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14 comments / Posted by Bruce Ohms

Guitar Closeup

Knowing how to intonate your instrument is an essential part of setting it up to play optimally. Intonation is basically how well your guitar stays in tune with itself across the length of the fretboard. If all your strings are tuned correctly, but notes or chords played higher up on the fretboard sound off pitch, then you definitely need to adjust your intonation. Fret not- it’s a fairly simple process that this guide will walk you through step by step!

The Basics Behind Intonation

The process of setting intonation involves adjusting the length of the string by moving the bridge saddles forward or back. To move the saddle forward, you will loosen the screw. To move it back, you will tighten the screw.

What You’ll Need to Set Intonation

Aside from your guitar, the materials you will need to check intonation are: an instrument cable, an electronic tuner, and a small Phillips head screwdriver. Some guitar models will need a flat head screwdriver. Simply check the bridge saddle screws and you will know which type of screwdriver to use.

It also helps to work in a well-lit area and to have a large, stable surface to place your guitar on. Much of the intonation process requires both hands, so it’s best to not have your guitar sitting on your lap!

Intonating Your Guitar

Now it’s time to get down to business! Plug your guitar into the tuner. For each string you will want to do the following:

  1. Lightly play the string open and tune it to pitch with your tuner.
  2. Fret the string at the twelfth fret, making sure that you are pressing it straight down and not bending it. Using the same light touch, strike the string.
  3. Check your tuner. If the note that you fretted at the twelfth fret is sharp, move the saddle backwards by tightening the screw. If the note is flat, move the saddle forward by loosening the screw.

While setting intonation, take your time and don’t worry if it’s not perfect- it just has to be close enough! Fretted instruments by nature do not intonate perfectly. Also, if you are making any other changes to your guitar’s setup, like the string height or truss rod, it’s best to do it before setting the intonation. If you adjust the string height after setting intonation, the string length will change and you will have to set your intonation all over again! Setting intonation is a crucial part of the guitar set up process and will probably have to be done every time you change strings, especially if you switch to a different make of strings.


  • Posted On July 28, 2016 by Paul Fowler

    About 1956, I ordered a Carvin guitar from Covina Calif. Saw the ad in a magazine. In March 1958 I got drafted into the Army (along with Elvis) took it to Ft Smith, Ark then to Ft Hood, Tex. Elvis went to Germany and I went to Ft Carson, Colo where I played with a band there until my discharge in 1960. I used the Carvin for several years after, before giving it to a friend’s son who played it for years. Lost track of and wonder sometime if it’s still laying around somewhere. Thought you might be interested in hearing this. Have a few pictures of it.

  • Posted On July 06, 2016 by Adam

    Great breakdown, a def need to know for anyone still trying to grasp the instrument. Loved how short and simple it was as well, and only a minor pun in the intro, hah!

  • Posted On July 05, 2016 by David Vetack

    The guitar should be held in the playing position when setting the intonation and tuning. The weight of the neck will change it if you set it up laying down. Also it won’t be in tune when when you pick it up and hold it in the playing position.

  • Posted On July 05, 2016 by John Senn

    Nice article and very helpful

  • Posted On July 02, 2016 by mike shelby

    Also, usually if the strings do not intonate, it means it is time to change them !
    I set mine regularly. It`s fun and I set up my friend`s kids guitars for them and teach them at the same time.

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