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Bridge/intonation question

Dan Furr55

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                       On electric/electrics I often see the G saddle back from high E and B

                     . And my guitars are usually like this after I make adjustments.


                       On some acoustic/electrics I often see the same thing.

                       But on some acoustics the B is back on a saddle with high E, and G is in front of B on another saddle with D,A, and low E. I just saw that again on a

                       Takamine GD30.


                       Why would it be different, I know theres more tension with bigger strings but .....?




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mrbrown49 is correct. With plain strings, compensation is based on the diameter of the whole string; with wound strings, it's based on the diameter of the core. If you have two .018 strings, one wound and the other plain, the core of the wound string will be smaller than the wound string, even though they're both .018.

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Guitar adjustments are all interdependent on one another. You mess with one adjustment you will surely throw others out of whack. String height, intonation, relief are the three main ones.  Others like string types, pickup height, fret height, nut height, fret wear, and players touch all need to be factored into the formula.  

 In an ideal world, if you properly diagnose the thing that's gone out of adjustment, then adjust only that one item, you shouldn't need to mess with anything else. because that one tweak brings the instrument back to specs.  Wear and tear rarely works that way.  Neck relief changes with temp and humidity, and as the sap in the wood dries out.  Frets wear down, nuts wear down, changing string types and gauges throws a monkey wrench into the whole situation.    

Once frets get worn flat on top you'll likely see the need to lengthen the strings to maintain proper intonation at the 12th fret. The problem you run into however is frets farther up the neck may see little wear and sound flat in comparison (or flat frets may sound sharp in comparison to crowned frets)  The more wear the more sour a guitar may wind up sounding and you typically wind up going nuts trying to keep the guitar in tune for any one key.  

Biggest problem you have with fretted instruments, even on ones with perfect setups are their fixed frets.  Unlike Violins have no frets and rely on finger positions to maintain pitch a guitar can play in tune in one key and be loaded with sour notes in another key.  This is because string tension changes at different points along the string and the fixed frets cant compensate for it. 

String tuning was originally based on Pythagoras and was called Harmonic Tuning. The way this worked was by dividing the string nodes into octaves, 5ths, 7ths, 9ths etc. Problem with the actual strings is they are under tension and the mathematical vs actual don't work when you go past the first scale and start matching rudimentary and octave notes.  You wind up having loads of string beating which is painful to the ears as the frequencies clash.  Early orchestras using this tuning would need to retune every time they changed keys.  

Guitars use a tuning method called "Equal Temperament" which is far from perfect. What they do instead of having some notes in perfect pitch and others totally sour is to stretch the "out of tune pitches" across the entire fret board. Any of the notes played together will only be out by a tiny amount in order to make the instrument sound good as a whole. 

To someone with a highly trained ear it can still be quite crude to the ears but to most non professional listeners, they don't even notice the pitch flaws.   

Equal Temperament can play all kinds hell on guitar string harmonics. You can intonate the 12th fret OK using the saddles. With the right neck relief you can usually get the 5th and 7th fret harmonics to work pretty good with the open strings too, but the rest of the fret intervals can wind up sounding sour in comparison especially if you intonate to maximize the harmonics. 

Playing wise you learn to compensate for Equal Temperament deficiencies as a performer.  When you play a chord that has a note that is a little flat, or sharp you change your finger pressure to make the string pitch change and put the chords in tune.  Pulling on strings lengthwise and even pushing the neck forward or pulling back to change string tension become second nature as a player. 

Also as a note, learn to use your ears. An electronic tuner is only good for setting the open strings and 12th fret intonation.  It has no Equal Temperament compensation built into it so setting optimal tone at all the other frets can be a real problem for someone with untrained ears. Ideally a pitch generator (found in various tuners for ear tuning) is ideal for setting up instruments.  You can use it to minimize string beating of notes at any one fret while maximizing string tone. Far superior to matching one string to another too. 

Everything else simply takes time to acquire the experience needed to properly set up an instrument.  I know people who have spent a lifetime playing and don't know jack from shinola when it comes to setting up an instrument.  Some are excellent players too. They simply lack the hands on and/or ear training to do the work.  I was playing violin at the age of 7 so my ear training was acute at a very early age.  At the age of 12 when I got my first guitar, tweaking it to sound good was second nature. It simply came down to learning the various methods manufacturers invented to make those adjustments possible. 

I recommend this site to anyone interested in learning how to set up instruments.  I would recommend buying a beater, (el cheapo) guitar for learning how to do tweak them.  This way you avoid damaging or making main instrument sound bad when you screw things up.  


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6 hours ago, Dan Furr55 said:

Thanks Guru, I suspected some of this without the science, just intuition. I wonder if anyone ever made a guitar with frets "staggered" to help...............

Something like this, perhaps? ;)


I found this pic on a Japanese guitar blog but it's far from the only example. Yes, there are real guitars with similar fretboards. Now watch WRGKMC answer the same question with a massive wall of unnecessary text. ;)

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