Good guitar playing requires more than just a good ear and steady hand. You also need to make sure your guitar is properly intonated! In this article, we’ll discuss what intonation is, how it affects your playing, and how to check your intonation and adjust it if necessary. We’ll also cover some common intonation problems and tips for getting the best sound from your instrument. So let’s get started!
What is guitar intonation?Intonation is the process of adjusting the pitch accuracy of a guitar across its fretboard. It is one of the most important factors of guitar playing and is essential for producing good quality music. It refers to how accurately strings are tuned relative to each other while playing chords or melodies. In order for intonation to be correct, you’ll have to make sure that all notes in a chord or melody will be at the same pitch when played together. This means that if you play an E minor chord, for example, each note should be perfectly in tune with each other without sounding out of tune or sharp/flat. To achieve this, you may need to adjust the bridge saddles on your guitar or use an electronic guitar tuner so that all notes will be properly in tune with one another. Once done correctly, your guitar’s intonation should remain consistent regardless of which note or chord you play.
Is intonation important for your guitar?Intonation is critically important for guitars because it affects the tuning of each string and helps to keep them in tune with each other. If you’re playing chords or melodies that require multiple strings to be played at once, then intonation ensures that they’ll sound harmonious together. If any one string is out of tune, it can ruin the whole sound of your guitar. Proper intonation also plays an important role in maintaining your guitar’s overall health by helping reduce stress on its neck joint caused by poor alignment between frets and strings. With good intonation, your guitar will have a rich tone and stay in tune for longer periods of time.
How to check intonation on your guitarYou can check the intonation by tuning your guitar with an electronic tuner or pitch pipe. Once you’ve got it in tune, play a 12th-fret natural harmonic and then play the same note at the 12th fret fretted. If they match, both notes should be in tune with each other. Repeat this process for every string on your guitar to ensure that all strings are properly intonated.
Tune your guitarTuning a guitar is a simple process that can be done relatively quickly with the right tools. All you need is an electronic guitar tuner to check and adjust the intonation of each string and a set of adjustable wrenches or pliers to tighten or loosen the tuning pegs. First, make sure that all six strings are tuned properly before making any adjustments. You can do this by using an electronic tuner to get each string in tune with the standard concert pitch (EADGBE). Once each string is tuned, check for intonation by playing fretted notes on different strings and comparing the notes to those of an open string. To adjust intonation, simply turn the tuning peg clockwise or counterclockwise until it matches up with the same note when played fretted on another string. Remember that small adjustments may be necessary, as changing one string’s intonation can also affect other strings.
Play a 12th-fret natural harmonicNatural harmonics on the guitar are created by lightly touching the string at certain points along its length. They can be found at the 5th, 7th, 12th, and 19th frets. To play a 12th fret natural harmonic, place your left hand finger onto the fret wire before gently plucking the string with your right hand. You’ll then hear a bell-like note that is higher than what would normally be heard when playing an open string. To make sure you’re getting clear harmonics each time, ensure that only one left hand finger is touching one of these specific frets whilst playing – any additional fingers will cause dissonance and muffle the sound. Also make sure that your right hand isn’t pressing too hard on the string or else the notes won’t ring out clearly.
Play a 12th fret noteThe 12th fret is an important location to be aware of. At this point on the fretboard, you’ll find two octaves of the same note. Playing this note helps musicians accurately gauge their intonation since it offers a reliable reference for tuning purposes. The 12th fret is also useful when creating melodies as notes sound more full and complete due to its close proximity to the bridge. This increases sustain, creating a richer tone.
Repeat the steps for every stringRepeat these steps for every string on your instrument. When adjusting intonation, it’s important to adjust each string individually:
- Tune the open string until it sounds in tune with an A440 tuner.
- Play the 12th fret note and make sure it matches up with an octave of the open string pitch.
- Adjust the saddle accordingly until both notes match up correctly.
- Repeat this process for all remaining strings.
What Can Affect Guitar Intonation?Things that can affect guitar intonation include adjusting the bridge, proper setup of the instrument, string gauge selection, and your playing style.
Bridge adjustmentTo properly adjust your bridge, there are four steps you should follow:
- Check the height of the strings relative to the frets by pressing down on each string at different points along the fretboard and listening for any buzzing or dead sounds.
- Check the angle of the strings using an electronic tuner to see if they’re parallel to each other as they cross over each saddle at the bridge.
- Adjust string length with individual saddle screws if necessary. This may be needed when a particular note sounds out of tune even after adjusting string height and angle.
- Test intonation again after making all adjustments. Make sure that notes played open (without holding down any frets) sound in tune when compared with those held down at various frets along the neck, particularly around the 12th-15th fret area where intonation can often be off due to unequal scale lengths between open strings and higher fretted notes.
Guitar setupA guitar setup involves adjusting many components of the instrument, including intonation. When setting up a guitar, intonation should be adjusted using a combination of bridge and nut adjustments. The bridge adjustment can be made by adjusting the individual saddles on an electric or acoustic guitar until they align correctly with each other. On an acoustic guitar, you may also need to loosen or tighten strings and/or move the saddle forward or backward to achieve proper intonation. The nut adjustment should include height and radius measurements for each string slot, ensuring correct string placement when fretted at any point along its length.
String GaugeChoosing the right string gauge for your instrument is essential for achieving optimal sound quality. For example, most electric guitars use a gauge of .009 to .042, while acoustic guitars usually range between .012 and .054. Knowing what type of string gauge works best with your guitar setup is key to successful intonation. A heavier gauge may produce more volume but can also make tuning difficult. Conversely, a lighter gauge may provide better tuning accuracy but tone and volume could be compromised as well. Experimenting with different gauges can help you determine which ones are best suited to your playing style and achieve optimal sound quality at the same time.
The way you playThe way you play your guitar can affect intonation even if you have an instrument set up. Here are a few things to keep in mind: Use alternate picking as much as possible – Alternate picking helps create uniformity of sound and accuracy of notes.
- Avoid using too much vibrato or overbending strings – overbending strings can cause them to go sharp and out of tune.
- Lightly dampen any open strings when necessary – damping open strings helps maintain consistent pitch throughout chords and phrases.
- Maintain correct posture while playing – good posture helps ensure your technique is accurate, which will help maintain good intonation.
How to adjust intonationAdjusting a guitar’s intonation involves calibrating the length of each string to achieve an accurate pitch. This process starts with tuning the strings, then fine-tuning them by adjusting the bridge saddles, which are located at the bridge. Each saddle has two adjustable screws: one for height and one for length. By loosening these screws, you can adjust the length of each string until they are in tune with each other. To check that you have adjusted correctly, use an electronic tuner or harmonic tuning app on your phone/tablet to double-check that all strings are in tune. If any notes are off slightly, continue to adjust until they ring accurately. Once done properly, this adjustment will help make sure your guitar stays in tune more easily and sound great! Check our complete guide on how to adjust the guitar`s intonation.
Guitar intonation problemsIf you’re having trouble with your guitar intonation, you likely have some or a few of these problems:
Faulty guitar stringsYou may be wondering why your strings don’t sound quite right; have you checked to see if they need adjusting? Faulty guitar strings can cause intonation problems and make it difficult to play in tune. Here are some potential causes of faulty strings:
- Neglecting to regularly change out old strings for new ones
- Not cleaning the strings with an appropriate string cleaner or cloth
- Strings becoming rusty due to exposure to moisture or sweat from playing the guitar too frequently
- Unintentional damage caused by improper installation, tuning, or storage of the instrument.
Too high string actionToo high string action on your guitar can cause intonation issues and other technical problems. When the strings are too high, they don’t vibrate properly, and this will cause notes to be out of tune or not sound their best.
Extreme guitar neck reliefToo much neck relief can drastically change the way your instrument plays, affecting the response of each note you play and how easily you can navigate around the fretboard. Extreme guitar neck relief can cause a variety of issues with intonation:
- The strings may buzz against certain frets when played.
- Notes will become out of tune, making it difficult to play in tune.
- It can be difficult to adjust truss rod tension accurately.
- High action strings may cause discomfort while playing.
Your intonation pieces have not been correctly positionedIf you have not positioned intonation pieces correctly, then your guitar will still sound out of tune. Let’s go over what you need to do to ensure that your intonation pieces are in the right place.
- Check Bridge Height
- Measure bridge height using a ruler or string action gauge
- Ensure the bridge is at the optimal height for good sound and playability
- Test string length
- Measure string length from nut and saddle with a ruler or feeler gauge Ensure strings are evenly spaced and proper tension on each string
- Set Intonation Pieces
- Adjust screws on each saddle piece until octaves match open strings
- Make sure fretted notes play in tune up and down the neck
- Fine Tune Intonation
- Use an electronic tuner while fretting different notes on all 6 strings
- Make sure every note across all 6 strings plays perfectly in tune
The nut is either worn down or improperly set.The nut can be the source of tuning issues if it’s worn down or not set up properly. This can cause notes to resonate off-key. The nut determines the height of the strings on the fretboard, so when it’s too low or too high, intonation is affected. Intonation can also be affected by damaged or misaligned nut slots. A worn-out nut may cause buzzing and poor sound quality, as well as difficulty in playing chords and other techniques due to inaccurate string spacing. To check for a worn-out nut, inspect for marks that indicate strings have been rubbing against it or signs of wear such as chips or cracks.
Your frets have not been properly positionedImproperly positioning your frets can lead to intonation issues, resulting in notes sounding off-key. If the frets aren’t exactly parallel with the nut of the guitar, or if they’re too high or too low, it will affect the overall intonation. To check that your frets have been properly positioned, use a straight edge across the fretboard and see if it lines up perfectly with each fret. If it doesn’t line up perfectly, you may need to adjust them by filing down any raised frets or adding additional material under any sunken ones. Also, make sure that each fret has an equal distance from each other; you can measure this using calipers for accuracy.
The frets are too loose in their slotsA loose fret can cause poor intonation and tuning instability. To fix this issue, you can re-shape the fret’s profile with sandpaper or a file, apply super glue to secure it in place, or use specialized fret leveling tools and techniques. These steps can improve the overall playability of your guitar and correct any intonation issues. If you’re uncomfortable making these adjustments yourself, it’s best to seek out professional help from an experienced luthier.
The nut and frets show signs of wear or damageYour nut and frets may be worn or damaged, so it’s important to check them for any signs of wear. A worn or damaged nut will cause string buzz and intonation problems because the strings can’t make a secure connection with the metal pieces in the nut. Also, if the fret slots are too wide, they won’t hold the strings firmly enough to create accurate intonation. To check for damage or wear, inspect both sides of the nut and look at each fret slot for any signs of wear. If you notice any issues with your nut or fret slots, you’ll need to take action right away. If left unaddressed, these issues can lead to intonation problems that require more complex repairs later on.
Changing the string gaugesChanging to a different string gauge means switching out the strings for thicker or thinner ones than the original set. For example, if you’re currently using .10s, you could switch to .11s or .09s. It’s important to make sure the strings you choose will fit in your guitar’s nut slots and bridge saddles. Thicker strings require larger slots and vice versa.
Tips for better guitar intonationTuning your guitar correctly can be tricky, so here are some tips to help you get the best intonation possible.
Make sure to loosen your strings while adjusting intonationYou should loosen your strings while adjusting intonation. But before that, make sure to turn down the tuning pegs until the strings become loose enough for you to move them up and down with your finger. This will allow you to adjust the bridge of the guitar without any resistance from a tight string. Furthermore, it’s important that each time you adjust one of the tuning pegs, you should check your intonation by playing a few notes on each string. This will ensure that all of your strings are correctly tuned in relation to each other.
Protect your guitarTo ensure that your guitar is always in good condition, make sure to regularly clean and lubricate the fretboard, restring the strings at least once every six months, and store it in a case or humidified room when not in use. Also, if you’re using the guitar often for gigs or recording sessions, check for any loose screws or parts which may need tightening. It’s also important to protect your guitar from extreme temperatures and humidity levels as these can cause damage over time. Keep your guitar away from direct sunlight and other heat sources such as radiators, heaters and air conditioning units. If you live in an area with high humidity levels, consider investing in a dehumidifier or use an electronic monitoring device to ensure that the environment is safe for your instrument.
Check the height of your action before playingBefore playing, make sure to check your action height. If it’s too high or low, it can affect your sound quality and playability. The action height is the distance between the strings and the fretboard, measured at the 12th fret. If this measurement is off, you may experience buzzing as you play. To check your action, use a ruler or measuring tape to measure from the top of the fretwire to the bottom of each string on both sides of the 12th fret. In general, electric guitars should have a lower action than acoustic guitars due to their harder strings and heavier gauge. However, some players prefer higher actions for easier bending.
Use a quality guitar tunerUsing a quality tuner will ensure that each note is perfectly in tune and makes playing much easier and more enjoyable. It will help you accurately identify and address any issues with intonation. Here are some tips for using a guitar tuner:
- Make sure the tuner can detect all notes on your guitar’s fretboard.
- Adjust the volume of the sound to ensure that the note is clearly heard by the device.
- Use headphones when possible if recording in a noisy environment to avoid interference from outside sounds.