Sure, the guitar is a very accessible instrument. And you can get both great acoustic and electric guitars for cheap. But at the same time, every guitar is a product of a well-conceived design. Each one is more complex than you might think – a sum of all of its parts, including its metal hardware. But while we’re at hardware, have you ever wondered how tight should guitar tuners be?
Although we’ll always focus on the wood and electronics, metal hardware is as important as anything else on a guitar. Every single piece should be in perfect order if you want your instrument to feel and sound good. This also includes tuning machines.
As to the tightness, I have to disappoint you a little – there’s no concrete and definitive answer to this. I’m not sure if anyone did thorough research on the topic.
A tuner should be tight enough so that when you turn them, the string responds. There shouldn’t be loose “empty spots” when you turn them. On the other hand, it shouldn’t be too tight that it feels uncomfortable to turn it.
Either way, this topic deserves a deeper look into the matter. Tuners are extremely important for your tone and performance, although they’re often overlooked.
Table of Contents
Determining Appropriate Tightness
I know that this won’t exactly be the answer that you’re looking for. But tuners shouldn’t be loose nor too tight. You pretty much do a rough estimate by turning the tuning pegs. That’s all there is to it.
However, when turning the peg, there should be some resistance to it. There shouldn’t be any feeling of looseness. The string should respond almost immediately both to tuning up and down.
Additionally, the tuner must stay in place when you turn it and leave it. If you notice that it loosens up, then there’s definitely an issue. This is, of course, extremely harmful to your performance and the tuner should be tightened. You can check this more thoroughly by using a regular guitar tuner.
Another thing to know is that there absolutely shouldn’t be any rattling noises involved. If you pick a string and hear some rattling from the headstock and the tuning machines, then at least one of them is loose. Find the note where it rattles, play it repeatedly, and touch each of the tuners. If the rattling stops after touching a particular tuning peg, you’ve found the culprit!
At the same time, tuning machines shouldn’t be too tight either. I mentioned that there should be some minor resistance to it. But if you feel like they’re hard to turn and you’re using a normal string gauge and tuning for your guitar, then they need to be loosened.
How Do I Tighten (or Loosen) Guitar Tuners?
What’s good about guitars is that you can do all of the basic adjustments by yourself. With proper tools and some patience, you can set up the instrument the way it works for you. This also goes for tuners.
There are different types of tuners. But the most common ones these days are closed-back ones. Most of the tuners also have screws right at the top of the button. For those who are not familiar, the “button” is the part that you hold and turn to tighten or loosen the string. This particular screw is what you’ll need to adjust. Bear in mind that it’s most often a Phillips-head screwdriver.
But first, you should loosen or take the string off. Then take an appropriate screwdriver and tighten the button. However, take care not to damage the plastic washer that sits right below the button. This means that the button should just be “snug” rather than really tight.
You should also take a look at the bushing of each tuner. They’re located at the bottom of the cylinder (which is where the strings are wound). Use an appropriately-sized wrench (usually 10mm) and check whether it’s not loose. However, it shouldn’t be too tight as you can damage the wood.
What you should also check are the mounting screws. These keep the tuners in place and mounted on the headstock. But compared to other components that I mentioned here, these should be pretty tight.
Open-Gear Guitar Tuners
Some guitars still come with old-school open-gear tuning machines. We could spend some time talking about whether these are better or not, but this all comes down to personal preferences.
These come with screws on the back. This screw holds the gear which is connected to the pole that holds the string on the other side of the headstock. You’ll have to check this screw. And you also have the mounting screw, which is adjusted the same way as with closed-back tuners.
Most of them also have the screw at the top of the button. It’s adjusted the same way as described above.
Don’t Ever Overtighten Any of the Parts
I couldn’t stress how important it is not to overtighten any of the screws and washers. Firstly, we have plastic washers on tuning machines. You can damage them and then you’ll have a hard time finding a way to replace them. And you don’t want to go out there looking for this specific tuning machine to match the rest on your guitar. Or, you’ll even have to replace all of them.
Additionally, you can damage the wood. And we all know how difficult it would be to repair that. You don’t want to ruin your precious instrument’s headstock just because you thought that washers aren’t too tight.
Apply modest pressure whenever you’re tightening any of the parts. Just make sure that things aren’t loose and that everything is working the way it should. Check whether the strings aren’t detuning on their own or whether they’re still loose and making unwanted noise.
What Other Parts Affect My Guitar’s Tuning?
If your instrument is having trouble staying in tune, there’s actually a chance that it’s not because of faulty tuning machines. In fact, plenty of different components and even design traits can impact tuning stability. Therefore, it’s extremely important to find where the “weak spot” is and not just decide to replace all tuners even if they’re actually working fine.
These are the components and reasons that may impact your tuning stability, aside from faulty tuning machines.
The nut is the first place to look into after the tuners. If the string slots are either too wide or too narrow for the strings, then you’ll experience tuning issues. Narrow slots may put more pressure on the string and cause it not to respond to what you’re doing with your tuner, or they’ll even help break a string. A nut can either be modified or replaced, but I’d advise that you consult a luthier for that.
Angled headstocks, like those on Gibson guitars, can be tricky with third and fourth strings. Making this “V” shape, along with the headstocks angled position, there’s a lot of pressure on them, which impacts the tuning stability. There are some methods how you can fix this issue.
Bridge and Its Components
A faulty bridge or its components can also be tricky. If the saddle is broken, or if some of its screws, you’ll have a really hard time playing that instrument in tune.
Electric guitar bridges come with different adjustable components. These not only help you adjust the string action but intonation as well. Bad intonation will give a note that’s slightly off somewhere in the higher frets. Strings might be in tune in the first five frets, but it changes drastically as you move up. This could trick you into thinking that you have faulty components on your guitar.
Frets that are in poor condition can also affect intonation. You can read more about that here.
Humidity and Temperature
Both humidity and temperature affect your instrument in many ways. Extremely arid or humid areas can even harm your instrument altogether. The same can be said about low and high temperatures.
Whether you’re on a stage or at a studio or home, if the air suddenly gets hot or cold, it will reflect on your strings. It’s not uncommon for stage lighting and their high temperature to affect your strings, causing them to loosen up. Unfortunately, you’ll have to deal with this by constantly tuning your instrument.
If your strings are old, or just bad, they’ll have a hard time keeping their tension. Restring your guitar when needed and make sure to go with string brands that work for you.
It may be hard for one to admit this, but your playing technique might just be poor. Pressing strings too hard is not uncommon for lesser-skilled players. Additionally, poorly executed string bends and vibratos will make it seem as if the guitar is completely out of tune.
This is why we all need to practice regularly. If you feel like your guitar’s tuning isn’t stable, try and bring someone more experienced to play it. You might just be pressing strings too hard.