I have 3 high end guitars. 2 Gibson's, SG and 335 1 Taylor 528-e

Each of these guitars cost thousands.

The SG and the Taylor - I have had for a few years - and have been professionally set up multiple times over the years.

I recently purchased the 335 - from a very reputable store.

I record to midi and tuning is very important to me. When I fret a note - I expect it to be in perfect tune.

With all of my guitars - however - they do not play perfect notes when fretted. Some fretted locations are perfect tune - some not.

The intonation is perfect.

With all 3 guitars - particularly when fretting the A on the G string (3rd string 2nd fret) - the A always is sharp somewhat.

For the Taylor and the SG - if I compensate somewhat on the G string, pulling it back - not quite flat - the A will then be close or spot on when fretted.

With the 335 - I have to pull the G string flat out of tune, to get the fretted A to be in tune.

What is going on here exactly?

Why is it the G string and the fretted A on all of them?

I have a Epiphone Studio - does the same thing... but for $400... Why am I spending thousands of dollars to have guitars that do not fully tune?

I have these discussions with the sales reps at the Guitar store - they say it is in my head or "Supposed to be that way". I feel they are sales motivated and will stray from the truth.

I want to spend my time playing my guitar and recording - not tuning and being frustrated.

I have played guitar for decades - it is not a fretting issue (how I fret the string). I have tested various fretting techniques and use a consistent fretting method - to test the tune - to ensure the data is the same.

Any help would be greatly appreciated. Regards.

  • 2
    if the A is sharp, is the A♭ also sharp? If so, I'd suspect a high nut.
    – Tetsujin
    Jan 10, 2017 at 9:13
  • 1
    is you finger positioned against the higher fret? Usually you to press as lightly as possible and as close to the higher of the 2 frets as possible while still maintaining tone. Jan 10, 2017 at 11:29
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    Note that it's pretty much mathematically impossible for any guitar to have perfect intonation. It should be possible to make it quite close on electric guitars. The Taylor may not be able to get as close because on an acoustic you don't have individual saddles. You have to deliberately make some notes slightly flat to prevent others from being too sharp, etc. While I disagree with Tim about whether high end guitars are worth it, the cost of a guitar doesn't necessarily affect how well the intonation can be set on it. Jan 10, 2017 at 12:20
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    What do you mean by “out of tune”? Are you checking with a digital tuner? stroboscope? by ear? Are you comparing fretted notes to harmonics? Are you comparing one string to another? Are you playing scales or chords? Are you both fretting and picking consistently? Jan 11, 2017 at 0:27
  • 1
    "I have played guitar for decades" - are you just now noticing this about guitars? Have you owned (perhaps cheaper) guitars that don't have this problem? Or maybe have you been accepting this as how guitars work all this time and finally gotten fed up? Also, do you not already know why you spent so much more on the expensive guitars? Is not the difference in quality, playability, and tone apparent enough to have justified their purchase in the first place? I've played guitar for decades and I agree with the sales reps: this is how guitars work (or don't work, as the case may be). Jan 11, 2017 at 12:40

6 Answers 6


Not sure this is an answer to your question, but if your ear likes just intonation (no beats in chords,) you're going to have trouble with playing in different keys. If I'm playing a 6th-to-D piece on my classical guitar, I tune it so all the D chords are in tune with each other. Some of the other chords then are not. In a different key I'll tune the guitar differently. Since I play classical, my commentary might not apply to the type of music you play.

  • So... it sounds to me like you are saying the same thing I am asking. You are saying that - when you tune your guitar - not all notes, chords, fretted are in tune. And that you have to make adjustments to get a tune that compensates and fits with what you will be playing. Is this what you are saying? Jan 10, 2017 at 20:25
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    @Creeperstanson: that seems to be the point, and it's true: the very tuning system that we use, 12-edo, is imperfect, therefore even on an ideal digital synthesizer with mathematically exact intonation, the notes are slightly out of tune compared to just intonation. However, I'm not sure whether this is really the de-tunedness that's bothering you now. To determine it, answer this question: does the a on the g-string sound more out of tune when you play it in an A-major chord or an F-major chord? Jan 10, 2017 at 20:42
  • That is a good question - because it actually does not sound that pout of tune in a chord. It actually does not sound that out of tune when you fret the A on the G string and pluck the open A string - it sounds pretty close on all guitars... .What is the point? Jan 10, 2017 at 21:22
  • A fretted instrument is going to be out of tune with itself in a similar way that a piano is out of tune with itself. That's why there exist fretless instruments, even the fretless electric bass. So...yeah your guitar may have a fret problem, but I'm not sure we can tell much about it from here. Jan 22, 2017 at 18:01

Without seeing them, and setting them up again, to my satisfaction, it's difficult to tell. One thought is that you are pressing down too hard, making things out of tune. On a properly set up instrument, there should be no need to press the strings into the fretboard. We've all been there, and wonder why the callouses grow. Pressing more gently, but still achieving clear notes is all that's required. Haven't seen you play, obviously, but that's one idea.

Have you checked intonation at 12th and 19th frets? If the guitars have had 'multiple set-ups', I wonder why you felt that was necessary. Changing string gauges often, will make a check a good idea, maybe with adjustment, but a couple of set ups over several years is all mine need and get.

EDIT: You could try a different sort of intonation check. Open string harmonic at 12 gives same pitch as fretting 12. We know that. But - try fretting 1, harmonic at 13 should be the same as fretted 13. Same for all - fret 2, harm. on 14, same as fretted 14. This MAY point out discrepancies with fretwires, but more likely will show the frets are o.k.

  • I have tried variations of pressure when fretting - but use the same pressure all the way through all frets - so - the data is consistent. 19th frets is a new one to me. The multiple setups were over years. Seemed that they could use a good set-up - we have extreme temperatures and humidity where I live. I do a good job of maintaining temp and humidity - but impossible to not have some effect over years. so - this fretted out of tune is not considered "normal" then? Jan 10, 2017 at 9:32
  • @Creeperstanson well there is always a few cent variation, most recording you hear probably use a slight bit of auto-tune to clear it up. If it is only off by a few cents a would say it is normal, but if it is actually as out of tune as you say, that is cause for concern. Normally that would say to me that the neck isn't bowed properly or the nut isn't set up properly. Jan 10, 2017 at 11:32
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    A good point here is you have to intonate to where you play. It makes no sense to intonate a guitar at the 12th fret if you only play open chords on it. I usually try to make frets 5 - 9 as accurate as possible, since that's where my fingers spend the most time. And a digital tuner is a more reliable tool for intonation than comparing harmonics. Jan 10, 2017 at 12:24
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    Actually, only the octave harmonics are equal tempered, the rest are just intoned, so the natural harmonic at the 12th fret can be compared to the 12th fret, and your technique of capoing fret 1 and then comparing the harmonic at 13 to fretted 13 is valid, but it's so much easier to just see if the 13th fret is close to an F on a digital tuner. Tuners don't just tell you if the open string is in tune, they also tell you if a fretted note is in tune. So fret the 8th fret of the A string and see if it's an F on the tuner. If it's sharp or flat, adjust intonation accordingly. Jan 10, 2017 at 20:22
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    Using harmonics to check intonation is very limited and makes things much harder than it has to be. Using a digital tuner allows you to check any fret you want (assuming the open string is in tune) and also allows you to see how your fretting technique is affecting the tuning (e.g., fret once, see it's sharp, fret again, see it's flat, realize you fretted with more pressure the first time). A precise, high quality tuner like a Peterson, or the Peterson app in the App Store helps a lot. Jan 10, 2017 at 20:25

It isn't mathematically possible for a guitar with straight frets to have perfect intonation. See this thread, particularly #6, for further explanation: https://www.seymourduncan.com/forum/showthread.php?282597-do-any-of-your-guitars-have-perfect-intonation


You can maybe get them setup using the PLEK system which claims to improve intonation. Echoing @dissemin8or you are probably expecting too much from a standard setup


It could be due to a slipped bridge (in the case of a floating bridge) that can simply be realigned, or, if it can be raised and lowered as in the Tune-o-Matic design, to the need to try that- or to the need, possibly, to adjust the neck truss rod, which in the case of an expensive guitar I would get done by a technician. If the problem is persistent, you can get it refretted or failing that, sell the guitar on to a tone-deaf person. A final thought, guitars are temperature and humidity-sensitive and maybe they're just not happy where they are? Just suggestin'.


This squiggly fret guitar in this video below has perfect notes and that is what is needed.

  • 1
    Hi @Charles. Welcome to SE Music Practice and Theory. The part of your post that answers the question is a bit thin. Can you elaborate a bit on why the "squiggly" frets are the right solution? The rest of your post appears to be a question in its own right and should be posted separately. For more information, please take the site tour.
    – Aaron
    Sep 15, 2020 at 3:30
  • So these guitars sound a bit weird. The guys in the video keep commenting on it and discussing how basically guitars are made imperfectly and we are used to hearing all our chords slightly out of tune. The squiggly frets are each bent and oriented so the fret will meet each strong where it will be in tune. They play chords on it next to another guitar. I am used to the normal one with its imperfections. The squiggly fretted one sounds perfect and I can’t help but feel like it doesn’t sound real. I will never buy a squiggly fret, but I found it informative.
    – Charles
    Sep 15, 2020 at 11:11

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