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?
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.
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.
unscrew the mini screws on the affected saddle until they are not touching the plate and give it a slight twist in the direction you need before tightening the screws to lift it again. Then make the saddle slightly higher in sharp note and slightly lower on the flat note. Or you can just go back in time and buy a Stratocaster or commit the ultimate sin and buy a six saddle bridge.