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The Fabled Les Paul/Gibson tuning issues?

jtees4

Member
Joined
Feb 26, 2010
Messages
209
I have been playing guitar since right around 1968 (10 years old). I often had tuning issues, with most of my guitars. I have recently figured out...that while I always complained and denied it....my tuning issues were in fact user error. I have finally figured out how to properly install strings and it has made a world of difference, especially on Gibsons and similar guitars. Don't know why it took me so long. Almost 60 and never too late to learn.
 

Ed Driscoll

Les Paul Forum Member
Joined
Apr 24, 2002
Messages
4,694
51q5KfOWI8L.jpg




I got this book when I was 11 or 12, had it longer than most anything else I own. It should come standard with beginner packs!



Although, come to find out, many folks don't start on beginner packs, nonetheless it answers/guides through so many questions...plus pretty pictures. If you don't have it and you don't know how do anything from basic wiring to beginner music theory to set-up's...it's a must. TBH, I don't even know if it's still in print.
I vividly remember buying the first edition of the Guitar Handbook in November of 1982 at the Moorestown Mall in New Jersey -- that book is the best gateway drug to becoming a player.

Both versions are pretty readily available at Amazon; I bought a used copy of the first edition a few years ago to replace my original copy, which was falling apart from heavy use over the years.
 

John Vasco

Well-known member
Joined
Jun 23, 2002
Messages
2,064
Somewhat late to the party, but for what it's worth, here's what I have posted on another forum:
"A badly cut nut is not, per se, a tuning problem. It is a badly cut nut problem. That needs to be addressed independently of anything else, either by having the slots cut correctly or the nut replaced. A nut problem

Ditto for tuners. All the tuner does is hold the string. If a tuner's gears are slipping, it is a TUNER problem, not a tuning problem. Replace the tuner with one that operates correctly. A tuner problem.

When nut and tuners are OK, the problem comes down to the individual person stabilising the tuning of the strings by making sure they go through the procedure to take all slack out of them. That is not done by tuning down and just reaching pitch. Just do that, and the guitar will go out of tune in a couple of minutes. The number of times I've seen people do that at jams and gigs... And then they lament that their guitar won't stay in tune..."

I also posted this:
"First of all, read this:
Tuning – the Guild of American Luthiers Data Sheet #45 | DrKevGuitar.com

Read the above link, and absorb it completely. It may disappoint you to read that the guitar, being a tempered instrument, will never be in tune perfectly. In other words, we all have to live with the slight imperfections, overall, in tuning a guitar.

Obviously, the first thing to get right is the intonation, and that is not a difficult thing to learn, and a trained ear or a good tuner will get you there, as far as possible.

You also need to break in your strings so that any slack is taken out of them. This involves stretching and pulling them, and returning them to pitch. Once they are stable, and intonated, you are well on your way.

I will reiterate what others have said above regarding the pressure you apply to the strings when fretting, PARTICULARLY in the lower register around the first three frets. An additional thing that you should do, which I don't think has been mentioned, is that you should always tune to the 'attack'. This simply means that you should tune your guitar applying the pressure you would normally apply to the fretted strings when playing. This requires you to tune to fretted positions, not to open strings. What you should NOT do is tune with what is termed a 'soft' hand (i.e. very lightly) and then play with your normal fretting pressure. If you do, it will sound out in many positions.

Given what I have said in my second paragraph, what I do at home, and out gigging, is to tune the first, second, fourth and fifth strings to pitch. I then tune the third string a few cents flat, and likewise the sixth string. You should then find the slight dissonance you expect from the third string when playing an open 'G' or 'C' chord will sound somewhat like a 12-string; 'E' and 'D' in the first position should sound OK. Likewise the sixth string tuned down a few cents should give the same slight dissonance in the root position, but moving up the neck and playing barre chords (say major chords), the sixth should sound fine against the octave fourth string. For example, 7th fret fourth string against the 5th fret sixth string should sound fine.

The nut is a 'set-up' issue which impacts upon the tuning. The 'G' is particularly prone to 'binding', given the angle it is coming through the nut at, which increases the chances of binding, particularly when bending the string while soloing. It is a matter of working the slot until it no longer binds when you bend the string.

One final set-up point. Check you bridge saddles also. When tuned to pitch, make sure there is absolutely no chance of movement in those saddles. Might sound like a statement of the bleedin' obvious with the guitar tuned to pitch and the downward pressure exerted on the saddles, but there is no harm in checking everything possible is OK."

Some of the above repeats what has already been said.

Oh, and to anyone else who cares to take note, BIG AL is spot on in all that he has posted in this thread!
 

rick c

Active member
Joined
May 28, 2016
Messages
282
Great points John. The one regarding strings moving on a saddle is very relevant to the top wrappers; I don't top wrap because my very light choice of guitar strings would be prone to jumping without the break angle from saddle to tailpiece hole holding them in place.
 
M

Mark Stone

Guest
Look, I'm sure that many may have tuning issues. 99.9% are the result of improper string install or setup. A factor at play is the maddening inaccurate intonation all guitars have in the first three frets by the nut. A perfect first position E chord followed by a sour G. That will have most thinking the guitar has gone out of tune. It makes me crazy and I have been slowly changing over to Earvanna intonated nuts to combat that issue.

I was JUST about to write this exact thing. I have been playing for 31 years, and I've never owned a guitar that didn't hold its tune. Ever. Is it the way I string? Maybe. Honestly, I've never payed much attention to keeping the nut lubed or any of that. I just set intonation every few years, and re-string often. 6 months is about as long as it goes for me. Usually every 2-3 months. (I use the one-turn-and-pinch-the-string-method.) Maybe the secret lies in how much I play my guitars. I usually play two hours every single day. It's just become habit. I can't go to the can without grabbing one of my guitars on the way. My Strat has been with me since 2001 and it was new when I got it. The frets are so worn now that the strings choke out when I play in those areas. They are FINISHED. Just to give you an idea. (This is in no way an attempt to impress anyone, I'm offering it as a possible reason for why they stay in tune so well.)

That bit about a perfect open E chord and a sour G hits the nail on the head. That's the one issue that still drives me nuts today. I've always chocked it off to being the mix of open and fretted notes, and the fretted ones having to go a little more distance because of the angle? I dunno, I'm no luthier. I know one thing, I stopped tuning to an open E chord years ago. Now, if I can get a nice clean F# bar chord, it will generally sound good all the way up the neck. I also believe I tend to correct flat notes automatically while playing from just knowing my guitars pretty well. I'm sure others do this without realizing too. (I also believe we subconsciously avoid doing the kind of things we know will throw it out of tune. though I bend a lot and occasionally perform full 2-step bends without issues.)

So, all this to say, I don't believe the Gibsons not staying in tune thing to be even remotely true.

By the way, I own two Les Pauls, and neither one of them is any kind of fancy model. One is a 1978 Les Paul Pro, and the other is a 2010 Studio. Both stay in tune remarkably well.
 

Big Al

Well-known member
Joined
Apr 24, 2002
Messages
14,547
Great points John. The one regarding strings moving on a saddle is very relevant to the top wrappers; I don't top wrap because my very light choice of guitar strings would be prone to jumping without the break angle from saddle to tailpiece hole holding them in place.

No it is not relevant at all and incorrect. All my Les Pauls are top wrapped. I have been doing it since the 70's. My favourite, a 2000 R9 has the bridge so low I cannot place a second thumbwheel under it. The angle to the bridge is the shallowest I have ever seen. I very much doubt yours is as shallow.

The strings do not jump out of the saddles EVER! Light gauge, heavy gauge, beating the snot out of it with my silver US quarter guitar picks, no string jump. The lower angle improves tone and tuning. It does not hinder either, that's what is relevant. You must make sure your saddles are notched correctly though. Goldilocks spec. Some prefer the tone, as I do, top wrapped, others the straight through, but string jumping should not be an issue.
 
Last edited:

60'sGold

New member
Joined
Mar 4, 2016
Messages
59
never gad tuning issues on a les paul, or sg. I know it might be sacrilege to some, but I love this Schaller fine tuning tail pice.

GTxaUhZ.jpg
 

renderit

Well-known member
Joined
Jan 19, 2009
Messages
10,972
No it is not relevant at all and incorrect. All my Les Pauls are top wrapped. I have been doing it since the 70's. My favourite, a 2000 R9 has the bridge so low I cannot place a second thumbwheel under it. The angle to the bridge is the shallowest I have ever seen. I very much doubt yours is as shallow.

The strings do not jump out of the saddles EVER! Light gauge, heavy gauge, beating the snot out of it with my silver US quarter guitar picks, no string jump. The lower angle improves tone and tuning. It does not hinder either, that's what is relevant. You must make sure your saddles are notched correctly though. Goldilocks spec. Some prefer the tone, as I do, top wrapped, others the straight through, but string jumping should not be an issue.

YOU TWO?
 

Big Al

Well-known member
Joined
Apr 24, 2002
Messages
14,547

Yup. I've used some Barber and Standing Liberty 25 cent coins reshaped with a pick point since 70's. I think the silver sounds better and they are thinner than the Washington Quarter.

I really like my Indian head/buffalo nickle picks. Like the Dunlop Jazz III. Great for speedy shreddy stuff.

I got the idea from a 70's Billy Gibbons interview where he talked about using a Mexican Peso. Experiments ensued, coins were ruined and I found what worked. I've had some stolen and given a few away but have managed to hang on to my favorites.

I am a plectrum junkie, a pick progenetor of massive order. Easiest way to alter tone. Big noticeable effect.
 

J T

Well-known member
Joined
Oct 20, 2005
Messages
10,524
I took the pieces of a shattered cymbal and shaped them with a Dremel into picks. Those pieces are slightly concave so they fit the contour of your thumb.
 

renderit

Well-known member
Joined
Jan 19, 2009
Messages
10,972
Most of mine I have left are the sandwich type. I liked the sound from them almost as well as the silver and they were a hell of a lot easier to find. Lately though I have been using the new Jim Dunlop Precisions with the knurling on them. I think my old fingers find them easier to hold on to when I'm signaling the guards to peel the groupies off. It's amazing how much their "hurry-canes" are messing with my guitar finish...
 

Adamloz

New member
Joined
Oct 29, 2016
Messages
8
My G string goes out a fraction after a lot of bending I have to admit, doesn't bother me though.
 

Ken Fortunato

Administrator
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2006
Messages
2,744
Yup. I've used some Barber and Standing Liberty 25 cent coins reshaped with a pick point since 70's. I think the silver sounds better and they are thinner than the Washington Quarter.

I really like my Indian head/buffalo nickle picks. Like the Dunlop Jazz III. Great for speedy shreddy stuff.

I got the idea from a 70's Billy Gibbons interview where he talked about using a Mexican Peso. Experiments ensued, coins were ruined and I found what worked. I've had some stolen and given a few away but have managed to hang on to my favorites.

I am a plectrum junkie, a pick progenetor of massive order. Easiest way to alter tone. Big noticeable effect.

Most of mine I have left are the sandwich type. I liked the sound from them almost as well as the silver and they were a hell of a lot easier to find. Lately though I have been using the new Jim Dunlop Precisions with the knurling on them. I think my old fingers find them easier to hold on to when I'm signaling the guards to peel the groupies off. It's amazing how much their "hurry-canes" are messing with my guitar finish...

Brian May uses a sixpence...
 

JimFog

Member
Joined
Aug 9, 2001
Messages
182
In the interest of full-disclosure and honesty......

I took the Trad that I've been recently struggling with tuning issues with to a new (to me) luthier, and had him install a new bone nut.

He also raised the stop tailpiece up a bit, as he thought that would help. I don't like top-wrapping, so just raising it was a better solution.

So far......tuning issues are gone. I'll have to gig it and live with it a bit more, but the difference is obvious and easily noticeable.

Now, I STILL submit that, over my 30+ years and hundreds of guitars owned and played, especially live, that Gibsons have notoriously been the most finicky and frustrating, tuning-wise, by a LONG shot. And I still believe that the shorter scale and headstock tilt contribute to that. Sorry......I just do.

But I will humbly admit that a good new nut, by a knowledgable tech, can make all the difference.
 

KR1

Active member
Joined
Sep 11, 2016
Messages
266
In the interest of full-disclosure and honesty......

I took the Trad that I've been recently struggling with tuning issues with to a new (to me) luthier, and had him install a new bone nut.

He also raised the stop tailpiece up a bit, as he thought that would help. I don't like top-wrapping, so just raising it was a better solution.

So far......tuning issues are gone. I'll have to gig it and live with it a bit more, but the difference is obvious and easily noticeable.

Now, I STILL submit that, over my 30+ years and hundreds of guitars owned and played, especially live, that Gibsons have notoriously been the most finicky and frustrating, tuning-wise, by a LONG shot. And I still believe that the shorter scale and headstock tilt contribute to that. Sorry......I just do.

But I will humbly admit that a good new nut, by a knowledgable tech, can make all the difference.

Jim,

Your tech removed much or all of the tuning issues by mitigating friction at the nut and saddles (raising the tailpiece). The only piece that's left in the stability department is the tuner - it's rare, but some slip. Beyond friction-producing elements, the rest is up to the operator and it's limited to proper string stretching and tuning post wrapping. Tuning stability = consistent string tension at rest regardless of the scale length. Consider the mandolin, or the upright bass fiddle.

I think that a lot of folks cite scale length as the probable cause when they compare tuning issues between the Gibson and Fender guitars. Yes, the Fender scale is a little longer but these guitars also have a straight string pull from the saddles straight to the tuners. It's so straight that down-force tension at the nut is light enough to warrant (or not) the "string tree." Low down-force = low friction.... = much less tuning stability issues. As you mentioned, the angled head stock, the angled D and G routing, and the sharp angle of a surface-mounted tail piece all require good handling during the setup or friction gets in the way. The longer scale length also produces a little higher static string tension on the F guitars which helps to maintain consistent string tension at rest.

I've heard "tech's" using the scale length "fable" to excuse their lack of abilities when it comes to nuts, saddles on the Gibson's and other similarly configured guitars. The "guitar dude" (video) cited scale length earlier in this thread as a problem with Gibson's - it's just not true.

Scale length drives intonation considerations and relative string tension, not tuning stability. It sounds like your tech knew what to address.

Kim
 

drewbarries

New member
Joined
Aug 25, 2018
Messages
5
So I've watched a bunch of Youtube vids, and even had folks comment back stage at shows that Gibson's don't stay in tune. "nah brah, I need a floyd rose just to stay in tune dude... I don't even use the wammy, just the locking nut" (to later go on stage and make faces while imitating Dave Mustain... poorly...)

I've never noticed this being an issue, and I've owned 6 of em over the years. Any tuning issues i did have where either from playing very very hard, broken necks/heal joints or some other physical damage.

The story goes that because of the extreme headstock angle, and the compound angle of the D and G strings, the D and G strings will skip high because of bind at the nut, or some such BS, Hence Gibson going so far as to install brass nuts, with a zero fret, or graphite nuts (both blasphemy BTW) or the robo tuners that some folks like.

Personally, the one and only Les Paul I had the had tuning issues was solved by having it set up correctly, and winding the strings in an even and tight fasion, I.E. not a ball of yarn on the headstock. Poof guitar that would not stay in tune for 10 minutes has been in tune for about a month now.... with regular play, and not even in a temperature controlled environment.

Anyhow, I ramble... Whats yer thoughts on the Fabled Gibson Tuning issues

Sorry, it may be good enough for you and so very many but that really doesn’t mean they’re stable, it just means that personally you are ok with a little more deviation from optimum than some people. I mean c’mon just admit it, the design flaw is obvious to anyone with an ounce of common sense and all of these purist claiming that because they’re working musicians so that then means they have some special knowledge is as absurd as saying that you need to be a NASCAR driver to recognize if your wheel is not balanced. This is just common physics and is why designs with straight string through don’t require the same type of high maintenance as do the traditional 3 x 3 deigns. Even Gibson came out with a Custom 346 to provide Paul Jackson with the higher bar for tuning stability that he desired. I guess he just didn’t know how to set up his guitar or didn’t know any professional luthiers. ?
 

Tom Wittrock

Les Paul Forum Co-Owner
Joined
Aug 2, 2001
Messages
42,567
I mean c’mon just admit it, the design flaw is obvious to anyone with an ounce of common sense ….

I guess [by your standards] I don't have "an ounce of sense" since this supposed design flaw you speak of is not obvious. What is it?


Considering that my Les Pauls [and all the ones I have borrowed] have stayed in tune just fine for over 40 years, I think you are way off base here.
Maybe you don't know how to string and tune a guitar? :hmm
 
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