Guitar Intonation: How To Intonate a Guitar

Guitar Intonation

Guitars are quite handy stringed musical instruments that find broad applicability in all kinds of musical ventures. These include orchestras, operas, church choirs, solo performances, and indeed, so much more.For them to generate the high-quality music they are supposed to; they have to be in the very best shape and form all the time. This can only be guaranteed in case they are repaired, intoned, and maintained appropriately. Considering the importance of guitar intonation, this post will clarify everything else along with a step by step tutorial on how to intonate a guitar.

These form the gist of the discussions that follow. In the proceeding discussions, we are going to familiarize ourselves with the subject matter of guitar intonation by examining the various ways and means of keeping the guitars in their optimal states to ensure that the qualities of the sounds they generate are a desired.

WHAT IS GUITAR INTONATION?

Guitar intonation refers to that state of harmony that exists at the various points across the fret board at any given time. This state of harmony determines the accuracy of the pitch of the sounds produced. It may be described as either being flat or sharp or both. A flat pitch is one that has a low intonation whereas a sharp pitch is one that has a higher intonation.

HOW TO ADJUST YOUR GUITAR INTONATION AT THE NUT

ADJUST YOUR GUITAR INTONATION AT THE NUT

Adjusting the guitar simply means shortening or extending the scale length appropriately until the right intonation is obtained. This adjustment is preferably carried out at the bridge of the electric guitar. It may be easy or complex depending on the nature or type of the guitar. Listed and explained below are the three main kinds of nut compensation approaches that are broadly in use today:

1.Fender styled nut compensation

  • Remove the nut from its slot on the fender in-layed out
  • File at least one side of the nut slot in accordance with the relevant intonation guide. This will either extend or shorten the length of the fret board.
  • Fit a new nut into the bigger slot, or place a shim onto the side of the old nut and stick it in place
  • Compensate the wider nut by filing the vertical edges that are located on the part of the nuts that are sticking out of the fret board. This has the impact of extending the length of the fret board appropriately.

2.Gibson style nut compensation

  • Gently place a piece of wood against the nut on the guitar’s fret board. This is to lift the strings at a safe distance from the base of the guitar to allow for easy adjustments.
  • Gently hit the piece of wood using a hammer.This will cause the nut to pop right off and also facilitate the removal of the nut.
  • With the nut removed, carefully file down the fret board appropriately.This procedure ensures that the strings are adjusted accordingly to the desired length
  • Shorten the fret board slightly.But remember,Excessive shortening of the fretboard may permanently ruin the nut placements.

3.Pre-made Compensated Nuts

  • Obtain a nut that has the ability to intonate itself over a fret board.
  • Adjust the intonation on the guitar’s bridge

HOW TO ADJUST GUITAR INTONATION AT THE BRIDGE

ADJUST GUITAR INTONATION AT THE BRIDGE

​This approach entails adjusting the scale length of the strings at the point of their attachment to the bridge of the guitar. This may be done by either moving the saddle pieces nearer or farther away from the guitar’s fret board. For this to happen, the fretted 12th play has to be compared to the harmonic 12th play. In case the former is flat compared to the latter, then the scale length ought to be shortened and the saddle should also be moved towards the fret board. The following are the four main approaches of actualizing this:

A. Fixing the intonation on a Fender Type bridge

  • Using a tuner, adjust the guitar to the desired pitch
  • Fine-tune the truss rod to straighten the guitar’s neck
  • Re-tune the guitar using the tuner again once the neck has been straightened
  • Hold the guitar in the playing position and orient it in different directions. This will allow the gravity to pull on the strings in various ways to ensure that the strings are perfectly intonated.
  • Compare the harmonics on fret no.12 to the fretted note on fret no.12 by use of a tuner. They ought to be the same when they are played back to back.
  • Tighten or loosen the screws which attach the saddles to the backs of the bridge accordingly to set the right intonation.
  • Return the guitar to the original playing position
  • Replay both the fretted a well as the harmonic notes in the tuner to ascertain whether further adjustments may be necessary or not.
  • Repeat the above steps until both the harmonic and the fretted notes are all in tune.

B. Intonation on your Gibson or Tune-o-Matic bridge

  • Use a tuner to adjust the guitar to the desired pitch
  • Set the truss rod in such a manner as to straighten the guitar’s neck
  • Hold the guitar in the playing position and orient it in different directions. This will allow the gravity to pull on the strings in a variety of ways to ensure that the strings are perfectly intonated.
  • Compare the harmonics on fret no.12 to the fretted note on fret no.12 by use of a tuner. They ought to be the same when they are played back to back.
  • Tighten or loosen the screws which the saddles ride on using an Allen wrench
  • Return the guitar to the original playing position
  • Replay both the fretted a well as the harmonic notes in the tuner to ascertain whether further adjustments may be necessary or not.
  • Repeat the above steps until both the harmonic and the fretted notes are all in tune.

C. Adjusting the intonation on your Floyd Rose type bridge

  • Use a tuner to adjust the guitar to the desired pitch
  • Fine-tune the truss rod to straighten the guitar’s neck
  • Re-tune the guitar using the tuner again once the neck has been straightened
  • Ensure that the Floyd Bridge is rightly set up
  • Hold the guitar in the playing position and orient it in different directions. This will allow the gravity to pull on the strings in different ways to ensure that the strings are perfectly intonated.
  • Compare the harmonics on fret no.12 to the fretted note on fret no.12 by use of a tuner. They ought to be the same when they are played back to back.
  • Understand the manner in which the saddles ought to be adjusted
  • Loosen the tension on the strings
  • Loosen the screws that join the saddle onto the guitar’s bridge
  • Return the string back to its pitch
  • Return the guitar to the original playing position
  • Replay both the fretted a well as the harmonic notes in the tuner to ascertain whether further adjustments may be necessary or not.
  • Repeat the above steps until both the harmonic and the fretted notes are all in tune.

D. intonation on your PRS style wrap-around bridge

  • Use a tuner to adjust the guitar to the desired pitch
  • Tune the truss rod to straighten the guitar’s neck
  • Re-tune the guitar using the tuner again once the neck has been straightened
  • Ensure that the Floyd Bridge is rightly set up
  • Hold the guitar in the playing position and orient it in different directions. This will allow the gravity to pull on the strings in different ways to ensure that the strings are perfectly intonated.
  • Compare the harmonics on fret no.12 to the fretted note on fret no.12 by use of a tuner. They ought to be the same when they are played back to back.
  • Understand the manner in which the saddles ought to be adjusted
  • Loosen the tension on the strings
  • Loosen the screws that join the saddle onto the guitar’s bridge
  • Return the string back to its pitch
  • Return the guitar to the original playing position
  • Replay both the fretted a well as the harmonic notes in the tuner to ascertain whether further adjustments may be necessary or not.
  • Repeat the above steps until both the harmonic and the fretted notes are all in tune.

WHAT IS GUITAR SCALE LENGTH?

GUITAR SCALE LENGTH

It is basically the distance between the nut (or zero frets) and the guitar’s bridge saddle. It is arrived at by measuring the distance between the inner edge of the nut, and the center of the 12th fret and multiplying the distance by 2. The scale length determines the string tension, tuning stability, and tone, as well as the placements of the frets strategically for appropriate intonation. It also determines the sum total of the various tones that may be produced by the strings under any given tension. It is the actual length of the strings between the bridge and the nuts in those musical instruments in which the strings are neither divided nor stopped by frets such as the piano.

HOW TO CHECK YOUR GUITAR'S INTONATION

HOW TO CHECK YOUR GUITAR'S INTONATION

This procedure requires an electronic guitar tuner. It may be actualized in the following steps:

Tune your Guitar to a Predefined Pitch

In this step, you are to tune your guitar to the desired pitch, say E. Do this by placing your index finger beneath the E string and then accurately tuning it.

Test the precise guitar string open which you intend to verify

After tuning the guitar to that desired pitch, test its pitch by playing it appropriately. Listen carefully to the pitch of the sound produced. Proceed to step III.

Play the fret no. 12 on the same string

Play the fret no.12 on the same string. Listen also carefully to the pitch of the sound that is eventually produced. Compare this pitch to that of the desired pitch outlined above.

NB: In case the pitches of both strings (the one you want and fret no. 12) are the same, are the same, then the pitch is in tune. If, however, the two pitches vary, then they are out of tune and as such, ought to be adjusted appropriately.

WHAT CAUSES POOR INTONATION?

WHAT CAUSES POOR INTONATION

A variety of factors can cause poor intonation. These include the following:

Technique

Some fretting techniques entail the use of excessive pressure on the strings. This leads to highly rigid strings which are largely inflexible. If and when the strings are engaged, they do not produce the high pitch that they are supposed to, and in so doing, interfere with the guitar’s intonation.

Fret Layout or Spacing

This arises when the various components of the guitar such as the strings, the bridge, and the neck are not positioned or laid out properly. This occurs mainly in the low cost imported guitars that are assembled by hand.

Production Defects

Defects during the production of a musical instrument may also interfere with the intonation of the guitar itself. Examples of these defects could be mathematical errors, incorrect positioning of the bridge, and improper physical layouts of the various part and components.

​Fret Stature

​Frets that are either improperly grooved or are worn flat may also interfere with the guitar’s intonation. For these reasons, frets must be dressed and leveled consistently to get rid of these anomalies.

​Worn out or Grooved Saddles

​The elements of wear and tear may alter the shapes of the saddles crown. This subsequently alters the lengths of the strings.

​High Actions

​High action refers to a situation in which the strings are located at too high a distance from the neck. This stretches the strings too far to contact the frets appropriately thus sharpening the notes. In case a high action occurs at the nut, the chords that are played at the first and the third positions will be way out of tune.

​Incorrect Positioning of the Frets or Saddles

​In the events that the frets or the saddles are incorrectly positioned, the strings may either be too short or too long. This may result in the intonation being either too sharp or too flat. Incorrect positioning may be caused by the interference of the saddles slots or the saddle crown.

​Change Your Strings!

​Change guitar Strings

​From time to time, you may need to replace your guitar strings altogether. The following are some of the grounds in which this may have to happen:

​Faulty Manufacture

​In some instances, the strings do come out faulty from a manufacturer. When this happens, you are strongly advised to return it to the seller and claim warranty compensation. That’s because faulty strings do not usually stay in tune and also sound dead when engaged besides not allowing proper intonation.

​Obsolescence

​Strings inevitably get old, torn, or worn out. These conditions also compromise their intonation capability. Such string may have to be replaced altogether to be sure to derive the high-quality tones that are naturally expected from them.

​Inflexible Strings

​Guitar strings that lack the necessary agility may also compromise the tonal quality. That’s because they will not bend or flex conveniently as they should. Since it is almost practically impossible to repair a guitar string, only a wholesome replacement may be necessary.

​Bottom Line

​The act of intonation a guitar is a pretty intricate undertaking. It is also delicate such that any errors may often be accompanied by any dire repercussions. As such, it is a task that is advisedly delegated to a competent, highly skilled and experienced guitarist who has the wherewithal to carry it out successfully.

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