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Last Updated: July 10, 2021
“I’ve moved my saddle is as far as it’ll go, but the stupid string still won’t intonate!”
If this sounds like you, you’ve come to the right place.
This article is for those of you who already know what intonation is and how to set it on your guitar, but you just can’t get one or two of your guitar strings to intonate properly. If it’s an electric guitar, you’ve moved the string saddle as far forward or backward as it’ll go, with no luck. If it’s an acoustic guitar, you’ve shaped the bridge saddle or tried compensated saddles, but still have a string (or strings) that are sharp or flat. What the hell is going on?
Well, there are a number of reasons that a guitar string can be stubborn. Here I’ll list them all, beginning with the most likely (and easily solved), and gradually progressing to the least likely (and more serious).
Look familiar? You’re out of room, and the string is still sharp. Maddening!
Possible Reasons a Guitar String Won’t Intonate
1. Your guitar strings are too old
If you’re struggling to set intonation on guitar strings that are already a few weeks or months old, you’re on a fool’s errand. Intonation should be set with brand new guitar strings. Why? As strings age, intonation “drifts” and you’ll naturally start to hear some out-of-tuneness across the fretboard. If this is the case, don’t adjust your intonation, just change your dang strings. Once you’ve installed and thoroughly stretched your new set of strings, then set your intonation. After that, leave it alone until your next string change. If that didn’t solve your intonation issue, read on.
2. The string’s nut slot isn’t shaped correctly
Thanks to Von Herndon (who works for Fender) for pointing this one out in the comments down below. If the nut slot isn’t filed/shaped correctly, the string will be contacting the nut slot in a bad spot, which will cause intonation issues. Rather than try to give you DIY instructions for fixing this yourself (which I’m not sure you should attempt if you’re a novice), I’ll just recommend you take your guitar in to a good tech to have this one ruled-out.
3. You have a bad guitar string (or strings)
Even with today’s technology and strict quality control methods, sometimes a few bad strings make their way into the market. So, when you have a stubborn string that simply will not intonate, replace that string with another. This will solve your issue most of the time. If not, replace it again. If you still have an issue with that string, step back and ask yourself: did you order all those strings at once, as part of a bulk pack? If so, it’s possible you got a bad batch (the strings were all manufactured in the same run, and therefore all have the same issue). If you suspect this, try a string from a completely different manufacturer. If it still won’t intonate, read on.
4. Your guitar’s pickups are too high
Remember, your electric guitar’s pickups are magnets, and fairly strong ones at that. If they’re too close to the strings, they can literally pull notes sharp while the string is vibrating. If you’ve got one or more strings that are being stubborn, try lowering your pickups a bit. If your pickup’s pole pieces are adjustable, check those first. It’s possible the pickup as a whole is okay, but you’ve just got one pole piece adjusted too close–causing that one string to be stubborn.
Measuring pickup height with my trusty PEC Tools USA Steel Ruler
Your pickup’s pole pieces should be about 2mm – 3mm away from the string–as measured with the string fretted at your guitar’s very last fret (22nd or 24th fret, depending on your guitar). Of course, this is just a ballpark measurement; you can adjust to taste. However, get pickups (or individual poles) too close to the strings and you’re bound to have intonation issues.
5. You’re setting intonation with the guitar on its back, rather than in the playing position
In case you didn’t know, you should be making “setup adjustments” like intonation with the guitar in the playing position. If you’ve been setting intonation–or doing other setup adjustments like the truss rod, string height, etc. with the guitar flat on its back or on a neck rest, then just… stop it. Gravity and other forces will play tricks on you if you make such adjustments with the guitar on its back. You’ll get everything set, then the minute you turn the guitar upright things will go slightly out-of-whack. A guitar on its back is fine for cleaning, electronics work, and other maintenance tasks, but setup adjustments (and measurements) should always be done with the guitar in the playing position.
6. When checking intonation, you’re pressing down harder/softer than you do when you actually play
This is one of the hardest things to do: when setting intonation, you should be pressing the string at the 12th fret with the same kind of force you’d use when playing naturally. This is tough because here you’re actually thinking about it, whereas when you’re playing, you’re not. This applies whether you are a heavy-handed player or tend to play with a feather touch. The pressure you use when setting intonation needs to match what you naturally do while playing.
7. You’re using the 12th fret harmonic as your reference, rather than the open string
For years I set intonation the way most of us are first taught: by comparing the fretted note at the 12th fret with the 12th fret harmonic. Then I heard guitar repair guru Dan Erlewine recommend a different way: don’t use the 12th fret harmonic as the reference note, use the open string instead. In other words, get your open string perfectly in tune, and then see whether the fretted note at the 12th fret is sharp or flat. The same adjustment rules apply, you’re just using the open string as the reference rather than the harmonic. Dan said something about the 12th fret harmonics being unreliable, but unfortunately he didn’t elaborate. Ever since then, I’ve used the open string and fretted 12th fret note to set intonation. No more harmonics for me.
You are welcome to continue using the 12th fret harmonic if you’d like. I think it’s perfectly fine in most cases. I’m just throwing this one out there for those of you frustrated with intonation issues.
8. Your guitar tuner isn’t accurate enough
The Peterson StroboPlus HD is an excellent, inexpensive strobe tuner that costs less than many guitar pedals.
Standard guitar tuners are fine for general tuning of open strings, but aren’t accurate enough for setting intonation. You need a strobe tuner accurate to within +/- 0.1 cents or better. Check your tuner’s specs, and if they don’t show you the actual accuracy numbers and simply describe it as “highly accurate”, “precise”, or something similarly vague, then you need another tuner specifically for setting intonation.
I recommend the Peterson StroboPlus HD (pictured above) or its sibling, the Peterson Stomp Classic.
9. Your bridge saddle is tilted forward (acoustic guitars)
On acoustic guitars, and other guitars that have a single bridge saddle made of bone or plastic, the saddle should fit snugly enough in the slot that it can’t tilt forward or backward. In fact, it should take a decent bit of effort to get it in and out of the saddle slot.
This bridge saddle has tilted too far forward. Image courtesy homebrewedmusic.com
If the nut slot is too loose, the saddle will tilt forward (toward the headstock) when you tune strings up to pitch, and this tilt will throw your intonation off.
10. Your bridge saddle is worn or deeply notched (acoustic guitars)
Time for a new bridge saddle, ya think? Image courtesy sfguitarworks.com
If the nut slot is too loose, the saddle will tilt forward (toward the headstock) when you tune strings up to pitch, and this tilt will throw your intonation off.
11. Your nut is too high
Maybe you got your intonation set properly at the 12th fret, but you find that notes and chords played in the first few (lower) positions are always noticeably sharp. This is usually a sign that the guitar nut is too high. When doing a setup, it’s not uncommon (for those who are inexperienced) to forget or simply not know that setting the nut height is a part of the whole operation. If the nut is too high, the notes closest to the nut can be sharp when fretted, regardless of how precisely you set the intonation at the 12th fret.
12. Your neck is crooked (too far to one side) in the pocket
Thank you to reader Boris for reminding me about this next one…
If your neck is a bolt-on, it can be angled too far to one side or the other in the pocket, which can affect intonation. This issue is actually very common, and the good news is that it’s easy to diagnose and fix. If you notice that your high E or low E seems too close to the edge of the fretboard… or even tends to slip off the edge of the frets while you play… then your neck is probably a little crooked (angled to one side) in the pocket.
To fix this, loosen the strings till they’re almost slack, then slightly loosen the four neck bolts–just enough that the neck will move, and then pull it sideways till it’s straight. Retighten the four neck bolts.
If the neck feels like it wants to slip back the other direction before you can tighten the bolts, hold it in the correct position with one hand while tightening the bolts with the other. You may need a friend to help you with this maneuver.
13. You have too much relief (forward bow) in your neck
Having too much relief (forward bow) in your guitar neck is a double whammy: not only will it make your action excessively high, it actually shortens the physical length of the string. These two factors together will cause your fretted notes to be sharp at the 12th fret, no matter how much you try to compensate at the guitar’s bridge.
14. Your action is too high
If you just have excessively high action in-general, your fretted note at the 12th fret will always be sharp compared to the open string. No matter how far backward you move your guitar’s saddles, you just can’t get that fretted note in tune. Of course, if your action is so high that you can’t get the strings to intonate properly, then the guitar is probably unplayable anyway.
15. Your frets are excessively worn, flat, dented, etc.
Frets should be round and smooth on the top, and the string should only contact the fret at a very small point at the tip (crown) of the fret. If the tops of your frets are too flat, dented, or you just had crappy fretwork done by a bad guitar tech, you can have trouble setting intonation. If this is the case, you’ll probably have other issues too, such as fret buzz or notes fretting out.
Overly flat frets can cause intonation issues.
16. The wood around your bridge’s anchor studs has begun to oval
If you have an electric guitar with a tremolo-style bridge that rests/pivots on 2 studs, after years of string pull, the wood around these major weight-bearing studs can begin to “oval” as shown in this photo:
See that gap behind those tremolo studs? That’s a sign of ovaling. Looks like a piece of wood was wedged behind the one on the right in an attempt to stabilize it. Thanks to my reader Joe for letting me use this photo.
What was once a perfectly round hole that held the studs tightly and perfectly upright becomes an oval shape, where the studs now lean forward (toward the headstock) slightly and may even move a bit whenever you bend a string or use your tremolo.
If the wood has become so severely ovaled that the bridge studs are now quite literally in the wrong spot (too far forward), a symptom can be an inability to get your intonation right.
17. Your bridge is in the wrong position
Now we’re getting into the “rare but catastrophic” territory. You’ll usually only encounter this one on really cheap guitars or on used guitars where bad repair work was done. Rarely will a high quality guitar make it out of the factory with a bridge slightly out of place. However, I’m mentioning it because it’s something you want to be on the lookout for when buying used or “factory second” guitars. A bad repair job, where the bridge was placed just a tad too far forward/backward, can make that sucker impossible to intonate correctly. If this turns out to be the case, your only option is to have the bridge removed and relocated into the proper position. How expensive and difficult this is depends on what type of bridge it is.
18. Your nut is in the wrong position
Just as a bridge can be placed incorrectly–too far forward or backward–so can the nut. Again, it’s rare, but it is one possible cause for severe intonation problems. Again, not something that is usually seen on higher quality guitars that are brand new from the manufacturer, but be on the lookout for this if you bought your guitar used or as a “factory second.” Depending on what kind of guitar and nut you have, this one can be a little easier to fix than an improperly placed bridge.
19. Your frets are in the wrong position(s)
This one’s extremely rare and highly unlikely. It goes without saying that if your frets are slightly off, you bought a lemon. There’s no way you’re going to get this sucker to intonate properly unless you do major surgery. You’d need to pull all the frets, fill the old slots, re-cut new ones, and completely refret the guitar. Another option is to buy a whole new neck from the manufacturer or a company like Warmoth Custom Guitar Parts. However, neither of those options is realistic for a cheap guitar, as both will likely cost far more than the guitar is actually worth.
20. Your neck is too far forward or backward in the pocket
Just about as rare and unlikely as having frets in the wrong spots, if your neck was installed too far forward or backward in the neck pocket, getting correct intonation can be impossible. The good news here is that, if it’s an electric guitar with a bolt-on neck, this one can be easier to fix by a good repairperson. If it’s an acoustic, set neck, or neck-through guitar, maybe not so much. Depending on the exact nature of the problem, a pro might be able to fix this one for you, but it could be pricey. Take it in for an evaluation and estimate if you suspect this is your issue.
Some Final Thoughts and Tips
Fretted Guitars Are Imperfect Instruments
You may already know this, but I’m going to say it anyway:
Unless you’ve installed true temperament frets, you will never have perfect intonation on every note across the entire fretboard. It’s just the nature of playing an even-tempered instrument with fixed, straight fretwire.
No, you’re not hallucinating. These are True Temperament frets–the only way to get near-perfect intonation on every note across the entire fretboard. Image courtesy truetemperament.com
This is exactly why fretless instruments exist: so that the player can place their fingers in precisely the right spots and create perfectly intonated notes (which is a difficult skill to master by itself). So, get your intonation set correctly, and accept that certain notes and chords will be more in tune than others.
Consider NOT Using the 12th Fret to Set Intonation
Did you know you don’t have to use the 12th fret to set your intonation? In fact, I know people who would argue that you shouldn’t. Rather than using the 12th fret, first consider where you spend the most time on the fretboard, and then intonate your guitar for that section. So, forget about everyone else for a second and ask yourself this question:
Where do you spend most of your time on the fretboard?
Are you a campfire-chord strummer who rarely ventures above the 5th fret? If so, then it may make more sense for you to use the 3rd or 5th fret to set your intonation. If you’re a shredder who’s usually higher on the neck, then it may make sense to use the 7th, 12th, or even 15th fret to set your intonation. See where I’m going with this?
Choose to Intonate to the “Attack” or “Decay” of the Note
When you’re tuning, no doubt you’ve noticed that when you initially pluck (attack) the note, it jumps up then comes back down (decays) and stabilizes. Well, the same thing happens when setting intonation. When you pluck your reference note at the 12th fret, it’ll initially jump high then come back down.
Which should you use to set your intonation? The answer is: it depends on what playing style you use most of the time.
If you primarily play fast and rarely hold long, sustaining notes or chords, set your intonation to the “attack” note. Just be aware that, on the rare occasion you decide to hold a long note, it’ll drift a bit flat.
On the other hand, if you tend to play slower or like to hold/sustain notes and chords longer (or just let them ring out), then consider setting your intonation to the “decay” note.
What’s Missing From This List?
Okay guitar gurus, these are all the reasons that I know about. However, I’m not an encyclopedia, so if you know of any reasons that I’ve left off the list, let me (and everyone else) know in the comments below. I’ll be sure to add them to this (growing) list.
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After being unable to set all the strings correctly, I noticed that the neck was set at an angle. The neck was straight, but the whole thing was set to a slight angle, shortening the strings. It’s a budget guitar, so I expect a few build issues, but this is another reason why you might not be able to fix the intonation.
My fake 24 strat from an Oscar Schmidt has had many drastic changes,new Tusq nut ,new neck,new wilkinson bridge plate /tremolo.Both G and low-E strings when open tuned are intonated dead on with harmonic notes . Both these strings have saddles totally to the back but when 12th fret strings are fretted they are both just slightly sharp. I am wondering,if I add a 5 degree maple shim to add a bit more neck angle will that give me a little more total scale length flattening the 12fret notes and thus allowing me to actually sharpen the strings ,giving me some more adjustment.String height at17 is 4/64th on all strings .Nut heightis .018 under low E under first fret and .014 under high-E.right where it should be. AmIout in left field or would this help my problem slightly. Can you tell me with my center nut to center 12th is exactly 323.5mm,what is my scale length? Always thought it was standard 25.5 strat scale length but maybe Iam wrong.Hard to get acurate measurement from 12th to center saddles.Thanks for any help Rob
If your measurement is correct, you’re looking at about 12.73in at the 12th fret. Multiply 12.73in x 2 and we end up with 25.46in, which is close enough (assuming some margin of error) to conclude that the scale is indeed 25.5in.
I can’t guarantee anything, but shimming the neck into somewhat of a back-angle can sometimes get you a little more scale length on the string, but I’m not sure if it’ll be enough to solve your problem. As long as you can still set the guitar up so there’s no string buzz (you’ll have to raise your bridge to compensate), no reason to not give it a try. It’s something you can easily reverse if it doesn’t help.
Hi, I always know I need new strings when my guitars stop intonating correctly. I’m sort of tolerant of a little drift, as I use several tunings & how I get good intonation varies between them. And I play chords up & down the neck so it reveals where it’s not quite right. It’s usually a compromise.
I have had to move the bridge on several guitars (acoustic & electric) over the years, none of them were top quality & at least one was a Friday afternoon rush job at the factory I reckon 🙂 Years ago a friend had a black 3PU Gibson Les Paul (In the days when such things were a rare & impressive sight) It had one bent fret. All the others were perfect. Can only have been a factory fault, although baffling as to how it passed QC. I once rebuilt a broken acoustic many years ago (almost a complete new guitar in the end) & still managed to “carefully” put the bridge in the wrong place by a few mm myself . I compensated for it with the saddle & have put up with it being a hair out ever since but am now thinking I really have to move the whole darn thing now!
Nuts can definitely be a cause of problems, trapping strings etc. If your axe has stopped intonating, what was the last change you made? There might be the problem. If you just changed your nut, did it go in straight not tilted? Are the strings resting on the back edge of the slots, or a mixture of front & back edges ( is it cut right?) Have you gone up a string gauge? You really need a set of proper nut files & patience, or pay a tech!
Check that your tuning pegs are not worn out or broken. I had this problem on an Ibanez RG 450. Would not tune on the a string not intonate properly. Ended up relacing all of the tuners (only 2were actually broke). Now it plays awesome again.
Hey man I’m struggling with this strat I got a couple years back. The same occuring problem has been a problem for as long as I have had the 65 reissue a strat. (I have taken my guitar in SEVERAL times to guitar center in order to correct the intonation due to dead spots only HIGHER bends (only the b and high e) cannot ring out at all. I’ve spent well over a thousand dollars primarily on these two strings that have been financially harmful. I’ll get it fixed and everything sounds beautiful… Until practicing for two hours to find out the same problem has haunted me again on one of the two (b or high e) strings while bending. It will not ring out. What’s wrong with my guitar? Thank you!!! Thank you
Hi Daulton. I don’t know much about the 65 Reissue Strat, but if it came with the truly authentic 7.25″ fretboard radius (which Fender eventually realized was too tight), then this fretting-out is simply an unfortunate characteristic of those “true vintage” specs.
Way back, Fenders had an extremely tight fretboard radius of 7.25″… which was fine initially because in those early days, big bluesy bends weren’t a thing–they simply weren’t (yet) a part of they playing styles of the time.
However, once people DID start doing those big bends (especially higher up on the neck), players encountered exactly the issue you described: notes simply choked out. I couldn’t begin to explain the geometry involved, but here’s a great article on the topic:
The Fix for Choking Bends – By Gerry Hayes
So, when Fender began getting complains from players, they flattened their fretboard radius a bit, and continued flattening it a little more and more throughout the years.
As noted in that article I sent you, there are several possible solutions to this, and I’m not sure which of those you’ve tried (I don’t know what the luthiers who’ve worked on your guitar thus far have tried).
If you do indeed have a truly vintage radius (assuming one of the luthiers hasn’t already done the expensive job of reradiusing and refretting your guitar), then you may simply have to play with higher action than you’d like, and accept that some fretting-out is going to happen.
Unfortunately, vintage specs were not necessarily better specs, and depending on just how authentic that ’65 is to the early days, those old-timey specs may be a big part of the problem.
One last word of advice: Don’t take your guitar to GC for work, especially serious work like this. Ask around and find a reputable repair shop in your area–even if it means driving 1-2 hours (it’s worth the drive, in my opinion).
Guitar Center definitely isn’t the answer. Accasionaly you may find someone with good experience, but it’s rare. The 7.25 radious can 100% be set with just a hair higher action then a 9.5 without fretting out past the 12th fret. This is where a super good set up is needed. Biggest thing to accomplish lowest possible action on a 7.25 is neck relief. Dead flat gives the lowest action. Next option, fret fall away, where the frets past 12 are filed slightly lower then the rest and re crowned. It’s not expensive and you can even do it yourself with a few tools if you mechanically inclined. B.t.w. This has been more informative then anything I found on youtub regarding intonation. I work on my own guitars. Doing my first complete refret soon. I have a stratacaster that is truly amazing, but needed a refret. I found a fender 50s road worn neck that was newly re fretted with my favorite 6105 frets so I pulled the trigger. Didnt like the fat soft v profile nearly as much as the thin C it had factory. Plus it changed the amazing resonance it had drastically. So, I sanded the back of the neck to my liking. That turned out amazing. The tone is back. Whoever says that wood etc and only pickups effect tone are dead wrong. Just changing your tuners effects tone. On some guitars more then others. Problem is my intonation! It’s not bad. I got the action super low with no 2 step bends fretting out. I tune my guitars always by ear, never a tuner once the references pitch (d#) is reached. I get it close, and it seems to change quick. Driving me out of my mind. Seems mostly the dang b string.(like all my guitars). Every guitar I have ever had in 35 yrs of playing, liked the B turned a few cents flat for my ears. Not this strat. It likes It dead perfect, and not a single tiny bit of or it’s highly noticeable. I’m starting to think the new frets may have not been crowned well, or the Mexican vintage Bridge I’d moving around, or both. Frets look super well installed, minus the excess super glue run out I had to clean up. Any thaughts welcomed!
My high e string 1 and 2 fret are dead after putting on new strings
Technically, every guitar style instrument has frets (aka the space between the wires on the fretboard). What some don’t have are flat wires which are the correct name for those little pieces of wire that people call have erroneously learned to call frets. This is why the board is called a fretboard, the inlays are called fret markers, and lastly that is why people fret an instrument in the spaces and not on the fretwires
I have a telecaster that the low E string is all the way back and the note is still a little sharp. I tried everything short of moving the bridge plate back, (it wouldn’t take much) but I just tune the string by ear splitting the difference. You can’t really use a tuner but if you played my guitar you would not notice unless you tried to tune that string with a tuner. Guitars are always a little out of tune and we are used to comromise anyway. I might reposition the bridge next time I change strings, then again probably not.
Happend to me a lot when I first started my own setups. Sometimes you can move the saddle farther forward then you started and go from there, but would require possible moving the other 5 further towards the neck and starting over also. I don’t quite understand why. I’m guessing it also alters the scale length as I notice a slight difference in feel (less string tension). You probably worked it out by now, but wanted to throw this out there. Good luck!
could it be that your are press too hard on the E string? sound like it because I did it my self, try intonation with a tuner and use the same pressure force on all of the stings, and hood guitar in playing position as the article says.
The scale length is given by the neck, from the nut to the 12 fret multiplyed 2.
I believe the correct place to measure that would be the free vibrating portion of the string, so from the inside edge of the nut to inside edge of the 12 fret ( that is towards the bridge side).
These answers don’t really seem to answer the question of ‘1’ string not intonating correctly. I installed a Graphtech Black Tusq nut and the low ‘E’ string saddle is bottomed out at the back of the trem, whereas all my other strings are intonated correctly near the front of the tremolo. It is Literally 1/4″ rearward of the other saddles. My neck is straight with about an 1/8″ relief, the string height at the 1st fret from low ‘E’ to high ‘E’ is .024, .022, .020, .019, .017, and .015. String height above the pickup is no closer than 3mm, the strings are not only brand new D’adderio XL10-46, but I pulled off the 1st new set and put on a second just in case of a bad string. I fret at the 12th fret on a 22fret 25.5″ scale guitar and the low ‘E’ is 7cents off with no room to adjust any more.
Hi Steve. Unfortunately, there is no one answer; that’s sort of the point of this article. There are multiple reasons something like this can happen, and I’ve listed as many as I could think of at the time I wrote the article. Some other’s have commented here with other possibilities as well (which I’ve not had time to add to this article).
Recently, an actual Fender factory tech commented as well. So, have a look through some of the comments here.
If you’ve tried everything and are still banging your head against the wall, then it’s probably time to take the guitar to a pro so they can inspect it and properly diagnose the issue.
I have noticed this (problem?) Also. Sometimes you can move the high end further forward then you started and re intonation accordingly. I don’t understand the science of it, but it can work. It changes the scale length a monor amount, thus changing “feel”. Shorter string, less tension. It’s happend quite a few times when I put after market bridges on fender style guitars. It’s a trip when your tuner says your intonation is right, but your saddles orientation says it’s impossible. It always sounds better to my ears when I did what I’m describing.
Really helpful article, summing it all up very nicely! Unfortunately, “17” isn’t as uncommon as it should be. Some Fender Stratocasters suffer from that and there’s indications that at least a whole bunch of the new Fender Player Plus Telecasters have slightly misaligned bridges that if you care to find them.
Thank you for this brilliant article. I learnt a lot of things I didn’t know!
However, sometimes unstable tuning can be mistaken for bad intonation. I can think of two examples that happened to me where I mistakenly thought intonation was to blame but it was actually unrelated.
So for example: while setting up the guitar everything including intonation is perfectly fine but when you play the guitar it just sounds completely out of tune, so you re check the intonation and it appears ok but the guitar still sounds like out of tune garbage. This happened to me and I was starting to lose my mind until I found the problems: It was a very cheap guitar and the nut slots were not wide enough for the strings and so the strings were getting pinched and released at every press of the finger creating an awful out of tune experience. this can also happen when changing to a higher gauge set of strings, the solution is to (very) gently widen/file/sand the nut slots until the strings move through without getting pinched. And I know it’s general knowledge but in this context I think it’s worth reminding people to use some pencil graphin (or special nut slot lubes) in the nut slots when restringing to help avoid this problem.
Second thing to take into account, if you use a very light gage sting set like .009 (and much worse when using .008 or even .007) they don’t just intonate badly in general but also the mere fact that you press them down to the fretboard with your finger will stretch them enough to make them go up by half a tone!
I use a set of .007-.038 and I love them especially for bending (they are incredible) but for playing chords I have to push very very lightly and still it’s almost impossible to get them to sound right.
P.S I Also learned after much research that a shorter neck requires thicker gauge strings for tuning/intonation stability. I’m not sure why but seems to be the general consensus and It defiantly was true in my case.
Hope someone finds this helpful.
Thanks again for all your great advice.
Most common cause – second only to bad strings – is the intonation point at the rear (tuner side) of the nut. I work for Fender and I see this all the time.
That’s a great tip VH, thanks for the comment! I’ll try to get that added to the list here.
I don’t rely too much on the electronic tuner… use the ears. I think that was the method used in the early days… Billy Carson had the same intonation problem of his guitar that was why he suggested to Leo Fender to make independent saddles for each of the six strings. That was exactly the basis of the stratocaster. I don’t know if they were using any electronic tuner at that time.
I had an issue on my Vintage V52 Tele where I couldn’t intonate the low E/A strings (compensated saddled) even after moving the saddle all the way back (as far as the spring would allow). The 12th fret was slightly too sharp still. Wasn’t a big deal since I rarely play high notes on low strings anyhow.
However, while setting it up after changing strings, I figured out that it was all my fault.
The guitar has a typical bolt-on neck. At one point I removed the neck, but when I put it back on, it was slightly tilted to the side (which, apparently, can easily happen on some bolt-ons) in the pocket. After loosening the screws a tiny bit and straightening the neck, intonation became much better.
So perhaps that’s another idea to add to item #18. The pocket itself can be positioned correctly, but if there’s some give sideways in the fit of the neck in the pocket, and the neck isn’t bolted straight on, it can cause issues with tuning.
I can’t believe I forgot to include this! Thanks for the reminder Boris. As a show of gratitude, I’ve given you credit on #18 😀
Hi, after having had a telecaster for about a year I decided to get a lower action so adjusted the trussrod, lowered the saddles and fitted some new strings. Then the D string on my 3 saddle telecaster just wouldn’t intonate after I put new strings on. I was about to give up and take it to a local pro to get it set up but then I found your article on intonation. I read your point suggesting it could be due to the new string just being a bad one. I thought it seemed unlikely but gave it a try and fitted another new D string. Hey presto! Perfect intonation. I wasn’t aware strings could be like that. Thanks for the brilliant advice.
I have a squier stratocaster and when it’s in tune after a while the saddles come loose of the B-string and then I have to intonate it again.. It keeps repeating and it’s really annoying. Does it help to change the bridge? Will this also help gaining more sustain, because of heavier metal? Thanks for the help!
Hi Sam. Are you saying that the screw that you use to adjust the saddle forward/backward is actually moving while you play? If so, that’s very odd (and rare). The only time I’ve heard of something like this happening is when someone uses WD-40 on the saddle or screw. That’s one reason I recommend against WD-40–because it can make things so slick they actually work themselves loose.
I don’t think you need a whole new bridge. You can probably get away with just replacing that one saddle assembly (the saddle, as well as the screw/spring that holds it and adjusts intonation). Here are a couple sources, but if you search around a bit, you may find others:
“Strat Style” Saddles at Allparts
Stratocaster Saddles at Fender.com
If it’s the allen wrench (action) screws that support the saddles that are coming loose:
1) Make sure they are balanced. Sometimes you end up with a three-legged chair situation where a saddle is leaning into the adjacent one and one screw doesn’t have enough downward pressure.
2) Try a small touch of clear nail polish at the base of the screw. I always do this for Fender style bridges once I have everything dialed in. Whenever you have your action and intonation completely dialed in where you plan on leaving it, put a small drop of clear nail polish at the bottom of each allen wrench screw where it meets the bridge plate. (Sometimes if you have a screw with a lot of play in it that just refuses to stop buzzing even after doing this, putting a little clear nail polish on top of the saddle where the screw threads into it is necessary. Just be sure not to get it in the hole in the top of the screw. Putting a toothpick in the hole can help. The idea is to get just enough nail polish in to gum up the threads.
The good thing about clear nail polish is that it’s very easy to crack open later on. Usually you don’t even need to remove it; just turn the screw and it will crack it open while still remaining gummy enough to stop the screws from rattling.
If you ever need to completely remove clear nail polish, acetone will strip it off but BE EXTREMELY CAREFUL NOT TO GET ACETONE ON YOUR GUITAR’S FINISH. Rubbing alcohol also works and is much safer for your finish, but it will take longer to dissolve the nail polish.
While you’re at it, you might want to apply a small amount of clear nail polish around your jack nut to prevent it from coming loose over time. No matter how expensive the guitar is, the jack plate nut will always become loose given enough time, so sealing the rim of it with a small line of clear nail polish is always the first thing I do with a new guitar.
Hi. So many comments! I tried to skim through them all to make sure I didn’t repeat a question but I’m not sure.
So both of my acoustic guitars are more than three cents sharp at the fifth fret on the third and sixth strings. Even after they have come back from the tech. Neither saddle is compensated. Is this usually where the intonation is out? Might compensation help?
If you haven’t already, read the “Some Final Thoughts and Tips” section, where I talk about how fretted instruments are never in perfect tune on every note across the fretboard.
Fixed frets require compromises, the biggest being intonation. This means some of your notes will be in tune, but must are going to be a bit sharp or flat to some extent due to the imperfect nature of it all.
I would not say that the 5th fret is “usually” where intonation is the worst, because it depends on what fret you choose to use to set your intonation.
What the heck do I mean by that?
Well, contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to use the 12th fret to set your intonation. You can set intonation for wherever you tend to play the most on the neck. I’ve known players who use the 5th fret to set intonation, because they spend most of their time down there in the lower positions. I’ve known rock players (who play mostly leads in the higher frets) who use the 17th or 20th fret to set intonation.
Whichever area of the neck you choose to use to set your intonation, you have to understand that, while your intonation will be best in that area (near the fret you used), it’ll be “off” to some degree everywhere else. Sometimes, as you’ve learned, it’s off enough that you can hear it… and it can drive some of us to drink.
This is exactly why James Taylor came up with his unique way of tuning his guitar so that it was slightly OUT of tune when played open (go ahead, Google “James Taylor tuning”). By strategically making his open strings slightly out of tune, he made his fretted chords slightly more in-tune. Fun stuff.
It’s also exactly why “sweetened tunings” exist.
All this to combat the frustrating out-of-tuneness that is a common pitfall of instruments with fixed frets.
Thanx for the info! I found it to very informative. Twelfth feet noted verses harmonic continues. I have used both many times.
Hi this has to be one of the best articles I’ve read on the subject. I have a classical guitar that the bass “E” and “A” strings are about 3 to 4 cents flat by the third fret but ok at the fourth and again 4 cents flat at the 5th and 7th frets the rest of the frets they are less off. It’s a new guitar that I bought on line. Any suggestions?
First things first: As I say in the “Some Final Thoughts and Tips” section… no guitar will ever have accurate intonation on ever single fret. This is why fretless instruments exist: so the player can put their finger in the EXACT spot necessary to get perfect intonation on every note (which takes years and years to master, btw). The minute fixed frets are introduced into the equation, compromises have to be made with intonation.
Just wanted to get that out of the way first. Now, let’s assume there’s actually something that could be improved here…
Nylon strings tend to lose their intonation quicker and more audibly than steel strings (your mileage may vary depending on brand, material, tension, etc). So, if your strings aren’t new and have been on the guitar for awhile, simply changing them might be all that’s needed.
On the other hand, it could be the guitar itself–and I’ve found that cheaper nylon string guitars (as opposed to the $10k and above models that the pros use) tend to not intonate very well. You can adjust intonation on a classical guitar the same way you’d do it on a steel-string acoustic guitar: by carefully sanding the bridge saddle so that the surface area just under the offending strings is more forward or backward, as needed. Since you don’t have individual bridge saddles you can move, as you can on an electric guitar, you have to try and do the same thing on an acoustic guitar by sanding.
This is a pretty delicate process, and not for amateurs. It CAN be learned though, if you’re patient and willing to put in the time (and screw up a few bridge saddles in the process).
Just look up “adjust acoustic guitar intonation” on YouTube and you’ll see what I mean. It’s a tedious and error-prone operation for anyone that’s not a skilled luthier or guitar tech.
The guitar’s nut (either the whole nut, or just the string slots themselves) may also play a role in the intonation being out, and some careful filing may be needed here as well. It’s impossible for me to know without being able to inspect your guitar in person, though.
For all these reasons, I usually recommend people take their acoustic guitar–whether nylon-string or steel-string–to a pro to have the intonation adjusted. If it’s a cheapo nylon-string guitar, it may not be worth it. But, if it’s a decent guitar that you rely on or really enjoy playing, it’s worth it to have the intonation set properly.
Do remember though: even when the intonation IS set properly, you won’t have perfect intonation on every fret, all across the fretboard. This is just the nature of stringed instruments with fixed frets.
Hope that helps!
I just have a question. How will “new strings” help an intonation issue? Yeah old strings may sound dull and lack the vibrance of new ones, but as long as the string is intact and vibrates then it must follow the laws of physics and there must be able to intonate/tune?
I just got a Jackson 7 string and cannot for the life of me get the low B string to intonate, but I don’t see how new strings would help?
I wish I could explain the “why” to you, but when it comes to the physics involved… I don’t know exactly what’s happening to the metal either that would cause such issues. However, after over 25 years of playing Classical guitars, bass, acoustics, and 7-string and 8-string guitars, I’ve learned a few annoying truths about strings:
1. As strings age, intonation begins to “drift” and become inaccurate. Nylon (Classical) strings seem to be even worse in this regard, because when I was playing Classical, I remember it being the #1 reason we Classical guitarists changed strings. So, intonation drift (as I like to call it) is one of the reasons any of us ever changes strings (vs. leaving them on as long as humanly possible). This is why you always want to set intonation with new strings, and then not adjust it as those strings age—because you’d be chasing a moving target.
2. As strings age, their tuning becomes less stable. Again, I noticed this much more when playing Classical, but steel string electric and acoustic strings exhibit the same behavior. All I know is that it has something to do with metal fatigue over time. At least, that’s how it’s been explained to me at a high level–crazy stuff about the metal losing elasticity, the molecular patterns changing, yadda yadda.
3. Sometimes, in a new pack of strings, you just get a bad string (and hopefully it’s only one). Again, since I’m not a string-maker I can’t explain the mechanical details, but sometimes little defects in manufacturing can get past the QA step, and you’ll get a bad string in the bunch. As far as what “bad string” entails exactly, well… we’d have to ask someone from a string manufacturer to explain it to us. I bet Scott from StringJoy would enlighten us (if he hasn’t already on their YouTube channel). So, little defects in the windings, core wire, or both can cause intonation and tuning issues with strings.
Now, as a 7-string (and 8-string) player, I totally sympathize with your low-B issue. On all my 7-string guitars, my low B saddle is way, way back. Luckily, I’ve not run out of adjustment room, so I’ve been able to move that sucker as far back as necessary. However, on my 8-string RG2228… with an F# as the lowest string… the string is still slightly sharp even though I’ve run out of room to adjust the saddle back; it simply won’t go any farther.
So, I’m in the process of experimenting with different string brands/gauges to see if I can find one that’ll intonate.
When all else fails, and you’ve eliminated all the possibilities I’ve listed on this page, then sometimes you can get lucky and find a particular brand and gauge of string that’ll intonate. Again, I wish I could explain why, but I just don’t know enough about metals, physics, and string manufacturing. It sucks, but sometimes is the only solution (unless you’re willing to look into compensated nuts or other avenues). Along those lines…
A few years ago, I bought an Ibanez RGD3127 (which has a 26.5″ scale). I strung it up with my usual go-to string brand/gauge, and something immediately was wrong. The strings were creating a bizarre, nasty metallic overtone when I’d do palm-mute chugs on the low B with overdrive. After months of driving myself crazy, taking the guitar completely apart and whatnot, I figured out that it only happened with that exact set (brand/material/gauge) of strings. To this day, I’ve no idea why, but on just that one guitar I have to use a different set of strings.
Point being, strings sometimes do weird things that I don’t understand and can’t explain. I hate it, but I’ve learned to look out for these bizarre curve balls and adapt as necessary (if possible, as I’m still trying to solve my low F# issue on my 8-string).
Interesting article however mine seems to be just the opposite of the problem above. I have a PRS 24 that I adore…..or did up till now. I was noticing it was time to change out my strings. I bought my usual gage and brand of strings. Installed them. should have been no problem right same gage…..no other changes. Tuned it up using my tuner concert pitch…..the first thing I noticed was much of my intonation was off. So I took to doing adjustment….everything went fine except my low E string. Tune open and its perfect pitch set my intonation so my 24th frets ring as near to true as possible….on the sixth string it needed to have the saddle moved back as the pitch for the notes closest to my third to 5th fret were just to sharp…not by much but enough to notice …..I decided after moving it back as far as was engineered into it. still not enough length to drop that pitch. I took the saddle off the guitar and shortened the saddle on the front edge and the rear edge using a grinding wheel. Replaced it on the guitar tuned it up and it still was too high. I then decided to check with a micrometer what the actual diameter of the string it was .042 ” I then measure the equivalent string on another guitar with the same strings …that E string was .041″ ….only one thousandth different …..but am wondering after reading what you wrote above might that be the culprit? I have been playing and building a long time but never had an issue like this. I may just do a new set to see if that changes it.
Hi Kelly. I definitely would’ve tried a new set of strings FRIST… before making changes to your setup, and certainly before grinding down your saddle. If your guitar was playing fine before with the exact same brand/gauge of strings, and now suddenly isn’t, I’d look to the strings as the culprit. It sounds like you might’ve gotten a bad batch–or at least a bad low E.
You will probably never see my comment, but I wanted to give it a shot. I’m experimenting with Nashville High String tuning, using the light gauge strings of a 12 string set on a 6 string acoustic, and I’m noticing an intonation issue with the normal gauge bottom two strings (because a 12 string uses two of the same gauge strings for the bottom two strings). I expected the intonation issue to be with the lighter gauge / higher octave strings, not the normally tuned ones, but that’s not the case. Do you think the overall tension value of the entire set of strings on an acoustic can cause intonation issues, like the combined tension value of each string together? I have noticed in my more advanced years lately that if I drop the tension on the top string of any acoustic guitar that it slightly affects the existing tuning of all the other strings (again, overall tension changing the tuned status across all the strings), and that got me thinking about this with the Nashville tuning.
Hi Chris. I can’t really speculate on what might be going on with the intonation issue, other than to say you probably need to have the guitar completely set up for these new strings and this particular tuning–if you plan to stay with it for awhile. This would include some filing of the bridge saddle to help correct intonation on each individual string.
The reason your other strings go slightly out of tune when you drop the tension of another string (especially if it’s one of the heavier low strings) is because the neck is flexing. When you loosen a string, it relieves some forward-tension on the neck, allowing it to bow backwards more than when the string is at proper pitch/tension. This will cause the other strings to go a little sharp (just like if you pulled back on the headstock with your hand). This will also affect intonation a little bit. These things are all interconnected.
This is why I recommend that players have their guitar specifically set up for the brand and gauge of strings, and the tuning that they plan to use MOST of the time. Any time you decide to drop tune or switch to an alternate tuning on-the-fly, you just have to accept the compromises that come with it. Such compromises include action that becomes too high or too low (resulting in buzz), or intonation issues. The neck is made of wood, and it flexes based on string tension and even humidity (though humidity takes longer to affect it).
To all these “nuts” out there, to think that compensated nut, TT frets, BFTS, Earvana nuts, will solve problems. Just equip your guitars with a zero fret instead and be done with it. No first few frets intonation problems, and not up the neck either.
Remember, a nut has only to do with first fret intonation and open string, whatever happens after it, is just the frets. And frets distance to the bridge. Compensated nuts, as well as James Taylors specific intonation/tuning trick works just well for HIS fingerings, and a certain select gauge of strings. As fast as you decide to go up or down a size in gauge, every nut compensation is thrown out the window and needed to be done again. With a zero fret you can have ANY gauge residing on top of that fret. No needto recut slots or yada yada.
Agreed that zero fret has its advantages. Some of us can’t get over the look of it on some guitars. I disagree about the compensated nut. While your comments are accurate mostly, I know for sure that my guitars with ervana style nuts have been noticeably better intonation in general, not just the first fret. Not sure why. I’m thinking if a zero fret was the answer and that great it would be more popular. You just don’t see it on 95% of guitars. You see lots of compensated nuts. It cost practical zero in the manufacturing prossess. Leo got it pretty good the first time on electric guitars. Practical nothing has changed
Great blog, great article. But as your pic shows to the left, it’s that pesky low E string that seems to be too sharp even if the bridge saddle is as far back as possible, even removed its strings.
Your solutions seems to be valid for intonation problems on ALL STRINGS at the same time, and intonation problems overall, across all strings. Your suggestions doesn’t seem to pinpoint why it is – always – the low e-string that seems pesky why there’s no evidence on the net or else, that it is the – say – plain G-string that always has to have its saddle turned as far back as possible while all the rest is smooth sailing. It’s mostly, and only the low e-string. And this is still so, even if all solutions you provided above has been thoroughly checked, and fixed.
I have still several guitars where the low e-string finally intonates, but still its bridge saddle is at the furthest back it can go. It differs too much from all the others. The nut isn’t/wasn’t the problem since I intonated with a capo on first fret, and 13th fret intonation instead. So the nut is ruled out.
So we really still haven’t gotten any explanation why the low e-string just have to have the bridge saddle pushed as far back as it can go, and why it is – always – the low e string, and none of the others has these idiosyncrasies.
Very impressed with the amount of real solutions for intonation problems here. And I own & operate a guitar repair business and I don’t impress easy lol. Thanks
Thanks for the complement Ryan! Just FYI, I’m always looking for guitar techs and luthiers to write guest posts for me. If this sounds like something you might be interested in doing, hop over to my Guest Posting Guidelines page to learn more.
Great article and glad you touched on the many different things that can affect guitar tuning. The dreaded G or B strings are usually the worst. If you have not checked out the videos of James Taylors tuning technique, you should do so. Very interesting procedure of tuning each string down a certain number of cents. Good , accurate tuner needed obviously. I did have varying results with different guitars, but interesting. Thanks for your work on this article, very helpful to many I’m sure.
I believe James Taylor’s tuning method is what led to what we now call “sweetened tunings.” Don’t quote me, but that’s my guess.
My StroboPlus HD tuner has a whole bunch of sweetened tunings built in, and I use a one made specifically for 7-string guitars. Haven’t yet decided how I feel about it, but fun to experiment.
How do set the intonation on a bridge without saddles, such as my 1960s Decca guitars.
I meant, a bridge without a moving saddle. It just has washers, to adjust action.
Hi Chris. Since I’m not familiar with Decca guitars, I’d need to inspect the guitar in-person to figure it out. My guess is that there’s SOME way to adjust it, but there isn’t any information online. If there are no moving parts to adjust either the saddles or the bridge itself forward/backward, then it’s probably a similar method to an acoustic guitar: There may be some bridge filing/shaping involved.
Again though, I just don’t know what kind of bridge you have. My search for “Decca Guitars” yielded a couple different bridge styles. Even then, pictures aren’t doing me any favors as far as giving me clues to how to adjust intonation.
If there isn’t a way to adjust intonation, and it’s really badly out, you may consider talking to a luthier or guitar tech about permanently relocating the bridge. However, if you do that, be very sure you’ve settled on the gauge and brand of strings you want to stick with. Changing brand and/or gauge of strings later will usually throw off your intonation, and if you can’t actually adjust it…well, you see where I’m going.
Hope that helps. Sorry I don’t have more specifics, but my experience with vintage guitars (especially lesser-known brands) is pretty limited.
Hi, thanks for your article!!
Here is the problem I have with the low E string on my electric guitar. When I pick the open string attack and decay will be very fast and prominent, and will alternate 3 or 4 times before the note stabilizes. This is an issue by itself and obvious will also prevent me from getting a proper intonation on this string.
I have no issues on other strings. Guitar is a USA stratocaster. Strings are new and of good quality.
I have had this problem for several years now…
Hi Andrea. I’m not totally sure I understand your problem–because I’m not sure if it’s actually a problem per se. It may just be normal behavior (even though it doesn’t happen on other strings).
When you pluck a note, it’s not uncommon for the tuner to fluctuate up and down a bit before the note “settles.” That’s exactly why you sometimes need to wait a bit for it to stop moving.
It’s also possible one or more of your pickups are too high on the bass side. If the pole piece(s) under that low E are too close, their magnetic field can cause the note to jump around more than usual when you’re trying to set intonation, and it can be maddening.
In fact, some luthiers and techs will lower the pickups before setting intonation to prevent this, then raise them back up once intonation is set.
I have lowered the neck pickup on the bass side and I have solved the problem.
It is probably the pickups that are set too close to the strings, low E and G string are most prone to this. This is a phenomenon called Magnetic String Pull (MSP). Since the strat pickups consists of pole pieces which really are the magnets too, they pull on the strings like they want them to stick the strings on the top of the pole pieces. Back the pickups down as much as possible and retune and intonate. The needle of the tuner should freeze easily and don’t jump around.
Hi Mats. Indeed, that is what turned out to be Andrea’s problem, and lowering her pickup solved her issue.
Hi, I’d like your thoughts on the following.
I have a new epiphone les paul. I use open string as reference and adjust the harmonic at 12 fret then play the 12 fretted. That 12 fretted is always indicated on tuner as being sharp ( using 2 different tuners). I have fitted brand new strings. Am I doing something wrong. Ajusting position of saddle makes no difference. Cheers AS
Don’t use the harmonic at all. Use only the 12th fret (fretted) as your reference note, for the reason I mention in #6 in this article.
Besides, it’s the actual note at the 12th fret that you want in tune, because that’s what you’re playing 99% of the time, so use that. Not the harmonic.
I haven’t used harmonics to set intonation in over 10 years, because the position of the harmonic can be a little dodgy on some guitars.
Just as my little two cents from a physicist noob guitarist:
The harminics are mathematically perfect divisions of the root based solely upon the string length (and not mass or tension) – the only inaccuracy (in why it may be seen as unreliable) as an individual may not be touching the exact nodal point to isolate the pure harmonic which may leave behind some other overtones.
I say this, because ‘in theory’ there should be no difference in tuning to the root or any perfect division of it – but of course we are imperfect and the instrument itself is also…
But this could perhaps be useful information for someone looking into electronic sounds where one can easily attain that level of precision in isolating wave parts with a good enough resolution. 🙂
Sounds plausible to me. Hence the reason to set intonation using the fretted note instead of the harmonic. Not only is the fret in a fixed position, at the end of the day it’s the fretted note you want in-tune while you’re playing. Who cares about the harmonics (which you only play a very small percentage of the time, if at all).
The harmonic will always be perfectly intonated with the open string. The time when people are using it is instead of the open string, in that case intonating the fretted twelfth fret with the harmonic. I’m not sure when you say not to use the harmonic what you are saying not to use it for. Sometimes you can see that where you are getting that harmonic to ring is not in line with the 12th fret, and that is a good ballpark method to know that you have to do the intonation, but you can also hear the difference between the harmonic 12th fret harmonic and the fretted note as a ballpark. Whatever the case, you are getting the fretted note in tune with the harmonic, not the other way around. I think your idea of using the frets around where you play is a good one. I have the hardest time with the second fret of the G string, and I think that is a nut issue, as you have said. Still it takes forever to dial that in, and I have no nut files.
I recently got a tele, and it is crazy making, and a danelectro I have is not much better. I can’t seem to play the cowboy chords light enough not to go out of tune.
What is a good way to improvise a nutfile?
Dan Erlewine doesn’t elaborate on this. I have my doubts. He put forward this idea of not using harmonics above the 12th fret as fast as there were tuners that didn’t make difference if it read an open string (an octave below) or any harmonic at the 12th fret. It just made life easier with the actual tuner used. It’s still the same note whether up there or open string.
Now, my findings and experience is like this. Check the tuner and tune open string 0 cents deviation, nail it. And then pick the 12th harmonic and make a reading. If the cent is not exactly the same the string has uneven gauge along its length and is a lemon or dud. This has nothing to do with guitars. It’s been slightly deformed by dents from the frets underneath the strings, and don’t proceed with any intonation. I e you havent even touched the frets yet. But we all know that 7th and 5h frets harmonics are way too sharp, but a harmonic 12th fret is always half way of the open string and we can’t do anything about and it’s only natural.
I’ve read other luthiers that has challenged Dan Erlewines claims. If the total scale length of a guitar is long enough (strat, tele lengths) it is safe to use 12th fret harmonics as a general guide. On bass guitars this have never been a problem at all. I don’t know why it all of a sudden should turn out a problem on regular guitars.
Intonation problems is always due to crap strings. I’ve had strings fresh out the pack that wouldn’t intonate. I would also avoid those neodymium pickups because you don’t need that much magnet pull
Strings are definitely the culprit much of the time, which is why they’re #1 and #2 on my list here. However they are not ALWAYS the problem nor the only cause. Many things can cause intonation issues, and despite my long list here I probably still haven’t thought of them all.
Ahh.. classic G string too high fretted at 12 and NO more room to move the bridge (tunematic). It’s about 2-4 cents sharp (so not much). My idea is file a notch in the saddle piece the string site on so I can “comepensate” a little more.. BUT am wondering if maybe changing string guage might be enough? And if so which way to go, higher or lower guage?
Hi Jeff. If you haven’t done this already, one trick is to flip the saddle around, so that the slanted side is facing toward your pickups. Having the flat side of the saddle facing the bridge will gain you a couple extra millimeters of distance to work with. I’m not sure if going up or down in gauge will do much, if anything… especially if it’s only one step up/down.
I have the same issue on my 5 electric guitars: they intonate sharp. Always tune open and compare fretted note at the 12th or most frequently used depending on your needs (7th, 5th).
If the string intonates sharp, move the saddle towards the bridge. If you run out of room, you can go DOWN (thinner) string gauge.
If the string intonates flat, move the saddle towards the neck. If you run out of room, you can go UP (thicker) string gauge.
It is always better to intonate flatter (longer string, saddle back) so not to put a kink on a fresh new string, which would affect the strings qualities.
Agree totally on Neo pickups! Yes. Finally. Not even on basses with thick gauge strings they are any good, still pulls on them strings. Then you have to back them down so low into the body that the hot output benefits of them are thrown out the window. Catch 22, chasing the tail.
So, I have a guitar with no truss rod. It plays great from the first fret to about the 7 or 8th fret. Beyond that it is totally off. The intonation at the 12th fret is fine on the thinner strings but way off on the low E and A strings .. how can I fix this .. or can I?
Hi Michael. Can you give me a rough description of the guitar? Make and model? If it doesn’t have a truss rod, I’m thinking you’ve got a Classical or Flamenco (nylon string) acoustic, but wanted to double-check first.
Obviously, I can’t play your guitar without a truss rod, to hear and see where its going out of tune. But you can always shorten a string, changing its pitch by wedging a very small screw or a short piece of cocktail under what ever string is giving you problems, just past the nut on the first fret. Like having saddles at nut. This just might be enough extra adjustment to change things for you mate
Having issues setting it on this Strat clone I just bought. I’m going to assume it’s the tuner I’m using as it’s not a standalone tuner but an Android app. Possibly need new strings. These are only a week old buy they’ve been abused quite a bit in that week. I hate to think that the bridge could be in the wrong place. It’s made by Samick so I would think everything’s where it’s supposed to be but it’s a possibility. Time to start measuring and get a good tuning device.
Hi JC. Very possible it’s the strings, which is why that’s #1 on the list here. Always set intonation with new strings (after you’ve given them a good stretch to stabilize the tuning). As strings age or become fatigued, intonation will begin to drift (which is one of the reasons you change old strings). Let us know how it goes after you get new strings ad a decent tuner. If you like phone-based apps, consider getting the Peterson iStrobosoft ($9.99) from the Google Store.
One of the better systems I’ve come across is the Rick Toone Tuning System. It’s for headless guitars however. But, the nut and bridge saddles are individually adjustable both for intonation and height. That covers the majority of tuning issues. I built a prototype guitar when beta testing the system along with a few other luthiers at the time and I have to say it’s brilliant. It’s a bit pricy and made using only high quality materials like titanium, stainless steel and anodized aluminum but I’ve never seen anything else like it. If more people bought the system pricing would come down. For players who like top quality and are serious about their instruments I’m sure they’ll jump at it.
Check it out–I think you’ll agree. After the initial system was tested, Rick did a re-design with individual bridge pieces which allowed custom design of the system for 7 strings or more–I’m not sure if he’s completed his designs for bass guitars since I’ver more less been out of the loop since I retired. Visit his web site and find out.
Rick Toone is a cunning tinkerer, no doubt about that. Me myself have always been of the adamant stance that headless and zero frets together solves tuning and intonation problems. I will have to check out his latest offerings…
Luthiars will rarely tell you…..if all else fails and your intonation is maxed forward and still flat then you can compensate the nut. There’s a guy on ebay that sells compensated nuts….ask him to compensate all the nut slots. If it’s way off ask him to notch it to the max.
I just bought a monoprice gold top rt 66 Les Paul for 50.00….nice looking gold top guitar. A good platform to rework into a good one. Has lots of fixable problems but the biggy was the position of the bridge. The china man was drinking the day he made it. It was a 1/4″ off. I could almost get it intonated…except the D string. Finally I made a compensated nut. Now I have adjustment for all strings on my bridge and all the strings are dead on.
You can get a nut blank and make a ledge to sit over the first fret if you have the opposite problem…..guitar is sharp and no more adjustment backwards. You’re basically doing the same thing you do at the bridge. Moving the saddle forward towards the pick up if the string is flat…… towards the back if it’s sharp. Do the same thing on you blank nut.
The problem with my LP copy was that the LP nut is angled down in the back. The more you move the edge back in the slot the more the string lowers….that’s why you need a square nut blank to intonate it (If it’s flat). You can use a small drill bit to notch out the front of the string slot….then test it. To move 1 htz (maybe 10 cents) it’s probably going to take an 1/8 of an inch notch.
Hi David. Compensated nuts are indeed a possible solution when you’re maxed-out on how far you’ve adjusted your saddle(s). I love compensated nuts because they also help chords and notes sound more in-tune while you’re playing, all over the neck. Ernie Ball Music Man guitars ship with compensated nuts, and the few John Petrucci models I’ve tried have been a dream to play and sound fantastic.
Hi, you have exhaustively covered a lot of issues on guitar intonation and I’ve learnt a lot out of it. I own some electric guitars (gibson, fender, tokay) there are some couple of guitars a fender strat and a gibson es 335 where I face a lot of intonation problem with the low E string particular no matter what i try. The problem is something like this – the open string note and the 12 fret harmonic/chime are not the same (which is suppose to be actually open octave apart) , the harmonic tends to be always sharp than the open note. Tried setting up the guitar to manufacturer’s specs (truss rod adjacent for relief, action, nut height, pickup height etc…) number of times but the darn low E open and the 12 fret harmonic don’t match. I am particularly interested with your explanation of pickup height adjustment. Can manufacturer specs be wrong sometimes, or should i try lowering. Regards Lobo jamir
Hi Lobosang! Please see #6. I stopped using the harmonic many years ago when I learned that it’s an unreliable method for setting intonation. Instead, try using just the open string and the fretted 12th fret note to set intonation. The same rules apply to the fretted 12th fret note that you used with the 12th fret harmonic. Get the string (open) in perfect tune, then fret the 12th fret note and see whether it’s sharp or flat. Adjust as necessary, retune the open string so that it is once again in perfect tune when played open, and fret the 12th fret note again to see if it’s sharp or flat. Continue this process until the 12th fret note is also in tune when fretted.
Hi. Thanks for a great article… I would just mention that I have 2 regular scaled guitars that are tuned pretty low, Ithink it is dropped A, with floyd roses on, and I couldn’t get the 6. string intonated. So I had to modify the saddle, filling the area where the string goes, right behind the endpoint of the string with some solder, refit it so that the endpoint got furter away from the head, to get it to intonate on both guitars, So the tuning and string thickness are thing to considerate, as well. Both guitars intonates fine in regular tunings and thickness of strings…
Just mentioning this…
Thanks for the input Hans. You’re correct: factors like string size, tuning, and even string height (action) all contribute to how a guitar needs to be intonated.
A couple notes from my own experience:
1. Humbuckers pick up more harmonic and inharmonic content and are thus more picky about intonation to my ears (also often Hb guitars have shorter scale length, further contributing to more pickiness). Thicker frequencies in general are more picky about chords, much like bass guitar, or a low power chord on a neck humbucker.
2. Think twice about loosening and tightening your strings for a quick mod in between gigs, they are all but ruined for intonation afterwards, especially the high strings. This one threw me off quite a bit and I thought there was something wrong with my guitar. Ideally you’d want to test the results of a mod with as many controlled variables as possible but the strings might very well sound like garbage after you slack them and retighten them.
Hi Joel. I’m not so sure #2 is a hard-and-fast rule. I’ve played guitars with fully floating Floyds all my life, and I’m a bigtime whammy dive-bomber. I routinely mash the bar till the strings go completely slack, and haven’t noted any intonation issues. Certainly, if this was a problem, generations of Steve Vai wanna-be’s (like me) would’ve ditched their trems long ago.
One of the best points made here is that the guitar is an imperfect instrument. I’ve had some guitars that I simply tune-up using the method Dan Erlewine explained years ago and I added that to my old web site years back under “Guitar Tips”. It’s not perfect either and uses harmonics but generally makes the guitar playable and a great solution for in-between string changes or camp-site guitars LOL! Longer scale lengths are more forgiving than short scale and perhaps 7 string players can benefit from using a longer scale especially when down-tuning, which can result in a noodle-like loose string that when played open is near impossible to tune at times, let alone intonate. Heavier gauge strings will help with this. Check saddle heights too–I’ve seen messed up settings on bridges that can affect intonation.
This is a helpful page. I thought I would add two other causes of intonation. The first was added by another contributor – a poorly cut nut. If the string’s point of contact is somewhere in the middle or back of the slot, it will wreak havoc and you might find you can’t adjust your bridge saddle far enough to compensate (and even if you can, it will still be out up and down the neck). Quite often if you change string gauges (heavier or lighter) the point of contact will change. If you go heavier, the string might not ‘sit down’ into the slot fully; if you go lighter, it might not be held in place at the front of the slot. .
The second thing happens only on some bridges like Badass and BC Rich Quadmatic where the ball end is right behind the saddle. This can mean that the overwrap at the ball end actually goes over the saddle contact point, effectively shortening the vibrating length of the string. Happens also commonly in bass bridges. The solution is to space the ball end back a bit. Some people use small nuts, other times the discarded ball ends of old strings can be slipped over the string down to the ball before you mount the string. This ‘backs up’ the ball end enough so the wrap isn’t on the saddle.
Okay i feel like im in the home stretch finally to getting to the bottom of this string issue im having. I ordered 2 sets of brand new strings, my 6th being a 52 and my 7th being a 60. Im playing in drop G. Now for some odd reason my 7th string just hasnt sounded right ever since i put it on. It sounds muted, its lacking sustain and just sounds dead basically. My other strings sound normal, lots of tone and plenty of sustain, even a light strum makes them ring for well over 20 seconds. Not so much the case with the 7th string. When i give it a good strum it not only is buzzing more than i can handle but it just sounds dead. Hardly any ring to it or sustain and it almost sounds as if im very lightly palm muting it, on an open strum even. Do i need thicker strings? Did i get a bad string? Too many wraps around the tuning peg? Im lost
I have a question about string gauges. I have 2 seven string guitars where I seem to have a problem with tuning stability with the low B string. When I have a set of strings with 10-56 both my guitars sound great in tune (I tune down half a step to A#….now the problem is, when I put on a set of strings with 60 or 62 or even 64. The low B string sounds very “unstable” like it’s out of tune with itself!? Also, when I pluck ONLY the low B string it sounds like it has this “vibration” sound to it, like it’s out of tune with itself (yes I lowered my pickups) same result….all the other strings sound fine with power chords but not the low B, it sounds completely out of tune with power chords….I then put on a 0.74 on the low B and then it was stable!?!?. It’s the same problem on both my guitars! I have a schecter loomis with a new nut installed by a pro and a custom made guitar with Zero fret install and Evertune. So I don’t think that the nut is the issue. I have tried to put on new strings 3 times with a 0.64 with the same result!?….056 and 074 the tuning and power chords sounds perfect! I’m really confused!
Hope you can help
Hi Claus! I’m afraid this is one I probably can’t explain, but just know that you’re not alone when it comes to mysterious, unexplainable string issues.
I had a similar string-related mystery a couple years ago when I bought a new 7-string which has a 26.5″ scale length (an Ibanez RGD3127). I own many Ibanez 7’s, but this was my first with a 26.5″ scale length. All my other’s are 25.5″. I’ve always used Ernie Ball Cobalt 9 – 52 strings on those, and I love ’em. However, when I put those strings on my new RGD3127 I got a weird and very annoying “metallic” pinging/ringing sound whenever I was doing palm mutes and chugs. I dampened everything–trem springs, headstock strings, etc. No effect. It was just some weird, mysterious, metallic resonance. After much investigation and being unable to find anything wrong with the guitar itself, I changed to standard (non Cobalt) Ernie Ball strings in the exact same gauge. The sound disappeared. Then, I put a brand new/fresh set of Cobalts back on… and the sound was back.
To this day, I have no idea why, but my Ibanez RGD3127 can’t use Ernie Ball Cobalts, 9-52. No luthier I’ve talked to has been able to explain it either. There’s some mysterious combination of factors, when combined with the Cobalt strings, the produces that odd, horrible-sounding metallic resonance.
You and I would probably need and engineer or physicist to explain these things to us. Or, perhaps there’s a luthier out there reading this that can chime in and shed some light on what’s happening here.
Sorry I couldn’t be more help on this one.
This is indeed an odd one. I’ve never come across this but if I had to guess I’d say it could have something to do with resonance of the saddle material in combo with the strings. A lighter mass might not resist the vibrations as well as a heavier mass and thus transfer the forces into the body creating the metallic tones–an engineer might be better able to explain this. Also, has anyone contacted the string manufacturer to pose the question to them?
Could be a rod adjustment. Or u might have a fret that is flat and needs filling. When in doubt, take it to a professional. I have a 7 string I’m having problems with, yup, the 7th, and can’t seem to get it just right. Going to wait till my new strings come in and take it to the shop.
Yep, flat or severely worn frets is #13 on my list here.
And I’d agree: intonation issues can drive you nuts if you’re not well-versed in guitar DIY, and you might save yourself a lot of time and heartache if you just take your guitar to a pro.
Great article–I was pleased to see you covered all the things we commonly have encountered as well as a few remote but rare possibilities. One thing that I still see often is that people will down tune to pitch which is a “no-no” since the slightest amount of string slackness will throw off the tuning after you start to play the guitar, or if you strike a string more aggressively. So, if you try to intonate a string after down tuning to pitch, you’ll be frustrated. Checking the guitar nut carefully to see if the point of string contact is correct is a common thing I’ve come across too. Just like a fret top that is not contacting the string at the centre of the fret, we don’t want to see a nut slot that creates a contact point that is not at the front of the nut.
Hey, Guitar Answer Guy, I have a problem with the A string on my 2003 Schecter diamond elite (set neck, tune o matic bridge) and the problem is it won’t intonate. I’ve got all the other strings, as intonated as possible, but the A string is always about 6 cents flat and moving the saddle doesn’t change anything. My neck angle is quite flat and my action is low. As far as I can tell, it’s not the fault of anything you outlined in the article. It’s not the strings (did it with old strings, does it with brand new DR Black Beauties) and it’s not the nut slot (was previously fine). It goes flat on and after the 5th fret, so that would lead me to believe it is a truss rod issue (as the truss rod only affects, roughly, the frets from the 5th to 12th frets) but it’s only affecting the A string. Could me neck be warped? Wouldn’t that affect more than 1 string? Also, it doesn’t appear to be warped (frets all look parallel when I look down the neck).
I’m really at a loss… My bridge needs to replaced but I don’t think it’s the culprit – all of the set screws work right, no overt damage to saddles, the retaining wire is bent and does rattle but still holds the intonation screws in place. It doesn’t look like the bridge or tailpiece are installed in the wrong place, although the tailpiece does seem to be leaning forward a tad bit – the screw mounts (that are installed into the wood) appear to be lifting up and pulling out of the guitar (about 2mm on the backside of tailpiece) when strings are tuned to playing tension. I knocked them back down into place with a rubber mallot and the problem seems to persist.
All I can think is that my neck is slightly warped, towards the low strings and that’s causing my intonation issues. It’s a big enough issue that I can’t play through it (my ears can’t ignore the flatness of the notes).
Thanks in advance for any insight you may be able to provide.
Hi Rob. It’s nearly impossible to diagnose something like this without actually inspecting the guitar, but maybe I can at least help you rule out a few things.
I don’t think you neck is warped. You’d be able to see a twist in it when sighting down the neck (viewing it from the tip of the headstock toward the body), and you’d have more issues than just an A string that won’t intonate.
My guess is that it has something to do with the bridge issues you mentioned. None of that stuff should be happening. That bridge should be solid, not tilting, and certainly not pulling out of the body in any way. Any movement or imperfections there can cause intonation issues (and sometimes only on a single string).
At the beginning, you said that you don’t think your intonation issues are the fault of anything in my article but, honestly, unless you’re a luthier or professional tech, you might not be able to detect a lot of these things (fret issues, nut slot issues, etc). If you’re certain it’s not just a bad string (I’ve had to go through 2-3 brand new strings on some occasions to finally get a good one that’ll intonate), then you might want to take the guitar to a pro. Let them inspect the guitar and get to the bottom of what’s going on.
Hi, I think I fall into the #10 cause. My intonation on the 12th fret is correct, but the lower frets are way off, up to 7 cents. I live in Japan and don’t know of a good tech. It’s a new PRS SE.
Hi Robert. Deepening and re-shaping nut slots is something you can do yourself, if absolutely necessary. I usually don’t recommend it though–because I’m not an advocate of people “learning” serious guitar work on their main guitar. However, if you think you want to tackle it yourself, just be sure you take the time to research, learn the correct technique, and use the right tools.
Thanks for the response. Some questions:
1. Do you think the nuts being set too high is a good reason why all 1st to 4th frets on all 7 strings are sharp?…true even if I play the strings lightly. Above fret five, or so, they start playing accurately. Intonation between 12th fret harmonics (plus open strings) and holding the 12th fret is fine.
2. (not really a quest) I’m not sure I can find a trusted tech here in Japan. I don’t have the language skills to fully express myself, nor understand the tech. For one thing, I live in a rural area.
3. If the nut does need filing and I attempted myself, I think through Amazon.com, I can get the tools. Do you know of some good youTube videos or text I can get a hold of?
The guitar is a new PRS custom SE.
I really appreciate your help.
1. Though it’s difficult to diagnose any problem without actually inspecting your guitar, I’m speculating that yes, your nut being too high could (and would) definitely cause those lower frets to play sharp. The nut is the #1 thing that gets rushed or overlooked during final QA before a guitar leaves the manufacturer.
2. I lived in Japan for 3 years (in Misawa), so I totally understand how difficult this can be. I never truly learned to speak Japanese, just bits and pieces, but I got very good at using sounds, hand gestures, body gestures, etc. to communicate. Most people could understand what I was trying to say, and a guitar tech or luthier would definitely know what you’re trying to say if you pointed at the nut and then let them play/measure it. Of course, I understand that this doesn’t help you much if you don’t even have such a person anywhere near you. What about your nearest cities?
3. To be honest, there are so many YouTube videos out there that I’m not sure which one (or ones) to recommend for nut work. However, I can confidently recommend the book “The Guitar Player Repair Guide” by Dan Erlewine. Now in its 3rd edition, that’s the book that started it all for me, and I still refer to it to this day. Before you go and buy any tools (you can sometimes get by without fancy tools), I recommend buying that book and reading the sections on nut-making and modification. That book contains a lot of other info that you may not want or need right now, but you might some day. It covers just about everything you’ll ever need to know as a guitar owner.
Thank you so much for spending the time with me. I did, indeed, find a great guitar mechanic. It was a real challenge to find his shops down the narrow streets, especially not knowing that the last 70 feet, or so, was a walking path.
It turned out it was a high ridding nut. I got to stay and watch him work. Very enjoyable afternoon.
Even so, I’m will be looking into purchasing that book.
Again, thanks for all your help.
Be well and have a great holiday season.
That’s great news! I do remember the narrow streets, and how those little shops (where highly skilled craftsmen/women worked) were sometimes hidden down alleyways. Not knowing the language very well, sometimes you just have to explore the town a lot and hope you discover them. Happy holidays to you, and hope you enjoy playing that PRS SE a little more now that it plays in-tune.
You said strings stretch but this is not true according to manufacturers. They only seat themselves in. I have locking tuners and the strings are always in tune from the day I install them. The is not even one wrap around the tuning peg.
Hi James. You should read my concluding paragraphs at the end of this article, where I discuss that topic:
I don’t care whether you choose to call it “stretching” or “seating”… that’s up to you. I call it “stretching” because that’s the physical action I’m performing on the string. Whether or not the metal is actually stretching, well, I’ll leave that up to all the physicists and engineers.
Great article! I’m positive that the fault lies in the string. Will swap it out later for a new one. I’ll never order these cheap sets of strings ever again; too much trouble to save on a few bucks.
Let me know how it goes George, and if you still have problems check back in and maybe we can try to troubleshoot.
yea have Ernie ball power slinky and they’re going flat and I replaced the high e with another one and it got a lot closer to the same pitch as the 12th fret
A bad string (or a bad set of strings) is always the 1st thing I suspect when I have intonation issues. And 99% of the time it does turn out to be the strings.
When I push ridiculously hard I can get my strings intunated. But its not a natural way of playing at all. They are all flat when I play regularly, despite having the saddles as close to the pick as possible. Is this due to having my bridge too high or something like that? Cheers
Hi Jay-man. A couple questions first:
1. Has this always been an issue on this guitar, or did it just start happening at some point? When?
2. What kind of guitar is this, and what kind of bridge does it have?
3. How old is your current set of strings?
4. What is the brand/gauge of strings you’re using?
5. Have you always used this brand/gauge of strings, or did you change recently?
You’re attempting to fix this in the right way–by moving the saddles forward. However, there are a number of things that could be causing this, so knowing the answers to the questions above might help me diagnose the problem. Usually, when all strings are too flat/sharp despite all saddles being at their max travel, it’s time for a new set of strings (always set intonation with brand new strings). The strings could simply be old, or it could be a bad set of strings (it happens).
I have an early 70s Kay Les Paul copy that I’ve been wrestling with intonation problems for since I bought it (used). The problem is with open chords at the first position. For a long time I just tuned it so that E and A were good and that way I could just use barr chords for all my other chords. Then one day I put a capo on (I never normally use one) and I found that I could play open C, G, and D shapes in the first position and they were pretty much in tune. Since then I’ve been just keeping a capo at the first fret (but still tuning the guitar so that it’s EADGBE open. But I’ve started wondering if the nut could be the whole problem? I honestly don’t know why they stopped using zero frets on guitars because that would have probably solved the problem, but anyway, do you think a new nut, properly set up could fix the issue?
Mark, it’s very possible that it’s a nut issue, or that the nut is at least part of the problem. However, it’s hard to know for sure without inspecting your guitar in-person. You might look into something like a compensated nut. Even if the nut isn’t 100% the problem, a compensated nut can often take care of the issue–at least enough that it pleases your ear.
Only two string are making noise when plugged up .E and D
Only two of my string are working when plugged in .I’m freaking out
Hi Christofer. Can you be a little more specific? Suffice to say, if you’re having electrical issues it would be best to just take your guitar to a tech and avoid the headaches of freaking out and trying to fix it yourself. It would be difficult for me to diagnose and then talk you through correcting a possible wiring issue over the internet, but get back to me with more specifics and I’ll try to help.
I am loosing my mind. I have a hard tailed strat with a block. New strings and setup today. I tune my 6th string low E and fret at 12, it is about 3-4 cents sharp. I then turn the adjustment screw on the bridge clockwise, moving the saddle back to lengthen the string and the damn thing goes sharper so it is a never ending circle of getting nowhere-what gives?
Thanks in advance
Sorry if I’m asking an obvious question, but are you re-tuning the string after you make an intonation adjustment? Whenever you move a saddle, you’re effectively throwing the guitar out of tune (in your case, pulling the string sharp, just as if you turned the tuning peg), so you need to retune the guitar after each minute adjustment. After you’ve retuned, check intonation again. If it’s still wrong, adjust the saddle a bit more. Retune. Check intonation again. Wash, rinse, repeat.
If you max-out the saddle’s travel and still can’t get that low E to intonate, then something’s probably going on related to numbers 2 – 7, or 13. If this was never a problem before and only just started happening with this string, be sure it’s fully stretched. If it is, consider trying a different string–you may have a bad one.
My intonation is sharp by about 2-4 bars on the tuner on almost every string, even when I max out the saddles. I don’t know if this variance is commonly considered to be the norm, or if you should expect closer intonation at the 12th fret. Can anyone advise?
You should always be able to dial-in your intonation at the 12th fret. In other words, you should be able to get your intonation perfect for the notes at the 12th fret, but it’s totally normal for other notes across the fretboard to be a little under or over. This is a problem inherent in an instrument with fixed frets–unless you buy a compensated nut, or go all-out with a true temperament fretting system. And even those aren’t 100% “perfect.”
If you’re saying that you’ve got your saddles completely maxed and the intonation at the 12th fret is still sharp, then there’s another problem. Be sure you’re setting intonation with a brand new set of strings that have been fully stretched. If you’re not using new strings, that could be your problem. I’d really have to inspect your guitar myself to diagnose what’s actually going on.
Damn man, this is a remedy for all those guitarists with a bit too precise hearing ( such as me : P ) Thank you so much !
Yep, I’m one of those too. Even when I get intonation set perfectly at the 12th fret, I can hear all the other places on the neck where notes are slightly out of tune. I’d love to get true temperament frets, but they’re just too expensive for me.
Thank you so, so much!! The 12th instead of 12th harmonics saved my life. After a long struggle, my guitar is finally in tune. I had to swich the saddles on my tune o matic bridge.
That’s great news Arthur! Those harmonics can be tricky, so I always use the fretted 12th fret note now when setting intonation.
i’ve changed my guitar strings my G is showing A
what might be the problem
Hi Rohit! If your tuner is showing “A” when you’re trying to tune your G string, then you’ve gone a whole step too high. Simply tune the string back down to G.
Any guitar can play in tune with a custom compensated nut. I have proof.
Right, but the point is, can you, would you share?
If using a replacement bridge, it may not have the same amount of travel.(example: changing to a roller bridge)
Also, I have heard the heavier the string gauge, may affect the intonation.
I have started trying some flat wound strings and wonder if they may change the settings as well… Thanks for an extremely well done article.
Specific intonation solution – might help someone – my guitar teacher / composer / old rocker told me he always replaces the G string in the sets he buys with a wound G string.
Oddly I was having a similar problem keeping my G string in tune – replaced it with a set that had a wound G string, reset intonation and frustration is gone.
Thanks for that suggestion Joe–I’ve indeed heard of this solution for the pesky G string. I’ll consider adding this one to the list.