Have you ever been in a situation where all of a sudden guitar refuses to get in tune? No matter what you do, chords still sound badly detuned. Even though the tuner shows green light, ear says the tuning just isn’t right. We want to share the coolest tuning tip ever and it is guaranteed not only to help you with tuning but also to save money on strings.
Half a studio day tuning
Numerous times we have bumped into the problem of tuning. Guitar tuning to be exact or actually the opposite; impossible to tune the guitar. We recall few sessions where we literally spent half a studio day just tuning the guitar. Now that must be one of the worst ways to spend expensive studio time, but what can you do if the guitar refuses to get in tune.
Once during a Norther album recording at Astia-studio we had huge guitar tuning problems. No matter what, we couldn’t make the guitars to get in tune. We even suspected the upcoming thunderstorm to be the cause. It was truly frustrating!
–Kristian Ranta / Norther
Yes, we’ve blamed the weather and someone once mentioned something about being cursed, but let’s not get too superstitious. There always is a solution to every problem and on most cases it is down to earth, simple and logical.
The coolest tuning tip ever
During Ensiferum Two Paths album session, for reasons unknown to me, I felt I had to clean the guitar and bass strings using isopropyl alcohol. The same substance I use daily to clean the tape machine heads. I poured the liquid on a cloth, placed the cloth under a string, twisted the cloth tight around it and started pulling back and forth one string at time. Every string left a black stripe on the cloth.
…we bumped into a very common problem; getting guitars in tune wasn’t happening, until Anssi brought a bottle of isopropyl alcohol and used it to thoroughly clean the strings.
–Markus Toivonen / Ensiferum
The Two Paths album session was by far the easiest session ever when it comes to getting guitars in tune. Most of their axes have a locking-nut system to sustain the tuning. When in the morning we went to studio, warmed the string, cleaned them with isopropyl alcohol and checked the tuning, we didn’t have to touch the tuning knobs at all! Their guitars were all the time in perfect tuning and we didn’t encounter any tuning-related problems during the session.
On Two Paths we recorded all guitar parts of both Petri Lindroos and Markus Toivonen using just one set of strings. Petri said his strings were several months old and Markus changed his on the first day of the session. Thru-out the album recording strings sounded bright unlike on previous sessions where after few songs they seemed to become very dark and needed changing.
We instructed Finnish platinum-selling metal band from The Official Capital of Metal to try this. During their album session in both Astia-studio and SF Sound Studio they had less tuning problems compared to previous sessions and managed to use the strings at least twice as long. Seems like a definite win-win situation.
When to clean the strings?
When rehearsing and playing live, clean the strings before starting to play and after you finish. In studio it depends on how much dead skin falls off your fingers along with the amount of sweat and dirt. We recommend cleaning the strings every 30 minutes to 2 hours. Usually when you’ll notice that the guitar starts to sound detuned or refuses to get in tune. At the moment we haven’t found any negative side effects.
The same applies for bass and acoustic guitar. The first time you do this especially on an acoustic, you might hear a piercing squeal which goes away as the dirt gets off. This will lengthen the age of your strings and save money as you don’t have to change them as often. We like old strings on an acoustic guitar as new sometimes tend to be noisy during chord-changes.
We do not recommend pouring isopropyl alcohol on the fretboard or the body of the guitar. Please also note that isopropyl alcohol should not be digested in any way as it is lethal.
Why tuning is improved
When you play, dead cells, dirt and sweat falls off your fingers and sticks on the strings. Usually on the side of the fretboard where you can’t see it. When you tune with open strings the tuner says all is good. Once you play a chord, the black goo that’s stuck underneath the strings gets closer to frets, sometimes touching them and creating a harmonic that sounds detuned. Pretty simple, huh?
There are expensive liquids on the market, yet isopropyl alcohol is pretty cheap. It’s cheap and it is not drinkable. Drink it and you’ll die. Not recommended. We figured this out on an instinct and as the positive feedback started coming in, we had no choice but to share this tip with everyone. In Finland isopropyl alcohol is sold at pharmacy and the lint-free cloth we use is originally for cleaning a computer screen.
Get in tune
Once you start cleaning the strings your tuning will improve. You will save time in studio as your guitar won’t mysteriously refuse to get in tune. You’ll also save money as you don’t have to buy new strings all the time. How cool is that?
End of part one
Thank you for reading the first part of the coolest tuning tip ever. The 2nd part is coming soon with full comments from both Ensiferum and Stam1na members along with an instructional video on how to clean the strings. We are happy to share this information with you. Please read our other blog posts and stay tuned for more stories from the archives of Astia-studio. Thank you once again and all the very best!
Astia-studio is a full analog recording studio located in eastern Finland with 25 years of experience working with bands and artists from all over the world.