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I have a traditional 3 saddle telecaster bridge. With two strings on each saddle my intonation is always a slight compromise. This is OK on the first four strings, but the bass strings are noticeably off. Other than replacing the saddle, are there any specific techniques I can use to reduce the problem?

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My soution: throw the damn thing away and get a six saddle bridge!! They're available in 'vintage' style with six separate brass 'barrels'. Just do a Google search. As for the purists and all their ballyhoo about "true vintage tone", I say, Baloney! Such is a myth! Purely subjective. Me, I play an MIM strat or tele thru a solid state bass amp and manage to get a few calls every month to play or sit-in someplace so maybe I'm not totally full of hot air! –  user8787 Dec 16 '13 at 22:25

6 Answers 6

up vote 22 down vote accepted

With traditional, barrel-style, Telecaster saddles the answer is: you can't. It's not possible and living with that imperfection is part of the Telecaster's ancient allure and charm. It's a grizzled old plank that barely stays in tune and you like to beat on to make beautiful music.

If it's really driving you nuts you can buy compensated saddles for Telecasters that do a pretty good job of overcoming the intonation imperfections in the 3-saddle design while staying really close to the original implementation of the saddles. I like the Intone Saddles from Glendale. Well priced, retrofit to any 3-saddle, ash-tray type Tele bridge and they're available in a variety of materials (brass, aluminium, steel, etc.) and you can even mix and match materials within a set to tune the tone to your liking. They'll let you intonate much more accurately without ruining the look or the sound of your Telecaster.

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I love your first paragraph! –  neilfein Jan 16 '11 at 2:38
Also consider Callaham's stuff (callahamguitars.com/partstel.htm). I have a vintage saddle from him that took care of most of the intonation issues with my Tele--but as Ian states it's impossible to fix unless you go to a modern bridge. –  Jduv Jan 16 '11 at 15:49
+1 for the first paragraph.. –  Anonymous Feb 11 '11 at 3:59
@IanC the first para is not true !! See my answer below. –  Tim Dec 16 '13 at 22:46
@Tim the first paragraph is 100% true, as I say, for standard, barrel-type saddles. By filing your saddles you've created non-standard, compensated saddles which I mention in the second paragraph of my answer as potential solution to the problem. –  Ian C. Dec 17 '13 at 0:26

You can also split the difference, set it up so that the E string is a little flat and the A string is a little sharp.

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on mine the problem was between top E and B ,I solved it by filing the saddle so that the B sounded from about 1mm longer than the E .

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This method worked best for me.

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Excellent article! –  gingerbreadboy Jan 14 '12 at 14:24
Whilst this may theoretically answer the question, it would be preferable to include the essential parts of the answer here, and provide the link for reference. –  American Luke Dec 16 '13 at 22:38

Techniques in the face of compromised intonation on the two bass strings:

  • avoid playing high notes on the two bass strings as much as possible, in favor of playing the same notes lower down on the neck on the higher strings.

  • Peel the bridge saddle back so that the intonation is a little flat for both strings, and then bend the notes into tune.

  • If you do play notes past the 12th fret on the bass strings, then do it in such a way that the intonation is less noticeable:

    • Vibrato and bending will conceal bad pitch, as every lounge crooner instinctively knows.
    • Short notes have a less definite pitch than long ones, so avoid long, sustained notes at the bad intonation. You can play fast notes at the bad intonation, but when a note is held at the end of a phrase, bend it to the right pitch. Presto: hardly anyone will know.
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intonation on the tele.this is my CURE,take a pair of pliers and grip the stem of the middle saddle and bend it to the RIGHT trial and error will get the 4th and 3rd strings to the correct intonation.(bend towards the high E)

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Could cause kinks in the string at the bridge end with what would then be angled string slots. –  Shawn Strickland Jun 6 '13 at 21:30

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