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I picked up a cheap (used) guitar on which the intonation was all out of wack. I've followed the instructions in this answer about fixing the intonation using the adjuster screws on the bridge. My guitar sounds much better now, but several of the strings still need to be tightened further. However, I have already tightened them to the point where the springs balancing the screws are basically being crushed, and I can't physically tighten them any more.

Here is a picture of the bridge: enter image description here

As you can see, the adjusters for the A, G, and B strings are extremely tight already. (Also, I am missing the high-E string at the moment since it broke and I haven't replaced it yet.)

How can I adjust things to allow further tightening? Or does this suggest something else is wrong with the setup of the guitar? (I did note that the neck appears to be poorly aligned - the strings are much higher near the pickups than they are near the nut.)

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you probably should have all the strings on and tuned up while doing intonation. The answers mention the tremolo but are not explicit: if your tremolo is a little slack and leans towards the nut, this will affect the range of adjustment. –  horatio Feb 27 '13 at 18:35
I'll just add that depending on the quality of the guitar you may need to set the floating bridge to be flush with the body to get the extra range for your intonation adjustments. Doing that will change your action and everything though, so keep that in mind. –  ecline6 Apr 6 '13 at 0:13
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2 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

How's action? And how far are the strings from "correct" intonation?

For example lowering the saddle has the same effect of tightening the saddle screw (which stretches the string).

Slightly thighten the truss rod (straightening the neck) can help too, if the neck relief permits it (i.e. if is not already too straight).

Usually the bigger the string gauge the less adjustments are necessary, so you can try a bigger gauge set.

That said, intonation is the last thing to do while setting up a guitar.

Make sure you have the correct action and neck relief before doing intonation. Also check if the neck is correctly seated in the body pocket. Guitar looks like a strato clone so it should have a bolt-on neck, try removing it, cleaning the neck pocket and reseat it correctly. A trick is also tune to pitch and slightly (1/4 of a turn) unscrew the neck bolts, so the tension of the strings pulls the neck firmly in the pocket, the screw them back. Check the tremolo system, too, here's a good tutorial on youtube.

After you're sure the neck is seated, action is comfortable and neck relief is good (you don't want a too straight or too concave neck) proceed with intonation. Remember to check not only at 12th fret, but also at 15th and 17th fret, possibly with a tuner and not by ear only.

If you still find you need to tighten some saddle more than allowed, then you can remove the spring from the intonation screw to gain some turns.

And keep in mind, you can "never" get perfect intonation, expecially with a tremolo and a "cheap" guitar. Often 2-5 cents off is good enough.

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Thanks, most of the problem was the action, I think; it was quite high. I lowered it and re-set the intonation, and now all my strings are in the right place except the A-string; it's still about 9-10 cents sharp at the 12th fret (after tightening the saddle all the way), but I can live with that. That video series was very informative although most of the modifications he talks about are beyond what I can do at the moment. –  Nathan Reed Feb 28 '13 at 5:56
Not sure about 15th and 17th frets, but 19th is good as there is a matching harmonic there.Also if the action is high, the strings will stretch as they are fretted, giving a false pitch. –  Tim Feb 28 '13 at 9:11
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Fender has pages about how to properly set up their guitars, and I would say this is close enough that you can use their Stratocaster directions.

First, you want a reasonably flat neck. Use the truss rod. Go slowly, turn a quarter turn at a time, and some bowing is okay. When done, if you fret at the highest and lowest fret, you should only have a gap at the 11th fret big enough to slide a playing card between the fret and the string.

The neck pocket on my Telecaster is such that I needed to put a shim in to allow me to get the action low enough. I cut a small piece off a business card and placed it in the pocket near the body. You might not need this.

The next step is the bridge. You set the action with Allen wrenched, and your bridge height should follow the curve of the neck. Lead players generally like a low action so their fingers don't have to work so hard. Rhythm players generally like a higher action so they can strum hard if they want without buzz or rattle. Slide players often like their action a little higher so that slide won't accidentally hit the frets. All of these actions are likely lower than what you likely have right now.

The last step is setting intonation, and that will have to change when you change string gauges. Most of what you have set before this point should stay stable between string changes, but intonation changes. There are two groups of strings: the unwound and the wound. Numbering starts at the smallest string and moves up. The unwound strings are, in standard tuning, the E and B strings ; the wound strings are G, D, A and E strings. (You sometimes see an unwound G.) The thicker the string, the further back the saddle. When done, your saddles should look like two stacked backslashes.

I've included the link to Fender's Setup Guide, which rightfully goes into further detail than I have. I haven't gotten to the can-of-worms that setting up your tremolo bridge can be.

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Good tip on the action; it was indeed too high. Fortunately I did not need to adjust the truss rod; the neck is already perfectly straight as far as I can tell. –  Nathan Reed Feb 28 '13 at 5:59
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