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:
- Lightly play the string open and tune it to pitch with your tuner.
- 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.
- 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.