My guitar is in tune but it sounds bad

A look at some of the common issues you can face when your guitar isn’t sounding as it should be.

by | Sep 24, 2018

So, you have tuned your guitar perfectly but your guitar still sounds bad? There are a number of reasons for this. As a guitar player since the age of 9, I have had plenty of experience of a bad sounding guitar and I’m happy to run through some of the usual culprits so that I can help you get that axe sounding sweet once more! This guide will be based on an electric guitar, but most of the topics can be covered for acoustics too. Firstly…

Does the guitar sound fine playing on the first couple of frets, then goes out of tune further down the fretboard? In that case the issue is…

Intonation on your guitar

Intonation is a common issue with guitars, and because guitars are machines they need to be set up correctly and maintained regularly to stop these issues from occurring. Problems can come with time and also climate, the warmer or colder an environment is can highly affect the intonation and almost all guitars will suffer with these issues given enough time played on it.

Most guitars come with intonation adjustment mechanisms making it easier than you would think to get all of the notes all down the fretboard sounding in tune. This is done by lengthening or shortening your strings.

So how do I intonate an electric guitar?

I’m glad you asked, firstly you need to know where the mechanisms are to adjust. They are always located at the bridge. Take a look at a pic of my trusty strat showing where they are located….

See those black screw heads? That’s the mechanism to adjust!

You will need to plug your guitar into a good quality tuner pedal, if you need inspiration there really is no better tuner pedal than the Boss TU-3 Chromatic Tuner.

Start with the bottom E string, first play the string open and make sure it is perfectly in tune, then press on the 12th fret playing the higher E note and check on the tuner if it is in perfect tune too. If it isn’t then you need to grab a philips screw driver and adjust the mechanism until both the open E and the 12th Fret E are both perfectly in tune.

As shown below…

Repeat this process with every string making sure that both the open note and the 12th fret note are perfectly in tune. Once you have done every string go back over and test them again as sometimes adjusting the other strings can send the previous ones out again.
So the intonation is bang on but your guitar still sounds like a cat being strangled?

Check the wiring under the pickguard and the jack lead input plate.

This is not something I would recommend you to go messing about with if you are not 100% sure of what you are doing. You can, however, remove the pickguard and jack input plate and just wiggle the wires around to see if there is any static or humming noises coming from the amp. If there is, you most probably have a wiring issue and will need it sorting professionally. If you know what you are doing then you can try and solder and loose wires back in place. I’ve done this many times, and while it can be quite a tricky job, it’s not impossible. The issue is almost always a loose connection on the input jack which will need soldering back in place. So…..

How do you solder a guitar output jack?

First make sure you have the right equipment, you will need a soldering iron, we recommend this one. It comes with some solder, but if your one doesn’t then obviously you will need to buy some. I have bought this from a model shop before, but it is also available in places like B&Q and Screwfix.

Make sure you heat up the soldering iron, it won’t work unless it’s nice and hot. Remove the wire (which should be a bit loose anyway) from the output jack port, clear any excess solder from it using the soldering iron to heat it up and then drag it off. Strip the end of the wire to expose a bit of the copper and twist the end to ensure a good connection when you put it back on.

Again use the soldering iron to remove any excess solder from the output jack port. You should be able to see where it is supposed to attach to from the previous steps. Get someone to hold the wire in place and then use the soldering iron and the solder together to create a connection. It can be quite tricky to get right but if you mess it up and put too much solder on and it doesn’t stick, just use the soldering iron to remove it and start again. We’ve all been there, sometimes the best way to learn is to mess it up a few times.

If you are not happy doing this then take the guitar to your local technician to sort it for you.

This isn’t the most comprehensive guide ever, so i’ll pass it over to the guys at Fender who will show you how to replace the entire unit, if you just want to fix it then this video will help.

The intonation is bang on, there’s no dodgy wiring, why does it still sound bad?

Check the amp you are using, try a different one, if it still sounds bad then i’d give up the guitar and start playing bass coz you suck! 🙂

*Disclaimer* I’m not saying playing bass is easy…maybe a bit easier….it’s only got 4 strings.

Oh I forgot…it could be that your guitar just outright sucks! Keep checking our posts for some great ideas on new guitars, like this one for the best electro acoustic guitars under £200. We will be covering lots of these kind of articles so keep an eye out for a top 10 of all budgets of electric guitars.

If you do have any specific questions on this topic please leave a comment below, I will always answer every question.

John has been in and out of bands all his life, toured and recorded in some of the UK’s most prestigious venues and studio’s. Also worked on stage with some of the world’s biggest acts setting up amps and breaking down stages.

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