How to intonate your guitar correctly

By Gonçalo Crespo

One of the most common problems a guitar player has is to make his guitar sound “on point” on every single note he plays. Even if said guitar player has god-level technical proficiency, his notes can still sound slightly off.

This happens because most people concerns themselves only with having the guitar in tune when playing the open strings. In reality, your notes will start to get slightly sharper or flatter than they should, as you move down the guitar neck. This can happen to beginner students or virtuoso players alike.

To tackle this issue, you need to be familiar with some concepts. 

Even if the entry and end points for each string are the same (Bridge and nut), you need to consider that each string is tuned to a different pitch and has different width from any of the others. As such, it is easy to understand that for a certain string to have its frequency increase equally fret after fret, its entry point cannot be exactly the same as the other strings. Also, this will be affected by the simple fact that not all guitar have the same scale length or the same number of frets.

There is a very easy process to guarantee that you intonate properly your guitar, making it match your own guitar, independently of scale length and type of strings:

  1. Make sure your playing preferences (truss rod, string height) are in place as you want them to be.
  2. Install a new set of strings. This is an important step, as used strings do not transfer vibrations as well as fresh new strings, which may lead to incorrect measurements.
  3. Tune your guitar to pitch (E Standard tuning, for example).
  4. Hold the guitar in your playing position. Since gravity affects the way strings are in their ‘rest position’, it is ideal to adjust intonation in the same position the guitar is when you play.
  5. Play your 6th string on the 12th fret and check your tuner. If the note is flat compared to the harmonic at the same fret, adjust that string’s saddle forward (towards the neck). If it’s sharp, move the saddle the opposite way. A good way to remember this is using the letter F as reference… “Flat” and “Forward”.
  6. Retune the string and repeat step 5 until that string is intonated.
  7. Repeat for the remaining strings.

This is all there is to it, actually. Play your guitar and realize how much better (or accurate) you sound after following these steps.

About the author 

Based in Zurich Switzerland, Gonçalo Crespo is the founder of Music&Co. guitar music school. He is a professional musician and guitar teacher mainly focused on getting his students to guitar proficiency in the most efficient way possible. Gonçalo also offers tuition for acoustic and electric guitar, covering a lot of different styles of music. Check out his website at Gitarrenunterricht Zurich.