ProGuitarShop

Guitar Setup Made Easy: Intonation

November 27, 2013

 

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!

Comments

  1. Wat says:

    Edgy. Innovative. I’m glad someone decided to put this information on the internet. I was having trouble finding it anywhere else.

    posted on November 27, 2013 at 12:19 pm
  2. Bob says:

    You can also find full setup instructions at www.fender.com

    posted on November 27, 2013 at 12:24 pm
  3. FAST EDDIE says:

    YOU NEED TO DET THE G STRING FLAT SLIGHTLY FOR THE GUITA TO PLAY IN TUNE.YOU CAN SET THE G STRING FLAT AND BE IN TUNE WITH YOUR METHOD PF SETTING INTONATIO,BUT ITS EASIER TO SET THE INTONATION FLAT THEN ADJUST THE GUITAR TO THE EXACT PITCH ON YOUR TUNER.LISTEN TO YOUR GUITAR AND YOU WILL SEE. I LEARNED IT FROM A FRIEND WHO HAS BEEN SETTING UP GUITARS FOR 50 YEARS. HE SHOWED E THE DIFFERENCE AND HE IS RIGHT.YOU DON’T HERE ABOUT THIS ANYWHERE ELSE.CHECK IT OUT.CLIIFFY SHOED ME!!

    posted on November 27, 2013 at 12:32 pm
  4. FAST EDDIE says:

    SORRY FOR THE MISSPELLED WORDS ABOVE. I DIDN’T SEE IT TILL I POSTED. WISH I COULD EDIT MY POST. I’M SURE YOU WILL GET WHAT I’M SAYING FROM IT ANYWAY….SORRY…..FAST EDDIE!!

    posted on November 27, 2013 at 12:35 pm
  5. Bob says:

    http://www.fender.com/support/articles/?category=how-to-guides

    Look here.

    posted on November 27, 2013 at 12:38 pm
  6. GARY says:

    I adjust mine while in the playing position.  Don’t lay your guitar flat, because the intonation WILL change when playing.

    posted on November 27, 2013 at 12:45 pm
  7. RICK Johnson says:

    You`re Right Fast Eddie,saw the therory of G-flat on Utube…

    posted on November 27, 2013 at 12:50 pm
  8. Abbacus says:

    Outta sight, man! Like chewing aluminum foil! I must be having a flashback to 1973, my sophomore year in high school. I got my first Strat from Denney’s Music in Portland: a sunburst 4-bolt, 70- 1971-ish. Getting it home, I read the Fender owners manual and proceeded to follow the instructions to check and adjust the set up and intonation. Over the years, I have been surprised at how many gigging guitarists there are who still pay someone to set up their guitars. This really blows my mind ‘cause it’s so easy to learn how to service your own gear. And now we are all in the golden years of gear and so, so much gear to maintain! Anyone from the early 70’s music scene knows how important it is to maintain! Don’t let your set up get too far out, man!

    posted on November 27, 2013 at 12:54 pm
  9. Murry Witzel says:

    It is a really good idea to use some lubrication on the nut and saddles, (and string trees if you have them) before beginning the intonation process.  Failure to do so may make setting the intonation very frustrating, as you will adjust the string length and yet, the intonation will not change because the string is binding somewhere.

    posted on November 27, 2013 at 1:11 pm
  10. Userrating says:

    ^^ Wat a douche. Thanks Andy, clear instructions for those who are new to intonation. I’m sure Wat was new to it once.

    posted on November 27, 2013 at 1:34 pm
  11. OMNITRAX says:

    Ever notice that your tuner needle jumps all over the place sometimes? That’s because it gets confused by all the upper range harmonics. Roll off the tone control all the way when tuning and adjusting intonation. You tuner will love you! Another thing that can confuse your tuner is single-coil buzz. Try to rotate your position until you minimize the buzz, and your tuner will love you even more. YIKES!!

    posted on November 27, 2013 at 2:30 pm
  12. LB says:

    I’m not sure if setting intonation with a tuner is accurate, as most tuners “sweeten” the 4th & 5th
    intervals. So unless your tuner is capable of tuning to equal temperament, i.e. Peterson strobe, you’re not going to intonate properly.

    posted on November 27, 2013 at 3:04 pm
  13. CBJ says:

    Also, if you change gauge of strings the intonation needs to be redone. Oddly enough sometimes even going from one brand of strings to another even staying with the same gauge requires redoing the intonation.

    posted on November 27, 2013 at 3:10 pm
  14. Darin Ames says:

    What Murry Witzel says is CRUCIAL, especially if you use a guitar with any kind of whammy bar, be it a Strat or Bigsby or what have you. Lubing the nut and bridge saddles is incredibly important and integral to keeping your guitar in tune when using a vibrato.

    posted on November 27, 2013 at 3:37 pm
  15. Hanx says:

    You should be sorry for using uppercase! @Fast Eddie

    posted on November 27, 2013 at 5:41 pm
  16. mattyboy says:

    im a better guitarist then anybody so my comment is more important.so far alot of know it alls have added their 2 cents and they are all idiots…it doesnt matter if you ask about pedals or guitar set ups..they all think they know some magic that hasnt been revealed before..you guys suck at guitar ....and dont buy enough pedals from pgs..go home and practice on your little squire bullet strats and solid state amps..your weak and shouldnt be allowed to comment on things you dont know enough about….buy lots of pedals you dont need from pgs..tune your little wammy bar flat like that fool told you..ill be laughing

    posted on November 28, 2013 at 12:14 am
  17. Elliott says:

    TO MATTYBOY after reading your comment I just had to say that your comment was really helpful to all of us sucky guitarists. Thanks for your informative input. Your attitude sucks and you probably don’t even know how to play a first position A chord. You are such a great guitarist Loved your concert last week ASSHOLE. KISS my ASS and every other guitarist on this page who you insulted. you poser piece of shit. Also, It’s YOU’RE weak not YOUR weak.

    posted on November 28, 2013 at 3:56 am
  18. steve j says:

    If you want to learn more about setup, etc., I have found Stewart McDonald to be very helpful with instructional materials & luthiers tools. I have always used a Peterson virtual strobe tuner to set my intonation and have been very happy with the results. Happy tweaking!

    posted on November 28, 2013 at 4:11 am
  19. Mike says:

    I have a guitar that is dropped D and there is simply not enough travel in the saddle to get the string length long enough to get the intonation right on the low E string. So the string is always a little sharp.  Any thoughts on a fix? The neck is setup right and the action is low but not buzzy.

    posted on November 28, 2013 at 4:38 am
  20. Gregg says:

    Please guitar gods, never let me forget why I picked up this thing in the first place. To have fun. Now please go talk to the golf gods.

    posted on November 28, 2013 at 5:37 am
  21. Eric says:

    A good rule of thumb “It’s sharp….Back Away!”

    posted on November 28, 2013 at 6:08 am
  22. Theron says:

    Could someone elaborate on the flat G theory? It’s not clear and I can’t locate any You Tube video about it; or can you post a link to said video?

    posted on November 28, 2013 at 12:23 pm
  23. carvin06 says:

    Hi Andy,
    I would like to hear your take on the FAST EDDIE theory of tuning the G string flat.

    Thanks:
    carvin06

    posted on November 28, 2013 at 10:47 pm
  24. Joff says:

    Thanks for the good info and a couple nice laughs, too!  Since I’ve only been playing a little over 40 years now, I’m neither a guitar god (nor a golf god).  I suppose when Dave Gilmour calls me for advice, I’ll have arrived.  Thanks again!

    posted on November 29, 2013 at 12:34 am
  25. Esa says:

    Back the pickups down towards the pickguard.  The magnetic pull of the pickups can distort the string vibration.  This came from an early Guitar Player article on setting up strats.

    posted on November 29, 2013 at 2:17 am
  26. Chris Padmore says:

    This might be a very stupid question, but what, if anything can be done to improve the intonation of an acoustic guitar with no adjustment at the bridge. The first and third strings are perfect but the rest are out…

    posted on November 29, 2013 at 3:49 am
  27. Theron says:

    Chris Padmore: If your acoustic does not have a compensated saddle I would start there, after insuring the neck is OK, truss rod adjusted and all… A good luthier can actually move the saddle if it needs it, I had that done on a Martin HD 28, in fact Martin paid for it because I am the original owner a it has a lifetime guarantee. It was a defect in workmanship…

    posted on November 29, 2013 at 5:00 am
  28. Ben says:

    I’m good at setup and intonation, etc; I’m still looking for “how to fix a noisy guitar.”

    posted on November 29, 2013 at 5:20 am
  29. ChopItUpBuryIt says:

    Damn, who put the sand in mattyboy’s vagina.  Yo mattyboy, clean and douche that thing brah, it’s starting to stink. 

    BTW, it’s quite obvious to all of us here that you don’t actually play any guitar besides a few cowboy chords in the 1st position.  You suck balls on guitar, but you also suck balls literally so it’s all good bro, maybe gay off someone else though where the rest of us don’t have to see it.

    posted on November 29, 2013 at 8:16 pm
  30. ChopItUpBuryIt says:

    No, no, no, anybody who wants to learn about guitar setups, repair, and general luthier wizardry (with great accompanying humor), you’re gonna want to go to Dave’s World of Fun Stuff channel on youtube.  Guy’s awesome.  He’s got an example of setting up (and repairing) just about every make of guitar one can think of.

    posted on November 29, 2013 at 8:21 pm
  31. Joff says:

    Hey Gang,
    While we’re all seemingly hovering on the subject of lutherie to one degree or another; let me throw you this head’s up:  The good folks at Grizzly Tools company make many excellent power tools that are designed to be used that way!  The president of the company is a luthier and has made several guitars.  They also include books and other info on the subject.  As far as quality goes, I can personally speak for them—you’ll get a ton of bang for your bux there.  You will NOT be disappointed.
    (Having said all that, I’m sitting here just wishing I could make something monetarily from that unsolicited testimonial.)  Enjoy!  Joff.

    posted on November 30, 2013 at 3:13 am
  32. Cliff says:

    I have found that if you are setting your intonation on an electric guitar it sounds more it tune if you set the third string at the 12th fret about 15 cents flat on an unwound string like comes in 9/42 gage or 10/46 gage strings. I set up my string height at the 16th or 17th fret at 1/16” on all the strings. It works well for me if frets are level and relief is close to .008 to .010 Thou. at the 5th fret or some guitars at the 8th fret. Try it and see if it works for you I think you might be surprised.
                                                                                 
                                                                        Cliff C.

    posted on November 30, 2013 at 4:19 am
  33. Raven says:

    Yes, adjust mine while in the playing position. The reason is the action will change if you lay the guitar on its back. Intonation compensation is needed because the string is farther from the frets as you play up the neck. Therefore when you press the string down, you are stretching it, and it goes sharp. You you lengthen the string at the bridge to make it play flatter.

    Don’t worry about some guitar tuners having a “sweetened” tuning, because you are only dealing with the octave harmonic at the 12th fret, and the same note fretted at the 12th fret. So there are no intervals.

    Also, some repair shops try and tell you they adjust the intonation up and down the neck, and that’s nonsense.

    If you change string gages or action, you need to readjust the intonation.

    I’ve been building and repairing guitars since 1972, and that’s how it’s done. :)

    posted on November 30, 2013 at 2:00 pm
  34. Cliff says:

    Good point Raven, I agree you don’t have to check intonation up and down the neck although I sometimes do just to see how close the guitar is playing. It’s true when you tune a guitar laying down and pick it up to play it you always have to re tune the guitar.
                                                                          Cliff C.

    posted on December 1, 2013 at 3:06 am
  35. Cliff says:

    To Mike with dropped D try setting your tuning meter for a bass guitar since the string is tuned so low the vibration will be different this might work for you.

                                                                Cliff C.

    posted on December 1, 2013 at 11:43 am
  36. Raven says:

    Cliff, drop D tuning doesn’t matter, because you are measuring the OCTAVE note at the 12th fret, and not the open strings. Any decent tuner should work.

    posted on December 1, 2013 at 11:56 am
  37. Cliff says:

    what fast Eddie was talking about tuning your G string flat was for an Acoustic Guitar which has not been compensated for at the saddle and its true when you tune an acoustic guitar play an open E cord and listen to it and you will find the G string will sound a little sharp. then drop it down till the E cord sounds right and it won’t affect the other cords when you play. I don’t make videos I just try to explain how to do what I have experienced and try to help others. I have been doing these setups for people for many years and I do privately. I don’t claim to know it all but I am happy to share what I do know, Some luthiers don’t like to help anyone , because it means the loss of sometimes large amounts of money. Sorry but it’s true, do you think a mechanic will tell you how to fix your car or a doctor tell you how to fix your body? I don’t think so because it’s all about money and a wealthy living not just a good living. So learn all you can about what ever you can and save money when you can. have a good year

                                                                      Sincerely,
                                                                      Cliff C.

    posted on December 1, 2013 at 12:12 pm
  38. Cliff says:

    Raven I thought Mike might be trying to set his intonation after dropping the E string down to a D. You are right it shouldn’t matter unless he’s getting an overtone or a slight fret rub so if he sets it when he’s tuned to E on the 6th string then tune it down to a D it should be ok unless he has a slight fret rub on the 13th fret when fingering the 12 fret for intonation which means he might have a high fret or he needs to raise the string to clear the fret that’s rubbing, Right. At least that’s what it sounds like to me. What do you think. 
                                            Cliff C.

    posted on December 1, 2013 at 1:58 pm
  39. Don Butler says:

    Nice article! All info I’ve used for ages, but.. wondering why you don’t use a method that will allow the guitar to play more in-tune up the full length of the fingerboard? Instead of using the open string/12th fret method, use the 5th fret/17th fret. With your tuner play an “A” at the 5th fret on the high “E”. Now play an “A” at the 17th fret on the high “E” and move the bridge saddle so it’s in with itself there. Continue for each string. Using this will have your guitar play in-tune more accurately up the whole length of the neck!

    posted on December 4, 2013 at 4:16 pm
  40. Cliff says:

    To Don Butler, Good point Don, I do sometimes use the method you wrote about Sometimes I use 3rd, 5th, 12th and 17th, to see how close the guitar is noting out. But I don’t like to confuse someone whom is just starting to work on their own guitar. If you get my point, if a player presses down on the strings with different pressure it might make it worse for him or her to get the guitar set up correctly. Or the person might slightly bend the string which will also make it hard for them to set intonation. That’s why I only give the open and 12th fret solution. It is however good to do like you have written if it doesn’t confuse the player or he forgets to do so. Agree?

                                                                    Thanks for reply
                                                                    Cliff C.

    posted on December 4, 2013 at 7:45 pm
  41. Raven says:

    @Don Butler, there’s no need to do that at all. If the fretted 12th fret note is in tune with the harmonic, then the rest of the notes will be in tune. Also, the disparity between the fretted and harmonic pitches is more severe farther up the neck, because the action is higher there.

    To recap what I wrote in an earlier post, the reason why you need to compensate for intonation is because the strings are closer to the frets near the nut, and farther from the frets as you go up the neck. This means that pressing the string down to the fret will stretch the string, and make the note sharp. This amount of sharpness increases as you co up the neck. If you have a 24 fret guitar, you can do the intonation there as well and it might even be more accurate because there is more stretch. At he 5th fret? Not as much, so it’s harder to set. Plus the harmonic is not the same, it’s a 5th higher. This is about making the harmonic and fretted notes match, not about just the fretted notes. The harmonics are ALWAYS in tune. :)

    This system has been used for hundreds of years, and there’s absolutely no reason to check compensation on any other frets than the octave (12th fret). I’ve been a luthier since 1972, and have never found a reason to check compensation anywhere else but the 12th fret. The more accurate and the finer resolution your tuner has, the more in tune the guitar will play.

    This is NOT about having fretted notes in tune at different frets. This is about having the string compensated for string stretch on the upper and of he fingerboard.

    If you have your intonation set properly, it will be in tune up and down the neck. One exception is sometimes the notes on the first 3 frets sound sharp. This is often because the nut slots are too high, and also because the string is stiffer by the two anchored ends, and that causes it to sound sharp. Compensated nuts, like the Buzz Feiten Tuning System make up for this by placing the nut slight closer to the first fret. This makes all the notes slightly flat. You then compensate at the 12th fret to get them in tune.

    Also, what intonation compensation *does not fix* is intervals being slightly out of tune. We play in a harmonically compromised even tempered system, and on top of that the way guitar frets are laid out often adds to that compromise.

    posted on December 5, 2013 at 1:28 am
  42. wzx says:

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    posted on December 7, 2013 at 11:38 am
  43. Keith says:

    Been playing guitar for 30+ years and oddly I never messed with intonation until about 5 years ago when I got my first… ummm… mandolin.  Ok, there I said it.  Not the manliest instrument, but you can’t play Battle Of Evermore without it.  ;-)  Anyway, Mando arrived in the mail with the strings loosened and the bridge laying to the side wrapped in bubble wrap.  Wow, ok… like a violin the bridge has to be placed on the surface of the instrument… so I’m learning.. but where?  Thus began my learning cycle of intonation as I had to check it and tweak, tweak, and re-tweak the bridge position before finally getting it right.  Once I realized what was going on there I went back and started wanking with my guitars intonations.  Not that hard to do, but definitely recommend a strobotuner or similar.  Rewarding process as it will make a good guitar sound great.

    Regarding the discussion on checking it at frets other than open and 12th, let’s face it, you only have one adjustment on the string.. if setting it correctly at open/12th doesn’t get correct results on the other frets, the instruments fret slots were mis-placed and there’s nothing that can fix that.  That said, the chances of mis-placed frets is remote, if you watch a video from Fender/Gibson/Etc on how they cut their fret slots, you’ll see what I mean.. pretty much fool proof.

    posted on December 13, 2013 at 6:56 am
  44. Cliff says:

    Keith,
        I had a fender telecaster made in Korea , and it had the best sound I have heard from a telecaster in a long time, but I just couldn’t get it to play true from end to end so I checked the intonation time and time again string height was correct and intonation was correct at 12th fret but it wouldn’t play correct cords or notes after the 5th fret, so I exchanged it for an American telecaster and had to pay a large difference in price. The American one intoned great but I didn’t like the sound it gave so I changed pickups to noiseless ones and it still sounded crappy so I sold it and bought a Stratocaster it sounded good and intoned good but was the heaviest guitar I ever owned other than a Gibson les Paul Recorder I once owned that nearly ruined my shoulder. I have a Brian Moore now it sounds great and intones good but it’s not the best sound for country. I also have a telecaster thin line I put Dimarzio Area T pickups in and it sounds great and is not to heavy I had to change the neck to get the radius I wanted but that is the way it goes sometimes. If you can’t find it make it.

                                                      Cliff C.

    posted on December 13, 2013 at 11:07 am

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