Whole Lotta Intonation Questions. And Stupid Claims, Too.

rfrizz

Senior Member
Joined
Mar 4, 2019
Messages
236
Reaction score
99
I have been setting the intonation on Tune-O-Matic as well as other bridge types for a long time. This has been all self-taught based on reading books & websites. I know about setting the intonation to the player's style/fretting force, so that isn't an issue. I'm like all of you. I want to do the best setups I can. This is how I do it, along with some of my question. I hope posts in this thread from the experts will help me as well as anyone else doing setups, up our games.


I always use a new set of freshly broken-in strings.

Before I put them on, I adjust the saddles to the back, away from the headstock. My thinking is that when strings which are under tension go over a saddle, they get kinks, and if you have to move a saddle back while setting intonation, it puts the kink on the singing part of the string.

If you start so that the fretted strings are flat, you shorten the string by moving the saddle forward, shortening it to correct it, and that puts the kink off the singing part of the string. (Except for when I screw up and overshoot. DAMMIT!)


Is it important to loosen the strings before adjusting the saddle? It takes longer, but I think this minimizes damage to the string. The kink is unavoidable, but what about scraping tiny amounts of material off the string? And worse, causing wear to the saddle?


I have always used a keyboard/piano or a computer for a reference tone. The lights or needles on tuners never seem to settle down, and it feels like chasing a moving target, but with a reference tone, it is far easier. I simply adjust the saddle until the beats go away.


Is it incorrect to adjust the fretted note at the 12th to the harmonic at the 12th? I have seen setup videos using the open string's frequency with a tuner/reference tone to set the fretted 12th, but I don't recall seeing anything about getting the harmonic to match the fretted note. Am I doing it wrong, or does it not matter?


TIA...
 
Last edited:

Michael Matyas

Senior Member
Joined
Oct 24, 2020
Messages
433
Reaction score
432
The harmonic is not reliable, so set your saddles so the fretted note agrees with the open string. Keep your hand off the tuners and peghead when checking the open string. The weight of your hand will throw the measurement off. Otherwise I think you've got it right.
 

rfrizz

Senior Member
Joined
Mar 4, 2019
Messages
236
Reaction score
99
The harmonic is not reliable, so set your saddles so the fretted note agrees with the open string. Keep your hand off the tuners and peghead when checking the open string. The weight of your hand will throw the measurement off. Otherwise I think you've got it right.
Any thoughts on using a tone generator set one octave higher (Ex: 220Hz for the A string, or the A below middle C on a keyboard) and adjusting the fretted 12th to it? This would be after tuning the open A string to 110Hz/A down another octave?

BTW, I have been using this web page for tones:
 

CB91710

Double Platinum Supporting Member
Silver Supporting Member
Joined
Jul 19, 2019
Messages
7,312
Reaction score
14,812
Any thoughts on using a tone generator set one octave higher (Ex: 220Hz for the A string, or the A below middle C on a keyboard) and adjusting the fretted 12th to it? This would be after tuning the open A string to 110Hz/A down another octave?

BTW, I have been using this web page for tones:
If you are intonating by ear, then sure... that's not a bad tool.
If using a quality tuner (not a Snark), then it's not needed.
 

rfrizz

Senior Member
Joined
Mar 4, 2019
Messages
236
Reaction score
99
If you are intonating by ear, then sure... that's not a bad tool.
If using a quality tuner (not a Snark), then it's not needed.
In the second-to-last paragraph of my original post, I mentioned the problems I have with electronic tuners, including the top-of-the-line Boss TU-3 and Peterson's StroboClip HD. At least for me, it's like chasing a moving target. Using a reference tone instead is just easier and quicker, and the same goes for general tuning.

For general tuning, I also prefer to use reference tones, and I usually tune twice. First to get each individual string's tension close, and the a fine-tuning. When I do this with a properly intonated guitar, everything is good, including getting the [email protected] fret in unison with B open, and the E, A, C, D, and G chords to ring true.

EDIT: Spelling fix
 
Last edited:

mhr900ss

Member
Joined
Jun 22, 2018
Messages
30
Reaction score
30
Way too complicated. I take off the old strings, remove the bridge and tailpiece, clean the neck, polish the guitar (trying not to spin the bridge and tailpiece screws but usually do) then put the bridge and tailpiece back on and restring. If string gauge hasn't been changed, I tweak the bridge and tailpiece screws back to where they were before and then tune up to pitch and give the strings a good tug or two. I always do a quick check on neck relief and top/bottom E string action.

I don't understand why rfrizz changes the saddle positions to a starting point or is concerned about wearing the strings or saddle notches during the tiny adjustments of saddle position for intonation. I always intonate at pitch. The only time I drop the strings a little is if I'm turning the thumbscrews for the bridge. My 87 Les Paul Custom (bought new) has the original bridge and saddles and I typically change strings three or four times a year. I've played with different string gauges so I have had to make subtle intonation changes over the years. The saddle slots show no sign of wear. Same at the other end; the nut is original and fine.

As far as tuning goes, Xanadu (Rush not Olivia Newton John) is "E", Whole Lotta Rosie is "A", More than A Feeling is "D", Lying Eyes is "G". These are reference tones stuck in my brain; try this out for yourself; you may surprise yourself. If another guitar is nearby, I may pluck a string to test my built-in pitch. With those starting points the rest of tuning is easy by ear, I rarely use electronic tuners; my AxeFX has one and I'll use it occasionally. I intonate, if required, using the 12th fret harmonic; I do not understand Michael's comment about this being "unreliable"; basic physics dictates that the 12th harmonic is exactly twice the pitch of the open string. I always tweak intonation with the guitar in playing position; no extra tension on the neck due to the weight of the guitar lying flat on a table with the head on a rest.

Everyone should start out with a 12 string acoustic! 12 strings can't simply be tuned starting at one end and moving up or down as the extra tension will put the strings you just tuned as the others are tweaked. You have to bounce up and down, in and out and with a little practice, this can be done quite quickly.

Another reason to not become electronic tuner dependent and instead, tune by ear is if you want to jam with records/YouTube videos/other guitarists. It's really common for songs to be slightly off high and low or a full step down, so developing quick by-ear tuning is a really useful skill.
 

cmjohnson

Senior Member
Joined
Dec 12, 2012
Messages
2,457
Reaction score
2,008
I don't see any need to set the saddles to the middle when starting intonation, either. It's just wasted effort in my opinion.

I preset the saddles to where I believe they will usually end up. (After 35+ years of doing guitar repair, setup, and building work, I kind of know.....) More or less two diagonal lines of saddles. And then I adjust from there.

For precision work I use the built-in tuner in my Fractal Axe-FX II modeller. It's extremely sensitive and precise, so much that it has shown me that strings NEVER reach a point of complete stability no matter how many times you stretch and bend them to get them to stabilize. Yes, they become MORE stable, but I can always drop a string by a couple of cents with a full two step bend.
 

Brek

Gold Supporting Member
Joined
May 15, 2020
Messages
1,356
Reaction score
1,125
I have just learnt how to set intonation recently, I did the root note plus harmonic and 12th fret, and then the octave as I play it, The peterson strobe tuner guide states that if you want to step up a notch in tuning accuracy to set the harmonic using the 15th fret. which I tried and got that to less than a cent out. cannot say in plays any more in tune than the 12th fret harmonic method. I don't move saddles unless changing gauge and set them to back of bridge for same reasons as the break point bends the string behind the saddle and then you adjust forwards keeping that point behind the saddle.
 

cmjohnson

Senior Member
Joined
Dec 12, 2012
Messages
2,457
Reaction score
2,008
12th fret, 8th fret, 5th, fret, 15th fret harmonics....all of them are compromises. It's just a fact of nature that we use an equal temperament tuning system which is a compromise. There's no perfect tuning system unless you stay in a single octave. Equal temperament tuning is designed to give you the closest approximation to ideal tuning across multiple octaves, and it's best that you use the 12th fret note and the 12th fret harmonic to stay closest to the equal temperament valuues. Any other referent will favor some intervals at the expense of others.
 
Last edited:

rfrizz

Senior Member
Joined
Mar 4, 2019
Messages
236
Reaction score
99
Way too complicated. I take off the old strings, remove the bridge and tailpiece, clean the neck, polish the guitar (trying not to spin the bridge and tailpiece screws but usually do) then put the bridge and tailpiece back on and restring. If string gauge hasn't been changed, I tweak the bridge and tailpiece screws back to where they were before and then tune up to pitch and give the strings a good tug or two. I always do a quick check on neck relief and top/bottom E string action.

I don't understand why rfrizz changes the saddle positions to a starting point or is concerned about wearing the strings or saddle notches during the tiny adjustments of saddle position for intonation.

The main reason for starting with the saddles toward the tailpiece is keeping the kink away from the singing side of the string. A kink is always created where the string goes over the saddle, and kinks (or any other irregularity) on the sounding part of a string is a Bad Thing.

Wear on saddles/strings is a minor secondary question, and I asked if it was a factor. I don't know, but I want to know.

I can't say if or how a kink affects tone, but I have noticed that a string with a singing-side kink makes intonation wonky.


This approach is for initial intonation. I don't run the saddles to the tailpiece every time I change strings. Consider that my post was long and detailed, and setting intonation is a tedious topic. Maybe it just sounds complicated.
 

rfrizz

Senior Member
Joined
Mar 4, 2019
Messages
236
Reaction score
99
If you are intonating by ear, then sure... that's not a bad tool.
If using a quality tuner (not a Snark), then it's not needed.
In the second-to-last paragraph of my original post, I mentioned the problems I have with electronic tuners, including the top-of-the-line Boss TU-3 and Peterson's StroboClip HD. At least for me, it's like chasing a moving target. Using a reference tone instead is just easier and quicker, and the same goes for general tuning.

For general tuning, I also prefer to use reference tones, and I usually tune twice. First to get each individual string's tension close, and the a fine-tuning. When I do this with a properly intonated guitar, everything is good, including getting the [email protected] fret in unison with B open, and the E, A, C, D, and G chords to ring true.

EDIT: Spelling fix, and this:

Yeah, Snark snucks. An inaccurate tuner actually causes problems so it is is less than zero/worse than worthless.
 

cmjohnson

Senior Member
Joined
Dec 12, 2012
Messages
2,457
Reaction score
2,008
I've found the Snark tuners to be commendably accurate for their intended purpose. But I wouldn't recommend using one to set intonation.
 

rfrizz

Senior Member
Joined
Mar 4, 2019
Messages
236
Reaction score
99
I don't see any need to set the saddles to the middle when starting intonation, either. It's just wasted effort in my opinion.

I preset the saddles to where I believe they will usually end up. (After 35+ years of doing guitar repair, setup, and building work, I kind of know.....) More or less two diagonal lines of saddles. And then I adjust from there.
It is good to have high enough skill to estimate it by eye, but what do you think about keeping kinks off the sounding section of the string?
 

rfrizz

Senior Member
Joined
Mar 4, 2019
Messages
236
Reaction score
99
I've found the Snark tuners to be commendably accurate for their intended purpose. But I wouldn't recommend using one to set intonation.
I suppose they are for most, but I am certifiably anal retentive! :eek:
 

rfrizz

Senior Member
Joined
Mar 4, 2019
Messages
236
Reaction score
99
12th fret, 8th fret, 5th, fret, 15th fret harmonics....all of them are compromises. It's just a fact of nature that we use an equal temperament tuning system which is a compromise. There's no perfect tuning system unless you stay in a single octave. Equal temperament tuning is designed to give you the closest approximation to ideal tuning across multiple octaves, and it's best that you use the 12th fret note and the 12th fret harmonic to stay closest to the equal temperament valuues. Any other referent will favor some intervals at the expense of others.
Hell yes to this! The reason I am fussy about precise tuning is the compromises. If your string is off by a smidgen, that error is amplified in the compromises.

After spending some time reading up on tuning and intonation, I see that there are holy wars about using open string vs. 12th-fret harmonics. What gets me is the fact that the harmonic is not exactly twice the string's fundamental.

Here is an interesting Wikipedia entry:
Stretched tuning
 

LtDave32

Desert Star Guitars
Super Mod
Silver Supporting Member
Gold Supporting Member
Joined
Mar 19, 2010
Messages
44,440
Reaction score
147,141
12th fret, 8th fret, 5th, fret, 15th fret harmonics....all of them are compromises.
^-- True, this.

So when I'm really close when using the 12 fret for setting intonation (weighing the fretted note against the open or harmonic note), and I mean close with a strobe, it's good enough for me. I believe when that close, it's a case of "close enough is good enough", for I can't really let tiny differences between the locations on the fret board drive me nuts.

So you pick the "compromised" method that works best for you and call it a day.

Or, you'll be here all day chasing a snipe.
 

rfrizz

Senior Member
Joined
Mar 4, 2019
Messages
236
Reaction score
99
^-- True, this.

So when I'm really close when using the 12 fret for setting intonation (weighing the fretted note against the open or harmonic note), and I mean close with a strobe, it's good enough for me. I believe when that close, it's a case of "close enough is good enough", for I can't really let tiny differences between the locations on the fret board drive me nuts.

So you pick the "compromised" method that works best for you and call it a day.

Or, you'll be here all day chasing a snipe.
It is hard for some personality types to accept imprecision and ambiguity, and that makes it hard for them to deal with the law of diminishing returns.

I have a good bit of this perfectionism, but I have been able to compensate. I made my fortune (such as it is) mainly in designing and developing programs. I was never a fast coder, but my code worked quite well, and seldom had bugs.

Now if only I had some of that OCD for housekeeping...
 

cmjohnson

Senior Member
Joined
Dec 12, 2012
Messages
2,457
Reaction score
2,008
I've never yet found that a properly shaped saddle leaves a kink in a string. Oh, maybe a little bit of a bend, but nothing that's going to cause the string to fail at that point. And it's so close to the saddle in any event that it has no tonal significance. If the string does break at that point, you've got saddle shaping issues to address.

My method for setting intonation is based on the frequency difference between the fretted 12th note (with a very light touch perfectly on the peak of the fret) and the 12th fret harmonic. And cross checked against the open string one octave below.

One of my guitars has a PRS wraparound bridge that has no saddles. There is no provision for individual string intonation, but the bridge can be moved backwards and forwards on both anchor bolts, and adjusted for overall height. Fortunately I've found that its intonation is essentially perfect for .009 and .010 gauge string sets. Between that and its reduced parts count, and fewer mechanical interfaces to lose solid mechanical vibration coupling to, I'm quite happy with this bridge/tailpiece style.
 

CB91710

Double Platinum Supporting Member
Silver Supporting Member
Joined
Jul 19, 2019
Messages
7,312
Reaction score
14,812
I have just learnt how to set intonation recently, I did the root note plus harmonic and 12th fret, and then the octave as I play it, The peterson strobe tuner guide states that if you want to step up a notch in tuning accuracy to set the harmonic using the 15th fret. which I tried and got that to less than a cent out. cannot say in plays any more in tune than the 12th fret harmonic method. I don't move saddles unless changing gauge and set them to back of bridge for same reasons as the break point bends the string behind the saddle and then you adjust forwards keeping that point behind the saddle.
You can't intonate a harmonic.
The harmonic will ALWAYS be an octave (or some specific interval) above the open string.
Intonation is compensating for string diameter and the tension added as the string is fretted.
The main use for the 12th fret harmonic is that some tuners have issues locking on to lower frequencies... particularly on a bass guitar.
Tuning to the 12th fret harmonic puts the tone into a better range for the tuner.

Now, if you want to eliminate the nut and perhaps improve intonation, put a capo on the 3rd fret and intonate to the 15th. Still setting the intonation to an octave up, but now you're eliminating the top end of the neck, which can sometimes be a problem if the nut position or cut is not correct, or some necks may have fallaway above the 3rd fret, which is not a good thing, but can be compensated for.
 

CB91710

Double Platinum Supporting Member
Silver Supporting Member
Joined
Jul 19, 2019
Messages
7,312
Reaction score
14,812
I suppose they are for most, but I am certifiably anal retentive! :eek:
And this is the source of your problems.... and these problems will never go away on a guitar because the temperament is not correct on a conventional straight-fretted guitar.

 


Latest Threads



Top