Maintaining Your Airline's Tuning Stability



The Airline of the '60s was the ultimate beginner's guitar - affordable, and available from your neighborhood retail giant Montgomery Ward. That said, they were manufactured with really just one goal in mind; to produce as many guitars as possible for the least amount of money. The proof is in the pudding - by just looking at a vintage original, you can see the ways in which they achieved said goal. Plastic was used to make their guitar bodies by pouring a chemical compound into a mold. Zero frets were installed into the necks to virtually eliminate all the time you would normally spend doing nut work. Many of the instruments bearing the Airline name didn't even have an adjustable truss rod in their necks.

While many would argue that these qualities are what gives these vintage originals their charm, you can't argue the fact that these instruments were not built to last, and in many cases, are not exactly playable by today's standards.

The Airline of today is manufactured with a different frame of mind. Our instruments maintain the look and feel of a vintage original, but are built to last with quality, modern components. They are made to perform in the studio, on stage, or in your living room, and will do so for years to come. That said, they will not do so if they are completely ignored! It is important to take care of your guitar so it functions just as good as the day you got it. 

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Perhaps the most obvious sign of a functional guitar is its ability to stay in tune. It doesn't matter how much money you spend on a guitar; they will not be impervious to tuning instabilities if they are not set up properly. Not to worry, your Airline gets shipped to you already set up to hold its tuning. Your job is just to make sure it stays that way. How?

First you need to understand what can cause an instrument to fall out of tune. The simplest answer to that question is this: something, somewhere on the guitar has moved. The components that keep a string in place are designed to move, so you can tune it, and so that the string can return to its proper pitch when in use. The idea is to have these parts set so that they can keep a string at the pitch you set it to, and return it to that pitch when you're done "moving" it. If your guitar has faulty components, or is not set up properly, anything that sets a string in motion will have the potential of putting it out of tune. 

Our Job:

Our job is simple: give you an Airline with quality parts that will keep your guitar in tune, and set it up to do so before we send it. We install high quality tuners that don't budge when you set them, and move freely and smoothly when you turn them. We inspect each nut to insure each string is not catching in its slot, and apply a healthy dose of Big Bend's Nut Sauce for lubrication. 

These steps make sure your strings are good to go on the top end, but what about the bottom? If you've got a tremolo system, it needs to be a good one. That's why we use only the best in the business, Licensed Bigsby Vibrato. We install these units so that they're in the correct position to allow for maximum performance, without jeopardizing the integrity of your strings or guitar. To go along with it, we install a "roller tune-o-matic" bridge to allow your strings to move smoothly back and forth, properly returning to the correct pitch each time you use the Bigsby.

In addition to using quality parts in the construction of the guitar, each and every one receives a professional pre-shipment set-up by one of our qualified technicians in Chicago or Liverpool. If anything is standing in the way of the guitar playing well or staying in tune, it gets fixed!

Your Job:

Despite all this, a guitar is not something that remains in the same condition as the day you got it without proper care. You will need the guitar to be set-up and re-strung in the future, which are both things that can compromise the tuning stability of your instrument if not done well. Here's a few things to consider: 

Re-stringing:
A guitar that is not re-strung correctly is the most typical cause for a guitar that falls out of tune. When putting new strings on, be sure to leave enough slack at first so that the string wraps around the peg 2-3 full times when tuned to pitch. 

If you have never restrung a guitar with a Bigsby, it may be a little daunting at first. The two things you need to remember are these: 1) If looking straight at the Bigsby, the ball-end of the string loops onto its needle from the bottom of the bearing-bar*, and comes up over top of it. It then goes underneath the tension bar*, over the bridge, and towards the machine heads. 2) You need to keep constant tension on the string by pulling it during the restringing process so the ball end doesn't fall off its needle. If you find this a little tricky, try wedging an eraser underneath the ball end to hold it in place. 

Guitar strings are wrapped in loose coils in their packaging - they are not used to being stretched to the tension necessary to make each correct note on your guitar. Due to this, once you have them tuned to pitch, they don't like staying that way. They will constantly want to loosen up, and drop in pitch. Your goal here is to get them accustomed to their new tension by stretching them out. 

Take a cloth or shop towel in your hand, and grab one string close to the bridge. Pull up, and glide your hand back and forth between the bridge and the nut. Don't worry so much about yanking the low E, A and D strings off the guitar - they can actually handle quite a bit of pull, while you may want to ease off a bit on the G, B and high E.The idea is to add friction (and consequently, heat) to the string while also applying some stretch, but be careful - the string can actually get quite hot with this method! Repeat this process on each string until you notice they are no longer dropping in pitch after each stretch, then tune it to pitch.

Lastly, our application of Big Bend's Nut Sauce won't last forever either. If you'd like to take a further preventative measure to keep your strings in tune, we recommend applying some of this or another similar product to keep the nut slots lubricated. You don't need gobs of it, just a little dab in each slot will do.

Choosing the Right String:
Not all strings are created equal. You wouldn't want to do all this work only to use a cheap string and potentially create what you're trying to prevent! We ship our Airline guitars set-up with a set of D'Addario strings. You can see which gauge of string your guitar is shipped with by looking at its spec sheet, like in the image shown below.

The string gauge is what's really important to look at when changing strings. If you like the way your strings sound and feel, then restring with the same size it was shipped with. If you want something different, please consider getting your guitar set-up to accept the new strings. Not only will a different size of string create a different tension on the neck and alter the set-up, but the nut on the guitar was cut to a size specifically for its current strings. A string that is too thick might get caught in smaller nut slots, which can cause tuning problems. 

That's it, in a nutshell! Having an Airline that looks sweet, plays sweet, and sounds even sweeter really is like having your cake and eating it too. Maintaining it so it stays in tune isn't just the icing on that cake - it's sort of the main ingredient. If you follow these simple steps your Airline guitar should play in-tune just like the day you got it, and for years to come. If you have any further questions or concerns, please contact our support team via e-mail at support@eastwoodguitars.com.


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