Why some mandolins won’t stay in tune?

Why some mandolins won’t stay in tune?

2016-11-04T12:32:53+00:00 By |Categories: Tuning|6 Comments

“My Mandolin will not stay in tune” is one a very common issue for beginners that are learning to play the mandolin. This is very frustrating, especially if you are not able to recognize the root cause. I have met some beginners that were so disappointed by this, that were even thinking to quit playing.

I have to be honest and admit that I faced the same problem when I was learning the mandolin, but being very-very young, it was obvious to me that I was doing something wrong and I asked advise from my older brother and other experienced mandolinists. This saved me from spending a lot of time trying to figure out what is wrong and I quickly learned the pitfalls that may affect mandolin tuning stability.

Mandolin will not stay in tune – String Issues

Old Strings

Old strings cause tuning issues. You will recognize this if you use a digital tuner to tune an old string, as you will notice that the string tone will not be stable. Also you will notice that it will be increasingly difficult to tune the two strings of the pair together.

You should replace mandolin strings at the first sign of rust, or as soon as you notice a bad tone.

 Mandolin will not stay in tune Rusted Mandolin String

 

Replacing the strings often is a good habit that helps avoid tuning issues, but also you must take care to select the string type appropriate for your mandolin.

Poor Stringing

One of the most common issues that cause tuning problems and is very common between beginners, is related with restringing.

The problem rises when you use too much string or too little string when you string your mandolin. The following tips are important when stringing, with regards with the number of winds of string wrapped around the mandolin tuner:

  • If there are too many winds then the string will cross over itself.
  • If there are too few winds then the string will barely hang on.

In both of these cases the additional pressure applied on the string by just playing the mandolin will throw the string out of tune.

Beginners find it boring and difficult to properly string. I have found that using a good tool such as the Planet Waves Pro Winder String Winder and Cutter can help you do the job right.

 Mandolin will not stay in tune PlanetWaves String Cutter and Winder

This tool is an inexpensive peg winder with a built-in string cutter. The difference of this string winder from other ones, is that the string winder doesn’t come unscrewed constantly like every other one I’ve owned before that. But the component that will really make your day is the string cutter. The ‘blade’ is not that sharp, but easily whacks the end even of the low G string.

 

Since there is only a little exposed metal, all of which is smooth and rounded, the risk of scratching your mandolin is minimal, and the small cutting head makes it easy to trim the string very close to the peg.

Mandolin will not stay in tune – Construction Issues

The third pitfall that can cause a mandolin to repeatedly fall out of tune is construction problems. Here, the problems may source from:

  • Bad quality tuners used, typical in low-cost mandolins.
  • Problem with the mandolin neck.
  • Problem with positioning of the bridge.

The Importance of Tuners Quality

Obviously, cheap tuners can be one source of problems. If you suspect an issue, check to see if the tuners wiggle around a bit, and if so use a small screwdriver to tighten them, if possible, or consider replacing them entirely.

Issues with the Mandolin Neck

A bad neck is another big source of tuning issues. If the mandolin notes seem to shift up in pitch when pressure is applied to the neck (even in normal fretting), then you’ve got a neck issue that needs to be treated by a music shop.

The Position of the Bridge for Intonation

You should also regularly test your mandolin’s intonation by checking each string’s notes at the twelfth fret and played open and make sure that they’re both equally in tune. If they aren’t, you may have bridge or neck problems that a music store can help you handle. A good time to check intonation is a few hours after restringing your mandolin.

For more information about the bridge, please also check “How to setup the Mandolin Bridge”

About the Author:

I’m Chris, a mandolin lover from Greece, trained in Music, Mathematics and IT who makes a living on technology but enjoys life through music and arts. Welcome to my adventures!

6 Comments

  1. Bill Kendall November 18, 2014 at 20:28 - Reply

    I had issues keeping the A string tuned on my 52 A style Gibson mandolin and have a few tricks that seemed to fix the issue. First, the loop on the tail piece is a direct connection (not the 90 degree two clip type). The loop on the A string has enough tension to prevent a full collapse of the loop and therefore it can flex slightly. The E string being thinner does not have the ability to flex once tightened. What I have done is to squeeze the loop end on the A string slightly after mounting. This prevents flexing and a majority of the tuning issues.

    The other thing I do is when tuning the A string before playing I will press on the nut to tuning post side of the string. This seems to stabilize any resistance the nut is applying. Once I am in tune I can press on this position without impact to tuning. Then I know it will stay put no matter how hard I play.

    Bill

    • admin November 19, 2014 at 10:10 - Reply

      Very nice tricks Bill!
      I will keep them in mind to apply them as well when needed.
      Thanks for sharing!
      – Chris

  2. Kath & Robbie October 20, 2015 at 06:48 - Reply

    Wow – thanks for the fabulous instructions about moving the bridge. We just made major improvements to the intonation on a mandolin that had been very poorly set up by following your directions.
    We also used the trick of rubbing a pencil under the strings where they pass through the nut to allow for better movement.
    Together these two things made the mandolin playable.
    Thanks so much,
    Kath & Robbie

    • Christos Rizos November 4, 2016 at 12:22 - Reply

      Hi Kath and hi Robbie,
      I am so glad that my instructions helped you make the mandolin playable!
      Keep up playing!
      All the best,
      Christos

  3. James Sisco January 30, 2016 at 00:36 - Reply

    Bill, thanks for the info on the A string. The issues I have are mostly due to the A string going out of tune. Oddly enough, they will go out of tune to a higher pitch. It’s like they get tighter. I have tried different tuners but that did not solve the problem. I will try your fix to see if it helps. Kinda frustrating as I’m primarily a guitarist and accustomed to have strings get looser with hard playing. BTW I have a high end Breedlove F type model that cost a bunch. The situation has caused me to believe that Breedlove was not a good choice. My Mandolin teacher has a cheap Ovation mandolin that costs a couple hundred and has a pickup so you can plug it in on stage. It never goes out of tune!

    • Christos Rizos November 4, 2016 at 12:24 - Reply

      Hi James,
      Biil’s tips are very valuable indeed!
      I hope you managed to overcome all issues and you are now enjoying your mandolin!

      All the Best,
      Christos

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