Let’s talk about G strings. We hate them — they’re always slipping out of place, they’re hard to clean, and they can really ruin our rendition of “Wonderwall.”
Oh, we’re talking about guitar G-strings, if that wasn’t absolutely clear. If you’re a guitarist (or, if like us, a failed guitarist), you know that keeping the G in tune is difficult, if not impossible, depending on the quality of your instrument. If you don’t play guitar — and don’t pretend to — the G-string is an interesting study in the weird ways that everyday items can absolutely suck.
We reached out to several guitar experts to find out why the G-string constantly slips out of tune (and what we can do about it).
In standard tuning, the G is the third-highest string by pitch.
On an electric guitar, it’s also typically the last string that isn’t wound. A wound string consists of a central wire with an outer “wrap,” which you can see clearly by looking at a wound string up close.
“The G on a guitar — especially on an electric guitar — is a weird beast,” says Tom Pullen, owner of Mojo’s Music in Edwardsville, Illinois. “On an acoustic, that G is a wound string and tends to hold tuning well. When a plain string is used for the same pitch, things can go south.”
“It isn’t just the G, though,” Pullen notes. “Similar problems can happen to the D, which on an electric, is also plain. The best defense is to use slightly heavier strings, make sure the nut is properly cut, and [use] some graphite or other substance to cut down on the friction where the string breaks over the nut and heads to the tuning pegs. Honestly, many makers of upper-end guitars have done things like using compensated nuts, different-height tuners, etc.”
The actual qualities of the G string make it more prone to tuning issues.
However, the guitar certainly plays a role, and simply switching strings won’t fix every problem.
“The height of the G slot in the nut can really impact things,” Pullen explains. “If it is too high, that extra distance you need to press the string down to fret the note will bend it out of tune.”
Additionally, the string gauge needs to be matched to the guitar’s scale. If a guitar’s neck is fairly short, the string will be under less tension, and the string will be more likely to slip out of tune. And simply moving to a wound G string won’t necessarily fix all the problems — wound G strings have thinner cores than other wound strings, so issues can persist if the guitar hasn’t been properly set up.
“The real message here is that a good setup can cure a world of problems,” Pullen says.
There you have it — if your G string has been giving you issues, you’re not alone. Head to any decent guitar shop, and you’ll probably find some relief. You may need to experiment with different gauges to get the best possible tone from your instrument and to eliminate lingering tuning issues, but if you’ve got a good guitar shop on your side, your “Wonderwall” covers will sound better than ever.
Which is to say, they’ll be tolerable. Barely.