Sharp Strings? Lube Your Nut!

Photography by Kaley Nelson

I solved a problem recently that I hadn’t been able to figure out by researching it online, so I am posting this here for guitarists who may be searching for an answer to a similar issue.

I’ve been plagued for years by a Les Paul with a G string that pulls sharp—so much so that I could hardly make it through a song without having to re-tune at the end. I recently bought a new Gibson P-90 Les Paul that doesn’t have the problem. Well, it didn’t until I changed strings Saturday night in anticipation of a gig three nights later…

All of a sudden, not only the G was pulling sharp, but so was the low E! And it was not just noticeable on the tuner. It was audibly out of tune, mid-song.

I was pretty panicked. I researched online and found nothing. I emailed a friend in Berlin Monday morning who is used to me bugging him with these types of issues, and who always comes through with answers. He sent me articles about lubing the nut, which I had also found, but these were articles about guitars going flat. He suggested trying it anyway. So, begrudgingly, not thinking it would work but having no other prospects for staying in tune, I got off work a bit early to hit up Guitar Center for some lube before heading out to The Mint for the gig.

They had me talk to their guitar “tech guy,” who also had never heard of strings going sharp like that. He told me he’d really like to see it for himself and to bring the guitar in. They sold me the lube, despite also stating that it didn’t seem like it could solve the problem, and I came back to my apartment to apply it.

It comes in a little syringe with some mini Q-Tip-looking applicator sticks.

I loosened the strings a bit and applied the lube to both the nut and the bridge slots of the guitar, tuned up, and began to play, checking my tuning every few minutes. The problem was solved.

I began to think about why this would happen… and I think it’s because I pull the crap out of new strings to keep them from going flat. As they go sharp, I pull them even more. If the nut slots were too tight, restricting movement of the string, I can see how this would make the guitar appear to sound flatter than it was by trapping more string between the bridge and nut, and that it would gradually slip sharp as the strings’ tension evened out.

So if you are having a similar issue, get some lube for your nut. There are other things you can do, like replace the nut, or widen the slots by filing (which I’m not handy enough to do, so I don’t recommend that).

I checked my tuning frequently throughout the show just to be sure, but it wasn’t slipping sharp, and it wasn’t going flat (due to all that string-pulling).

 

John Dissed is a guitarist and singer-songwriter from Los Angeles, CA. For more info, and to get a free song from his latest album, enter your name above and to the right, below the big red arrow.