How to intonate your gretsch the proper way ?

Discussion in 'Technical Side of Things' started by samdevos, Mar 6, 2020.

  1. samdevos

    samdevos Gretschie

    Jun 26, 2009

    how do you set proper intonation on your guitar?

    couple things i don't get .
    Some guitarist place their bridge like on a angle ? why is that ( i understand this with those old ones that you dont have adjustable bridge saddles ) angle means more friction no?

    Secondly if you set your intonation you should harmonic at the 12th fret but i found this to be always right nomatter how offset your bridge is . when i like fret the 12 fret its a halftone off.

    So should i fret the 12 th fret and then set it to pitch ?
    Please tell me once and for all how to do it :).
    calebaaron666 likes this.
  2. calebaaron666

    calebaaron666 Country Gent

    Aug 15, 2018
    Portland, Maine
    I usually start by lining up the bridge base with the F holes. F hole point in the middle of the base on the bass side and F hole point at the bottom of the base on the treble side.
    I make sure the intonation is right with a 12th harmonic with both E’s (all my Gretsch’s have bar bridges), and then I play the note at the 12th fret and try to get that to intoned as close as possible. If it’s sharp I pull it back, if it’s flat I nudge it forward.

    Then I play the intro to The Cult’s “She Sells Sanctuary” and if sounds good, I’m happy.

    Then I put some masking tape on the guitar to mark the spot, put some fiddle rosin in the bottom of the bridge base (or double sided tape), and put it back on.

    Then I try and leave it alone!
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  3. section2

    section2 Country Gent

    Dec 21, 2016
    When your guitar is properly intonated, it should be on-pitch when you play the strings open and when you play them fretted at the 12th fret. If the string is on-pitch when you play it open, but flat when you fret it at the 12th fret, move the bridge (or the saddle, if it's adjustable) closer to the neck. If the string is sharp when you fret it at the 12th fret, move the bridge or the saddle closer to the tailpiece. Keep making little adjustments until all strings are properly intonated.
    slickfaster, Merc and DennisC like this.
  4. andreww1962

    andreww1962 Gretschie

    Apr 30, 2019
    I use the harmonic on the 12th simply because that is the most accurate way of tuning. Once in tune, compare the tuning while picking each open string, adjusting the saddles appropriately. Once it tunes accurately on the 12th and open, I check the tuning at various places midway up the fretboard, around the 5th to 7th frets. No guitar in my experience is 100% perfect from top to bottom, so sometimes it takes a little bit of compromise. You don't want any area of your fretboard to be way out of tune, so you might just have to be a hair out of tune at one end of the board or the other. I find that out of tune strings are more noticeable when playing chords, which mostly happens between frets 1-9, so it is more acceptable to be slightly out of tune on frets 12 and above. Thats just the way I do it, take it for what its worth :D
    Gregor and section2 like this.
  5. loudnlousy

    loudnlousy Friend of Fred

    Oct 18, 2015
    I do not tune the bridge according to the 12th fret harmonic. I always use to fret it. Pushing the string down causes a little sharper note than the harmonic. So when you play a guitar with higher action this effect could be even more drastical.
  6. rcboals

    rcboals Country Gent

    Nov 21, 2008
    Springfield Oregon
    YouTube and google are your friend.
    MKunie and Merc like this.
  7. Merc

    Merc Country Gent

    May 6, 2017
    hcsterg and Gregor like this.
  8. Gregor

    Gregor Gretschie

    Oct 17, 2018
    New Brunswick, Canada
    A truer statement was never said! Perfect intonation everywhere ain't gonna happen. It's always a compromise. Lots of good info in this thread so far.
  9. loudnlousy

    loudnlousy Friend of Fred

    Oct 18, 2015
    That said, I always tune my guitars individually to the chords I play in a given song. Especially in the studio.
  10. Alanqa

    Alanqa Gretschie

    Aug 22, 2019
    Lancashire UK
    The harmonic at the 12th fret is always exactly, scientifically, mathematically ½ the length of the open string. Thus one octave higher.
    The second harmonic at the 7th and 19th frets are ⅓ the length of the string and approximately a fifth above the first harmonic.
    The 3rd harmonic at the 5th and 24th is 2 octaves above the fundamental and ¼ the length of the string.

    So my point is, all harmonics are precise divisions of the open string.
    So using harmonics for intonation is exactly, 100% the same as intoning to the open string and will tell you nothing about the fretted notes which is what you need to correct.

    what you need to do is use a tuner to compare the fretted note at the 12th fret to the open string (or the 12th fret harmonic - it doesn’t matter which).
  11. wabash slim

    wabash slim Gretschified

    Feb 10, 2010
    lafayette in
    Lining the bridge up with the points on the F holes is how violins, violas, cellos, and basses are set up. It;s the point of strongest vibrations on a purely acoustic stringed instrument.

    As I play mostly acoustic guitar, I know the intonation isn't truly perfect, especially with the straight bar bridge that they all have. The harmonics and 12th fret seem to function well enough. Somehow it seems to work out---close enough for government work.
    Lister and calebaaron666 like this.
  12. Lee Erickson

    Lee Erickson Country Gent

    Apr 20, 2009
    Eagan, MN
    Well, you have a number of interesting thoughts.

    A few years back, I took it on myself to figure out how to do this theoretically. I did some math and some measurements too.

    1) Mostly, on any given guitar, the proper length from the nut to the bridge is something longer than the theoretical scale length. The theoretical scale length is 2X the length from the nut to the 12th fret.

    2) The extra length is defined by the string core diameter. The larger the core diameter, the longer the active string length (nut to bridge) needs to be.

    3) There are two reasons for this. First, the larger diameter strings take more pressure to fret. Lengthwise, it's harder to stretch a larger diameter and increases the string tension when you fret which increases the pitch. Then also, the larger strings are harder to bend at the ends. This decreases the effective length of the string which also increases the pitch.

    4) When doing some testing, I found that octave harmonic to be a couple of cents flat compared to the fretted string. After some thought, I think this makes sense. The fretted strings have a shortened at both ends, the harmonic strings have a shortened length at one end. The stiffness of the harmonic strings is a bit less.

    So, after all this babbling I recommend this:

    1) Use a tuner. I like a Snark because it damps to a reasonable average tone.
    2) Compare the open tone to the fretted tone.
    2a) If you don't have a tuner, compare the harmonic tone to the fretted tone. You won't be much off doing this.

    If you have a straight bridge (Rocking or Compton) tune to the strings with the largest core diameters. For a set of wound g-string, go for the b-string and the (low) E string. For a set with a plain g-string, go for the g-string and the (low) E string.

    Samdevos said:

    Secondly if you set your intonation you should harmonic at the 12th fret but i found this to be always right nomatter how offset your bridge is . when i like fret the 12 fret its a halftone off.

    So should i fret the 12 th fret and then set it to pitch ?
    Please tell me once and for all how to do it :).


    You should compare the harmonic to the fretted pitch or compare the open string to the fretted pitch.

    The harmonic pitch is going to be a bit flat, but the octave pitch is going a bit hard to here. Pick your poison.

  13. Lee Erickson

    Lee Erickson Country Gent

    Apr 20, 2009
    Eagan, MN
  14. Lee Erickson

    Lee Erickson Country Gent

    Apr 20, 2009
    Eagan, MN
    Well, no.

    Theoretically, you're probably in a good space, but the real world is in a different space.

    There are two assumptions that you make that are somewhat close to the truth but are not the truth.

    1) When you fret a string, it does not increase the string tension does not increase. In the real world it does, especially in the strings and guitars we all play.

    2)The strings we play are totally limp and they bend compliantly from nut to bridge. In the real world the strings we use are a bit hard to bend and effectively shorten the length.

    In my world, most this can be fixed by lowering the nut and bridge height. and adjusting the bridge length appropriately. In some cases an individually string length bridges may required.
  15. G5422T

    G5422T Country Gent

    May 24, 2012
    Yep, my 6120 bridge is not pinned, so I do the initial intonation set up using the "f" holes for a starting point too.

    Once everying is just right, I use fiddle rosin on the bridge base and it stays in place well.


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  16. thunder58

    thunder58 Super Moderator Staff Member

    Dec 23, 2010
    tappan ny
    Admin Post
    Thought this might help
    Groutsch, Trash Kidd, Gregor and 2 others like this.
  17. hcsterg

    hcsterg Country Gent

    Feb 13, 2012
    @G5422T : I see that you use a bar bridge on your G6120, so I have a few questions about that :

    1 - is the scale of your G6120 24"6 or 25"5 ?

    2 - is the bar bridge a Gretsch genuire Rocking Bar Bridge ? a Tru-Arc ?

    3 - do you notice compensation issue with that straight bar (especially if the scale is 24"6) ?

    4 - what string gauge do you use ?

    Why all that ? My Tenny G6119LH has a RBB and no compensation issue, but she's 25"5, conversely to my Fairlane G5420 which is 24"6 - hence my inquiry...

    Thanks for your replies ! ;)

    G5422T likes this.
  18. rcboals

    rcboals Country Gent

    Nov 21, 2008
    Springfield Oregon
  19. G5422T

    G5422T Country Gent

    May 24, 2012
    My 6120 is the 24.6 scale length. Bridge is a standard Tru-Arc ST-120 (stainlrss steel).

    Right now using 10's, but have used 11's too.

    No intonation issues to my ears with either gage strings, or using this TA bridge or a TA Serpentune bridge that I tried on it.

    Bigsby has a Reverend Soft Spring and the Bigsby is screwed down.

    I have the same set up on my Phoenix (25.5 scale) with no problems either.

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    Last edited: Mar 7, 2020
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  20. mbkri

    mbkri Country Gent

    Sep 22, 2012
    Then I remember how much I like playing Cult stuff.
    Then I go to Siouxsie and the Banshees for about twenty minutes.
    Then I’m off into early punk and post punk stuff for the rest of the morning and I forgot what I was supposed to be doing. And then its time for lunch and I reckon the intonation was close enough and I sounded pretty good.
    Repeat as often as needed.
    Groutsch, SAguitar and calebaaron666 like this.
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