How to intonate a guitar? What is guitar intonation, and why is it necessary for every guitar player to learn? Guitar intonation is an important part for every guitarist to understand and learn, which is why, whether you are a novice or a professional, you should know whether your guitar is intonated or not. If not, and you can’t afford to get the services of a guitar technician, then maybe now is the perfect time for you to learn how to intonate a guitar.
Excited? Join us as we are going to discuss step-by-step how to intonate a guitar.
What Is Guitar Intonation
Guitar intonation refers to the accuracy of the pitch produced by each string when played at different positions on the fretboard. In a properly intonated guitar, the notes played at higher frets should be in tune with the open strings and lower frets.
Intonation is affected by various factors, including the length of the strings, the position of the saddle, and the overall setup of the instrument. Correctly adjusting the intonation ensures that the guitar produces accurate and harmonious notes across the entire range, facilitating a better playing experience and musical expression.
Why Intonating A Guitar Is Important
Intonating a guitar is vital because it ensures that the instrument plays in tune throughout the entire fretboard. When a guitar is properly intonated, it means that each string’s pitch remains accurate regardless of where it is fretted.
If a guitar is not intonated correctly, it will suffer from intonation issues. This means that chords and melodies played higher up the neck will sound progressively out of tune, even if the open strings are perfectly in tune. This discrepancy can make playing in different positions and keys frustrating and musically unsatisfying.
Intonation is particularly important when playing with other musicians or in a band setting. If your guitar’s intonation is off, it will clash with other instruments, resulting in a dissonant and unpleasant sound. It can also make it challenging to tune with other instruments, leading to a lack of cohesion and harmony in the overall musical performance.
By intonating your guitar properly, you ensure that each note played across the fretboard is in tune, allowing you to play chords, melodies, and solos accurately and harmoniously. It enhances the overall musical experience and allows you to express yourself as a guitarist fully. It also enables you to play confidently with other musicians, contributing to a cohesive and pleasing musical ensemble.
How To Intonate A Guitar
So, how to intonate a guitar? Intonating a guitar is the process of adjusting the length of the strings to ensure accurate pitch across the entire fretboard. When a guitar is properly intonated, each note played at any fret should be in tune. Intonation is crucial for achieving accurate and harmonious sound, especially when playing chords and melodies.
Before intonating your guitar, you’ll need to secure a few tools first. The first is you should have a guitar tuner. The tuner will ensure you have a reliable chromatic tuner that accurately detects pitch. The second would be a screwdriver. Depending on your guitar’s bridge system, you may need a screwdriver or an Allen wrench to adjust the saddle position.
So, if you have secured these tools, we can now proceed in learning these steps on how to intonate a guitar:
Tune The Guitar
Before you start getting your guitar intonated, you should begin by tuning your guitar to standard pitch using the tuner first. It’s crucial to start with properly tuned strings, after all.
Check The Open String Intonation
The second step is to check your guitar’s intonation with an open string. Play each string individually on the open position and compare it to the tuner. If any string is out of tune, adjust the tuning peg until it matches the desired pitch.
Check The 12th Fret Harmonic
Aside from checking your guitar’s intonation with open strings, you should also do it by checking the intonation with the strings’ 12th fret harmonic. To start, press lightly on the string directly above the 12th fret to produce a harmonic. Compare the pitch of the harmonic with the 12th fretted note. They should be identical.
Adjust The Saddle Position
If they are not identical in tune, then you should intonate your guitar immediately. If the 12th fret harmonic and the 12th fretted note are not in tune, it means the string length needs adjustment. The saddle position determines the effective length of the string. This means that you will have to adjust it.
Moving The Saddle
Locate the saddle for each string. On electric guitars, it is typically found on the bridge, while on acoustic guitars, it may be located inside the soundhole. The saddle is usually adjustable and can be moved forward or backward. Moving the saddle is an important process in getting your guitar intonated, so this step needs to be done perfectly.
The next step is to correct the sharpness, if there is any. If the 12th fretted note is sharper than the harmonic, the string length is too short. You need to move the saddle backward, away from the neck, to correct this. Loosen the saddle adjustment screw or Allen bolt and move the saddle slightly backward. Retune the string and repeat the third step until the harmonic and 12th fretted note match.
If there is flatness and not sharpness on the strings’ tone, then you should follow this step. If the 12th fretted note is flatter than the harmonic, the string length is too long. To correct this, you need to move the saddle forward toward the neck. Tighten the saddle adjustment screw or Allen bolt and move the saddle slightly forward. Retune the string and repeat step 3 until the harmonic and 12th fretted note match.
Repeat Process For All Guitar Strings
After you have done it to the first string of your choice, you should go through the same process for each string, checking the intonation at the 12th fret and making adjustments to the saddle position as needed. All the guitar strings will have to go through the same process to intonate your guitar perfectly.
After adjusting the intonation on all strings, play various chords and melodies across the fretboard to ensure accuracy. Make minor adjustments if needed to avoid complicating things that could lead for you to do the process all over again.
Once you’re satisfied with the intonation, play all open strings, fretted notes, and chords to confirm that the guitar is properly intonated. Use your tuner to double-check if necessary. Now you’re good to go!
Always remember that intonation may vary depending on string gauge, action height, and other factors. It’s recommended to intonate your guitar periodically, especially if you change string gauges or make significant adjustments to your instrument. Properly intonate your guitar ensures that it sounds its best and allows you to enjoy accurate and in-tune playing across the entire fretboard.
So, how to intonate a guitar? The first step is to check its intonation by playing open strings and harmonics on the 12th fret. If it’s not intonated, you should start to adjust and move the saddle. Do some minor adjustments if needed, and regularly check if your guitar is perfectly intonated already.