Now, we know that strings stretch. In other words, they’re unable to maintain their tension over long periods of time. Therefore, they simply go out of tune at a lower pitch. But, what would happen if you were to find out they’re actually at a higher pitch, would that be a surprise? If so, we’ve prepared a little treat for you today, an article in which we’ll try to answer the following question: why does my guitar go sharp?

So, why do guitar strings gain or lose tension? What causes them to do so? You’re minutes away from finding out. Also, we’ll try to cover other guitar tuning issues along the way. All in all: do your best to stay tuned for some useful info!

One of the most common reasons why your guitar goes sharp lies in the fact you’ve stored it in humid conditions, prone to changes in temperature. Also, the sharp intonation might be a sign that you need a new set of strings. Or, you need to lower the action. Lastly, maybe you’ve set your tuning machines way too tight. 

Reading just the snipper ain’t much of a sharp decision. You’re better off reading the whole thing!

Table of Contents

What does it mean when a guitar goes sharp?

Before we introduce you to the answer to the conundrum, it’s best that we first consider what it means exactly when a guitar goes sharp. Also, are you wondering what do folks mean when they say a guitar (string) has gone flat? Let’s find out!

First things first, know that it’s your strings that go sharp (or flat), not your whole guitar. Sorry if that was too obvious of a statement. Anyway, most guitarists have faced the issue of their strings going either sharp or flat. So, what does that mean?

Here’s the thing: once a guitar string reads too sharp, that should mean that it’s too tight. In other words, that means that the note’s too high. On the other hand, if the string reads too flat, that should signalize that it’s too loose. Or, we can simply say that the note’s too low. Sounds pretty straightforward, doesn’t it?

Now that we’ve dealt with the basic terms, let’s jump straight to the main question: why does my guitar go sharp? Once we’ve tackled that one, too, we’ll introduce you to some other related, yet useful pieces of info. Don’t go anywhere!

Two guitar models with sharp strings.

Why does my guitar go sharp?

Needless to say, there are a number of reasons why your trusty guitar might go sharp. Here we’ll consider most of them. There’s a good chance that at least one of the issues we’ll mention has something to do with the problem you’re dealing with. So, yeah, prick up your ears!

If your guitar’s made out of real wood, the main suspect you should be pointing the finger at is the humidity. Also, we don’t want to forget regular temperature changes. Here’s the thing: the wood of your instrument will expand and contract with changes in temperature, humidity, and overall conditions inside the storage area. Now, as we’re sure you know, your instrument’s truss rod (speaking of which, here’s how long of a truss rod you’ll need) does its best to keep your neck at the right angle relative to the guitar body. However, it’s not perfect since a slight movement of the neck backward will result in your guitar strings going sharp enough for you to notice the issue.

Don’t believe us? Try it out for yourself. Simply play the open strings while pushing on the headstock in different directions. You’ll notice the difference pretty easily. Just don’t push too hard, as that won’t do you any good (we don’t want to be responsible for a faulty guitar headstock).

What about the strings?

Also, another thing: once you’re playing your instrument, your strings tend to get warmer thanks to all the friction & heat that your fingers produce. Therefore, once you store your instrument ideally tuned, the sudden & unavoidable drop in temperature will result in the shrinking of the strings. That way, they’ll most probably increase in tension and go sharp.

Some folks note that your strings might go sharp thanks to the way they’re wound. For instance, they say, unwound strings are especially prone to slippiness if they’re not wound properly. However, other guitarists counter this by saying this would make your instrument sound lower rather than higher.

Lastly, let’s just say that experiencing high string tension might be due to the fact your strings are too old. Therefore, it’s kinda obvious what should be done.

Other possible reasons

Here we’ll share with you other possible reasons behind your strings going sharp. So, shall we begin?

  • You’re dealing with tight tuners. That’s right if you’ve set your tunning machines way too much on the tight side, they’ll most probably twist back against the string tension, pulling them sharp. Keep in mind that this most probably isn’t the issue, but check it out nevertheless. Oh, and speaking of tuners, here’s whether you need locking tuners with a locking nut.
  • It’s the neck arching. Did you set up your truss rod for a heaving gauge, but you’ve recently transferred to a lighter set? If so, there’s a chance that such action causes your strings to go sharp.
  • You’ve got some bridge issues. If none of the above answers makes sense, you’ll want to ensure that your saddles aren’t slipping.

Okay, so now that we’ve considered why’s this issue appearing, let’s see how you’re able to deal with it! In other words, we’ll check out the X ways you might be able to fix your guitar strings once they go sharp. Stick around!

How to fix sharp guitar intonation?

First things first, let’s talk about the necessary equipment you’re going to need from most of the tips we’ll share with you below. Anyway, here’s what you’ll want to obtain:

  • A brand-new string set.
  • A guitar set-up kit that includes a precision ruler, a capo, and some feeler gauges.
  • A hex key. 
  • A screwdriver.
  • A guitar tuner. 

Got everything ready? If so, let’s begin!

#1 Replace your strings

Now, before you do anything else, it’s best you first take care of the obvious. Therefore, you’ll want to replace your old set of strings with a new one (here’s a popular suggestion). Here’s the thing: old guitar strings are one of the most popular causes of either sharp or flat intonation. This is due to the fact that they lose tension over time, and the quality of the sound they produce becomes damaged because of all the dirt & grime buildup (clean your strings after each session).

All in all: try replacing your strings first. If that doesn’t work out, we’ve got other suggestions to share.

#2 Change your playing technique

Maybe your finger placement on the fret is all wrong? That’s right. Bad finger placement might cause your strings to go sharp. That being said, you’ll want to keep your fingers closer to the center of the fret while you’re playing. There’s a saying that goes: the further away from the center you place your fingers, the sharper your sound will be. 

Also, you should keep in mind that beginner guitarists seem to press the strings too hard while they play. That will mess with your intonation. So, yeah, if you might want to be gentler in your approach by practicing and improving your technique.

#3 Opt for different (heavier) gauge strings

Usually, lighter gauge strings are able to cause some issues with your intonation. Especially, if we’re talking about cheaper guitar models. Now, if you’re wondering whether expensive guitars stay in tune better than their more affordable counterparts, click right here. Anyway, to continue: a beginner guitarist will typically “sport” a light gauge setting (a set of 7s or 8), while you should try using a set of 9s or 10s in order to check whether that will fix the issue.

Now, don’t worry about using heavier gauge strings, as your fingers will quickly adapt and become stronger. Come to think of it, if you’re having some issues with thumb pain while playing, here’s an article that might help you out.

#4 Lower your action

Do you know that very high action (it’s when your strings are a bit far away from the fretboard) is another popular reason why you get sharp intonation? Now that you do, let’s see how you can handle the issue.

If you’re sporting a Tune-O-Matic bridge, you’ll simply need to use a screwdriver to raise or lower the saddle. As for the others, you’ll need to use a hex key. The latter, Fender-style bridges will demand you modify each saddle on its own, while Tune-O-Matic bridges will only require you to modify each of the sides of the bridge.

In order to set your action, place the cap on the first fret. Once that’s over, measure the distance between the bottom of the string and the seventeenth fret, as it will need to be around 2 millimeters. Don’t lower the action too much. Otherwise, you might cause your strings to buzz. Speaking of which, here’s whether a guitar nut can cause buzzing.

Final thoughts

Alright, dear music-loving folks, that’s about all we’ve prepared for today concerning the topic of why your guitar goes sharp. If you’re on the lookout for more interesting tips & info concerning your favorite (string) instrument, we kindly recommend you visit this page.