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Intonation Problems


bscur
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I just finished a tele and have a big problem keeping it in tune and intonated. I don't get it. I tuneall strings and then test them at the 12th fret, just like I always do, they match up. Then I play an open G chord and ughhh, dissonance. The only thing I can think of is maybe the neck pocket is too shallow and the saddles are up too high. Could that cause this? They are the old barrel saddle style. The neck is a mighty might neck that I'm not very impressed with (the nut is poorly cut), but this guitar is impossible to keep in tune and it's my fourth build. I just don't get what's wrong. It's never been a problem. Help!!!

Thanks,

Brad

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"The nut is poorly cut" is my main clue. Improperly slotted nuts is probably the biggest cause of the intonation going way out of whack when fretting open chords. It should be said that all guitars will go out of tune a bit when fretting, but with proper intonation, sometimes this out-of-tuneness is almost imperceptible.

When you say you test them at the 12th fret, can you describe exactly how? Perhaps you have a slightly faulty understanding of intonation that might be the root of the problem, too. Vintage barrell-style tele saddles will also rarely "perfectly" intonate-- perhaps a tele vet has pointers on the best way to average out the imperfections?

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That's a surefire symptom that the action at the nut hasn't been set yet--the slots aren't deep enough, so when you play an open chord, the pressed strings are being stretched sharp. Possible also that the setup on the rest of the guitar (especially the relief) isn't perfect either, which can exacerbate the problem.

There are guides for setting up a nut (sorry, I don't have a link handy), but it really helps to have nut files for that. I suggest you go through the full setup routine first --that is, start with setting the neck relief, if that hasn't been done.

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Pull that cheap soft plastic nut and throw it in the burn barrel (oops--not supposed to mention the burn barrel :D ). I don't know why MM even bothers to ship their otherwise decent necks with those things. If you're not comfortable making your own nut take it to a local shop and pay to have one made. You won't regret it.

Once you have a properly cut nut you can continue the troubleshooting, but I'd bet you won't need to.

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If you say that it has a vintage style three barrel type bridge and it intonates well at the 12th fret I seriously doubt you! I do not mean to insult you but I have never heard a three barrel type bridge intonate properly. The physics doesn’t allow for that. Period!

If you mean a six barrel type bridge I would start with the nut. Does the slots angle back correctly? The slot should start parallel with the string and “bend downwards” towards the head.

Nut cutting guides:

http://www.stewmac.com/freeinfo/A-NUTS.html

and

http://www.stewmac.com/freeinfo/I-5350.html

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The guitar does show up on a guitar tuner as pretty much in tune at the 12th fret. However, this thing is seriously out of tune on an open chord. The G string sounds muffled and the high e sounds like a sitar even though it has plenty of relief. It is a shame to have to work on a brand new nut, especially since I haven't ever tried that. I put in very light strings. Could that be it?

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