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SurfGuitar101 Forums » Gear »

Permalink Does 'dead on' intonation affect more than just fretted notes being in tune?

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I've recently made an adjustment to how I set intonation on my guitars. I now try to get 'just right' fretted note pressure at the 12th fret to set intonation where as before I used to think one of my challenges when playing is consistent note and chord pressure so why not just intonate to the mathematical mid point (intonate to 12th fret harmonic) and call it good enough.

That doesn't mean I'm any better at actual fretted note pressure when really playing mind you. It is just to say that I've shifted my approach to be more in line with the text book approach to check the fretted note at the 12th.

Needless to say, the actual saddle placement changes a little between the 2 approaches.

I've taken borderline OCD steps to get it as dead on as humanly possible on a couple of guitars now, as in appreciating that even micro changes on one string's saddle placement can show up as other strings that were 'dead on' needing another fine adjustment now too (per the Turbo/Strobe tuner).

Having undertaken that obsessive set of set, check, adjust, repeat steps until no further adjustment needs were detectable on the strobe tuner (that took more cycles than I care to admit or remember), I have the distinct impression that the guitars which were already pretty resonant and with very good sustain are notably and distinctly more (I'd almost say significantly more...) resonant and sustaining despite what adds up to really some pretty small before/after changes in saddle placement.

A budding theory I'm wrestling with and the point of this rambling post is that on a guitar outside of 'dead on' intonation that the strings vibrate out of synch or phase to varying degrees with one another and the competing vibrations, well, compete and therefore deaden things a some.

Is that just a nutty notion and I'm having nothing more than confirmation bias to make believe the benefit of my time and obsessive level intonation efforts, or can someone with more experience than me confirm that the 'last mile' (or last, nearest centimeter) adjustments actually DO improve the instrument being in tune and in synch with itself and therefore improve overall resonance and sustain of the instrument?



El Mirage @ ReverbNation

As far as I understand it all, setting the intonation had the most impact on playing chords (i.e., playing notes on two or more strings at the same time) when playing in the higher frets, like 12th fret and higher. And has much less impact when playing the lower frets and cowboy chords, and in that range, how much pressure you put on the strings can make much more of a difference in changing the exact frequency of the notes played than does perfect intonation of whatever form.

But I'm not sure how minute changes in intonation can change sustain - much of what I have heard focuses on bridges, nuts, vibrato geometry, tone wood, and whatnot. I could see frequencies out of phase cancelling each other out, but I'm not sure how slight differences in notes caused by better or worse intonation could impact things so much. But I'm happy to learn more if there is an argument to the contrary.

It is also worth considering that most acoustic guitars have fixed bridges that are not set up to ideally intonate every string. The good ones are still quite playable and the music produced on steel string and classical guitars can be superb.

I don't believe competing, out-of-phase or canceling frequencies plays a role in reducing resonance. I believe that is more related to qualities of the guitar that enable strings (and the guitar itself) to vibrate more freely and robustly.

I do know that it's not possible to have perfect intonation on any fretted instrument at all frets. Fanned fretting is an attempt to get closer, but ultimately the placement of frets under strings is a compromise between playability and being close enough to in-tune to sound good.

You can (and should) be close to perfectly intonated with respect to the 12th fret on each string. But you won't be perfect up and down the neck on each string (see musical temperament.) And you can't be perfect from string to string (the compromise I mentioned.)

At the end of the day, close enough is close enough - if your intonation at the 12th fret and the harmonic at the 12th fret are nearly identical for each of the 6 strings when tuned to correct pitch, you are probably ok.

Note that master players of non-fretted stringed instruments (violin family) will depress the string forward or behind where a "fret" would be because they implicitly hear, feel and understand these issues. We fretted instrument players have it easy!

I'm by no means an expert on any of this, so I hope someone will correct me if I got anything wrong! Big Razz But I hope this helps!

Jonathan the Reverbivore

The Reverbivores

Please check out our debut EP Orbit To Intercept!

Last edited: Jan 08, 2019 13:53:37

That sounds like quite the process. I am not sure how “dead on” intonation can exist in practical application of playing the guitar. Unless the guitar is completely stable I would think that slight movements in the neck and the different picking pressure on the strings would minutely change the intonation (as well as humidity, temperature). It is an interesting experiment. Keep us informed.


Home of Surf & Twang

Intonation is improvable on most standard guitars using a 'shelf nut' like the Earvana nut . BuzzFeiten Tuning System uses a shelf nut and intonation with a 'sweetened/stretch tuning' . Petersen strobe tuners have sweetened tunings for guitar or you can search for those tunings online ( this involves changing standard tuning a few cents here and there to make open chords and lower position barre-chords more in tune . As mentioned the fanned fret guitars have the same idea roughly, to address inherent guitar tuning issues related to fretting . Its always a compromise but there is a lot that can be done relatively cheaply . lots of info here but you are half way down this road so read on..

Intonation is improvable but "dead-on" intonation is literally impossible on a guitar. You'd need the frets in a different place on each string. There are nerds on Youtube who have done this. Anyway, equal temperament is out of tune to begin with so why bother? If you don't know what I'm talking about, look it up. It's fascinating!

Name drop: Lou Reed once told me his Sadowsky guitar was in tune everywhere on the neck. I told him that was impossible. He gave me a look. Luckily nothing more.

Anyway, it's all the slightly out of tuneness and dissonant harmonics that make a guitar sound so good.

More music, less science, I reckon. Cool

A friend of mine went down the rabbit hole of intonation with interesting results. We built a few new instruments and replaced a few fingerboards using his info and the results were spectacular.

Just a quick pop back in to acknowledge and thank for the input and thoughts. More and more varied responses than I'd anticipated which is goodness in my book!

Tonechaser, that doc is bananas... I think that wasn't a rabbit hole, more a rabbit chasm, deep and wide! #mindblown

Thanks again, gang! Appreciate the points of view, thoughts, perspective.



El Mirage @ ReverbNation

ArabSpringReverb wrote:
I found a nice picture of a 'shelf nut' (This is an Earvana nut ) and you can see how it staggers the string lengths to help get closer to perfect tuning and intonation across the neck . I have one of these Ive never installed , I should try it !


abdul_tom wrote:

Intonation is improvable but "dead-on" intonation is literally impossible on a guitar. You'd need the frets in a different place on each string. There are nerds on Youtube who have done this. Anyway, equal temperament is out of tune to begin with so why bother? If you don't know what I'm talking about, look it up. It's fascinating!

Name drop: Lou Reed once told me his Sadowsky guitar was in tune everywhere on the neck. I told him that was impossible. He gave me a look. Luckily nothing more.

I’m with you completely on this one. There are subtle improvements which can be made, such as the Earvana nut. Every decade or so, I will see someone announce that they are going to start selling a flattop with staggered frets and perfect intonation. The fact that I’ve never seen even one of these in person (and have been playing for 53 years) tells me that they are a non-starter in the marketplace.

Guitars, by their nature, are hard to intonate. Even if you used staggered frets, etc. and managed to get the intonation perfect at every fret, you would still bend notes slightly sharp because it’s almost impossible to completely eliminate side-thrust, and for certain chord voicing, it’s all but impossible to avoid.

Guitars are not alone in having intonation problems, either. Try playing a horn, any kind of horn. The skill isn’t in learning to manipulate the valves, it’s in blowing in tune. The definition of a minor second is said to be two oboes playing in perfect unison. Smile The equal temperament issue is another matter. It’s been argued for many, many years, but nothing has changed in centuries.

Perfection is impossible, and I’m not so certain that it is even desirable. A lifetime of playing has trained my ear, but I rarely hear anything commercially recorded which sounds out of tune to me, even the old material. Occasionally I’ll hear an old Swing recording where the woodwinds sound a bit off, but that’s the exception. Benny Goodman recordings, even from way back, have always stood out to me as being exceptionally in-tune, which is no small trick given the number of instruments. But no one, can make every note perfectly in tune if there is a human or a mechanical instrument involved in producing the tones. It might be possible with synths, but who wants to listen to a bunch of synths? Smile

The artist formerly known as: Synchro

When Surf Guitar is outlawed only outlaws will play Surf Guitar.
My Guitar WebSite
Dead Thread

This article blew my mind. I thought I got this link here? Now I tune slightly flat so my attack is in tune, and the decay is slightly flat.

This article goes into great detail on why the guitar can never be properly tuned and intonated. Great read.

“To begin with, it is essential to grasp one iron-clad fact, or you will go insane:

It is impossible to ever get any fretted, stringed instrument "perfectly in tune". Nope. Can't be done.”

Last edited: Jan 27, 2019 21:37:40

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