Your Guide to Intonation Guitar Set Up

In the previous two articles, we discussed how to adjust the truss rod on your electric or acoustic guitar and how to adjust the saddle and action. Today we will look at the third aspect of guitar setting up – adjusting your guitar intonation setting.

In our guide to Intonation Guitar set up below, you will learn everything you need to learn to make this adjustment on an instrument. 

In the below article we will be going over what you need to do to make sure that you can tune the guitar to perfect intonation and achieve the best sound for your instrument. Below you will discover:

  • What is Guitar Intonation?
  • How Do You Adjust Your Guitar Intonation Setting?
  • How do you Compare Pitches on your Guitar?
  • How Can You Adjust the String Length on Guitars?

What is Guitar Intonation?

Your guitar intonation setting refers to the accuracy of pitch on your instrument. It affects your ability to play in tune and whether you are playing flat or sharp. So if you want to make sure that you are producing the very best sound, this is a process you should have a working knowledge of.

How Can You Tell if You Need to Adjust Your Intonation Guitar Set Up?

If you notice that your guitar is not playing in tune while you practice (particularly when you fret up the neck), you will need to learn how to adjust the guitar intonation setting.

You can check if your need to work on the intonation guitar setting up by following this process:

  • Play an open string.
  • Play the string again, this time at the 12th fret.
  • If the note is noticeably out of tune and different from the open note you will need to look at your intonation guitar set up.

How Does Your Guitar Intonation Set Up Affect Your Sound?

During the intonation guitar setting up process, the length of a guitar string is adjusted. This is done by moving the bridge saddle either closer to or further from the bridge. When you have completed a successful intonation guitar set up – the pitch of all of the strings on the fretboard will be improved.

How Does Changing the String Gauge Have An Effect on Guitar Intonation?

If you have recently replaced the strings on your guitar, you will most likely notice a change in your guitar’s intonation. This is because a difference in string gauge usually means you will need to do a guitar intonation setting reset. This process will help to rectify differences caused by larger or smaller string sizes.

The Process of Adjusting Your Guitar Intonation Setting

If you have noticed that your guitar is out of tune, or that the pitch has changed after you have changed the strings – you need to change your intonation guitar set up.

To get started you will need to compare the pitches of the strings and adjust the bridge saddle according to whether you need to rectify a flat or sharp sound. Once you have checked all six strings across your fret you will be able to enjoy an improved guitar intonation setting as you play.

How to Compare Pitches on Your Guitar Strings

Your first step is to check and compare pitches on your guitar strings. Here’s how:

  • Play the lowest open string or the 12th fret harmonic.
  • Then depress the string at the 12th fret and compare the pitches of the two sounds created.
  • When both notes are in tune, then you do not need to adjust the intonation guitar set up.
  • If you notice that one of the notes is sharp or flat in comparison to the other, you need to fix the pitch of the guitar by adjusting the bridge saddle and string length.

How to Adjust the String Length During Intonation Guitar Set Up

Once you know whether your pitch is too flat or too sharp, you need to take the steps to rectify the problem in your guitar intonation setting so you can play perfectly in tune.

  • You will need to use a flathead screwdriver which is the right size for the saddle and use this to make adjustments to the positioning of the saddle.
  • If you have noticed that the notes created are flat, you need to adjust the saddle screwheads so they are further toward the neck.
  • A sharp pitch on your intonation guitar set up will require you to turn the screwheads back toward the bridge.

Exercise Caution When Adjusting the Guitar Intonation Screws!

As with every adjustment you make to your instrument, make sure to perform each reaction slowly and carefully. If you perform the action of adjusting the intonation screws too quickly and with too much force, you run the risk of stripping the heads so they can’t be adjusted again.

Only do 1/4 turns at a time and do so slowly. This will give you a good idea of how much you need to be moving the saddle to adjust the tuning. You may need to make several turns before getting the right saddle positioning for perfect intonation.

If you are having trouble turning the screwheads, you should loosen the string tension to make it easier to make adjustments in the saddle area.

You Need to Do Each String Separately to Adjust the Intonation Guitar Set Up

After you have completed the process, you need to retune the guitar and check if the string is now playing in tune. If not, you’ll need to repeat the process. If this string is now in tune, you can move on to the next string and begin the whole process again.

Although this can seem fiddly and time-consuming, you need to make sure to play each string with the same level of attention if you want the best guitar intonation setting possible. Once you have completed the process for each string, you will be rewarded with a perfectly pitched guitar which sounds fantastic!

Summary: Your Guide to Intonation Guitar Set Up

Getting the hang of adjusting your guitar intonation setting is an essential part of learning how to care for your guitar. If you want to be able to enjoy the best sound and pitch when you play, you need to be able to recognize when your guitar strings are out of tune.

You also need to be able to rectify the problem on your own by knowing how to adjust the saddle bridge to get rid of sharp or flat notes. As you can see above, the process isn’t all that difficult, although you do need to be patient and work slowly. And all you need to get started is a handy flat-head screwdriver and an ear for pitch differences (or a reliable tuner device!)

Take another read through our guide to the intonation guitar set up above and make sure you have a grasp of the main concepts we have detailed above. That way, you’ll feel perfectly capable of fixing the issue the next time you have a guitar string that is out of tune.

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