to grab the string, though it's not unheard of.

    There also could be a tailpiece issue, as Jim details above. I've not heard of string loop windings getting trapped inside the tailpiece, but it's surely a possibility.

    This is the point where I take my instruments to an experienced repair person. You've tried a number of expedients that haven't solved the issue, so perhaps a "wiser head" should be consulted?
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  6. #6

    Default Re: Tuning Issue

    Quote Originally Posted by dhergert View Post
    Cliff, what kind of mandolin is this happening with?
    It's happening with my Kentucky 272. It's always been a problem, but now it's virtually unplayable. I am almost dead certain it is an issue with the cheap Golden Gate tuners it came with. It has been doing this since the beginning but after a few tries, I could get it to stabilize, but now it's unplayable. I believe there is a flaw in either the cog or worm gears. I know that is unusual, but what happens is when I tune them, they get steadily closer to the note then will suddenly go sharp and I have to back off and do it again. Usually several times til it stabilizes. This only happens on the A strings.

    Jim, I am sure it's not something in the tailpiece catching. I have a one piece AXL tailpiece. The loop goes over a post and makes no contact with the tailpiece apart from the post.

    I have Rubner tuning machine replacements coming, and they should get here on Tuesday. But I am wondering if anything besides the tuners could be the culprit or making it worse.

  7. #7

    Default Re: Tuning Issue

    I'm going to put on some spare light As and see if that helps. Maybe the thinner strings will clear the nut better. If so, then I know what to do next.

  8. #8
    Registered User Ky Slim's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tuning Issue

    As others have said, binding at the nut is what this sounds like. When you tune try to make sure you tune up to the pitch from just flat. If you miss the pitch and the tuner reads sharp, don't back down into pitch. Turn it back down and go flat of "in tune" and then try to come back up into the pitch again. Twist up into pitch from flat.

  9. #9
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    Default Re: Tuning Issue

    You can sometimes tell if the unwound strings are sticking in the nut by loosening them a little bit and trying to gently lift them out of the slot. If you feel a little "catch" as they come out, the slot is pinching them.

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  11. #10
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    Default Re: Tuning Issue

    Quote Originally Posted by Cliff Seruntine View Post
    It's happening with my Kentucky 272. It's always been a problem, but now it's virtually unplayable. I am almost dead certain it is an issue with the cheap Golden Gate tuners it came with. It has been doing this since the beginning but after a few tries, I could get it to stabilize, but now it's unplayable. I believe there is a flaw in either the cog or worm gears. I know that is unusual, but what happens is when I tune them, they get steadily closer to the note then will suddenly go sharp and I have to back off and do it again. Usually several times til it stabilizes. This only happens on the A strings.

    Jim, I am sure it's not something in the tailpiece catching. I have a one piece AXL tailpiece. The loop goes over a post and makes no contact with the tailpiece apart from the post.

    I have Rubner tuning machine replacements coming, and they should get here on Tuesday. But I am wondering if anything besides the tuners could be the culprit or making it worse.
    I could be wrong, but this does not sound like a tuner problem to me, at all. Slipping tuners typically drop the pitch dramatically when they skip a gear position. Bad tuners might, in rare cases, drop the pitch slightly, or get hard to turn, with a mis-cut worm or poor alignment. But I have never, ever, had a tuner RAISE the pitch of a note suddenly.

    Instead, the pitch gets suddenly raised when a string binds lightly in the nut slot. You then turn the tuner slightly to increase the pitch (always tuning from below, as usual), but at first, no change in the note happens, because the tension in the string between the nut and bridge is unaltered, due to the binding. Instead, only the string tension between the tuning peg and nut has been increased! Then, with just a tiny bit more turning of the tuner button, the binding at the nut suddenly gives way, causing the string to slip, at which point the tension above and below the nut suddenly equilibrates. At that point, the note goes abruptly sharp -- much more than expected from the tiny twist you've just given to the tuner knob.

    To me, that seems to be exactly what you are describing. No?

    Putting some Rubner tuners on a Kentucky 272 (a low-end, budget mandolin that sells for only $350) is total overkill, in my opinion. Furthermore, those "cheap" Golden Gate tuners are pretty darned good, as a rule, if you ask me. Based on what you've described, I doubt that changing out the tuners is going to do it for you. But just a bit of attention to the nut might work wonders! These sorts of inexpensive mandolins usually come out of the factory with a rather poor setup, including badly cut nuts. (Did you get a professional set-up after you bought your mandolin, or with the purchase? That's the usual advice here on the MC!) But they do not typically come with bad tuners.

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  13. #11
    Mangler of Tunes OneChordTrick's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tuning Issue

    I’d also recommend that you only change one thing at a time. I.e. strings, tuners, file nut etc.. otherwise you’ll fix the problem but not know the cause!

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  15. #12
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    Default Re: Tuning Issue

    Quote Originally Posted by OneChordTrick View Post
    I’d also recommend that you only change one thing at a time. I.e. strings, tuners, file nut etc.. otherwise you’ll fix the problem but not know the cause!
    Yes! Make sure your nut slots are properly cut and lubricated BEFORE replacing the tuners. Or the strings.

  16. #13
    Chu Dat Frawg Eric C.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: Tuning Issue

    Those tuners are fine on the 272's.
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  17. #14

    Default Re: Tuning Issue

    The companies that sell tuners are almost the only people advocating changing them out to solve tuning issues. Every luthier I've ever
    asked points to the nut first. I'd advocate getting some nut files. You can just file a bit to clean up the slot. Often this is all you need to do. If that results in the slot being too low, it is easy to fill the slot with bone dust and a drop of superglue and start over with a new slot.

    I had a buzz on an e string on one of my guitars. That turned out to be a nut slot issue too. If you have eight or ten string instruments, nut files make sense.

    There are plenty of good reasons to change tuners, looks and feel being high on the list, but most issues are with the string contact points.
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  18. #15
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    Default Re: Tuning Issue

    Tune your A string and press the string above the nut, does it go back to where it was after you release it or does it stay sharper because you pressed down on the string. If it stays sharp your nut slot is sticking, if it goes back you may have a tuner issue.
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  19. #16
    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tuning Issue

    This is where I jump in and say the word mandolin means out of tune in Italian. Carry on.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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  21. #17
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    Default Re: Tuning Issue

    Problem strings on a mandolin? (A) G (B) D (C) B (D) E (E) ALL

  22. #18
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tuning Issue

    Quote Originally Posted by Doug Goodhill View Post
    Problem strings on a mandolin? (A) G (B) D (C) B (D) E (E) ALL
    So, you tune your mandolin GDBE?

    Where I come from, pardner, that's called a guitar (except you've reversed the G and D)...
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  23. #19

    Default Re: Tuning Issue

    First of all, my wife says you're all terrible people She had a day out planned for us and because of your helpful advice, I spent the afternoon fixing the problem.

    The problem was, in fact, the bone nut. Upon closer inspection, I could see the slots had been cut to good string height, but maybe to save time, the factory or whoever else set it up had never properly ground down the AA and EE side of the nut. Strings GG and DD were in a good place, but AA and EE were down in deep slots.

    Easy fix. This isn't the first bone I've carved or shaped bone. I made some Roman plectrums last month out of some left over bone from my last deer harvest, so I just stuck some medium-fine grain sandpaper to a bit of smooth steel for a tiny sanding block and spent an hour reshaping it to something more correct. Tunes up just fine now.

    Thanks all!

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  25. #20
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    Default Re: Tuning Issue

    Told ya so! Anyway, glad to learn it's fixed, and that the fix was so easy!

  26. #21
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    Default Re: Tuning Issue

    P.S. If I were you, I'd save those Rubner tuners for your next, even better-sounding, mandolin. MAS will strike sooner or later. We all get it, and the only question is how serious the case is.

  27. #22

    Default Re: Tuning Issue

    Quote Originally Posted by sblock View Post
    P.S. If I were you, I'd save those Rubner tuners for your next, even better-sounding, mandolin. MAS will strike sooner or later. We all get it, and the only question is how serious the case is.
    Funny you should say that. I would like to eventually relegate the Kentucky 272 to a backup instrument, but the truth is, I haven't found anything I like better yet, at least not among Eastmans, Gold Tones and antique Gibsons and Martins I've gotten to try. But I love flat tops and I am seriously debating between either a Red Valley wide body or a Big Muddy jumbo. These are both flat tops, which I don't mind. My octave mandolin is a Garrison flat top and I love the thing. And someone once told me you can spend thousands on a fair arch top or about a thousand on an extremely good flat top. I'm not rich, so about a thousand for an extremely good flat top sounds like a good move to me.

    Anyway, the Red Valley comes with both a great one piece tailpiece and Rubner tuners. My impression of the Red Valley vs the Big Muddy is they are both very good mandolins though the RV has a more refined finish. I would expect no less from a luthier who trained with Dusty Strings.

    Anyway, some people like suping up cars. I like to take an instrument with potential and bring out it's best. The tone and playability of the 272 is so nice I figure it's worth the tuners.

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