Saturday, March 26, 2016

How to set the intonation of a guitar or a bass (a guide for dummies)

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we're going to talk about how to set the intonation of a guitar or bass with Tune o'Matic fixed bridge.

First off, before setting the intonation, we need to have the neck of our guitar straight and the action perfectly set, click here for a dedicated article.

Tune o' Matic is one of the most common types of fixed bridge that can be found on a guitar or a bass, and it comes in many variants, some with a tailpiece, and some without.
This type of bridge was created in the early '50s by Gibson guitars, and still today it is considered a standard, and it is produced by many manufacturers due to its stability and versatility in fine tuning the intonation.

What do we mean with "setting the intonation of a guitar?"
Guitars comes in different neck lenghts, different numbers of frets, and players can choose among different gauges of strings, and all these variables can affect the intonation, which means that even if we tune a string to be a certain note, sometimes if we play the same string at the 12th fret (which should be exactly the same note) the tuning up there may result off, and sometimes this variation gets even to the point of becoming a different note.
The Tune o'Matic bridge (and its clones) comes in our aid with its brilliant engineering: it's a serie of saddles (one for each string), which can be adjusted individually with a screw.

What is the purpose of using a screw on this saddles? 
To increase or decrease of some millimeter the distance between the nut and the bridge (technically the saddle, the part of the bridge that touches the string).

If the string is perfectly tuned, for example in E, and at the 12th fret the note is a bit too high, we can make the distance between the nut and the saddle a little longer, and this will lower the 12th fret pitch.
If it is still not enough, it's also possible to turn the orientation of the saddle backwards to gain some extra millimeter (if the saddle type allows this).

If instead the pitch at the 12th fret is too low compared to the tuning of the open string we can make the distance between the nut and the saddle a little shorter.

Keep in mind that this intonation cannot make miracles, so if the tuning is too low for the neck lenght it's almost impossible to make the pitch perfect, so we must sometimes settle with being close, but not nailing it completely.
A solution could be switching to a thicker string gauge, and if not even this is enough, maybe we should consider buying a guitar with a longer neck, like a baritone one.

Now, to have the the perfect guitar we need to move to the final step: to set the perfect pickup height! (click here for a dedicated article).

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