Ukulele Won’t Stay in Tune?
Is your new ukulele not staying in tune?
Did you just put on a new set of strings and are having trouble getting the strings to stay in tune?
Don't worry! This is a common problem and in most cases it only takes a minute to fix.
It's probably your strings
There are a few reasons why a uke won't stay in tune, but 99% of the time it's the strings.
Most ukulele strings are made of a soft synthetic material that is very stretchy. This quality is what gives the uke its sweet harp-like tone, but it also means that new strings will continue stretching for a while before they stabilize.
It's completely normal for new strings (or the strings on a new uke) to go out of tune frequently as they "settle in." This isn't the sign of cheap or defective strings—it's just the way uke strings are!
Eventually, your strings will stop stretching and will require less frequent tuning. This can take several days up to a couple weeks depending on the type of strings and how often you play.
Stretch your strings to improve tuning stability
If you want to speed up the settling process you can follow this simple stretching routine:
- Tune the uke up to pitch
- Stretch the first string by grabbing it in the middle and gently pulling straight up four or five times. You don't need to be timid about it, but don't lift the string much further than half an inch off the fretboard
- Repeat the process for the other three strings
- Retune the uke
This will help dramatically, but there's still a chance your uke will still go out of tune as you play. If this happens, simply repeat the whole process again.
When I install new strings, I often perform this "tune and stretch" routine multiple times to get my strings settled in quickly. To me, it's just part of the ritual!
Ukuleles need to be tuned a lot
Your uke strings will eventually stabilize, but this doesn't mean you'll never need to tune your uke again!
All stringed instruments need to be regularly tuned. The finest uke with the best strings will never stay perfectly in tune all of the time.
Even when the strings have settled in, slight changes in temperature and humidity can cause the uke to drift out of tune.
Get used to tuning your uke, because you're going to have to do it a lot! The more you practice tuning, the quicker and easier it will be.
I like to tune my uke before every play session. If you have a good clip-on tuner (like the Snark SN-6) it only takes 30 seconds.
Other reasons why your uke won't stay in tune
Strings are almost always the problem, but occasionally there's something else happening that can cause your uke to go out of tune.
If you are an aggressive strummer, you'll notice your uke going out of tune more often. Hard strumming causes the strings to stretch, causing them to go flat (drop in pitch).
Gentle strummers and fingerstyle players tend not to have as many issues with tuning.
Hard strummers may want to experiment with different strings. The Aquila Nylgut strings that come on many new ukuleles sound great, but nylon or fluorocarbon strings might be more stable and are worth looking into.
Tuners probably aren't the problem
When a ukulele won't stay in tune, many players assume there is an issue with the tuners. This is rarely the case!
Nearly all modern ukulele tuners are geared using a system known as a worm drive. This unique gear system is designed to make it impossible for the shaft to spin backward.
Even the cheapest ukulele tuners will not unwind under normal conditions. In fact, the only time I've seen geared tuners go backward is when the gear's teeth have been damaged from meshing improperly.
You can test your tuners by tugging on the string and watching the tuner shaft. A properly working tuner won't turn backward no matter how hard you pull. If it does turn, you probably have a damaged tuner and will need to look into a repair or replacement.
Geared tuners are also called machine heads or tuning machines.
Friction tuners can be tricky
Friction tuners are most common on older ukes, but you will find them on some new instruments.
Unlike geared tuners, it's not unusual for friction tuners to loosen over time and stop holding an instrument's tuning.
If you look at the button on a friction tuner you'll see a small screw. This screw adjusts how hard the button's base pushes against the headstock, which controls how tightly the tuner will hold.
Over time this screw can become loose and the tuner won't hold. Luckily, you can easily fix this by tightening the screw until you find the "sweet spot." This is where the button is tight enough to keep the uke in tune but not so tight that it's difficult to turn.
Issues like a lifting bridge or separating heel joint can affect a ukulele's ability to stay in tune.
Structural issues are the least common cause of ukulele tuning troubles, but it's important to know what to look for.
Let's use a lifting bridge as an example. As the bridge pulls up, the string tension decreases and the ukulele goes flat (down in pitch).
Tightening the strings brings the uke back into tune, but the increased tension will slowly pull the bridge up even further and the uke will eventually go out of tune again.
These issues are fairly easy to spot. Simply inspect the bridge or neck joint for lifting or separating. When inspecting the bridge, it can be helpful to slide a business card around the edge to see if it slips under the bridge.
If any of the glue joints aren't tight and solid, you might have a repair situation on your hands.
These problems are rare, so you should focus on the other solutions before running down to the repair shop.
Most new ukuleles come with a warranty to the original owner. If you do experience a structural issue, check to see if you can get it fixed or replaced for free by the manufacturer.