How to Intonate a Guitar: An Ultimate Guide

The guitar is one of the most versatile musical instruments in the history of music. Starting from pop music to country music, guitar is one inevitable gadget used by musicians. It takes years to learn how to play guitar. But, once you master playing it, you should focus on taking care of it. The importance of a proper intonation on your guitar needs no introduction. Check our article in how to intonate a guitar.

Now, have you thought of how in-tune all the experts sound when they play guitar? It's solely due to intonating the guitar. 

Intonating a guitar refers to the process of interlining the instrument in perfect coordination with your fret board. There are a number of different ways in which you can do this. However, the most convenient way to check it would be to see if your guitar can hit a 12th fret harmonic. If it can, then compare the pitch with a note that has been fretted at the 12th fret. 

Just in case this sounds complicated, let us put it in simpler words for you. Intonation of guitar puts the notes in-tune on the fret-board.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the topic of how to intonate a guitar. So without further delay, let us get into it.

Just Not Feeling It

Your guitar is like a machine and it will need to be maintained over time. So now the question arises that when should you intonate your guitar. And no, the answer is not when you feel there is something wrong with it, as that will be very subjective.

To put it into further words, you will realize when your guitar is not playing in tune and that is the right time to intonate your guitar. 

Once you follow the above-mentioned procedure and find out that the note at the 12th fret is out of tune then you definitely need to fix it as soon as possible. A guitar that is properly intonated will not only give you comfort in playing it but will also enhance the pitch precision across the whole fretboard. 

Hold Up

Now that you are aware of why and when you should intonate your guitar, let us go through a few things that you would need to know first before going through the overall process.

When you have intonated your guitar, it will be fine-tuned if you replace your strings. The need for resetting arises, because the core of the newly attached strings will have a different diameter in general. What intonation basically does is remunerate for the contrast in string core sizes.

How to Intonate a Guitar: Adjust the Saddle for Intonation

By now, you've realized that guitar intonation is all about tuning the 12th fret. For this, adjustment of the saddle is also necessary. If you notice a flat note, push the saddle slightly forward. To do this, rotate the screw at the back of the bridge anti-clockwise. After this, the saddle will be adjusted for a flat 12th fret note. 

In case of a sharp fret, do the opposite. That is, turn the screw clockwise. This will put the saddle backward. 

All in all, for proper intonation saddle needs to be taken forward or backward according to its type. 

Now let's move on to the guide to follow for intonation of the guitar.


Differentiating the Pitches

We already explained this at the beginning, so let us put it into short. Start by playing the lowest open string at the 12th fret harmonic. Then slow down the string at the 12th fret to compare the two pitches to identify if you need intonation or not.


Adjust the String Length:

Intonating your guitar will not come of much use if you have not adjusted the string lengths properly. Once, you have identified the pitches, the next thing you would need to do is to make necessary reformations on the strings so that they are perfectly in tune. For this, you will need a flathead screwdriver.

We suggest you get a guitar maintenance tool kit as it will always come in handy. If you feel that the fretted note is flat, then what you need to do is you need to modify the saddle towards the neck.

A pro tip is to keep in mind which way you need to adjust the saddle can be memorized like this “flat/forward, sharp/back”     

In the process, try playing with little adjustments here and there so you get a pretty good idea about the saddle and how to work around it. The more you learn about it, the better idea you will be able to get. 


Redo the Operation

Once you are done with the intonating part, now it is time for you to re-tune the guitar. This is a very crucial part, because if not done properly then the intonation will come of no use. Retune the guitar properly to ensure that the adjustments are all good against the tuner.

If you realize that the pitch at the 12th fret does not match, then unfortunately you will have to do it all over again. Make sure to follow the process properly so that you do not have to do it all over again. 

If these three steps are executed appropriately, you’ll be good to go. Now, let’s proceed to answering few common queries regarding guitar intonation.

1. Why Can’t I Intonate My Guitar?

Intonation of guitar can be tricky. But if you aren't being able to intonate, it's mostly because of the strings. In most cases, when guitarist faced problems like this, it was the strings. They are worn out, dented or simply old. 

Get your hands on some new strings. Try intonating and you'll not fail.

Besides this, DON'T try to intonate without loosening the strings. The pickup height also matter here. Due to the magnetic pull caused by the pickup height, the tune can sound flat and sharp simultaneously. So be aware of the action height while intonating.

2. Is Regular Intonation Necessary?

There isn't any solid answer for this question. Anytime the tune gets off, get the intonation adjusted. An off tune will be noticed by anyone who has ears for music. 

However, if you aren't confident about giving a proper intonation to your guitar, always go to a technician. Remember, a wrong way of adjusting the bridge or strings might totally ruin your guitar.

Significance of Intonation

Even if you are playing the best guitar on Earth, if it is not intonated, it'll totally sound horrible. A guitar should always be in tune no matter on which note you're on your fretboard. Although you will be playing the guitar strings perfectly, it will be out of tune without proper intonation.

As we mentioned, intonation can change over a period. So, it is wise to keep a check on your guitar for the best tunes.

How to Intonate a Guitar: Tips for Guitar Intonation

You can follow these tips for better intonation results

Check the Pickup Height

The action height or pickup height is really impactful for intonation. If the height is higher, it will throw an off-tune. This happens as the strings need to be pushed further to reach the fret.

For intonation, a lower height gap is suited best. However, don't put it so low that it buzzes the frets. Make sure you have the perfect action height for the best results.

Loosen the Strings

Tight strings have been the prime reason for bad intonation. So loosen the strings from the bridge and you can easily intonate the guitar easily.

Give it some time

The guitar neck requires some time to get along with the intonation. It is best to wait for a day or two to check for outcome. 

Replace Strings

We can't stress enough on this tip though. Replacing strings in a regular interval is absolutely the best thing you can do for your guitar. Dented strings or worn out strings can't be intonated. So, get your strings replaced even if they are a month old. However, this is for regular and rough uses of the guitar. 

If you are someone who plays guitar at leisure hours, you don't have to bother changing strings often. You'll be good to go if you replace your strings only if they are very old.

Final Thoughts

Intonation is a tricky activity to carry out. It might also get a little frustrating to find the perfect intonation across the fret board. Though guitars are widely used instruments for almost all kinds of music, it is not the perfect kind of instruments. It requires maintenance and attention.

Intonation of guitar is also the same. It is not possible to intonate guitar perfectly. However, overcoming the limitations of intonating is a whole new chapter of tricks and tips. 

We hope this guide on how to intonate guitar helped you with intonating your standard guitar properly. Now go on and bust a great tune!

You can also read: How to Record Guitar on PC: The Easiest Guide

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