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Third Fret Intonation

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Someone was telling me that it's better to do intonation on the 3rd fret because the open notes ( E,F,G,A,C,D) will sound more in tune.

Has anyone heard of this before? I looked on YOUTUBE but I can't find anything .

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It shouldn't make that great of a difference if the guitar intonation and nut are set properly. However, wear on the nut, string height, and finger pressure will all play into how accurate intonation on the open string is to fretted ones. I have one guitar that has a locking nut that was not installed properly, and although I moved it, I tune that guitar via a G chord (3rd fret, 2 fret, open, open, open (or third), 3rd). The reasoning is that the G chord is the most common 6-string chord I use.

*IF* (and more important than which fret to tune on) the node at the nut is dead-on, and intonation at the bridge is set properly, matching harmonics on the 5th fret to the 7th fret on the next higher string (except for the A->C jump) will give the most accuracy. The higher the frequency, the easier it is to match beat frequency. Doing this will *not* take into account string height/finger pressure... it is easy to bend a note out of tune with finger pressure on the fret alone. You can easily find open strings to be perfect, but how much they need to be bent to fret them will cause them to drift.

I am sorry this isn't a "yes/no" answer, but the setup of a guitar will play a lot into intonation... if setup accurately, where/how it is tuned will not be as noticeable. Playing with a tuner at various locations can reveal a lot... even a perfectly set up guitar will have some level of frequency variation across the fret board.

 

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Theoretically, when you depress an open string to a fret, you are also increasing the tension on the string as you do when turning the tuning pegs, and you should expect some minor pitch variation as a result. The more force it takes to depress the string, the more the resulting tension increase, so a higher action, or heavier string gauge, or even a higher fret height might  have an effect on pitch.  Some compensation for this can be accomplished by angling (or staggering) the bridge (less often the frets) to make up for the higher tension required to depress the heavier (or higher action) strings. Because so many factors can affect the intonation to a minimal degree, it is really not possible to design or set up a guitar that will play in absolutely perfect pitch for every technique or string choice at every fret. Tuning to a fretted note, should theoretically  be less variable than to an open, but not if the luthier has already made a compensation in the fret placement or elsewhere, and in any event unless you are having a noticeable problem it is probably moot. Technique will make more difference than tuning method for most of us. You can always use a sensitive digital tuning meter on your own personal setup, and see if one or another method gives you a better result across the frets where you do the most playing. 

Edited by slartabartfast
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I don't worry about tuning.  I play Rock! headbang_smiley.gif

(I'm kidding!  I'm kidding!  Don't throw that... *Ow!!!*)

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7 minutes ago, craigb said:

Don't throw that... *Ow!!!*)

I want to go an record that it wasn't me😀

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I want to go on record because I've been noodling with music for 45 years..... and I've never been on vinyl - and chicks think its cool , unfortunately I'm too old to be cool ( according to ACTUAL cool people ).

 

Intonation  ( in my mind - is about setting the 12th fret to center of the open string between nut and bridge, in incorporates scale length,  string tension, string gauge and  can be greatly affected by pick-up magnetic attraction. I 'm unclear how to set intonation from the third fret ? If you can explain - I'd like to learn something new. Tuning from the third fret can offer the typical offset of the change in tension from fretting - that makes sense to me. no harm no foul if the intonation is correct.

Edited by RBH

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5 hours ago, MUDGEL said:

It was another boy sir!

Always protecting the girls MIke😃

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18 hours ago, RBH said:

I want to go on record because I've been noodling with music for 45 years..... and I've never been on vinyl - and chicks think its cool , unfortunately I'm too old to be cool ( according to ACTUAL cool people ).

 

Intonation  ( in my mind - is about setting the 12th fret to center of the open string between nut and bridge, in incorporates scale length,  string tension, string gauge and  can be greatly affected by pick-up magnetic attraction. I 'm unclear how to set intonation from the third fret ? If you can explain - I'd like to learn something new. Tuning from the third fret can offer the typical offset of the change in tension from fretting - that makes sense to me. no harm no foul if the intonation is correct.

I've got an old fake strat" just put new strings on it, give "em" a few days to settle in and i'm gonna give it a shot:D

can't find anything on youtube but in the comments part someone did mention it..

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When setting intonation on my guitars, I always double-check at various fret positions (helps when making smallest adjustments sharp/flat).

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If the guitar is new to you, you may want to consider having a professional set it up initially. Proper truss rod tension, nut height, and saddle height (should be done first) can play a lot into intonation that string length alone will not cure. If changing string gauge, these should be rechecked afterwards.

Also be mindful of comments on the internet (even mine)... intonation boils down to checking harmonic string length vs. fretted string length, and the harmonic near the third fret isn't actually on the fret (is roughly 2.9) nor does it come close to matching the note when the third fret is fretted... this is why the 12th fret is used, since the harmonic and fretted positions there should match perfectly to each other.

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I use an electronic tuner.

You could tune the guitar by ear, but you end up with 'just intonation' and if you do it perfectly, the two E strings will not be in tune.

You can tune with an electronic tuner and all the strings will be slightly out of tune, like piano notes.

Then when you play the guitar, your finger on a fret will put it out of tune anyway. You are going to stretch the string when you press it down, and if it goes down slightly bent, you will stretch it even more.

Guitars, like so many other instruments, are not perfectly in tune with themselves. But no matter which way you tune your guitar, if you do it well, it will be close enough.

Insights and incites by Notes

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Posted (edited)

I think I found the YouTube video on 3rd fret intonation - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cifXWMlcI_I&feature=youtu.be 

In some ways it makes sense since a lot of chords are done on the first 5  frets, but this person intonates with a digital tuner by fretting the 12th fret instead of using the harmonic. So when he frets the 3rd & uses a digital tuner it's not accurate... right? (In the video the 3rd fret was already in tune & didn't need adjustment.)

I just got an inexpensive Cozart 12-string Tele & put new light gauge strings on it. I set the intonation at the harmonic 12th fret  but when I play 1st position chords I'm out of tune. Is the nut too high? When I capo the first fret my chording is in tune as the action is low. Thoughts/help?

thanks,   Greg   

Edited by Martn Street

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Posted (edited)

Intonation is best when the guitar is set up properly, if the nut is too high, when you depress the strings on the frets closer to the neck, it will be more out of tune, if the action is too high same thing across the board, if the pickups are too high (near the strings), they will affect the ability to tune the strings, if the bridge is too high then the high strings can be out of tune.

In general with new guitars, I've found the nut is always set too high. Setting the right string height in the grooves of the nut is in my opinion, the most important part of the process and the most neglected because it can require some specialist skills to get that just right, if you go too low then your only option is superglue and baking soda to fill the nut slot again or fitting a new nut (or a paper spacer in the groove). You need nut groove files, to know to file with a slight angle in the groove (with the guitar head side of the nut groove slightly lower) and to know how to set the right height for each string. There are different ways of doing this depending on the guitar. Plenty of advice on Google. If you are not prepared to get and do these things or don't feel comfortable with it, then it is best done by your local qualified Luthier or local guitar setup person (YMMV).

Once the Nut is done, the rest of the setup is easier, you only have to adjust the relief (bend) of the neck to specifications or personal taste, the bridge height and saddle height for each string to specifications or personal taste. Last of all, you have to set the individual pickup height for each pickup to specifications or personal taste. Specifications of these things can be found on the guitar manufacturers website or around the place on Google.

Now you are ready to do the intonation.

If the tasks I've already outlined are completed, there will be no problem with setting the intonation unless the neck/frets themselves are out of whack which can happen on the cheaper guitars.

One of the problems with setting up guitars is that, as already indicated by others, guitarists all play them differently and the guitar needs to be set up to suit their playing style. Some like a higher action, some lower, some like more relief in the neck and some like a flat neck, some like the pickups to be set lower or higher and some guitarists intonate differently because, as a result of all these things, they may prefer to concentrate tuning perfection towards the middle of the guitar rather than at the end points or12th fret harmonics of the string. As the string ages, intonation goes out, so from time to time it's good to check it. You can only go so far from specifications or the guitar will start to sound out of tune and create very unpleasant harmonics when you play chords for example.

I look for an average across the fretboard after I have initially set the guitar up, just to check everything is ok with the frets/neck, generally, I find everything is within tolerances once the setup is done properly. After that, I just use the 12th fret harmonic against the open string to set intonation.

For an average across the fretboard:

1. Check open string against 12 fret same string harmonic using electronic tuner.
2. Check open string against 12 fret depressed (lightly) with an electronic tuner.
3. Check 5th fret string harmonic with next string 7th fret harmonic across the strings One fret lower for g string, doesn't work well on acoustic).
4. Check depressed 5th fret with next open string (one fret lower for G string)

If the guitar is setup to specifications for the guitar, all these things should be exact or very close. You can check 3 and 4 with your ears. If the guitar is badly set up then you will have to make choices about where you want it to be mainly in tune.

That guitar video showing tuning at the third fret is wrong. Firstly, you need all the strings to be tuned to pitch before doing any intonation, where his strings are a whole tone down and he is adjusting the individual strings with the others a whole tone down. As you tighten the strings the neck will bend more adjusting the intonation again.  That is just the wrong way to do it. Secondly, he is only looking at the depressed 12th fret, not the harmonic. Thirdly, the reason he probably has sharp notes on the third fret is because his nut is set too high so he is just compensating for a high nut, which is a typical problem on a strat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edited by Tezza

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On 4/26/2019 at 2:02 PM, Notes_Norton said:

Guitars, like so many other instruments, are not perfectly in tune with themselves. But no matter which way you tune your guitar, if you do it well, it will be close enough.

Actually all Western music is purposely slightly out of tune to accommodate our 12 key system of music.   Google "well tempered clavier" for historical background.

 

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2 hours ago, Michael A.D. said:

Actually all Western music is purposely slightly out of tune to accommodate our 12 key system of music.   Google "well tempered clavier" for historical background.

 

Indeed, equal temperament puts the notes out of tune but gives us the ability to transpose the song and have it sound right.

With my sax, I use my ear and lip pressure. Sometimes even intentionally out of tune for effect. I'll do the same on guitar at times, although I find it easier on the sax. But then I've been playing sax since I was a child.

As long as it sounds good to me, I'm OK with it.

Some old rock songs that have out of tune guitars wouldn't sound as good if they had invented electronic tuners back then, :D

Notes

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Back 30 some years ago I was taught to, and still do, set the intonation at OPEN and 12th fret . . . I do this for all my guitars and basses.

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I never worried that much about tuning when I was playing in bands, just a basic tune with open string and 12th fret and harmonics to check intonation. I can't recall anyone else worrying about tuning either, you just did it before the gig and then off you went. On my acoustic, when playing solo with vocals out and about, all I worry about is the life of the strings, they have to be good for a good sound.

It was only when I started using DAW's that I became more pedantic about tuning and especially nut slot depth. Playing an electric dry and clean directly into the DAW, which I sometimes do, if there is anything wrong with tuning or fret pressure it really stands out and can sound quite out of tune with the other VST instruments if they are relatively dry and clean as well.

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Wow, Tezza, you are my brotha from anotha motha when it comes to setup advice.

Yes, I am a fiend for low nut slots. Not sure why the zero fret never really took off, it pretty much takes care of it. Old Hofners had them.

It's not just intonation for me, I have the Tony Iommi handicap of two damaged fingertips (not as bad as Tony), one of which is my pinky, so if I am to play 1st fret chords, I have to have the lowest possible action down there. I usually just pop the nut out and file the bottom of it rather than file individual slots. Nut slot files are, for some reason, pretty pricey.

I first set intonation at the 12th fret and then fine tune it at the 17th fret. As you say, in a noisy rock band, it didn't make so much difference, but go direct, and start working in the Piano Roll, and it grates after a while. While composing/mixing with the DAW, I will loop the piece hundreds of times, and if it's not in tune, it will bother me.

So this video is really "how to compensate for a high factory nut?" Not surprising. I think people still don't realize that guitars come from the factory with a conservatively high "no buzz EVER" setup, because people won't buy an axe that buzzes, and people often try out guitars unplugged in noisy stores.

I've made plenty of friends' Squiers and ?casters play and sound so much better just by raising the pickups and dropping the action a little. Pickup height makes a BIG difference in tone and power output. Get that Strat bridge pickup closer to the strings and it will start to roar and drive the front end of your amp better. Keep it 1/8"-1/16" away to avoid the dreaded string pull.

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