Lend Me Your Ears And I'll Sing You A Song, And I'll Try Not To Sing Out Of Key
Intonation is a really important thing to keep in mind. In a nutshell intonation means that you strings are in tune the whole way up and down the neck. Sounds simple right? Well it is, very simple. So if I play my E string ( or any other string) open then playing that string with the while barring the 12th fret should also give me an E, except an octave higher. Following me so far? Okay, so no one notices the difference if the string is a little sharp or a little flat right? Well maybe they do, especially if you're playing lead, and if all they strings have bad intonation then the further up the neck you go, the more out of tune the guitar will sound. So here's how to set up your guitar's intonation on an electric guitar. I'm not going to get into setting action or anything, maybe I will on a later blog. Just note that if you are going to change your action then do it before setting up intonation or you'll end up having to fix the intonation all over again.
First you have to tune up your guitar. Plain and simple, plug that sucker in and tune it up. I play in standard tuning (EADGBe), but if you play in something like drop D or DADGAD then tune your guitar to that. Whatever you play in most is what you should tune your guitar to.
Now that your guitar is tuned up find find out how bad your intonation is. This is where you'll really notice how bad (or good) your guitar is set up. play your E string open and the tuner should be dead in the middle. Next barre the 12th fret of the E string and pick the string. If the tuner is still in dead in the middle then congrats! your E string has perfect intonation. If the tuner is sharp (higher) or flat (lower) then you will have to adjust the intonation. Do not press to firmly when fretting the note to prevent from bending the string and giving a false sharp note, press just hard enough so the string doesn't buzz.
If the 12th fret gives you a flat note (lower than the E) then you have to make the distance between the nut and the bridge shorter. If you get a sharp note (higher than the E) then you have to make the distance between the nut and the bridge longer.
My picture shows the Tune-o-matic bridge that comes standard on Les Paul guitars. Chances are your bridge is very similar.
To do this you will need a small screwdriver to adjust the saddle
If the 12th fretted note is sharp, lengthen the string by turning the screw clockwise, if flat shorten the string by turning the screw counter-clockwise. Only turn the screw in slight increments, about a quarter of a turn, at a time. After each turn fret the note and check the tuning. If it the tuner is in the middle then voila, the string has perfect intonation. If it isn't just keep making tiny adjustments until it is. Now repeat the process for each of the five remaining strings.
Fixing the intonation for an acoustic guitar is more difficult and I would suggest leaving it to a guitar technician.
Hopefully this was helpful to someone out there in cyberspace. If you have any questions or comments just let me know.