Guitar Setup Made Easy: Intonation
photo via Strat Talk
Setting your intonation is surprisingly easy to do—a little practice and you’ll have it down in no time. Today in Andy’s Corner, we’re encouraging you to take that first step towards doing your own guitar setups—starting with intonation.
A properly intonated instrument is one that is in relative tune to itself. It’s smart to check your intonation any time you change your strings—and smart to only set your intonation on new strings. Here’s what you’ll need to get started:
• Your instrument
• Guitar tuner
• Instrument cable
• Small Phillips head screwdriver or allen wrench (check your guitar’s saddle to see which tool you need)
What you’ll actually be doing when you set your guitar’s intonation is shortening or lengthening the active vibrating length of a particular string—we do this so that the string is in tune with itself with respect to the scale length of the instrument and any unforeseen variations that can result from the manufacturing process.
So, let’s get you started.
1. Plug your guitar into your tuner. Make sure the volume on your guitar is on 10 (or 11, if it goes one louder). Pluck the harmonic at the 12th fret of your low E string and tune the string to the appropriate pitch.
2. Next, lightly press the string down to the 12th fret and check the pitch on the tuner. If the harmonic pitch and the fretted pitch are both in tune, then your string is properly intonated. You can then repeat these two steps on the next string (continue through all six strings if all strings’ harmonic and fretted pitches agree… if they don’t, continue on to the next step).
3. If the fretted note is sharper than the harmonic note, you will need to lengthen the string length. If it is flatter than the harmonic note, you will need to shorten the string length. Turning the saddle screw clockwise will lengthen the string; turning it counterclockwise will shorten the string. You will want to re-stretch and re-tune after every saddle adjustment and re-check the harmonic pitch as shifting the saddle will have an effect on the tuning.
4. Complete this process for every string. Be careful not to use too much pressure when fretting notes because too much pressure can pull the string out of tune and completely throw off the intonation process.
We should mention that intonation is a process that should be done only on instruments whose action and truss rod are already set in place—performing intonation on an instrument whose action or neck you may later adjust simply renders the intonation process useless—you’ll just have to set the intonation all over again.
If you’ve never checked your own guitar’s intonation, make a promise to yourself to do so next time you change your strings. With practice, you’ll get the process nailed down pretty fast and be on your way to playing a well-oiled (figuratively!) machine without having to take a trip to see your tech. Not that he isn't a swell guy, of course. :)
That's all for today in Andy's Corner-- hope everyone is gearing up for a nice holiday weekend-- we'll see you again after the break!