Intonation for the G string at the nut.

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by hi13ts, Jan 24, 2013.

  1. hi13ts

    hi13ts New Member

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    Friends,

    It looks like one problem conquered, another one shows up. Well, this one's been alive for awhile now. I've been having a hard time intonating my G string. Intonation at the bridge is all fine and dandy, but when I play any chord that's on the upper five frets, it's bothersome. An F chord, for example, is very prominently out of tune even though the G string is in tune open. When plugged into a tuner, I can see that the second fret A is very sharp even though the open G is fine. It looks like all of my other strings are a little sharp to an extent when fretting, but they all sound fine.

    I've been reading around and some say it's because the nut is cut a little too high. I don't know how true that is. I've measured the nut and it's up to par with Gibson's factory specs. Everything else is setup to my liking: truss rod, bridge, etc., and the only thing I don't know how to setup is a nut.

    Any thoughts? Thanks in advance for the replies.
     
  2. iblive

    iblive Well-Known Member

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    I had much the same problem making the transition from playing acoustic guitar for over 30 years before buying my first electric. I was used to "heavy fisting" a guitar that was laced up with a .013 string set and my electric was .009s. The electric was tuned perfect open and intonation was also spot on... yet every time I played a chord in the upper frets... the fretted strings went sharp because I was vice gripping the strings like I was used to on the acoustic. I changed to .010s and have learned to use a lighter touch when playing the electric and that has made a huge difference in notes going flat/sharp.

    What I do sometimes is tune the "G" and sometimes "B" string a mini notch flat... not so much its way out open, but is closer when fretted. I will also, after using the tuner, check the guitar to itself and adjust as needed. Trust your ear as well as the tuner.

    What one has to remember is a fretted guitar is an imperfect instrument as far as tuning and intonation is concerned. A way smarter person than me once stated that you can only get it close... get over it.
     
    Last edited: Jan 25, 2013
  3. Alex_SG

    Alex_SG Well-Known Member

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    Intonating a g string... Could turn that one into a bad joke!!! In all seriousness though, I hope you manage to sort it out. My G is always a little flat at the 12th fret, even though it is in tune when played open, so I have dramas with mine also. Let us know how it goes!
     
  4. Biddlin

    Biddlin Well-Known Member

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    " I changed to .010s and have learned to use a lighter touch when playing the electric and that has made a huge difference in notes going flat/sharp. "

    Beyond the great windmill strokes of Townsend and the frenetic clubbing of Angus, touch and listening are the important actions in guitar playing . A perfectly intonated string is at pitch when it makes contact with the top of the fret . Unless your frets are worn almost flat to the board, there is room to press the string down further or side to side, adding tension and, as with finger vibrato, raising the tone above pitch . That's the reason changing to a heavier gauge string improved the situation. Listen for changes in pitch and timbre and adjust for them with touch and you'll play much better !
    Biddlin ;>)/
     
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  5. donepearce

    donepearce Well-Known Member

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    This is an age-old problem that has been soved by a custom nut design that shortens the distance from the nut to the first fret according to the string diameter.

    It is called a Feiten nut and Buzz Feiten holds the patent. There may be licensed versions of it around by now.
     
  6. dbb

    dbb Well-Known Member

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    Yes and there are pros and cons....many people swear by the Feiten system and I am not yet convinced it is necessary with a good setup and good technique.
     
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  7. JohnP

    JohnP Member

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    I agree.
    Too much relief or high action in general is a common cause of poor intonation.
    Also, keep the string slots clean (and lubricated) at the nut and at the bridge saddles. Make sure the string is not faulty - never intonate the guitar with old or dirty strings, I could go on...

    And then there is the concept of "tempered tuning" (or compensated intonation) that most of us do by intuition, without even knowing about it. It's important to listen patiently and not just stare at the tuner.

    And then there is the concept of dead spots (often in relation to an unwound G-string around the 12th fret on a Gibson guitar); Try muting the bass strings when intonating the G-string....

    When nothing else works - take it to a tech!
     
  8. Biddlin

    Biddlin Well-Known Member

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    I have a tech friend who has tried compensated nuts on his Martin D28 and subsequently on his ES-345 . They are both returned to OEM . I'm unsure of what brand he used, but he reports dysfunction on both the D-28 and the archtop, "rendering the Martin virtually unplayable ." Another case of, "If a $5 part was better, Martin would be using it ."
    Biddlin ;>)/
     
  9. dbb

    dbb Well-Known Member

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    I sometimes think the guys (not the OP) that get hung up on the Feiten tuning system or the G string tuning thing are trying to get some other sound than 12 tone equal temperament, particularly in regards to E, A and other open chords and the 3rds.

    Like they are trying to get some sort of mean-tone tuning un the 3rds of the common "cowboy" chords.

    I am way off base here?
     
  10. smitty_p

    smitty_p Well-Known Member

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    Also, the human ear is less sensitive to notes that are slightly flat than it is to notes that are slightly sharp. So, tuning slightly flat is better than letting a note be pulled sharp when fretting a chord.

    Another thing, often nut slots are too high, which means you need to press down harder to fret a chord at the lower frets (the frets near the nut are the low frets, the frets closer to the body are the upper frets. The distinction has to do with pitch, not physical location). I had this problem with my Washburn. However, using properly-sized nut files, I deepened the nut slots slightly, bringing the strings closer to the frets. This fixed the issue with going sharp for me, as I didn't have to push the strings down as far.

    If you do this, you need to be very careful not too take too much material off the nut and create fret buzz. Consult a luthier if you have concerns, as the slot angle is important to maintain, as well.
     
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  11. donepearce

    donepearce Well-Known Member

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    Pretty much. Tune up the G string using a decent electronic tuner. Fret the first G# (1st fret) and check the tuner again. See how many cents sharp it is. That is the problem that Feiten is addressing - nothing to do with temperatment or odd tunings. For perfection, of course, each fret would be individually set for perfect intonation, but that isn't going to happen.

    Earvana have released a compensated nut, as have Axemasters. I know there are a few more around.

    Have a look here to see what they are all about.

    Earvana - Compensated Tuning Systems for Guitars
     
  12. donepearce

    donepearce Well-Known Member

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    I had a Tele made for me last year by a great Luthier on the South Coast (England, not US). He was a little surprised when I told him I wanted a zero fret, dressed the same height as all the others. The nut was simply to be a spreader. This guitar has an action like no other, and it plays like silk. I've never understood this business of leaving the nut slots higher than the frets
     
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  13. Biddlin

    Biddlin Well-Known Member

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    God's speed, Scotty

    I, also am a big fan of the "zero fret." My favourite Jazzmaster, to borrow from my rhythm player, has one . I am less sold on adding any mechanicals to my axes . Pythagoras and I are on good enough terms with what I've got. While theoretically interesting, the degree of functional improvement is more than offset by aesthetic and practical concerns, for me. I adhere to the future late Cmdr. Montgomery Scott's theory:
    [​IMG]

    " The more complicated the plumbin', the easier to clog up !"

    Biddlin ;>)/
     
  14. iblive

    iblive Well-Known Member

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    Did not know that

    I replaced the OEM nut on my G400 with one from GraphTech. Filed the bottom of that sucker off till I got it to the height I wanted. That helped a bunch too.
     
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  15. dbb

    dbb Well-Known Member

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    Frankly the zero fret is a good idea from a tech's POV, but somehow it has lost its appeal in the current market.

    And smitty's comment about nut slot height - well i have had to custom recut almost every nut on any guitar I ever got to get the action at the nut correct.

    If it is cut too high and you will get notes in the 1-5 fret region that are too sharp.
     
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  16. dbb

    dbb Well-Known Member

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    I did.."You have probably noticed that it is nearly impossible to tune your guitar so that the chords in the first 5 frets ring true for any open chords. "

    I have never had that problem when I tune a well made guitar with the "tune every string to E" method of tuning in equal temperament.

    "This is where the comparison to tuning like a piano comes in. Lower notes on a piano are flattened progressively more from middle C to the lower register, and sharpened progressively more from middle C to the higher register. "

    Yes, on a piano the outside octaves are stretched - the higher ones to compensate for the human ear (psychoacoustic theory) and the lower octave for the piano action hitting the string and momentarily sharpening it.

    The guitar does not go high enough to need stretch tuning in the upper registers. And you do need to be careful not to sharpen a string by fretting it too hard or by high nut action.

    "To our ears, the Earvana nut went a long way toward solving most intonation problems, especially those found in the first, second, and third positions. Also, chords played all over the neck seemed sweeter and more piano-like. However, we found this improvement came at the expense of unisons involving fretted notes and open strings. Guitars can never be intonated perfectly, but the Earvana nut provides a marked improvement over the status quo."

    At the expense of unisons? WHAT?

    This is where the concept falls apart. I rely on unisons and octaves to tune a guitar, as they are the ONLY Pythagorean accurate intervals in 12 tone tuning. By tuning to unison and octave E's I can tune a guitar that sounds like it is supposed to, from simple cowboy chords to complex jazz chords.

    If a tuning system will sacrifice the unison for the "Sweeter" chords, this is wrong and is indeed what I suspected, a way to make the cowboy chords sound more like meantone tuning. If you read the page of testimonials most of them are happy that their C,G,D, etc. chords sound "good". And to their ear, not to a strobe, so they are using their own judgement about what makes a chord in tune and most people with this complaint want the guitar to be in meantone tuning that has "sweet" 3rds.

    If you like the way a guitar sounds with these gadgets, great! I do not need them and am in tune and have recorded a lot so I have had to hear my tuning over and over and along with virtual instruments that are in tune.

    Plus I played Arabic and Turkish music and leaned what pure intonation is. The guitar is NOT and NEVER WILL be anything but a 12 tone equal tempered instrument as long as there are only 12 frets to an octave.

    BTW, I checked some of my guitars and that chart of how off the guitar fretting is supposed to be had no bearing on my guitar, so what inaccurate guitar did they use for measuring?

    I do not mean to pick a fight, but this issue of tuning has long been settled by basic guitar making, having the fretting accurate, and the action set well. If you use the octave/unison E tuning method and get your guitar set up properly, you can be in tune!

    And in Scotty's word's "What would you want that bucket'o'bolts for?"
     
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  17. donepearce

    donepearce Well-Known Member

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    Here's the zero fret on my hand-built Tele:

    [​IMG]

    It works beautifully.
     

    Attached Files:

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  18. donepearce

    donepearce Well-Known Member

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    When someone says they don't mean to pick a fight, you can practically see them rolling the sleeves up. I'm not going to fight you, but I will say that what you write here is a mixture of right and wrong. Some of the things you say are simply self-contradictory.
     
  19. dbb

    dbb Well-Known Member

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    Like what? I thought I was pretty logical.

    I am not personally fighting - but I am a bit fed up with this spurious intonation issue. Nothing personal at all - it is an area of study I enjoy. You're new on this website, so you don't know my posting history.
    Long term members know I am not a fight-picker, but I will debate a tech issue seriously.
     
  20. iblive

    iblive Well-Known Member

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    One of my shortfalls, when it comes to music, is theory, so when I read something like Dave just posted a lot of it goes right over my head. I'm self taught so I learned way too many bad habits. The first 30 years with a guitar I tuned without the benefit of a tuner.... now I have a fancy dance tuner (two of them actually) and I still find myself using my ear to "fine tune" it so it sounds right to me.

    That said... why does it seem on electric guitars, the "G" string is the hardest one to get tuned and intonated properly? I've never had that issue on my acoustic guitars.

    Notice on my G400 the G saddle is all the way to the stop to get it right. I've talked to a couple guys that actually reversed the G saddle to gain an extra couple millimeters of adjustment.

    [​IMG]
     
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