guitar setup

Acoustic Guitar Intonation

Intonation guitar

Time to break up all this Burlesque talk with something a little different. What's going on here, then?

Intonation. It's a bug-bear for some. We could talk about equal temperament concerns and mathematical subdivisions of scale-length and whatnot, but it would get dull quickly. Suffice it to say, tuning on any fretted instrument is always a little bit of a compromise.

In order to try get the damn thing to sound as closely in tune as possible, we 'intonate' each string to compensate its length so it sounds right when fretted. On most electric guitars, we do this by adjusting the string's saddle—moving it backwards or forwards to slightly lengthen or shorten the string's sounding length. Easy-peasy (unless it's a Floyd Rose-type bridge in which case it's more annoying than being repeatedly kicked in the shin by a crying child in a restaurant).

Acoustic guitars offer a bit more of a challenge than most electrics though.

An acoustic guitar generally has a fixed saddle (of bone or whatever). The fact that the saddle is installed at a slight angle (increasing string length from 1st to 6th) string is a nod towards some string compensation. The pre-shaped, compensated saddles that many guitars have these days is another step in the right direction.

For most people (and most guitars and strings) these get close enough that tuning issues aren't glaringly awful.

Sometimes, and for some people (depending on playing style and the curse of having a good ear), it's not enough.

make acoustic guitar play in tune
intonate acoustic guitar

Intonation depends on precisely seventeen million variables. Well, give or take—there are a lot of factors that all interact to determine the best setting. Tweaking setup and string choice can help if there are problems but sometimes that's not an option or isn't sufficient.

What's going on in the images above is that I've used little chunks of rosewood to individually intonate each string on this acoustic guitar. The saddle has been removed and the rosewood is acting like an individual saddle for each string. I poke it back and forward to find where each string properly intonates.

StewMac actually offers a doohickey that does this without fiddling with bits of wood. I've been threatening to get one for a while but I'm forgetful and tight.

Popping a piece of cellophane over the bridge lets me mark the location of each intonation point and the actual saddle location itself. This gives me an indication of where each string should sit on the saddle to sound best. It's easy to transfer this to a new saddle blank.

This guitar, its setup and strings, actually indicates a complication: As you can see in the image in the right, some of the optimum intonation points sit outside the actual saddle.

This happens sometimes. On an older guitar, it's not unusual to have a saddle actually misplaced. This can necessitate filling the slot and actually re-routing it in a new position. That doesn't tend to happen so much these days but, depending on other factors, it's possible that one or more intonation points might be in front of, or behind, the saddle.  Of course, making a much wider saddle is an option but that adds expense and entails modifying the bridge to accommodate that wider saddle.

custom carved acoustic saddle

The other option is compromise (we're back to that word again). In this case, carving a new saddle with intonation points as close as possible to those measured will improve things considerably. Four of six strings will be pretty much perfect and the remaining two will be a lot closer to perfect than they originally were. Overall, it sounds much more in tune than it did without the need to irreversibly modify the bridge to accommodate a wide saddle.

So, we end up with a slightly odd looking saddle that sounds a lot better and the original is safe in the case in case it's ever needed. Not too shabby.

It's worth remembering that this is probably overkill for the majority of people. Most guitars and guitarists are generally ok with the regular or pre-compensated saddle. Failing that, a good setup or a change of string-gauge will probably get you close enough that you'll be happy. If you're still hearing problems though, a custom-compensated saddle might be an option.

Where You At?


I've updated my map and the Find Us page on my site to make it even easier to find Haze Guitars. The new map allows you to more easily find your way, especially from locations outside Dublin (I'm guilty of having been a little Dublin-centric on the old map). New bus route information is included and there are map coordinates that you can plug in your GPS or smart phone.

What an age we live in.

As it turns out, this is pretty timely. For some reason, Bing Maps has recently changed and is now mislabelling roads at my location. I've no idea why this might be; they used to be fine. Open Street Map and Google Maps are still correct, by the way. Apple Maps on the iPhone is fine too.

If you're using Bing , please be careful. My address is Rossberry Avenue but, at the time of writing, that road is displayed on the map as Rossberry Park.

If you want to do the sat-nav thing, the coordinates are below. Different devices require different formats (DMS or DD) so both are listed.

Degrees, Minutes, Seconds (DMS):

  • Latitude 53 20 21 (North)
  • Longitude -6 26 14 (West)

Decimal Degrees (DD):

  • 53.339114, -6.437398

Or just use address, 54 Rossberry Avenue, Lucan. Do remember to drop me a line to sort an appointment first, though.

Haze Guitars Map

Haze Guitars Map

January's Guitar & Bass Setup Sale At An End

Guitar And Bass Setup Sale

Guitar And Bass Setup Sale

January is over and the Ridiculously Mental January Setup Sale is at an end. And it was fairly mental.  January passed in a whirring blur of setups. It was a bit like one of the training montages from Rocky IV, just with guitars instead of logs. Oh, and less cheesey music. My setup muscles are looking pretty good though.

I still have a bit of a backlog of January instruments to get through but the next week should see the last of the half-pricers back with their owners. Thanks to everybody that's allowed me to work on their instruments this month – I hope you're happy with how your babies are playing.

Of course, the sale may be over but I think even the non-crazy setup cost is pretty reasonable. If I can help you out with your guitar woes, feel free to drop me a line.

Setups Are Making Me Blind

So, hopefully you'll have heard about my Insane, Clearly-Mental January Setup Sale.  I've done a lot of setups in the last couple of weeks.  This has meant some long hours, fitting them in with the usual repair work and nail-hammering but I'm certainly not complaining.  Many guitars were setup and much tea was consumed (Lyons Tea are going to put a plaque on my wall). We're a little over halfway through January now and as I appear to be some sort of setup masochist, I'm just reminding you that there's still time to contribute to my breakdown.  If half-price guitar and bass setups sound like your thing, or if you simply want to see a grown man weep, drop me a line and we'll see what we can arrange on both counts.

Remember though, the offer is only until the end of January or whenever I collapse in a gibbering heap muttering the word 'intonation' over and over. This could be any day now so get your skates on.

Half-Price Guitar and Bass Setups - Sale Info

Guitar And Bass Setup Sale

Guitar And Bass Setup Sale

A little more information on the Amazing Super January Guitar & Bass SETUP SALE. First off the costs:

For the month of January, a guitar setup will cost €22.50. This crazy, half-price bonanza includes fresh strings.

A bass setup, during the same period, will cost €30 including fresh strings (a mega-bargain).

As mentioned, these costs include new strings (which is why there's a disparity between the bass and guitar setup costs).

If you if you prefer to provide your own brand of string (for instance, if you use some sort of long-life, coated, platinum-plated, strings made from the hair of virgin goats or something), you are welcome to do so.  In this case, the cost for both guitar and bass setups will be €20.

Then the timing:

This offer applies to instruments booked-in and dropped-off at my workshop during the month of January, 2011.

Officially, Haze Guitars opens for business again on the 4th but I'll take emails and calls now and I'll be happy to take drop-offs on the Bank Holiday Monday (if you want to do so before you have to go back to work). Just give me a call to arrange a time.

That's it.  Easy-peasy.  I think this is a pretty good offer so feel free to take advantage of my Harvey-Norman-style madness.  Drop me a line and get your instrument sorted.