Guitar techs have a certain look about them. It’s the stink eye they give whenever a guitarist talks about making adjustments to their own guitar. Mention you need to adjust your intonation (your guitar’s ability to be in tune up and down the neck) to one of them and you’ll see what I mean. It’s the “You shouldn’t be messing around with that if you don’t know what you’re doing” look.
But the truth is, there’s no voodoo or mojo needed to adjust the intonation on any electric guitar or bass that has adjustable saddles. It’s so easy even a caveman can do it with a screwdriver, guitar cord and an electronic tuner.
Plus, knowing how to do so is a nice skill to have because your intonation will need to be adjusted any time you change the action of your instrument or change gauges of strings.
Once you have the action how you like it, you be checking open notes on a string against the string being fretted at the 12th fret.
Tune the open string to its correct pitch using the tuner. keeping the tuner plugged in, fret the string at the 12th fret, which is the same note one octave higher, and play that note looking at your tuner.
If the fretted note reads the same as the open note, no adjustment is needed.
If the fretted note is flat, adjust the saddle forward (towards the neck) a little bit (1/16th” or so).
If the fretted note is sharp, adjust the saddle back away from the neck.
Each time you make an adjustment, retune the open string to pitch (it will have changed when you moved the saddle) and play the fretted note to check and see where you landed.
Continue to make adjustments and/or micro-adjustments until both the open note and the fretted note are in pitch. Then move on to the next string!
If the guitar or bass has two pickups use the neck pickup. And, be careful so your screwdriver doesn’t slip out of the slot and scratch your instrument.
By the time you start checking your sixth string you’ll most likely feel intuitive about how far you need to adjust the saddle to get the string intonated. You’ll also feel you have some of the mojo that guitar techs have. Just don’t be giving anyone the stink eye.
Jake Kelly is a man on the constant search for enlightenment, if anyone finds it let him know so he can get some. For more of this hombre’s ramblings and the rest of L2P check out L2Pbandspace and L2Pnet.com.
Originally posted 2010-08-20 18:10:36.