One of the concepts many beginner guitar players struggle to grasp is the idea of intonation. It might seem tricky at first, but the basic idea is actually very simple and all you need to understand it is a good ear or a guitar tuner until your ear is fully trained. So this question first:
What is guitar intonation?
Guitar intonation is the accuracy of your guitar’s pitch. Essentially, your guitar has a good intonation when every tone on the string is in proper sonic relation to every other tone on the neck, while a intonation issues occur when tones played on some of the frets are out of tune with the open string.
How to check guitar intonation
The best way to do this would be to first tune your guitar with a chromatic tuner. Then, simply play each of the strings on the 12th fret. These frets should produce a tone one octave higher than open strings, meaning that the same tone will appear on the tuner. If the 12th fret is too flat or sharp, you need to work on your instrument’s intonation.
What can cause poor guitar intonation
A solid question here, we can essentially divide the answer into the following categories: saddle placement; wear on frets, nut, saddle – the string’s contact points; too tall frets, string gauge, too large distance between frets and strings, and your playing technique.
The high action factor: This one comes into the equation by causing the strings to stretch too much, and giving the sound output the same effect as bending. The only difference is that you are in full control of the bending, while bad intonation is there to stay until fixed. How to fix it: proper string setup
Loose saddles: Saddles of your guitar’s bridge need to be firmly locked in their position. If they are loose, they will lean forward and sharpen the string’s intonation. How to fix it: replace the saddle
Worn out frets, worn out strings: Too much groves on frets can throw the intonation off and have a similar effect to the listed high action factors. As for the strings, worn out strings have issues with maintaining tuning, resulting in poor intonation on all fronts. How to fix this stuff: Lever and re-crown those worn frets, change your strings every 2-3 months.
Playing technique: Let’s put this one in simple terms – if you hit and strum too hard, all the punching will affect the instrument’s intonation in the long run. You don’t have to stop though, just maintain the instrument and perform regular setups and it should work just fine.
We have steadily reached the end of our journey here, hopefully you have enjoyed the ride and hopefully you learned something new today. If you are new to the instrument, we recommend taking the guitar to a professional to fix any possible guitar intonation issues and NOT try to handle repairs yourself. What we do recommend, though, is checking whether your six-string has a good intonation. Knowing the problem and who to contact to fix is more than half of the solution after all!