Jazz Guitar
Learn how to play jazz guitar with our eBook bundle
+ Reply to Thread
Results 1 to 28 of 28
  1. #1

    Help Questions on improving intonation (tone)

    Hey I got some questions on improving intonation, the idea is I don't wish to do anything too drastic as to stray from traditional lutherie per say..

    The biggest thing I've found is using a zero fret or just having a nut cut to the height of the frets, this improves the intonation in the open position greatly since the strings don't need to travel as far to be fretted.

    If the open strings are intonated "perfectly" then the focus from here is on fretted strings and adjusting the bridge thereof, my question is, I play around the 5th fret and open position far more than I ever use the 12th fret area, should I perhaps consider intonation from a place other than the 12th fret, and when I intonate should I fret the string or use the harmonic? I kind of think to fret the string as I never actually play harmonics, when I play I fret.

    Also does narrow fret wire (horizontally) improve things?


    Thank you

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jun 2015
    Location
    Great Falls Montana
    Posts
    559
    When setting intonation I aim for a match of the harmonic to the fretted note. Narrow frets are easier to crown with a perfect center point which is good for proper intonation. If you perfectly center the crown on a wider fret I think the result is the same.

  3. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by Matt Cushman View Post
    When setting intonation I aim for a match of the harmonic to the fretted note. Narrow frets are easier to crown with a perfect center point which is good for proper intonation. If you perfectly center the crown on a wider fret I think the result is the same.
    Is there not different tension when fretting a note as opposed to the harmonic? I am confused as to how the accuracy of cents in the pitch could be the same in this instance.

    Oh of course, fret crowning I suppose is the only thing relevent in regards to that matter, I will indeed be opting for a narrow center point crown if you say it helps.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jun 2015
    Location
    Great Falls Montana
    Posts
    559
    Fretting does effect tension. Intonation is a compromise at best. What I am saying about frets is that when accurately crowned (a round shape with the high point at the center), large frets are fine. There is no problem with wide frets unless they have been worn flat. Flattened frets can have a negative effect on intonation.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jul 2016
    Location
    Baja Baja Oklahoma
    Posts
    2,822
    Intonation is always a compromise. Perfect intonation, with the pitch being perfect at every fret, is impossible. You just try to get it as close as you can. Yes, fretting a string changes the tension, and thus the note, by some amount, depending on the height of the string and its diameter and composition. That's unavoidable, so one has to accept the best compromise available. The usual method is to set the bridge so that the fretted note at the 12th fret, the nominal center of the string, is the same as the harmonic. This gives the closest approximation of intonation along the whole string, but notes will still be further off in some positions. You can then fine-tune it if you want, by getting the fretted note at some location, often the 5th fret, matching the open string. Not the same note, but both notes exactly on pitch using a strobe tuner. Just be aware that often the fretted notes further up the neck will be further off pitch. If that's acceptable to you, go for it. It isn't to me, but of course I'm not you. I do tune my strings so that the 5th frets are on pitch instead of the open strings, because that's closer to where I usually play. To me, this is the best compromise, and gives the best overall sound. But again, everyone's best compromise point may be different.

  6. #6
    Be sure you distinguish intonation from tuning.

    Intonation is a property of a single string, incidentally related to the other strings' intonations through tuning.

    Establishing intonation using the 12th fret harmonic and 12th fretted pitch comparison takes into account most of the change in pitch due to holding the string down to the fret, which covers most of the finger board.

    Be sure to fully tune all strings after each single string intonation adjustment.

    Never use the 7th fret harmonic for tuning; it is Pythagorean temperament (not Equal temperament like the fifth fret harmonic).

    If you change the fret surface (filing), complete that before intonation.

    Don't mistake tuning issues for intonation issues. Proper tuning is going to include some deviation from the "official" mathematical frequencies because the ear hears low notes a little sharp and high notes a little flat. Correcting for this is called German tuning on the piano and Sweetened tuning on the guitar.

    If your playing includes much above the 10th fret (basically, if you tend to play "all over the neck") then tuning may be further adjusted to account for the intonation variance stemming from the bigger strings being played further up the neck by using the "distributed E" tuning... using the open first string E as the reference (and continuously rechecking that it is correct), match the second string E at the 5th fret, third string E at the 9th fret, fourth string E at the 14th fret, fifth string E at the 19th fret, and the sixth string E at its 5th fret harmonic.

    Personally, my preference is worn frets. Mine are worn down to the point that they look more like strips of Christmas tinsel. Their tops are flat and wide. The effect of this lengthening of the contact line of the string on the fret is that the sounding string length is not so well defined, and there is a little of what I would call "diffusion of pitch precision". This actually sounds nice, the center of the tone is still right in tune, but this promotes a more complex tone, softer fuller tone, very natural and pleasant.
    "Bent my ear to hear the tune and closed my eyes to see."

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Nov 2015
    Location
    San Francisco
    Posts
    1,404
    You can do all kinds of things including following James Taylor's tuning tips. I don't have them on every guitar, but I like compensated nuts. Earvana nuts are super easy to implement.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jan 2013
    Location
    Victoria, BC Canada
    Posts
    201
    I always mistrust the nut as a reference for setting intonation. Often older guitars have had the nut removed or messed with in some way over the years. I do check the open strings with the twelfth fret but I also check the first and thirteenth fret with a strobe. It’s amazing how off they can be!
    _____________________________________

    https://www.facebook.com/Custom.Pickups

  9. #9

    Questions on improving intonation (tone)

    Wisdom on tuning from Tim Lerch:

    With a properly cut nut, good strings, and good setup it should be possible to get a guitar to play in tune without a zero fret or compensated nut. After doing a rough tune with a digital tuner, I like to use the A string as a reference then fine tune all other strings to that. That way I don’t have a buildup of tuning errors.

    I’ll tune the 6th and 4th strings to the 5th string using 5th & 7th fret harmonics. I’ll tune the 3rd string 2nd fret to the 5th string 12th fret harmonic. I’ll tune both the the 1st string open and the 2nd string 5th fret to the 5th string 7th fret harmonic. Then I’ll play a few major ninth chords (as Tim suggests) to see if any corrections are needed. If I know I have a good setup and am unable to tune, it usually means it’s time for new strings.

    By the way, while the harmonic at the 7th fret is a fifth, it’s slightly off from the equal temperament 5th that I should be tuning to. But it’s pretty close, and by tuning all other strings to one string that small error doesn’t build up as I move from string to string.
    Last edited by KirkP; 11-06-2018 at 12:05 AM.

  10. #10

    Thanks

    Okay,

    I have done more research and narrowed down what is applicable to my situation here, does anyone know a way to sacrifice the 12th fret intonation in favour of the intonation around the open/first position frets?

    Would it make sense to intonate from the first fret? or a different fret? hmm..

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Jul 2016
    Location
    Baja Baja Oklahoma
    Posts
    2,822
    As advised above, do not confuse tuning with intonation. If the fretted note at the first fret is sharp, the nut needs to be adjusted. The usual cause of sharp notes on the first few frets is high nut slots. Get that fixed, and you should be able to intonate the guitar by using the 12th fret harmonic and fretted note. It is not impossible for the nut slot to be cut improperly, with the highest point in the slot being behind the front edge. This will cause intonation problems no matter how you set the bridge. A zero fret solves this problem, but a properly cut nut will do it as well. Any time I encounter intonation problems on a guitar, I check the nut. I've had to recut nut slots many times. A relatively easy way to solve nut problems is with the Zero-Glide system, which lets you install a zero fret on any instrument. It also can help with tuning problems, because it reduces friction, and permits wider nut slots which don't bind the strings. One needs to be somewhat handy with tools, because it involves removing the original nut and sizing the new one, as well as the fret, so it requires files, sandpaper, etc, but if you have some skills, it's not hard. Any repair person could install one easily.

  12. #12
    Yes I definitely advocate the nut being level with the frets, but I am concerned with intonation in the first position adjusted via the bridge, assuming that the nut is correctly cut and level with the frets.

    i.e. the typical setup intonated at the octave, I wish to intonate somewhere else near the first position removing the equal temperment across the range and introducing perfect "something" around a specific range consisting of the open area, perhaps from the first fret, etc.


    I am slowly conducting more research, hopefully you understand my words.

  13. #13
    Here's a guy who advocates setting intonation at the 3rd fret:

    youtube.com/watch?v=cifXWMlcI_I&t=335s


    Last edited by FwLineberry; 11-07-2018 at 12:46 AM.

  14. #14
    The fellow in the video is not doing intonation when matching the pitch at the third fret to the tuner, he is simply tuning the string but not intonation of the string, as evidenced by accepting the flatness of the tuned string at the 12th fret... he is not actually accomplishing what he thinks and says, because he does not understand that intonation is about adjusting the sounding length of the strings to the scale length of the finger board.
    "Bent my ear to hear the tune and closed my eyes to see."

  15. #15
    He's just doing a shorter compensation than if he went to the 12th fret.

    I don't actually agree with the method, just happened across that vid a couple of days ago while looking for something else.

    Pulling the strings sharp at the 3rd fret is usually indicative of nut slots cut too high.

  16. #16
    Quote Originally Posted by pauln View Post
    The fellow in the video is not doing intonation when matching the pitch at the third fret to the tuner, he is simply tuning the string but not intonation of the string, as evidenced by accepting the flatness of the tuned string at the 12th fret... he is not actually accomplishing what he thinks and says, because he does not understand that intonation is about adjusting the sounding length of the strings to the scale length of the finger board.
    The fellow isn't tuning a fretted string - he tuned the strings open, EADGBE (common practice) and then fretted it at the third fret and got a perfect note, how? this is because prior to this video he had adjusted his bridge saddles to be intonated at the 3rd fret, (Not the twelfth).


    Is it okay if I give you some genuinely humble advice..? Know the difference between tuning and intonation.

  17. #17
    Quote Originally Posted by Zesty feline View Post
    Hey I got some questions on improving intonation, the idea is I don't wish to do anything too drastic as to stray from traditional lutherie per say..

    The biggest thing I've found is using a zero fret or just having a nut cut to the height of the frets, this improves the intonation in the open position greatly since the strings don't need to travel as far to be fretted.

    If the open strings are intonated "perfectly" then the focus from here is on fretted strings and adjusting the bridge thereof, my question is, I play around the 5th fret and open position far more than I ever use the 12th fret area, should I perhaps consider intonation from a place other than the 12th fret, and when I intonate should I fret the string or use the harmonic? I kind of think to fret the string as I never actually play harmonics, when I play I fret.

    Also does narrow fret wire (horizontally) improve things?


    Thank you

    I'm not an expert on this but was considering a Greg Byers guitar at one point. Buzz Feiten and Earvana are other solutions that have one thing in common - compensation at the nut to improve intonation.

    I was under the impression that these systems improve intonation up the fretboard, as that seems to be the major issue with guitars AFAIK. Compensating at the saddle seems to work pretty well for things played down low.

    If a compensated nut only helps with open and lower positions I don't get all the fuss.

    Lower action helps too. If one has a high nut or high action, then fretting still throws things off.

    Some links:

    Intonation – Guitars of Gregory Byers

    Technology

  18. #18
    Well I've learnt a LOT.

    Upon further research on the matter I was pondering which fret or frets to intonate from in the open position, I then realized that the first position is intonated from the nut via open tuning the same way that the 12th fret is intonated from adjusting the saddle, it is just a different mechanical process for each, the later adjustment at the bridge after that fact, a guitar tuned to EADGBE is intonated at the nut and therefore intonated in the first position, no the 1st/2nd frets aren't intonated individually, but neither are the 13th or 14th. at the octave, the guitar works on equal temperament.

    The NUT and the OCTAVE fret are the points of relative intonation, everything else as with any stringed instrument, is "good enough".

    Most acoustic guitars don't have saddles to move back and forth and older acoustics don't even have compensation, this is kind of okay because of the fact that bridge intonation is only realistically relevant to the 12th fret and beyond, which for many acoustic players is the "dusty" end of the fingerboard.

    In conclusion: The open position therefore is intonated from the nut, this is a far better location than using bridge intonation saddles to intonate from random/multiple choices of frets around the first position.

    In summary, just do things the same damn old way it's always been done.

  19. #19
    Join Date
    Jul 2016
    Location
    Baja Baja Oklahoma
    Posts
    2,822
    It's been done that way because no one has found a better way. The subject has been studied for centuries, by huge numbers of very competent people, and if there were a better way, it should have been found long ago. Actually, there is a better way. Fretless instruments don't have these problems, but take much more time and effort to learn. I prefer frets, with all their problems.

  20. #20
    Quote Originally Posted by sgosnell View Post
    It's been done that way because no one has found a better way. The subject has been studied for centuries, by huge numbers of very competent people, and if there were a better way, it should have been found long ago. Actually, there is a better way. Fretless instruments don't have these problems, but take much more time and effort to learn. I prefer frets, with all their problems.

    Hey, at the end of the day plug the thing in and play that sweet music, with that I ain't got no problems. :)


    Thanks all.

  21. #21
    Well Earvana might be OK if one is really bothered by intonation issues down low. They mention on their site that one may be bothered by intonation below the fifth fret when playing both fretted and open strings. I guess I have noticed that on classical guitars with high action, but not other guitars.

    I once mentioned these issues to my classical instructor and he said "just tune in octaves". Well that would work for fretted notes anyway. And he never mentioned if he was referring to Wes octaves or Segovia octaves (I just made that up). In other words, two strings apart or three. But whatever.

    So, perhaps it's a matter of the following?

    1. Play very well made guitars,
    2. Use great strings, with low action, a compensated saddle, and custom tuning to what you are about to play.

    And if still not good enough,

    3. Install an Earvana nut

  22. #22
    Quote Originally Posted by Zesty feline View Post
    Yes I definitely advocate the nut being level with the frets, but I am concerned with intonation in the first position adjusted via the bridge, assuming that the nut is correctly cut and level with the frets.

    i.e. the typical setup intonated at the octave, I wish to intonate somewhere else near the first position removing the equal temperment across the range and introducing perfect "something" around a specific range consisting of the open area, perhaps from the first fret, etc.


    I am slowly conducting more research, hopefully you understand my words.
    Can you explain what you mean by "...removing the equal temperament across the range and introducing perfect "something"..."?
    "Bent my ear to hear the tune and closed my eyes to see."

  23. #23
    Quote Originally Posted by pauln View Post
    Can you explain what you mean by "...removing the equal temperament across the range and introducing perfect "something"..."?
    Instead of tuning to perfect octaves and having a compromised tuning on the frets in between you try tuning various notes to perfect intervals or something along those lines, not big on theoretical lingo but hopefully you get what I was saying.

    Tuning to perfect intervals in one area throws it of on the other that's why the octave method is still the commonly known best for a typical guitar.



    "Intervals" - I think that is the right term I mean, could be wrong.

  24. #24
    I think what you may be suggesting is maintaining all the notes of each individual string in equal temperament because of the fret layout, but perhaps tuning each string independently so that some certain notes may match perfectly across strings.
    That, overall, is not going to correspond to any of the known temperaments; in fact the same note may change depending on which string is chosen to play it.

    Here is good overview of which notes are influenced by temperament
    "Bent my ear to hear the tune and closed my eyes to see."

  25. #25
    Join Date
    Nov 2015
    Location
    San Francisco
    Posts
    1,404
    Quote Originally Posted by Jazzstdnt View Post
    Well Earvana might be OK if one is really bothered by intonation issues down low. They mention on their site that one may be bothered by intonation below the fifth fret when playing both fretted and open strings...

    3. Install an Earvana nut
    I am bothered by intonation issues wherever they occur. I use the entire fret board.

    As I have mentioned I use Earvana nuts on some of my guitars. Their customer service in nonexistent so take that into consideration. If you search youtube there are videos of a guy that makes his own compensated nuts. If you watch what he does I think that you can see how fine the guy gets making them. Others may say that it is smoke and mirrors, but I wouldn't tell that to the guy that makes his own.
    Last edited by lammie200; 11-08-2018 at 12:34 PM.

  26. #26
    Join Date
    Feb 2011
    Location
    Twin Cities
    Posts
    2,882
    Quote Originally Posted by pauln View Post
    If your playing includes much above the 10th fret (basically, if you tend to play "all over the neck") then tuning may be further adjusted to account for the intonation variance stemming from the bigger strings being played further up the neck by using the "distributed E" tuning... using the open first string E as the reference (and continuously rechecking that it is correct), match the second string E at the 5th fret, third string E at the 9th fret, fourth string E at the 14th fret, fifth string E at the 19th fret, and the sixth string E at its 5th fret harmonic.
    Intonation starts with proper guitar neck design (fret placement, nut setup, bridge setup and adjustment, action, neck relief), correct string installation, correct tuning. I learned the Johnny Smith method from my guitar teacher in college and have been using it ever since. Sorry to post links to another forum, it is the only place I found a reprint to the article written by Johnny. He had to have an accurate tuning and intonation system as he was playing with orchestras, etc., in New York in the 40s and 50s.

    The Johnny Smith Stringing & Tuning Method | MarkWeinGuitarLessons.com
    Beauty is as close to terror as we can well endure. -Rainer Maria Rilke

  27. #27
    I used that JS method for a while after that GP article first came out. Then I got lazy and went back to the 12th fret method.

  28. #28
    Quote Originally Posted by Cunamara View Post
    Intonation starts with proper guitar neck design (fret placement, nut setup, bridge setup and adjustment, action, neck relief), correct string installation, correct tuning. I learned the Johnny Smith method from my guitar teacher in college and have been using it ever since. Sorry to post links to another forum, it is the only place I found a reprint to the article written by Johnny. He had to have an accurate tuning and intonation system as he was playing with orchestras, etc., in New York in the 40s and 50s.

    The Johnny Smith Stringing & Tuning Method | MarkWeinGuitarLessons.com
    Thanks, I was looking for this and lost it.

Join our Facebook Page

Get in Touch


Jazz Guitar eBooks
How To Get a Jazz Guitar Tone?
Privacy Policy

 

 

Follow us on:

Jazz Guitar Online on FacebookJazz Guitar Online on TwitterJazz Guitar Online on YoutubeJazz Guitar Online RSS Feed