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I can tune the open strings properly to any note I want and they keep the tuning for days, but as I press my fingers on the first 2 frets the tuner shows the notes slighly flat, as I go up the scale the notes go back to the right pitch, it's just the first 2 frets.

Also, lower tunings worsen this a little bit. For example, if I tune to D standard or Drop C, the 3rd fret also gets out of tune, if I go to Drop B then the 4th fret gets out of tune.

I've being playing guitar for almost 4 years but never learned anything about intonation adjustments or so, think it's time to look at that. Any tips? Is it possible for me to solve that without taking it to a luthier to replace parts?

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    Knowing what guitar/model and what string gauges you have will help to provide an answer, but intonation needs to be sorted first, probably along with action. – Tim Jun 13 '15 at 5:44
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I'm used to the first couple frets being sharp so I'm not sure why yours are flat, but otherwise it's very common. It's pretty much impossible for a fretted instrument to have perfect intonation - it's always a compromise.

Since it's an electric guitar, you can individually adjust the intonation of each string any time you want. This is done at the bridge and almost all electric bridges have adjustable saddles. Do a web search on how to set intonation for your type of guitar. Some sources will talk about comparing fretted notes with open notes or harmonics by ear, but I like to just use a digital tuner.

There are other factors that affect intonation, including neck angle and neck relief. It is worthwhile getting a professional setup done on your guitar from time to time. New strings will have better intonation and some brands are more even along the string than others.

No matter what, there will always be some frets that are a bit off. There are special nuts available called compensated nuts that try to get just a bit better intonation, but even with that investment it's still not perfect. And if your guitar is more of a budget model, the fret placement and neck geometry may be less precise.

Finally, you will start to notice several differences with changing tunings, including intonation. Intonation is set with a specific tension and string thickness, so when one or both of those changes, the intonation changes. Generally thicker strings will show better intonation but of course are harder to play. My rule of thumb is for every whole step I tune down, I go up one gauge in string thickness to compensate for the reduced tension. Now if you want the best performance with dropped D tuning where you are only lowering one string instead of six, you'll want to get a mixed set of strings which is kind of a pain and a little more expensive. Another thing you can do to fake it is to slightly tune the low D to make it in tune at the fifth fret instead of open. This might depend on where on the neck you are spending a lot of time.

Yeah it's a jungle out there. Learning to tune and intimate is like learning to play and it takes time and practice. A high quality digital tuner is also a good investment, as is working on your finger strength to be able to go up a guage or maybe two. When I'm in shape enough to play 11s I'm really happy with it.

Oh I almost forgot: If you have a floating trem on this guitar then that's another can of worms entirely. That will definitely magnify intonation changes that come with drop tunings and it will make it a lot more time-consuming to set the intonation in the first place.

  • This is an excellent answer, but heavier strings are not harder to play in every aspect, e.g. its much easier to pick fast.(I always play 11s in standard tuning). – Jay Skyler Jun 13 '15 at 3:11
  • Can't see how a compensated nut will help anything apart from an open string. Once a string is fretted, the nut becomes superfluous, doesn't it? – Tim Jun 13 '15 at 7:03
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    Shifting the tuning of the open string also shifts the intonation. Suppose you move the nut 1 mm towards the bridge, then you move the corresponding bridge saddle 1 mm away from the nut to have the same sounding length. Then you've basically moved all the frets 1 mm towards the nut. – Todd Wilcox Jun 13 '15 at 15:56
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You should go to a professional guitar repair technician or luthier. They can look at it and give you a quick assessment of what is probably wrong for no charge.

I would guess that the nut of the guitar, and the string slots, are cut wrong. Modifying the nut and fret slots, or replacing the nut entirely and then hand-cutting the fret slots, is not a very expensive repair job.

Drop-tunings can be problematic if your strings are too light in gauge.

At any rate it sounds like your guitar could benefit from a full professional setup. You should also talk with the luthier about the alternate tunings you often use, in order to select a heavier gauge of strings and to adjust the action for the best intonation when using those drop tunings.

  • I agree on the setup but I think it's going a bit far to suspect a bad nut without more information. Assuming this is a mass produced guitar, a bad nut is probably the least likely explanation. – Todd Wilcox Jun 13 '15 at 2:18
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    Since a nut is a few mm wide, a bad one may allow a string to have its node too far forward/back. This will give a false datum point for intonation. – Tim Jun 13 '15 at 7:09
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Many years of being a guitar picker,one thing I will state, if you buy a new guitar and it plays good but on the first change of the strings you begin to notice detuning ,most guitar pickers after many years of picking don't know.If the guitar was set up with light weight or what ever gauge strings from the factory and you change the strings to a different gauge you need to reset the guitar back up.With a electronic tuner check the guitar ,first with string open then freted at 12 fret.if there is a difference if you don't know how get some help in setting guitar up. If that doesn't work fret is bad at second or 3rd fret on neck.

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A high nut can cause intonation issues on the first 3 or more frets and be perfect at the 12th

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    If the nut is too high, notes from low frets are sharp, not flat. – ojs Sep 22 at 11:28

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