Adjustments of the Action and intonation of the Guitar

In Archtop, Gears on March 10, 2010 at 11:29 am

How to Adjust the Intonation of an Electric Guitar

Setting the intonation on an electric guitar is done to keep the guitar in tune while playing at different frets on the neck. For instance if you play a ‘A’ chord at first fret and then play an ‘A’ chord on the 5th fret and one of the other is out of tune then your guitar’s intonation needs to be adjusted. When a guitar string vibrates there are a number of factors that determine it’s pitch and tone: Length, Diameter, and Tension are the three main factors. If you change the length then the pitch goes up. When you change the tension the same thing happens. Also when pressing on string at say the 5th fret (or any fret) the fret itself slightly increases the tension and sharpens the note sounded. To counteract this slight increase in tension the length of the guitar string is increased (slightly) at the bridge.

For a Stratocaster guitar you adjust it at the bridge by moving the ‘saddles’ either forward, towards the neck, or backwards. Adjusting the intonation is also easy. Many Electric Guitars have an adjustment point in the form of a screw or allen hex bolt. You can find this bolt usually on the tailpiece of the guitar.

FYI: Some guitars don’t have this adjustment.

The things you’ll need to adjust your guitar’s intonation are:

  1. electronic guitar tuner
  2. a screwdriver which fits the bridge screws

Quick Answer: If your guitar has more than one pickup then select the one closest to the neck or the center of the guitar and turn both the volume and tone controls all the way up. Next, with the guitar tuner plugged in, play the open ‘E’ string (the 6th or thickest string). Tune this note to ‘E’ on the turner and it’s important to get it as close to ‘E’ as possible. Next play the string while pressing down on the 12th fret. This is the octave above the open string. Check the string’s tuning if it’s sharp or higher pitched than the open string then the string length needs to be lengthened. If the string is flat then the string length needs to be shortened. To change the string length you need to re-position the string’s saddle which is located on the bridge itself.

NOTE: some bridges aren’t movable, while others may move two strings at the same time.

Most bridges use a screw or knob to move the saddle forward or back. Moving the string forward or toward the center of the guitar shortens the length of the string. Moving the string backwards lengthens it. You don’t have to move it much just a little at a time. One other thing is to do this adjustment with all the strings on the guitar and each string is in tune. Setting the intonation while installing one string at a time doesn’t allow for the neck to bend when all 6 or so strings are pulling up on the neck.

Longer Answer:To adjust the intonation on a guitar you’ll need to be able to change the length of the string. This is done by moving the string length adjuster. You should use a electronic tuner for this adjustment. What you do is match the octave and open strings. The octave string is at the 12 fret. This is fret is at half of the length of the string. You’ll need to get this as close as possible otherwise the you won’t be able to tune the guitar. Basically you are changing the length of the string and thus trying to match the 1/2 way point to the 12th Fret. Do this for every string.

Start at the 6st string (the lowest pitched string) and work towards the treble or the 1th string. You will probably need to do this sequence two or more times at the tension of the strings is changing and the string length will also change. You can do it:^)

Setting the Intonation is usually done on the bridge of the guitar. The idea is to adjust the length of the string so the 12th fret (which is the halfway point or 1st fundamental of the string) to sound an octave higher than the string does while playing it open. This is usually done after adjusting the bridge, neck and nut of the guitar. If you move the bridge saddle closer towards the neck then you are making the string shorter and higher pitched. Vice versa when moving it away from the neck. There will be a point at which the 12th note will be exactly in tune with it’s open fundamental string. At that point the string’s intonation is set.

Moveable Bridges – Hollowbody guitars like the Ibanez Artcore may require a little more work for you to set the intonation. Since many of the bridges on hollowbodies are movable you may have actually reposition the bridge to a point on the body that has the best overall tuning. When changing the strings you may knock the bridge out. Usually you can put it right back to where it was without any problems but sometimes you have to set the intonation again.

This is done by moving the bridge forward towards the pickups or away from them. It doesn’t take much to get things out of wack. After getting the bridge in the ball park you’ll then have to fine tune it using above method. Just turn the adjustment screws on the saddles to change the string length while using and checking the 12th fret for accuracy. Do this once and then re-check it. If you’ve made any adjustments check it (each string) again until no more changes are required.

How to Adjust the Action on an Electric Guitar

The word “Action” when talking about guitars refers to the height of the strings above the fretboard. A high action means that the strings are high above the strings and vice versa.

To adjust the action you’ll need to be able to turn the bridge mounting studs. These may be screws or bolts. Before adjusting the Bridge or any other part of the guitar you’ll need to remove the tension of the strings (detune) before doing this.

After removing the tension of the strings use 1/4 turns on both studs until you found the correct height position for your playing. Then retune the guitar.

Nope you’re not done yet. Next try playing the guitar and listen for buzzing or dead frets. This is where you’ll find out how good the guitar is or how well it has been taken care of. For instance if the neck has been warped then you will probably find a number of bad frets and will have to raise the action to a higher position.

Check every fret on every string. Repeat this process until you find the correct action for your style of playing. Usually the lower the action the faster the guitar’s playability.


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