Intonation methods

Discussion in 'Guitars in General' started by tWreCK, Jul 5, 2006.


  1. tWreCK

    tWreCK Member

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    I know this has been asked before but what method/s do you all prefer to intonate/tune your guitars and why? I'm currently having a hard time trying to get the intonation and tuning right on one of my Grosh strats. For what it's worth, the guitar is set up properly (nut, relief, action & pickups etc) except for intonation at this point. The trem is against the body for downward action only with three springs. I'm very sensitive to intonation being off - chords, 4ths, 5ths - especially in the higher registers (12th fret up). Now I've played many guitars both old and new where they just sounded beautifully in tune and intonation spot on over the entire fretboard (without the Buzz Fieten system installed).

    At first I used the common open string/12th fret intonation method and then used the Peterson "guitar" preset to tune up - good but not good enough. Chords above the twelfth and 3rds, 5ths still sounded slightly off. I then tried a method explained on the Peterson forum where you intonate the 5th and 17th frets on all strings and then tune up using equal temperament (or sweetened guitar preset) and tune all the A notes on the fretboard. Peterson claimed this is the best compromise and yields "extraordinary" results. MY results were less then stellar and I couldn't really hear any real improvement over the first method.

    Are there any other ways/methods you guys use to arrive at better results? If so, I would appreciate if you could elaborate on the details and share your "secrets" :)
     
  2. Pete Galati

    Pete Galati Member

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    With my Telecasters, I do the intonation by ear, at the 12th fret
     
  3. tac5

    tac5 Member

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    I set my Peterson to standard A 440 (not the sweetened guitar setting) and set the intonation at the 12th fret using harmonics compared to the fretted note. I get them as close as possible. Then I check fretted notes at the 7th and the 14th fret to see how close they are to relative pitch. From there I tweak slightly the 5th, 7th, 12th, and 14th fret until they are all equally on (or off). We're talking about really splitting hairs here. How hard you press on a string can make the difference. Eventually I find that sweet "overall" temperament that I can really only feel rather than hear. Everything just vibrates just right. Of course, you know this, but always do this with new strings (stretched out until they're stable). Then I tune up on the Peterson proprietary guitar setting and use my ear for any more tweaking. Usually it's not necessary.
     
  4. The_Whale

    The_Whale Member

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    There is no standard "best compromise". Every guitar and every player needs its own best compromise.

    My recommendation for your best compromise with this particular guitar:
    Fret an E chord at the 12th fret and, as you're fretting all six strings, check the pitch of each string with a tuner. If any of the pitches are off, adjust the intonation of that particular string.

    try it and let us know how it worked...
     
  5. bettiefan

    bettiefan Member

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    That's right, you'll never intonate a guitar perfectly. I recommend doing it yourself, because to get it right, you have to use the fretted octave on each string. As no one plays with the same touch as you, be it light or heavy, they won't be intonating for you. It's tough to be sure, but try to use the same amount of finger pressure when you intonate as you do when you play. If, for example, you press harder when you play, your intonation will be off.

    I respectfully disagree with Mr. Whale's approach for one reason--a major chord has a third in it, in this case on the G string. Chances are, you'll "fix" that string, and then it will be out of whack for any chord except E.
     
  6. The_Whale

    The_Whale Member

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    It won't be "off" because that note is being set to the correct pitch by the tuner.
     
  7. John Phillips

    John Phillips Member

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    I do it by tuning each pair of strings (E/B, G/D, A/E) to perfect intervals using harmonics at the 5th and 7th frets, then using each as a reference for the other.

    Compare the fretted 14th-fret note on the higher string to the 19th-fret harmonic on the lower one, and the fretted 17th-fret note on the lower string to the 12th-fret harmonic on the upper one. You can have both sounding at the same time so you can hear the 'beating' between the two if they aren't spot on.

    I check it using open chords (eg C, G, D, A, E) played above the 12th fret and check that the fretted notes still sound in tune with the open ones.

    Fast and accurate IMO.
     
  8. illinimax

    illinimax Gold Supporting Member

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    This works better than anything else I've tried. I usually run a few o/d or distortion pedals in series to bring out the harmonics and increase compression at low volume. This is especially effective for 3 barrel teles.
     
  9. bettiefan

    bettiefan Member

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    It WILL be off because thirds are never exactly in tune, far worse than, say, fourths or fifths. But if it works for you, do it.
     
  10. The_Whale

    The_Whale Member

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    You're describing the problem with equal temperment tuning, not setting the intonation on a guitar.
     
  11. Scumback Speakers

    Scumback Speakers Gold Supporting Member

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    Have you checked your nut, frets and neck relief? Considering what you say you've done, it still sounds like one of those isn't quite right.

    If your nut is cut too high, then open chords will be out of tune.

    If your frets are too high & you press down too hard, the tuning is off all over the fretboard.

    If your neck relief is too large (more than .020, or a bit bigger than a plain G string), then you start running into tuning problems, too, from pressing the strings too far down to the fretboard from where they are in tune when intonated.

    FWIW, I lower my action as low as it can go without buzzing, then raise it a hair to make sure I can still get a finger under the string to stretch notes. Then I get out a good tuner, and set the intonation at the nut & 12th fret to within a couple of cents...end of story, pretty close to in tune for most folks, considering there's no "perfect" tuning setup.

    If your guitar is out of tune all over the fretboard, the two things I look at are cheap strings that won't intonate due to bad construction (I've had it happen enough to know), or the frets are too high.

    Good luck!
     
  12. Mark Kane

    Mark Kane Silver Supporting Member

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    Dan Erlewine described a method in his latest guitar setup book that was developed by Michael Stevens the cowboy luthier that works great for me. It's a combination of fretted notes and harmonics.
     
  13. Lucky7

    Lucky7 Senior Member

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    I used to be very anal about this and gotten rid of some very nice guitars for very stupid reasons. One thing I do when buying a new guitar (which might be another stupid thing) is look at the positions of the bridge saddles. If they are almost straight with little sign of extreme tweaking (example....low E string saddle not pulled all the way back) this might suggest the guitar was easily intonated before leaving the factory. Which might also suggest less frustration if a change of string gauge is needed. I've found that Strats can be a pain in this case. The low E string is still quite sharp when checking the intonation and I have no more room to move the saddle. Even when removing the saddle spring completely. Tele's for some reason aren't as bad. Anyway.....if I have enough room for tweaking and as long as the G (6th string 3rd fret) doesn't sound sharp when playing a G chord I can usually live with it. Believe me if I go looking for "off" notes I'll find more than I want!!
     
  14. tWreCK

    tWreCK Member

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    John Phillips - check your PM's :)
     
  15. Ed Reed

    Ed Reed Senior Member

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    Try fretted note to fretted at it's octave. From A at the 2nd fret on the G sting to A at the 14th fret as an example.
     

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