Adjusting intonation on .strandberg* instruments

The basis

Intonation on a guitar or bass is a term that refers to the relative pitch on every note on the fretboard. Most fretted guitars and basses have 12 notes and the purpose of adjusting the intonation is to make all of these notes ring true with each other in all octaves, on all strings, and in all positions. Reality is that this is not entirely possible with equal-tempered fretted instruments (common guitars and basses), but most players would want to get as close as possible. All .strandberg* instruments have a wide intonation range capable of handling most tunings and string gauges and the procedure of setting this up is easier than enticipated. 

1. Be sure to have a reasonably accurate tuner at hand, but not the most advanced and sensitive strobe-type tuner built by man. Such devises commonly show constant deviations in pitch with equal-tempered instruments no matter how much work is put in which is rarely helpful. Remember that setting intonation is about finding the spot that sounds the best to your ears, not satisfying a meter on a display.

2. Fit your desired strings on the instrument, tune these to pitch, and make sure that the neck, string height, and angle of the tremolo bridge (if there is one) are set up the way you want them before attempting to adjust the intonation. This part of the setup is dependant on all other aspects being right or the work will be done in vain. Note that the same thing goes for strings that are old and deformed or new enough to still stretch. If the strings are old, change them. If the strings are brand new, play them for a couple of hours before performing setup.

3. Now you're ready to go!

Procedure

The best possible intonation is not the same for all players. The way that the strings react is dependant on your playing style which is why it makes sense for every player to adjust it him/herself instead of leaving it to somebody else. If the guitar sounds good when you play it, the intonation is right, no matter what is "correct" in theory or true for other players. For the same reason, take care to play each note in a manner that reflects your normal playing style when setting up your guitar.

Always keep your instrument in playing position when checking pitch and tuning. Gravity will do all kinds of unwanted things to instruments laying on their back which is something you would want to avoid. Repeatedly check the tuning of the open strings until the tuner shows the correct note with the pitch meter resting steadily in the middle. Complete steadiness of pitch is usually only possible with the higher strings and the lower ones will most likely "wander" between slightly sharp and slightly flat as they ring out. Try to get as close as possible and settle for where the meter rests for a moment in the middle and observe its behavior. Your mission will be to adjust the intonation in a manner that reflects equal behavior on all frets which will give the best relative pitch along the length of the neck. Perfect intonation is not possible on most guitars, but it can definitely be better or worse. Please follow the steps below to set the intonation on a .strandberg* guitar:

1. Choose the string you want to start with and compare the pitch of the open string to the fretted note on the 12th fret. If the 12th fret note is higher than the open string, the string length has to be extended. If the 12th fret note is lower than the open string, the string length has to be shortened. 

2. Lay the guitar on its back, tune the string down to a decent slack, and lift it off the saddle screw at the bridge. 

3. Grab the supplied 2mm Allen wrench and loosen the tuner mounting screw while holding the tuner firmly in place with your fingers. 

4. If the 12th fret note was higher compared to the open string, move the tuner away from the neck and tighten the tuner mounting screw.

5. If the 12th fret note was lower compared to the open string, move the tuner towards the neck and tighten the tuner mounting screw.

6. Tune the string back to pitch, assume playing position and compare the open string to fretted notes in the same manner as before. 

7. Repeat for all strings until your ears and your tuner are happy.

Alternate methods and important considerations

The method described above sets the intonation as accurate as possible for the first octave of the neck (the first 12 frets), but what about the higher frets? Those are important too! Yes, they are and for this reason, you should always check pitch on other frets as well. As mentioned before, the intonation will never be spot on in all positions so you will have to choose and make priorities based on your needs. Either you can set the guitar up for the most accurate pitch possible on the lower frets, the higher frets, or spread the deviations out on the entire fretboard as evenly as possible. Please see the alternative methods below for different applications:

1. The player that mainly reside on the lower frets: Use the method described previously.

2. The player mainly residing on the higher frets: Forget about the open string and instead use the fretted note on 12th fret as basis for comparison. Tune this note to the desired pitch and compare it to the pitch of the higher frets. Adjustments are done as described previously.

3. The player that resides all over the fretboard: Use a fretted note in the middle of the first octave as basis for comparison. For example, tune the fretted note on the 5th fret to pitch and compare it to the fretted note at the 17th fret. Adjustments are done as described previously.

In the name of necessary compromises, you will have to find the method that yields the best results for your playing style and overall setup. You may even find that different points of reference for each string takes you closest to your goal. If you prefer to use harmonics as a reference pitch, please do so if you find it to work well. 

Troubleshooting

The higher notes are always sharp compared to the open string:

  • Adjust intonation as described above.
  • Lower your pickups. Magnets in pickups can pull strings out of pitch if adjusted to close.
  • Change to lighter gauge strings: Thinner strings have greater flexibility and a lowered intonation point.

The intonation is randomly off across the entire fretboard:

  • Change strings: Worn strings are no longer symmetric and will not intonate properly.
  • Dress or replace frets: Worn and/or uneven frets will create deviating distances between string contact points and thus, random intonation.

I'm tuning really low with thick strings rendering the intonation and tuning unstable:

  • Change to lighter gauge strings: Thinner strings have greater flexibility and a more stable intonation point.
  • Buy a guitar with longer scale length: A longer scale length means longer and tighter strings at pitch. This improves intonation as well as pitch stability and overtone richness.

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