If the steering tube is too long or if there are not enought spacers under the stem, the cap could be contacting the steering tube before all the play is removed. If this is the case, you can tighten it as much as you like, but it will still be loose.
I assume you have a threadless headset, threaded headsets are adjusted differently (adjust the lock rings on top of the headtube). Was the headset correctly adjusted and then you changed stems or did some other work on it? If you have a 1 1/8 inch steerer tube and are using a 1 inch cap, you may not be able to set the preload. Are there enough spacers under the stem so that the top of the stem is 2-3 mm above the top of the steer tube, you may need to add more spacers. Then make sure the stem bolts are loose enough to allow the stem to slide up and down the steer tube. Tighten the cap bolt to set the preload on the bearings. Then secure the stem bolts. If this does not work I'll need more info about what caused the headset to become loose.
Yes it it a threadless headset. I had to replace the headset. I think that's when the rattling started. The cap is a 1 1/8 inch cap. I haven't changed that. When I added a spacer the top of the stem was at least 2-3 mm above the top of the steer tube. I've tried making sure the stem bolts are loose enough to allow the stem to slide up and down the steer tube and then tightening the cap bolt. That didn't make a difference.
Did you get the headset adjusted properly after the replacement and the rattle started sometime afterwards? Is there 2-3 mm difference between stem/steerer when you push down on the stem and up on the fork to remove any play, if there is you need another spacer.
Is it a star nut or expander bolt/wedge? Sometimes after fiddling with an expander bolt/wedge the bottom piece can drop off the bolt into the head tube. If it's a hiddenset, you might also want to check that the bearing cartridge is sitting square in the race.
You couldn't determine it wasn't a headset but rather a pump on your own? I know it can be difficult to determine noises on a bike sometimes, but that's pretty sad you couldn't eliminate a pump from the equation on your own before posting....
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