Intonating your electric guitar or bass
Posted 31 January 2006 - 10:03 PM
Ok, today I'd like to walk you through the process of setting your own intonation on an electric guitar or bass. Now there's a couple of things we need to get out of the way first; what I am going to describe applies directly to fixed bridges. I will go step by step through the process of one string and then you just repeat that for the others. Tremelo bridges add the dynamics of string/spring balance that one would have to assume is set and correct. Maybe another post down the road will be adjusting your string/spring balance, but remember my goals in guitar business and help is aimed at the newer player and I hold a personal belief that tremelo bridges are not best suited for the new player and as such, I don't even stock any guitars that have a tremelo bridge. Acoustic guitars are a completely different animal requiring a different skill set and skill level and different tools. I would suggest the new player that needs his acoustic guitar intonated, if he's not very handy with woodworking tools, take the guitar in to a shop and have it done. So, that's that, ok? Let's get started with a definition of what intonation means/is.
I think improper intonation is one of the leading reasons new players quit playing guitar. No matter how many times they tune the guitar and how hard they stuggle to make good chords the guitar always sounds awful and out of tune. Even a veteran player can not make a poorly intonated guitar sound good. So what it is intonation? When a guitar string is tuned to concert pitch, 440, the note that is being sounded is open, that is, the entire length of the string from the bridge to the nut. We do not fret the string to tune it. However, when one does fret a note, now the string yields its pitch vibrating from the bridge to the fret where we are fretting the string. If your guitar can have each string in tune when each string is open, but goes out of tune (usually sharp) when strings are fretted, your guitar is most likely not properly intonated. There can be another source for this problem though, a couple actually. One, is a poorly cut nut that makes you, two, press the string down too hard. When we play the guitar we don't press the string all the way down to the wood. You can, but that's too far and will make your notes go sharp. So, let's determine if it's the guitar or our fretting technique.
TOOLS YOU WILL NEED:
An analog, needle tuner, usually about $20. Don't try and use an lcd meter or an led tuner. You must use a needle tuner. A strobe is the best but I don't expect a new player to pop that kind of money for a strobe tuner. A $20 analog, needle tuner will be fine.
Phillips screwdriver or correct allen/hex wrench for your bridge system.
Tune the guitar to concert pitch. Go directly from your output jack on the guitar to the tuner. Don't use an amp and the tuners' mic. When the strings are all in tune when open, wer're ready to check intonation. Using normal to light pressure, fret the 6th string (the top/thickest one) at the 12 fret and strike the note. Look at the needle on the tuner. We're attempting to strike a note exactly one octave higher than the open note so the needle should be dead on zero as it was when the string was open. Is the fretted note flat? This means the saddle for that string in the bridge is too far away from the nut. Is the fretted note sharp? This means the saddle for that string is too close to the nut. You already know what to do, don't you? First, detune the string so saddle adjustment is easier, then using either the screwdriver or the allen/hex wrench, adjust the saddle whichever direction you need to, retune, and try it again. When the fretted note is dead on zero as well as while the string is open it's dead on zero, then that string is done. Move on to the next one. Perform all tunings and fretted notes with the guitar in your lap in a playing position; do not lay the guitar on it's back and make these adjustment. It's that easy!
Now, combining the post I did on truss rod adjustments and this one, you should be able to set up your guitar yourself fairly easily. I have not discussed adjusting saddles for fretboard radius but that's not always possible on each kind of bridge system. Also, the wrap around stop bar type bridges on some guitars are not adjustable. Also, some Tele models have bridge system where 2 strings share a saddle. I don't stock guitars with wrap around stop bar bridges or guitars that don't have individual, adjustable saddles for each string. It's important to me to know that my customers are getting a properly intonated guitar. If your guitar sounds out of tune when it's actually in tune, and it sounds worse the higher up on the neck you go, intonate your guitar!
Posted 31 January 2006 - 10:29 PM
Posted 31 January 2006 - 10:36 PM
The technical answer is 'yes', when you adjust action it affects your intonation. This is because your adjustment in made in a linear plane relative to the nut. If it were adjusted up or down in a corresponding arc to the nut then no change would occur. However, most such action adjustment are minimal enough that it's not that noticable. Sometimes I adjust for action first then intonate, sometimes the other way around.
Posted 31 January 2006 - 10:43 PM
Posted 01 February 2006 - 03:01 AM
Posted 01 February 2006 - 10:41 AM
Another thing that gave me fits was that, with my electric tuner, every time I plucked a string, the needle would go sharp a few points, then move to zero, and finally go a tad flat. An earlier post (can't remember who) suggested tuing the string so it finally settled on zero. That seems to work much better for me.
Posted 01 February 2006 - 12:31 PM
Posted 01 February 2006 - 09:40 PM
Posted 02 February 2006 - 12:12 AM
Posted 02 February 2006 - 05:55 AM
Posted 02 February 2006 - 09:03 PM
What is the basic saddle height of the 1st and 6th strings?
No sweat. Typically, only Classical guitars have a totally flat fretboard, the rest usually have a curve to them where from the outter edges the board arcs up towards the middle. So the saddles should be adjusted accordingly with the 1st and 6th probably a bit lower than the rest, then the 2nd and 5th, then the 3rd and 4th are the highest. We're talking a difference of minute porportions here.
Posted 02 February 2006 - 10:10 PM
Posted 03 February 2006 - 10:45 PM
Posted 22 February 2006 - 10:52 AM
You just saved me about $AUS 80 dollars including strings to have my guitar set up.
Posted 22 February 2006 - 12:16 PM
Posted 23 February 2006 - 08:01 AM
Great! Now start charging your guitar playing buddies to do their guitars and you'll have money for a new axe in no time!!
Now that's a good idea!
Just a query about the intonation instructions you gave UGB. You know how you said that firstly make sure the guitar is in tune before commencing the intonating and then once that is done, to place a finger down on the twelfth fret and pluck it to see if it goes on zero. Did you mean actually fretting the twelfth fret or picking the harmonic on the twelfth fret?
I ask that because when I did it I picked the harmonic on the twelfth fret and all 6 strings were okay.
But if you meant to actually fret it on fret 12, then I'll have to go back and do it again.
Posted 23 February 2006 - 02:56 PM
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