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SETUP: Basics of Intonation

Ed Seith

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    On a properly setup guitar, with a good tuner, an open note (say, the open D string) will ring exactly the same on the tuner as the 12th fret on the same string. If the 12th fret note is a little sharp, then your string length is slightly too short. If the 12th fret rings a little FLAT, then the overall string length is too long. The adjustment for this is at the bridge/saddle.

    Acoustic guitars don't have such an adjustment, but almost all electrics do. It's the saddle itself (the part of the bridge the string physically goes over on its journey to the neck) and usually each of them will have an adjustment screw.

    In the image below, #1 is where the string passes over (I used a Floyd Rose because it's the bridge on the Syn Customs), and #2 is the adjustment screw. As you can see, most of the time the adjustment screw is UNDER THE GODDAMN STRING, so this is something that is a royal pain in the balls to adjust. There is a tool to make it easier to do on a Floyd, but they're expensive and only have the one job.

    b8fa5154-124a-43c9-a0c9-d2f485492337.jpg

    On most other bridges, you have a spring-loaded adjustment screw that is much easier to work with.

    IBA_RG471AH_Bridge1_Large.jpg

    On any guitar, intonation adjustments will be a part of a basic guitar setup performed by a tech. You can also make these changes at home, if you have the proper screwdriver and an accurate electronic tuner, though I don't recommend doing this yourself on a Floyd-equipped guitar, unless you've already done it many times on another style of bridge and fully grasp the practicalities of how it works and how the adjustments work.

    A properly intonated guitar will allow you to play complex chords above the 12th fret that still sound perfectly in tune. A poorly intonated guitar may not be especially noticeable playing single notes, but will become hard to listen to when you play some chords that your ears are well-accustomed to.

    I expect questions.
     

    redlipsofdeceit

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    On a properly setup guitar, with a good tuner, an open note (say, the open D string) will ring exactly the same on the tuner as the 12th fret on the same string. If the 12th fret note is a little sharp, then your string length is slightly too short. If the 12th fret rings a little FLAT, then the overall string length is too long. The adjustment for this is at the bridge/saddle.

    Acoustic guitars don't have such an adjustment, but almost all electrics do. It's the saddle itself (the part of the bridge the string physically goes over on its journey to the neck) and usually each of them will have an adjustment screw.

    In the image below, #1 is where the string passes over (I used a Floyd Rose because it's the bridge on the Syn Customs), and #2 is the adjustment screw. As you can see, most of the time the adjustment screw is UNDER THE GODDAMN STRING, so this is something that is a royal pain in the balls to adjust. There is a tool to make it easier to do on a Floyd, but they're expensive and only have the one job.

    View attachment 1247

    On most other bridges, you have a spring-loaded adjustment screw that is much easier to work with.

    View attachment 1248

    On any guitar, intonation adjustments will be a part of a basic guitar setup performed by a tech. You can also make these changes at home, if you have the proper screwdriver and an accurate electronic tuner, though I don't recommend doing this yourself on a Floyd-equipped guitar, unless you've already done it many times on another style of bridge and fully grasp the practicalities of how it works and how the adjustments work.

    A properly intonated guitar will allow you to play complex chords above the 12th fret that still sound perfectly in tune. A poorly intonated guitar may not be especially noticeable playing single notes, but will become hard to listen to when you play some chords that your ears are well-accustomed to.

    I expect questions.
    I'm all new to this thing, so I don't even know where to start
    I borrowed an acoustic from my cousin. I was just trying to get to know the instrument, but I don't know if it's tuned properly. Like, from my inexperience, I thought the sound of some strings were a little weird, especially the sixth string, and I felt like this string in particular was too stretched (?) I don't how if I'm making sense here lol
    I'm trying to buy an electric guitar and the seller will send me a tuner with it, so I'm waiting for it so I can use it in my acoustic to adjust everything.
    Do you have any tips for this desperate inexperienced person, Ed? 😬
     
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    Radu-Cristian Perde

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    Ah the floyd rose. Being a pain in the ass at every single fucking step.. :ROFLMAO:

    But okay I actually do have a question. Overall, im very happy with every guitar setup that I have. They all sound pretty well in tune and intonated. However, i have one of them that has been a pain in my ass for forever. Its an ESP ltd ex-400. For some reason, the G string is really fucked up. When the G string is in tune, the Second fret feels so out of tune. This happened AFTER I took it for a setup a couple years ago. Never been to that tech after ever again. Anyways, what would be your recommendations oh Galactic overlord
     
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    Ed Seith

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    I'm all new to this thing, so I don't even know where to start
    I borrowed an acoustic from my cousin. I was just trying to get to know the instrument, but I don't know if it's tuned properly. Like, from my inexperience, I thought the sound of some strings were a little weird, especially the sixth string, and I felt like this string in particular was too stretched (?) I don't how if I'm making sense here lol
    I'm trying to buy an electric guitar and the seller will send me a tuner with it, so I'm waiting for it so I can use it in my acoustic to adjust everything.
    Do you have any tips for this desperate inexperienced person, Ed? 😬
    ABSOLUTELY. There are free apps for your phone that will be almost as good a tuner as a clip on tuner. On an acoustic, there's really no intonation adjustment, so if you have something that sounds weird, tuning up is going to be your first step. It is NATURAL for a guitar to go out of tune for even the most experienced players, and tuning up every couple of days (or whenever you notice the weirdness) should absolutely become a good habit.

    The notes, from thick string to thin, on a standard-tuned guitar are E - A - D - G - B - e.

    The small "e" for the last string (the thinnest, or "high e") is to denote that it's in a different octave (a higher register) than the E you tuned the 6th (heaviest) string to.

    When tuning, always tune UP to a note. If your string is sharp, detune it to below the correct note and then tune it back up. If you don't want to install an app on your phone (or can't, or don't have easy access to a phone), you can use this as well. It requires a microphone, which would be built-in on a laptop

    Online Guitar Tuner with Microphone, Free Guitar Tuning (tuner-online.com)
     
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    Ed Seith

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    Ah the floyd rose. Being a pain in the ass at every single fucking step.. :ROFLMAO:

    But okay I actually do have a question. Overall, im very happy with every guitar setup that I have. They all sound pretty well in tune and intonated. However, i have one of them that has been a pain in my ass for forever. Its an ESP ltd ex-400. For some reason, the G string is really fucked up. When the G string is in tune, the Second fret feels so out of tune. This happened AFTER I took it for a setup a couple years ago. Never been to that tech after ever again. Anyways, what would be your recommendations oh Galactic overlord
    The G is always fucking weird, bro. I think it's a math thing with wave resonance or something. Sometimes what works on certain guitars is tuning the G string *very* slightly sharp, assuming all the other strings are perfectly in tune. And I do mean VERY slightly.

    Intonation will NOT affect the open string, and is usually pretty impossible to hear (even for a tuner) below the 5th fret or so.
     

    Radu-Cristian Perde

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    The G is always fucking weird, bro. I think it's a math thing with wave resonance or something. Sometimes what works on certain guitars is tuning the G string *very* slightly sharp, assuming all the other strings are perfectly in tune. And I do mean VERY slightly.
    Thats the weird thing though. Its the only guitar of mine that really has noticeable issues. All my others stay well in tune, feel good and all and this one used to be as well but it feels like the tech changed something and I can hear it. I will always remember when I brought it back to him and he said that its normal.... ugh. But yeah another thing I would add is that he changed the nut as the older one broke. I just always struggle with this guitar in an attempt to make it sound right but something is just never right with the tuning whatever I do
     
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    redlipsofdeceit

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    ABSOLUTELY. There are free apps for your phone that will be almost as good a tuner as a clip on tuner. On an acoustic, there's really no intonation adjustment, so if you have something that sounds weird, tuning up is going to be your first step. It is NATURAL for a guitar to go out of tune for even the most experienced players, and tuning up every couple of days (or whenever you notice the weirdness) should absolutely become a good habit.

    The notes, from thick string to thin, on a standard-tuned guitar are E - A - D - G - B - e.

    The small "e" for the last string (the thinnest, or "high e") is to denote that it's in a different octave (a higher register) than the E you tuned the 6th (heaviest) string to.

    When tuning, always tune UP to a note. If your string is sharp, detune it to below the correct note and then tune it back up. If you don't want to install an app on your phone (or can't, or don't have easy access to a phone), you can use this as well. It requires a microphone, which would be built-in on a laptop

    Online Guitar Tuner with Microphone, Free Guitar Tuning (tuner-online.com)
    Thank you!!!!
    That was really helpful! 🙏🏻
     
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    Ed Seith

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    Thats the weird thing though. Its the only guitar of mine that really has noticeable issues. All my others stay well in tune, feel good and all and this one used to be as well but it feels like the tech changed something and I can hear it. I will always remember when I brought it back to him and he said that its normal.... ugh. But yeah another thing I would add is that he changed the nut as the older one broke. I just always struggle with this guitar in an attempt to make it sound right but something is just never right with the tuning whatever I do
    is it a Floyd? What bridge is on it?
     

    Ed Seith

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    Luckily its not, its a tune o matic bridge
    Tune the G string PERFECTLY, then lightly fret the 12th fret and check it against your tuner. If the 12th fret note is sharp or flat versus the open string note, you can make a simple adjustment to that string's intonation.

    Adjust - retune - retest - repeat.

    When tuning, NEVER strike the note hard - always lightly.
     
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    Radu-Cristian Perde

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    Tune the G string PERFECTLY, then lightly fret the 12th fret and check it against your tuner. If the 12th fret note is sharp or flat versus the open string note, you can make a simple adjustment to that string's intonation.

    Adjust - retune - retest - repeat.

    When tuning, NEVER strike the note hard - always lightly.
    Awesome, I will try this during the week and will let you know what results I got.

    Thanks a lot for you help dude!
     
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    Jesse Salmons

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    I understand how to do it, but my question is how often to perform an intonation adjustment? I typically check it with every string change, and especially if you change gauges of strings.
     
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    Ed Seith

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    I understand how to do it, but my question is how often to perform an intonation adjustment? I typically check it with every string change, and especially if you change gauges of strings.
    You should only ever have to re-intonate if you change string brand or gauge, or if you permanently change the tuning of a guitar.

    In other words, if your standard tuned guitar is now going to become "my Drop D guitar" semi-permanently, you should re-intonate the low D string. If you decided it was now going to be your Eb standard guitar, you should re-intonate the whole guitar. If you change from 9s to 10s - re-intonate. If you change from D'Addario 9s to Ernie Ball 9s - re-intonate (that should be very slight).

    Otherwise, you should not ever need to touch it.
     

    ari.mac

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    You should only ever have to re-intonate if you change string brand or gauge, or if you permanently change the tuning of a guitar.

    In other words, if your standard tuned guitar is now going to become "my Drop D guitar" semi-permanently, you should re-intonate the low D string. If you decided it was now going to be your Eb standard guitar, you should re-intonate the whole guitar. If you change from 9s to 10s - re-intonate. If you change from D'Addario 9s to Ernie Ball 9s - re-intonate (that should be very slight).

    Otherwise, you should not ever need to touch it.
    Absolutley didn't know it, thanks Ed!!!
     

    Jesse Salmons

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    You should only ever have to re-intonate if you change string brand or gauge, or if you permanently change the tuning of a guitar.

    In other words, if your standard tuned guitar is now going to become "my Drop D guitar" semi-permanently, you should re-intonate the low D string. If you decided it was now going to be your Eb standard guitar, you should re-intonate the whole guitar. If you change from 9s to 10s - re-intonate. If you change from D'Addario 9s to Ernie Ball 9s - re-intonate (that should be very slight).

    Otherwise, you should not ever need to touch it.
    Okay that makes sense! Thanks Ed!
     
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    Millie Imber

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    Man, this is so helpful to know! I didn't even know about any of this, but it's definitely something very useful to have in mind!! Thank you so much for this! :D
     
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    Alicia Willis

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    Awesome info, but I’m still going to make Ashely do it for me 😂

    I actually didn’t know you should check and adjust the intonation when using different brand strings though. That’s good to know ! I typically use the same kind of strings but every now and then the store is out so I have to get something different.

    You rock Captain Ed !
     

    Ed Seith

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    For just different string brands but same gauge and tuning, the adjustment would be minimal, and I probably wouldn't worry about it with a Floyd unless I was recording. On almost anything else, it's a very simple adjustment.
     
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    Larry Tooley

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    Thanks for doing this @Ed Seith . I know I knew less than nothing when I got my first guitar which by the way had a Floyd on it. It looked cool. Once it was in tune it tended to stay, but getting there can be an adventure when you don't know the basics.

    Any one can sound pro on an in tune properly intonated guitar.
     
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    Calvin Phillips

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    So my guess is to loosen the screw to make it longer and tighten to make it shorter? I noticed some of my stuff is a little off. I also changed tunings a lot as well. Will have to do each one to see where they all land.
     
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