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Thread: A-strings constantly going out of tune

  1. #1

    Default A-strings constantly going out of tune

    Hi
    I have a Rozini RB22AT-LP Brazilian Mandolin (Bandolim).
    I've had it for about two years, sometimes playing more, sometimes less.
    One of the main reasons for this is the fact that the A-strings almost always go out of tune very quickly.
    This is quite weird, since the other strings are a lot more stable.
    Another weird thing - the strings don't only go flat, but actually sometimes go sharp.
    This seems to be more extreme in Air-conditioned rooms (sometimes to the point that the string goes out of tune after less than one minute!)
    I would suspect the wood (since this is a quite standard assembly-line instrument, not exactly made by hand by a luthier), but this doesn't explain why the other strings stay in tune much longer.
    I've tried 4 different makes of strings, but this happens with all of them. I've played around with the tuning machines to make them tighter, but this didn't help either.
    Any help or suggestion on how to solve this would be greatly appreciated - I would really love to play the mandolin more, but this is really quite annoying, and I don't think I can afford to buy a better one at the moment.
    Thanks in advance,
    Dave

  2. #2
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    Default Re: A-strings constantly going out of tune

    Dave, welcome to the cafe. Tune the instrument up using a good tuner. Now press on the strings sets one at a time between the nut and the tuner and watch to see if they go sharp and return to pitch. I would guess the A strings go sharp and stay sharp. If they do that, they are binding in the nut and filing the nut should help.
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  3. #3
    high strung gfury's Avatar
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    Default Re: A-strings constantly going out of tune

    I had a similar issue on a Kentucky mando. The A strings were very finicky. I lubricated the nut slots with some graphite powder and the stability improved immensely.
    Greg Fury

  4. #4
    Registered User Charles E.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: A-strings constantly going out of tune

    Welcome to the club, A strings constantly drive me crazy.
    Charley

    A bunch of stuff with four strings

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    Default Re: A-strings constantly going out of tune

    I agree with the recommendations for graphite ( the black part of the pencil) in the nut groove, or perhaps replacing the nut itself, the tuner could be loose or even the bridge and or tail (probably not the tail) could be factors. Worth having someone even with basic guitar mending skills give it a once over. But as Charles E said, this is a mandolin we are talking about.
    Use a tuner, tuning forks are great but take a bit of a trained ear, I like the new Fishmans over the Snarks
    the 7th fret of the G should be the same as the open D
    the 7th fret of the D should be the same as the open A
    the 7th fret of the A should be the same as open E
    the open and 12th frets should sound alike
    the 7th fret harmonic on the G sounds the same as the 12th fret harmonic on the D
    the 7th fret harmonic in the D sounds the same as the 12th fret harmonic on the A
    the 7th fret harmonic on the A sounds the same as the 12 fret harmonic on the E
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  7. #6

    Default Re: A-strings constantly going out of tune

    Thanks everyone!
    I'm giving the pencil trick a try, so far it's looking comparatively stable...

  8. #7
    Registered User Sue Rieter's Avatar
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    Default Re: A-strings constantly going out of tune

    I've developed A string problems on my new Morris flat top. I take out the mandolin, they are flat. It takes more turning than I feel like it should to tune them up, then after I play awhile, they are super sharp. Mostly between about the 2nd or 3rd fret and the 8th or 9th fret. I tried Pops1 suggestion above, pressing between the nut and tuner. They sometimes (but not always) go sharp and stay sharp. It does seem like they might be binding. I haven't tried the graphite yet, but I will. I kind of hate to put black stuff on a white nut, but I guess sounding good trumps looking good.

    Referring to my Rob Meldrum setup book, the nut slots for the A and E strings look pretty deep to me ("like the Grand Canyon" Rob says), but I have a hard time believing the nut would be wrong brand new from the builder.

    I'll try the graphite and see what happens.

  9. #8
    Registered User Tom Wright's Avatar
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    Default Re: A-strings constantly going out of tune

    Quote Originally Posted by Sue Rieter View Post
    I've developed A string problems on my new Morris flat top. I take out the mandolin, they are flat. It takes more turning than I feel like it should to tune them up, then after I play awhile, they are super sharp. Mostly between about the 2nd or 3rd fret and the 8th or 9th fret. I tried Pops1 suggestion above, pressing between the nut and tuner. They sometimes (but not always) go sharp and stay sharp. It does seem like they might be binding. I haven't tried the graphite yet, but I will. I kind of hate to put black stuff on a white nut, but I guess sounding good trumps looking good.

    Referring to my Rob Meldrum setup book, the nut slots for the A and E strings look pretty deep to me ("like the Grand Canyon" Rob says), but I have a hard time believing the nut would be wrong brand new from the builder.

    I'll try the graphite and see what happens.
    Instead of graphite look for a tube of powdered Teflon. But going sharp can be because you generate humidity, and the mandolin expands slightly.

    However, differential intonation across frets implies other issues. Builders often leave strings a bit high at the nut, which allows you to sneak up on perfection. Also, slots can wear and deepen, so better to start off high.

    Nut too high will play sharp on the low frets. Too much distance from nut to first fret throws intonation off, as well. I have had to shorten this on three mandolins, and I understand some makers (Taylor) shorten this distance to less than the straight mathematical location. Doing that makes the nut less of an issue.
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    Registered User Kevin K's Avatar
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    Default Re: A-strings constantly going out of tune

    Would this work Tom?
    https://www.lowes.com/pd/Hillman-Gra...ricant/1244381

    or this ...

    https://www.oreillyauto.com/detail/b...4776625?pos=19




    Quote Originally Posted by Tom Wright View Post
    Instead of graphite look for a tube of powdered Teflon. But going sharp can be because you generate humidity, and the mandolin expands slightly.

    However, differential intonation across frets implies other issues. Builders often leave strings a bit high at the nut, which allows you to sneak up on perfection. Also, slots can wear and deepen, so better to start off high.

    Nut too high will play sharp on the low frets. Too much distance from nut to first fret throws intonation off, as well. I have had to shorten this on three mandolins, and I understand some makers (Taylor) shorten this distance to less than the straight mathematical location. Doing that makes the nut less of an issue.
    Last edited by Kevin K; Oct-15-2020 at 8:39am.
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    Registered User Sue Rieter's Avatar
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    Default Re: A-strings constantly going out of tune

    Kevin, those tubes of graphite are black. That's probably what I would try vs. a pencil. But the idea of the teflon that Tom suggested is that it is not black, which could discolor the nut. We have some liquid teflon, but I am not going to try that because I am worried that the carrier would affect the finish. I'm going to look for dry teflon, and see what that does, then think about the rest of what Tom said re: the nut too high.

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    Default Re: A-strings constantly going out of tune

    It may be too tight, binding on the sides. Sometimes I will take a larger file than the string size and file the slot to where the string would sit in a trough about 1/3 the diameter of the string. Keeps the sides from binding in a deep slot and is quick and easy. Someone with files could do it for you in a minute or two, wouldn't even have to detune it. Putting in a lubricant to ease movement won't stop the binding if that is what it is, and usually in deep slots that is what it is.
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    Registered User John Flynn's Avatar
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    Default Re: A-strings constantly going out of tune

    Maybe someone said this, but I didn't see it and I am surprised how many players don't know this: Always tune upwards. If the string is flat, tune it up to pitch, but if it is sharp, tune it flat and then go back up again. It makes a difference, especially if you are have nut slot issues.

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  17. #13
    Registered User Sue Rieter's Avatar
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    Default Re: A-strings constantly going out of tune

    Quote Originally Posted by pops1 View Post
    It may be too tight, binding on the sides. Sometimes I will take a larger file than the string size and file the slot to where the string would sit in a trough about 1/3 the diameter of the string. Keeps the sides from binding in a deep slot and is quick and easy. Someone with files could do it for you in a minute or two, wouldn't even have to detune it. Putting in a lubricant to ease movement won't stop the binding if that is what it is, and usually in deep slots that is what it is.
    So, you're saying you widen it out almost all the way to the bottom but not quite?

    The strings that came on it are stewmac medium 11 14 26 39. If I changed to lighter strings later, would it have any impact on any filing that I had already done?

    John, I do know to tune up as you said (and always do so), but appreciate the mention.

    Sue

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    Default Re: A-strings constantly going out of tune

    you could try lighter strings and see if they still bind in the slot. If you have done some filing then you have files and yes widen it out almost to the bottom to give the sides clearance. If you visualize how the string is supposed to sit in the slot with only 1/3-1/2 diameter of the string in the slot, you will file to achieve that but aren't spending all the time to remove the nut and file the top down so your strings aren't sitting deep in a slot. They will still be deep, but have clearance on the sides.
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    Default Re: A-strings constantly going out of tune

    I have the same issue on a 1919 Gibson A2 mandolin. I'll give the graphite powder a try.

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    Default Re: A-strings constantly going out of tune

    Big Bends Nut Sauce works for nut and saddle.

    https://www.sweetwater.com/store/det...ning-lubricant

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  23. #17
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    Default Re: A-strings constantly going out of tune

    Quote Originally Posted by Hockey Puck View Post
    Big Bends Nut Sauce works for nut and saddle.

    https://www.sweetwater.com/store/det...ning-lubricant
    I wonder what it is?

    I am going to try in order of easiest to hardest, least likely to work to most likely to work: powdered teflon, lighter strings, messing around with files.

  24. #18
    Registered User John Flynn's Avatar
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    Default Re: A-strings constantly going out of tune

    Quote Originally Posted by Hockey Puck View Post
    Big Bends Nut Sauce works for nut and saddle.

    https://www.sweetwater.com/store/det...ning-lubricant
    +1 for Nut Sauce. I use it every string change.

  25. #19
    The Amateur Mandolinist Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: A-strings constantly going out of tune

    Sue, you've noticed that pressing the strings between tuners & nut does affect the pitch noticeably, per your post (#7) above. So, more than lubricant (graphite, etc.), what you really need is to widen the slots just a little. I do use graphite as I care about play-ability and function way more than about nut discoloration, but I don't see it as a means to correct a string-binding problem. I file to correct a string-binding problem, and pops1 is giving good advice.

    Theoretically, if you cut the slots way too wide you can cause other problems. But if just enough to prevent your medium A strings from binding, it should not be so loose a slot as to make the light set A strings buzz. As already suggested, if you are thinking about using light gauge strings, then maybe go ahead and try them first before fussing with the nut. OTOH, if you stick with medium gauge, you should think about gently widening the A slots to cure the problem.

    I suffered a couple years with crazy A strings until I finally knew for sure that they were still binding at the nut. Widening the slots solved the problem.
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    Default Re: A-strings constantly going out of tune

    Mark, I'm pretty confident you and Pops1 are right; I'm just really nervous about messing with the nut. I have to work myself up to it. It's the causing of "other problems" that concerns me on a brandy new mandolin. I did okay with the bridge on my Kentucky, though, so once I set my mind to it....

    I have a Harbor Freight needle file set and feeler gauges which I can modify per Rob M's book, but I am not sure any of them are the best way to go. Except possibly the tapered round one, the files don't look thin enough. And I think Rob's modified feeler gauges are more suited for making the slots deeper than widening them out. The nut is made out of bone.

    I already ordered in the teflon before pops1 weighed in, so I'm going to read the old threads on this topic while I wait. I guess it (teflon) probably won't work, but what the heck.

    Good thing I have other mandolin(s) to play in the mean time

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    Default Re: A-strings constantly going out of tune

    Teflon won’t hurt, and it could help. I used the HF diamond files on mine, but could only work the tip on those slots - and I did from tuner side of the nut, where it doesn’t hurt (and can actually help) to bell out the slot some in the back. But be careful, and only do what you are comfortable doing!
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  29. #22

    Default Re: A-strings constantly going out of tune

    I don't know about the cause of the issue. However, if you later decide
    to fill in the slot to make it shallower (as someone suggested in a different
    thread) I think it would not be good to contaminate the slot with lubricant.
    Thanks,
    sounds_good

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    Default Re: A-strings constantly going out of tune

    Sue, the tapered files are used for violin slots, so it would work. Remember you don't want to file to the bottom of the slot, so it can be much wider than the string, as long as the string is still sitting in the original slot. You are looking to stop the sides from rubbing. Another way to accomplish this is to remove material from the top of the nut and reshape it. You won't have to file the slots, take the nut down so only half the string sits in the slot. It's more work, but the way it should have been done. Wound strings will sit half in the slot, plain strings are a little finickier. If you have the feeler gauges try using one that is a couple thousands bigger than the A string and simply, gently, widen the slot, try not to really go deeper unless it is high off the fret and you would like it to play better. If you worked on the bridge I am sure if you go slow and are careful you will do just fine.
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  32. #24
    Registered User Sue Rieter's Avatar
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    Default Re: A-strings constantly going out of tune

    Quote Originally Posted by pops1 View Post
    Sue, the tapered files are used for violin slots, so it would work. Remember you don't want to file to the bottom of the slot, so it can be much wider than the string, as long as the string is still sitting in the original slot. You are looking to stop the sides from rubbing. Another way to accomplish this is to remove material from the top of the nut and reshape it. You won't have to file the slots, take the nut down so only half the string sits in the slot. It's more work, but the way it should have been done. Wound strings will sit half in the slot, plain strings are a little finickier. If you have the feeler gauges try using one that is a couple thousands bigger than the A string and simply, gently, widen the slot, try not to really go deeper unless it is high off the fret and you would like it to play better. If you worked on the bridge I am sure if you go slow and are careful you will do just fine.
    I appreciate the vote of confidence.

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    Registered User Cobalt's Avatar
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    Default Re: A-strings constantly going out of tune

    Quote Originally Posted by John Flynn View Post
    Maybe someone said this, but I didn't see it and I am surprised how many players don't know this: Always tune upwards. If the string is flat, tune it up to pitch, but if it is sharp, tune it flat and then go back up again. It makes a difference, especially if you are have nut slot issues.
    Yes. I find I especially have to do this with the E strings, though it applies to all. When I've left the instrument overnight or longer, the strings tend to grip the nut slots more stubbornly. I often find a turn of the tuner to slacken the string results in a little "click" sound. That sound is the string where it was lodged tight in the nut slot suddenly releasing. Because I'm reducing the tension, no harm results. Once released, the string will slide in the slot as I tune it back up.

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