How To Intonate A Guitar

We all love to play our guitar, whether it’s solo or getting a gig going with others, but they can be tricky instruments.

For them to sound perfect, all the pieces of your guitar need to work together – it’s easy for one part to fall out of tune and for the whole thing to go wrong.

How To Intonate A Guitar

Intonation is just one of these parts. This refers to the accuracy of the notes that it plays, and whether they’re in tune or not. 

But how can you fix your intonation when it goes wrong? Well, we’ve got the answers for you! In the guide below, you’ll find out all about intonation and how to intonate your guitar. 

What Is Intonation?

Firstly, let’s get the simple stuff out of the way. We’ve already touched on it before, but intonation is essentially accuracy. It’s a measure of how in-tune your guitar is!

However, we don’t just mean in-tune in some areas and notes. Good intonation is going to be when your guitar is in-tune on every part of the fretboard, without dropping a flat note anywhere.

For example, as you move your finger up the fretboard you might hear your notes get gradually more untuned. It’s in cases like these where you’ll need to fix your intonation. 

Why Is Intonation Important?

This may seem like a no brainer, but there’s more to it than you think. Obviously, a guitar with bad intonation is going to sound off-putting to any audience, and that’s a good reason enough for why intonation is important.

With that being said, it goes deeper than that. 

You see, it’s all to do with tuning. If your guitar doesn’t have its intonation done properly, then it won’t make a difference how well you tune your individual guitar stringsOpens in a new tab. – they will always be out of tune.

It’s a large problem that you will need to attend to, otherwise you’ll always be sounding off, no matter how precise you otherwise are. 

How To Intonate A Guitar

So, what you want to do is intonate your guitar. Don’t worry, though, it’s quite simple and shouldn’t take long at all!

You’ll need a few things first:

  • Allen key
  • Guitar tuner
  • Fresh strings
  • Screwdriver – flat-head or cross-head depending on your guitar type

You may be wondering why we’ve put fresh strings on that list, but it’s because it’ll make it much more likely that you can hit proper intonation.

The more you use strings, the more they get little notches in their undersides, from repeatedly hitting against the guitar. This will affect their overall sound and accuracy.

So, if you try to intonate with well worn strings, they’re never going to sound as good and precise as a fresh set of strings would. 

How To Intonate A Guitar (1)

Step 1: Tune Your Guitar

Firstly, you’re going to just want to try tuning your guitar. Using a combination of your ear and a guitar tuner, tune each string as accurately as you can. 

Full tuning essentially means that you need to ensure that the harmonic note at the 12th fret is in tune on all of the strings. The harmonic note is the one that plays when you touch the string above the fret.

However, it is not a full press of the string, rather just a soft touch – you don’t want it hitting the guitar. 

Step 2: Adjusting The Saddle

Now you want to depress the 12th fret string and compare the resulting sound to the 12th fret harmonic.

If the noise that comes out is different from the 12th fret harmonic, then you’re going to need to do some adjustment of the guitar saddle.

If the note is too sharp, which means that its pitch is higher than the harmonic, then move the saddle away from the neck of the guitar.

This will increase the length of the guitar string, because lengthening the string will lower the pitch of the note on this fret. 

But how do you adjust the saddle to increase the length of the string? Basically, go to the saddles (which is where the strings are screwed in at the bottom, at the bridge) and find the screw that corresponds with the string that you’re testing.

As you can see, there’s a screw/saddle for every string. 

Using a screwdriver, turn the screw in a clockwise direction. This will make your string longer, which will in turn lower the pitch of its notes.

Keep twisting and playing, listening to the sound change gradually each time until you hear that the note of this fret is in line with the note of the harmonic. 

But what if the note was originally too flat when you tested it? This means that the note was lower in pitch than the harmonic note. Well, you just do the opposite!

Go down to the bridge and locate the correct string screw again. Then take your screwdriver and turn it counter-clockwise, which will make the string shorter, and adjust the pitch higher! Do this until the note matches the harmonic. 

Step 3: String By String

Now you want to do this string by string, checking each and every one until they’re all in line with the sound of the harmonic. Remember, if the note is higher in pitch than the harmonic, you want to twist the screw clockwise.

If it’s lower in pitch, on the other hand, then you’ll want to twist it anti-clockwise until it sounds at the same level. 

You’ll be having to detune and re-tune your strings a lot, right until you find the correct saddle position for each one. 

Final Thoughts

There you have it! Intonating your guitar is a methodical and careful process, but it will always be worth it, and your guitar will sound better and more accurate than ever.


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