Like the question title says, I can get the open strings in tune perfectly, but EVERY fretted note is sharp. I have tried lowering the action, that didn't make any difference. I tried moving the saddles back, that didn't make any difference. I tried adjusting the truss rod, that didn't make any difference. i tried seeing if I was pressing too hard, but no matter how hard or softly I press it is still the same amount of sharp. I made sure I am not bending the notes as I press them either. So now I am at a loss to do. Any suggestions? I do not have enough money to take it into a professional to have it set up, so please do not suggest that. Thanks for your time. :)

Edit after comments:
I measured and it's 12 inches from the nut to the 12th fret but its 12.5 from the saddle to the 12th fret.

  • 2
    Sounds like a nut issue - are you up to the task of re-cutting the nut, or removing it & sanding the back? – Tetsujin Feb 8 '20 at 18:43
  • I've never done anything like that before. And I do not have sanding equipment. Am I just eternally doomed to an out of tune guitar then? At least until I can come up with the extra cash to get it set up (which will take a very long while) – Kevin Gonsalves Feb 8 '20 at 18:59
  • If open is in tune, then every single fret after that is out, the nut is in the wrong place, or is cut a mile too high. It's a carpentry job to fix. – Tetsujin Feb 8 '20 at 19:05
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    You don't want to be doing that - especially if you have measured a half inch difference in intonation lengths. You really want to be taking this to a professional… whatever the reason, something is waaaaay out of whack. – Tetsujin Feb 8 '20 at 19:33
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    No intention to be impudent (not so long ago, there was a time when I would also ponder over a 100€ very carefully before spending it), but the hard truth is that below 200$ or so it becomes extremely difficult to get an instrument that's at all usable. – leftaroundabout Feb 8 '20 at 23:25

There is something wrong with your measurements, because if the nut-to-12th-fret is shorter than the 12th-fret-to-saddle, then the 12th fret should be flat, not sharp.

Half an inch difference would give you about 35 or 40 cents tuning error, which is the same ball park as your claimed 40 cents.

If this was new guitar from a shop, just take it back and say "fix it or give me my money back." It's obviously unplayable as it is.

If you bought it from Ebay or somewhere similar, it's possible the previous owner made a complete mess of a repair - e.g. they installed a new bridge the wrong way round, or replaced a broken neck with one with the wrong scale length for the body.

Without actually seeing the instrument, it's hard to say anything more than "something is completely wrong here." For intonation problems you should be talking about adjustments of half a millimeter, not half an inch.

Edit: whether or not you know how to use a ruler, you can't change the laws of physics. If a note sounds sharp, you are fretting it closer to the BRIDGE than you should be. What you said in you post is inconsistent with that basic fact of life.

If you attach a picture that clearly shows the nut, the bridge, and the fretboard, that would be more useful than more words.

Edit 2: I would bet a few dollars what the problem is. Fenders have bolt-on necks, and strats are made in different scale lengths.

Some ignoramus put a standard scale neck on a short scale body, couldn't figure out why nothing was in tune, and sold the guitar on the web where nobody could try it before they bought it. Simples!

  • Nothing wrong with my measurements, they are 100% correct as I stated. I know how to use a ruler – Kevin Gonsalves Feb 8 '20 at 20:43
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    @KevinGonsalves why such an aggressive / sarcastic response to somebody who's trying to help you? – mkorman Feb 8 '20 at 21:38

Moving the saddles back must have made a difference. It could not not have. If it's a new guitar, it's back to the shop. If it's a second hand guitar, really, it's one of the first things that should have been checked.

Try moving those saddles even further back. Unless it's a rogue/Friday afternoon guitar, there will be enough adjustment to compensate. The neck and its frets should have been machine made, and fitted to the body probably also by a machine. Try actually measuring the 12th fret>nut, and 12th fret>saddle. That's a good clue as to how far out it really is.

Also, don't rely on a tuner. Use ears! If the action is way too high, that could cause it, and it's always worth while investing in a new set of strings. And of course, harmonics are the best checkers.

  • the saddles are moved back as far as possible, and it did indeed make NO difference whatsoever. It's not the action, I lowered that and it made no difference either. And I checked the 12th fret harmonics, those are fine, but the fretted notes at 12 are about 50 cents sharp. What would measuring the distance between the 12th fret and the nut do? What should that distance be? – Kevin Gonsalves Feb 8 '20 at 18:57
  • Theory is that the 12th fret is indeed exactly the half way point. Nut to 12th fret can't be altered (without major surgery!) and 12th fret to saddle has to match it. That's intonation - although we usually do it by ear. But measuring it, and establishing the two are equal is a start point. – Tim Feb 8 '20 at 19:10
  • my guitar must not be made that way, or i must be understanding you wrong. because I measured and it's 12 inches from the nut to the 12th fret but its 12.5 from the saddle to the 12th fret (that's the lowest distance I can physically get between the saddle and the 12th fret, with the saddle moved fully forward) – Kevin Gonsalves Feb 8 '20 at 19:19
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    @KevinGonsalves I don't understand why you're being so aggressive to somebody who's trying to help. He didn't say that you don't know how to measure. He said there must be an error, and the error can be in the guitar, the way it has been set up. Perhaps the previous owner did a bad job replacing the bridge. You didn't give us any information as to how you got that guitar (shop? ebay?) so we're just making guesses here. – mkorman Feb 8 '20 at 21:41
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    @KevinGonsalves- thank you for taking the advice to measure - and post that - it has given us a clearer picture. You say you've tried the 12th fret harmonics and they're fine. That's impossible. Checking means playing both the 12th fret harmonics and the 12th ftre note (fretted) and they are the same pitch. Any string at any length will have a harmonic when it's touches half way and plucked. That in itself proves nothing. It's the datum point against which the 12th fret is located. – Tim Feb 9 '20 at 8:31

Now we have the measurements, the picture becomes slightly clearer as to what may have happened.

The scale length for a standard Strat [Fender or Squier] is 25.5"

Your own measurements of 12" nut to 12th & 12.5 12th to bridge totals 24.5" - a whole inch too short.

The only possible explanation (Occam's razor, via Sherlock Holmes, with a hint of Hanlon's razor too;) is someone has swapped the original neck for a short scale neck.

  • 1
    The neck would need to be moved ¼" further into the body to compensate. Right now the whole thing is unfixably out of whack… & yes, I'd have thought it would go flat, not sharp, but it's an empirical experiment I have no wish to reproduce just to find out ;) – Tetsujin Feb 9 '20 at 8:34
  • Aw, go on! It could help an awful lot of people with problem guitars. We'll all thank you...Especially Kevin! Joking apart - it's quite a feasible operation - the pocket is parallel, as is the heel of the neck, so cutting off the offending length would be a solution. Probably better to hang it on the wall and buy a genuine guitar though. – Tim Feb 9 '20 at 8:38
  • Re-comment! Which is exactly the opposite from what @guest says! 12" nut to fret 12 is shorter than 12.5" fret 12 to saddle. That would make the note fretted at 12 way flatter than it ought to be. Not sharper. There's some misinformation here! Sounds like a Frankenstein guitar - meaning OP is eternally doomed - and apparently somewhat ungrateful for our attempts of help! – Tim Feb 9 '20 at 9:52

The neck could be bowed terribly. Possibly the wrong saddles. If it is a whammy bar bridge, tighten the tension springs and loosen the 6 mounting screws on the bridge maybe ½-¾ turn but be sure to back them off equally. This lets the tension springs pull the underside of the bridge forward which pulls the saddle side back and will compensate (maybe) for the oddball measurement of 12th fret to bridge and cause the string length to be longer which means flat. I've actually reamed out the holes in the neck well, shimmed the neck, causing the whole neck to be forward. But if you must resort to this, BE CAREFUL how much you ream those body holes, and make sure your shim is about an ⅛ inch thick but not more! Then remount the neck making sure it is parallel with the strings, etc.If properly done, it should be flat when you set intonation, and all the saddles have to be readjusted. Make sure to USE NEW STRINGS for this operation. Old strings will make you pull your hair, teeth, and ears out and feed them to the nearest Raven!! I'm not kidding! If shimming the neck and/or adjusting the tension springs and mounting screws on the tail piece doesn't fix it, something is seriously wrong with the axe or its owner! (Your sanity is at risk! Proceed with caution and a clear head.🙄

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