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How To Intonate a Guitar | Guitar Intonation

 

Guitar Intonation Tips

 



 

How To Intonate A Guitar | Guitar Intonation

Page Update 3/7/2016

  • Set Up, Adjusting, and Checking Guitar Intonation
  • Intonating a Guitar or Bass
  • Guitar Intonation with a Floyd Rose Style Tremelo

 

Many advanced guitarists and guitar technicians for bands may know how important it is to have proper intonation for a guitar, acoustic guitar, or bass guitar.  Beginner and Intermediate guitar players may not be as concerned with intonation, because their chromatic tuner shows that the guitar is in perfect tune.  Although the guitar tuner shows perfect tune, there are still some tweaks you can perform through intonation to make sure your guitar is set up properly.  While I don’t claim to be an expert at intonating a guitar, listed below are a few tips to help you through the process. 

We are assuming and electric guitar or an electric bass for the example below.  For an acoustic guitar, please see some of our useful links below.  Please consult a professional guitar technician for guitar intonation work, if you do not feel comfortable making these types of adjustments on your own.  We will also list several sites and videos below that may help you better understand the intonation process.  Believe it or not, the intonation process is not as difficult as you may think as long as you have some knowledge or background on guitar maintenance.

When Does Guitar Intonation Needs Adjusted?

There are a couple ways to tell if you guitar or bass needs to have its intonation adjusted.  The first thing we will assume is that you are in a standard E tuning.  While you can check intonation in different tunings, assuming standard tuning for this discussion may make this a little easier to explain.  The first way to know that you intonation is off is by checking the open string note vs. the note at the 12th fret of your guitar or bass.  This is one octave higher or the octave harmonic.  Another way is to play a bar chord up towards the 12th fret (Ex: A Bar Chord at the 12th fret), and listen for out of tune notes in the chord.  This is not an official way to check for intonation, but may help to discover any issues.  Other factors that may affect intonation are string height, neck truss rod adjustments, and more.  So make sure you have checked and made any other adjustments as well so that the intonation process will go smoothly.

 

How To Set Guitar Intonation - Intonate a Guitar or Bass

For the purposes of this explanation, we will use a 6 string guitar for our example, but similar type of adjustments would be used for a bass guitar as well. 

  • Make sure you guitar is in perfect tune using an electronic tuner, digital tuner, chromatic tuner, or a reliable tuner in general.  It’s probably best to plug the guitar into the tuner as well instead of using the mic.  This will allow for more precise tuning. (We are assuming standard tuning to E for this example)
  • While tuning make sure to strum the notes consistently (especially for the bass guitar)
  • Once you are tuned appropriately with a reliable tuner, it is now time to start moving to the notes at the 12th fret of your guitar or bass.
  • First, check the harmonic at the 12th fret to see if it’s in tune on your tuner.  This is another way to check, but some do not utilize the harmonic method. 
  • Then, Fret the note at the 12th fret and check the tuning for that as well.  When fretting the notes please make sure to be consistent here as well.  Adding to much pressure to the string can result in improper adjustments. 
  • Play the harmonic at the 12th fret, tune to the harmonic, and check the fretted note at the 12th fret and observe the tuner.  Is the tuner showing that your guitar or bass is one of the following:
    • Perfect Tune – No Adjustment Necessary
    • Sharp (High) – Adjustment Needed (See Below)
    • Flat (Low) – Adjustment Needed (See Below)
  • Sharp - If your guitar intonation check is Sharp (higher than it should be), the bridge pieces or bridge saddles (located on the bridge itself) needs to be moved away the fretboard / pickups of your guitar.  Saddles may also be referred to as saddle pieces or bridge pieces.  Typically there will be a screw for each specific bridge piece that you can adjust on electric guitars and basses.  Tighten this screw to move the saddle away from the fretboard and pickups with small adjustments.  This is a trial and error process and small adjustments can mean a lot for guitar maintenance in general.  Make very small adjustments and then go back and check tuning at the 12th fret once again (You will most likely have to retune the whole string first before checking at the 12th fret since you have moved a saddle – see bullet point one above).  You can watch the tuner as you make adjustments to the saddle piece just to make sure your making the correct adjustment, but you still need to go back and check the tunings normally.  Repeat until you find the correct tuning at the 12th fret.  Once you feel you have adjusted appropriately for intonation, go back and check the overall tuning for the string.  If you’re in tune in both areas (overall, and at the 12th) for all of the strings on the instrument, the guitar string is now properly intonated. 
  • Flat - If your guitar intonation check is Flat (lower than it should be), the bridge pieces or bridge saddles (located on the bridge itself) needs to be moved toward the fretboard of your guitar.  Typically there will be a screw for each specific bridge piece that you can adjust.  Loosen this screw to move the saddle toward the fretboard and pickups with small adjustments. This is a trial and error process and small adjustments can mean a lot for guitar maintenance in general.  Make very small adjustments and then go back and check tuning at the 12th fret once again.  (You will most likely have to retune the whole string first before checking at the 12th fret since you have moved a saddle – see bullet point one above). You can watch the tuner as you make adjustments just to make sure your making the correct adjustment, but you still need to go back and check the tunings normally. Repeat until you find the correct tuning at the 12th fret.  Once you feel you have adjusted appropriately for intonation, go back and check the overall tuning for the string. If you’re in tune in both areas (overall, and at the 12th) for all of the strings on the instrument, the string is now properly intonated.
  • Note:  For Guitars with Floyd Rose type tremelos may have the screw located in a different place (typically the front of the trem) than a typical Stratocaster or telecaster type guitar.  
  • Repeat these steps for each string on your guitar or bass

 

There may be exceptions to this process depending on the instrument you are trying to adjust for intonation and if other guitar set up items are needed for the instrument.  Listed above are just some basic tips that may help the do it yourself guitar repairer set up an guitar instrument for intonation.  We always advise that you seek the help of a professional guitar technician for these types of adjustments as they can get complicated. 

Media Web Source does not endorse the above websites, we are just give you an opportunity to check out different websites on Guitar Intonation.  Always consult a guitar pro when Intonating a guitar.