The Importance of Intonation on a Guitar (Everything You Need To Know)


It’s crucial to grasp what intonation is and how it affects your music before we look at changing your guitar’s intonation.

Intonation is the degree to which a guitar is in tune along the entire length of the fretboard. Good intonation ensures that your guitar is in tune throughout the entire fretboard. A guitar with poor intonation will have some notes out of tune on the fretboard.

The most essential thing to remember is that even if the strings are in perfect tune, a bad intonation on your guitar can make it sound out of tune.

Let’s look at why intonation is so crucial to get right, as well as how to check your guitar’s intonation.

How does intonation work on a guitar?

A guitar string’s intonation may be altered by extending or reducing its length. The easiest approach to accomplish this is to adjust the guitar’s bridge position.

Adjusting the bridge position on certain guitars is a simple task. This is almost impossible on acoustic guitars, which require more effort and knowledge than basses do.

Fretboards and electric guitars present a different problem. These require that frets be moved, which is the most direct approach to accomplish this task.

Now let’s look at how we can check your guitar’s intonation.

You need an accurate tuner! If you don’t have one, download one of the many excellent tuners available for free on your phone.

Once you have a reliable tuner, grab your guitar, and let’s get started. Play an open string while watching the tuner to see if it is in tune with itself or not.

If all notes are sharp then move the saddle back toward the neck until they’re flat enough to be in tune with the open string.

If all notes are flat, then move the bridge forward until they’re sharp enough to be in tune with an open string.

Repeat this process for each individual note on each fret of every single string up and down your guitar’s neck, being careful never to change more than one parameter at a time so you can truly gauge your adjustments.

Don’t be afraid to experiment with different bridge positions until you find the best intonation for both individual notes and chords on each string of your guitar.

How Important is Intonation on Guitar & How Do You Check It?

If the intonation is incorrect, even the finest guitar in the world will sound terrible.

To guarantee that you are in tune at all times, regardless of where you play on your fretboard, intonation is essential. If the intonation on your guitar isn’t properly adjusted, it will sound bad.

If your guitar’s intonation is wrong, no matter how well you maintain your guitar strings, you will be out-of-tune on your guitar.

If you think your guitar’s intonation is off, it’s simple and quick to check. Check your guitar’s intonation as follows:

Tune Your Guitar

Intonation is crucial for making sure your guitar is in tune. To start, make sure you’re using a reliable tuner.

Each string should be tuned as accurately as possible.

Play a 12th Fret Natural Harmonic

The simplest method to assess your guitar’s intonation is to compare the fretted 12th fret note’s pitch to a natural harmonic of the 12th fret fretted 12th fret note.

To play a natural harmonic on the low E string’s 12th fret, lightly touch your guitar string immediately above the 12th fret.

Only slightly tap the string. The string should not be pressed against the fret. Check the tuning of the 12th harmonic on your guitar’s tuner while it’s still on.

Play a 12th Fret Note

Play the note on the low E string by pushing down on the 12th fret.

Examine the note to determine how in-tune it is.

The intonation of this note will tell you whether or not the string’s tuning is correct.

Because the fretted note in the preceding example is flat, it is lower than the harmonic pitch at 12th fret.

If the fretted 12th fret is flat (lower than the correct tone) or sharp (higher than the correct tone), your intonation is off.

The worse your intonation, the farther away from in-tune the note is.

If the fretted 12th fret is in-tune, it indicates that the intonation on that string is correct. It doesn’t imply that the entire guitar has good intonation; rather, it indicates that one particular string is correctly in tune.

Repeat the Steps for Every String on Your Guitar

Repeat the steps above on every string of your guitar.

This is a very important step because it will allow you to discover if there’s an issue with one or more strings, and then which ones need adjusting.

In some cases, only certain notes are incorrect while others remain in tune; this can indicate that something has shifted on the guitar (i.e., a broken saddle, loose tuning pegs), and not that your intonation is incorrect.

It should be noted that it’s impossible to get perfect intonation on every string; even when you adjust both the bridge saddles and the nut slots, there will still be some variance in pitch – and that’s okay!

If you’re playing with other musicians, it will be difficult to hear the difference.

However, if you’re practicing by yourself (or even recording), intonation is something that should always be checked before each session/take.

How do I know the intonation on my acoustic guitar?

A chromatic tuner is required to check your guitar’s intonation. At the 12th fret, tune your instrument to pitch and fret each string naturally.

This note should be in tune (neither flat nor sharp) one octave higher than the open string note.

If the 12th fret note is sharp, move your saddle backward slightly.

Sharpness at the 12th fret indicates that the string is too short; this may be caused by worn or corroded strings or an old guitar bridge with slots that are too deep for new strings.

If you notice a significant change in pitch on some of the strings, it’s possible that your guitar bridge has shifted.

Be aware of the change in pitch on each string and make small adjustments until all six notes are properly intonated.

If a 12th fret note is flat (lower than the open string), move your saddle forward slightly until you reach proper pitch at this location.

What causes guitar intonation problems?

Guitar intonation problems can be caused by a number of factors:

  • Wrong string gauge, or poorly manufactured strings.
  • A poor-quality guitar bridge and/or nut.
  • The incorrectly adjusted truss rod (affects the neck)
  •  Worn-out frets on an electric guitar with floating bridge saddles.

It’s important that you are aware of all of these issues and the symptoms that indicate each one.

Buy a good tuner (Korg CA-30 is great) to check intonation when you’re adjusting it on any other stringed instrument.

It’ll make life much easier for you!

Can intonation cause fret buzz?

If the relief is too great, the neck’s action will be higher in the middle of the neck, resulting in poor intonation and being difficult to play.

If there isn’t enough relief, fretted notes could buzz against the fretboard.

In either of the above scenarios, adjusting the truss rod will not solve your intonation issues.

If you have too much relief in a neck that has poor intonation and is difficult to play, consider having it corrected by a luthier or guitar repair specialist.

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