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I am having a serious issue with my guitar and looking for some help. I recently had the guitar set up in a shop and in order to get the intonation right the guitar tech had to adjust some of the string saddle screws on the bridge as far as they'd go (towards the neck) but now my intonation is out of whack again, as much as somewhere between 1/8th and 1/4 step on the B string but as the screws are as far as they'll go I'm not sure how I can fix this.

Is it possible that there is a problem with my guitar? such as warping of the neck or similar. my guitar has a fixed no-tremolo bridge:

Fixed no-tremolo bridge

So this cannot be a tremolo related issue obviously.

Can anyone offer any insight as to why this might be happening?
Would adjusting the action slightly or opting for a heavier string gauge change the amount the screws need to be adjusted in one direction or the other so that i might be able get some room to play with?
Alternatively do different bridges come with longer or shorter throw on the bridge saddles?

That being said, i have had the guitar for years so the current bridge should work fine.. in theory.

Someone please help provide some insight! The intonation issue is noticeable and renders the higher frets unplayable.

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Usually the B string saddle is further away from the neck than the others, so from what you've stated, the others must be even closer to the neck.What do you mean by 1/4 and 1/8 step ? A similar problem has been answered previously on this site already.Was the intonation ever correct on this guitar ? –  Tim Oct 28 '13 at 7:40
@Tim 1/4 1/8 of a whole tone (half/quarter of a semitone) i'm guessing –  Anthony Oct 28 '13 at 9:51

5 Answers 5

This looks like a hardtail Strat bridge; definitely not the "Tune-O-Matic" of a Gibson. I've had intonation issues before that seemingly defied a solution. Here are some suggestions:

  • First, what's the difference in tuning between the 12th fret harmonic and the 12th fret itself? You need to make sure the problem really is in the saddle length. Pluck the harmonic, tune that, then fret the 12th fret and pluck again. They should be exactly the same note. Equivalently, when plucking the 12th fret harmonic, the most lively harmonic should come with your finger touching the string right over the 12th fret, not in front of or behind it. This is less accurate, as the string will settle quite naturally and quickly into its harmonic standing wave.
  • What's your neck relief? Put a capo on the first fret, press down the last fret, then slip a gap feeler under the string at the 9th fret (which is usually where the neck straightens regardless of the amount of relief). Fender recommends about a .010" gap (you can check this pretty easily with a cutting from your last E string; it'll be between .009" and .011" depending on preferred gauge which will be close enough); you adjust this gap using the truss rod. Some guys like their necks arrow-straight, but fail to realize that this increases the speaking length of notes between the first and fifth frets, lowering their pitch even when the spring is properly tuned and the saddles intonated. It's minor, but all of these adjustments are minor (so much so that you cannot do a setup by sight or feel).
  • What's your string height? Depress the string at the 9th fret (to take relief out of the equation) and measure the height from the top of the last fret to the bottom string with a depth gauge. Fender recommends 4/64" to 5/64". Most guitarists I know like it lower than the recommendation, assuming they have a good neck; however, the problem with this is that it will lower the tension placed on a fretted string; great news for your fretting speed (and your calluses) but bad news if you're out of room.
  • What's your string gauge? If you recently increased your gauge, say from 10-46 to 11-52, then even if the neck is adjusted to compensate, the string will bend less when you fret it, and that equals flatter notes, because you're not "pinching" the fretted notes sharp (in this case quite literally, Yngwie Malmstein style).

I typically have much more trouble with Gibson's Tune-O-Matics than with the Fender bridges; I end up with the notes trending sharp across all strings in the first octave because I like the action high which increases the tension of fretted notes, and the reduced adjustable range of the Gibson-style bridge saddles pretty much requires that you set it up their way.

If the saddle length screw is at its maximum and you really do need to go with a shorter speaking length, there's nothing for it but to look for a longer screw. Sometimes other saddles will have longer screws because the manufacturer expected to you have to bring those up more than you actually have to; if you have another, longer screw with plenty of slack, try switching. Check the parts and repair counter of your local store (and if you know of a good Mom & Pop repair shop in the area, make friends and see if they have something in the spare parts bin that they'll swap you for your current saddle screw).

The other thing you can do if all strings are at or near their minimum speaking length (maximum extension on the saddle screws) is to have the bridge repositioned; the luthier will remove the bridge, fill in the holes, then very carefully drill new ones an eighth of an inch or so further up and remount the bridge. This will give the extra adjustment room you need. However, this is brain surgery for luthiers; one mistake in redrilling the bridge mounting holes and your prize axe is garbage.

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This is a weird issue indeed for fixed bridges. Does your truss-rod need adjustment? Did you switch to a lighter gauge of strings recently? Putting heavier strings does require you to move the saddles back. But this is not a solution I would recommend ; you shouldn't change the gauge just because you can't fix your guitar. You should be able to play your preferred gauge. And besides, changing gauge requires readjusting the truss-rod and saddles.

I'm guessing your problem is with action, and neck curvature (or both):

  • Your truss-rod has been loosened a little (making the neck more bowed). Can you tell if that's the case?

  • Your action was set lower. Check for that too, and leave a comment.

These two things require the saddles to be brought closer to the neck. Other than that it could be lighter strings.

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Indeed an unusual problem but a solution could be using longer setscrews to replace those adjusting the intonation.From the look of the whole bridge, this is feasible, but normally wouldn't be necessary.It would allow the saddles to be moved closer to the neck; there is always the possibility the bridge has been mounted slightly too far back.

Obviously, the neck relief needs to be sorted first, along with any action problem - if the action is high, the harmonic will appear lower in pitch than the fretted note. More noticeable on a guitar set up for slide, for example.

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Tuned to pitch, capo your guitar at the 12th fret. Beginning with the low E, adjust the bridge saddle height, just high enough so that each string is buzz free from the 12th to the highest fret. Remove the capo and check the neck relief. Too little and the strings will buzz on the lower frets. Again, using the truss rod (Clockwise to tighten, counterclockwise to relax), set the relief so that the strings are buzz free from open to the octave, with the minimum bow required. Then set your intonation. I'll bet that fixes it. You can probably find specific specs and procedures at the manufacturer's web site. Those are a guideline, but each guitar is unique and requires its own set up.

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I have had this exact same problem of many guitars. It is nothing to do with guage of strings, neck warp or anything else.

too many 'tech' heads coming up with all these laughable answers.

The answer is simple - though you wont like it.

The dam thing was built like that ON PURPOSE. The people who build guitars want 1 thing - for you to go out and spend more money. 'the more you spend, the better you sound' mentality. Its a rip off. When building a guitar it is very simple and easy to place the bridge in the exact place for correct intonation but amazingly guitar manufacturers always seem to get it wrong on guitars from under 500 euro, even with adjustable saddle screws.

I have had to machine saddles myself on many guitars to get perfect intonation. And there is no way in hell they were all little mistakes.

For the chap that posted this thread heres my advise. Forget all the BS you hear, just use your common sense. You figured it out. get longer screws.

I have machined about 10 separate guitar saddles , each one ended up with perfect intonation. Each time , after comparing where the saddles were when original, and where I had to put them , there was no other explanation other than they were deliberately manufactured that way to make you go out and fork out more money.

By the way, unless you have dam near perfect intonation you can completely forget playing anything up the board. You will end up , after a few years, playing lead and bending every note, slightly, to get in tune, as you play.

Don't fall for the B.S. people. Next time you go into a guitar shop test the intonation on the cheap guitars , then test the expensive ones................The penny will soon drop

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