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Intonating your electric guitar or bass


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#1 OFFLINE   Ultimate Garage Band

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Posted 31 January 2006 - 10:03 PM

Intonating your electric guitar or bass


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.

CHECKING INTONATION:

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!

#2 OFFLINE   bone1205

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Posted 31 January 2006 - 10:29 PM

My G and B strings still goes flat even if my saddles are fully extended:huh: ... When you change the action do you need to change your intonation? Thanks in advance!:thumbup1:

#3 OFFLINE   Ultimate Garage Band

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Posted 31 January 2006 - 10:36 PM

By fully extended do you mean towards the nut or towards the bridge? What kind of bridge is it? Can you take a picture of it and post it?

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.

#4 OFFLINE   bone1205

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Posted 31 January 2006 - 10:39 PM

towards the nut...

#5 OFFLINE   Ultimate Garage Band

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Posted 31 January 2006 - 10:43 PM

I'd have to see the bridge to see what further adjustments could be made.

#6 OFFLINE   nagukush

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Posted 01 February 2006 - 03:01 AM

This new forum is really useful. Thanks Clancy, and Thanks UGB !!!:clap:
No one can master every aspect of guitar playing, they just get better everyday.

#7 OFFLINE   papadog65

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Posted 01 February 2006 - 10:41 AM

That was interesting, UGB! I've had it stuck in my mind that one needs to pop the harmonic at the 12 fret. After reading your article it seems to me that I'd be ending up slightly flat by not fretting it instead. Before I ran into an article about intonation a year or so ago, I had thought I had a lousy instrument because I could never get it in tune. After intonating using harmonics it sounded better, but I still had a hard time tuning. I'm going to try it by freeting instead to see if that makes a difference.

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.

#8 OFFLINE   Ultimate Garage Band

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Posted 01 February 2006 - 12:31 PM

Dead or weak batteries can you drive you crazy too. On some tuners you have to ring the first note, then cancel it out by muting, THEN ring the fretted note, otherwise the needle just stays on zero going from the open note to the fretted note and it's not really reading the fretted note. It's just maintaining its position from the open note.

#9 OFFLINE   bone1205

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Posted 01 February 2006 - 09:40 PM

how about the height of the saddles? Do I need to adjust every single one to a specific height or all in the same height?

#10 OFFLINE   Ultimate Garage Band

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Posted 02 February 2006 - 12:12 AM

The height of the saddles should follow the radius of the fretboard.

#11 OFFLINE   bone1205

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Posted 02 February 2006 - 01:10 AM

radius? sorry really a newbie...

#12 OFFLINE   Ultimate Garage Band

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Posted 02 February 2006 - 05:55 AM

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.

#13 OFFLINE   bone1205

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Posted 02 February 2006 - 09:03 PM

Ultimate Garage Band said:

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.
What is the basic saddle height of the 1st and 6th strings?

#14 OFFLINE   Ultimate Garage Band

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Posted 02 February 2006 - 10:10 PM

Well, that's relative to each guitar really. Each bridge system, each neck radius, each nut that's been cut, etc. That's why you can take 10 factory guitars of the exact same model and for sure find a 'best' one and a 'worst' one. Set up the 6th string by checking for proper relief like I discuss in the truss rod sticky and then adjust the 5th from the 6th and so on. Even though the 6th and 1st string live in a symetrical space relative to the fretboard radius, the saddle height would be different because the 2 strings are radically different in diameter and tension.

#15 OFFLINE   justinthyme

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Posted 03 February 2006 - 10:45 PM

UGB - I had a go at intonating the guitar - sure enough there was a problem with flat notes at the 12th fret. Now fixed - many thanks indeed! I'm sure Carlos will feel a lot better now, too.:clap:
Ian

#16 OFFLINE   Ultimate Garage Band

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Posted 08 February 2006 - 02:52 PM

Cool! Who's Carlos?

#17 OFFLINE   coldethyl

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Posted 22 February 2006 - 10:52 AM

Thanks UGB!
You just saved me about $AUS 80 dollars including strings to have my guitar set up.

Neil
"Good Music is that which penetrates the ear with facility and quits the memory with difficulty" Thomas Beecham

#18 OFFLINE   Ultimate Garage Band

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Posted 22 February 2006 - 12:16 PM

Great! Now start charging your guitar playing buddies to do their guitars and you'll have money for a new axe in no time!!;)

#19 OFFLINE   coldethyl

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Posted 23 February 2006 - 08:01 AM

Ultimate Garage Band said:

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!:thumbup1:

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.

Neil:)
"Good Music is that which penetrates the ear with facility and quits the memory with difficulty" Thomas Beecham

#20 OFFLINE   Ultimate Garage Band

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Posted 23 February 2006 - 02:56 PM

Fret it, not the harmonic. The harmonic signals the note in the natural plane of the string; a fretted note, which is what intonation affects, pushes the string out of it's natural plane down to the fret. This is why the note would be flat or sharp.





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