I have had the same telecaster for 20 years. I have been playing guitar all my life. I have an electronic tuner. I recently changed the strings. All the strings are tunable when open. So for example, the low E string reads neither flat nor sharp when tuned. However, when I play that same string by pressing a fret (for example, the 5th fret) the resulting note plays quite sharp. In this case it is an A reading almost to the low A#. Same happens on the A string to a lesser extent , and it gets better as I get up to the lighter gauge strings.

I’m using d’addario XLNY strings, extra light (9s) and swapped out the lower string with a different d’addario product but that didn’t change anything. Still sharp. This is freaking weird! Should be in tune!

  • Please do read up other similar questions in MusSE. I'm sure this already has a lot of answers. Might get closed as Duplicate anytime. Check String Height at Peghead, Check Truss Rod. You said you switched to Lighter strings, so Im assuming U checked Gauge already. If none of these work, then Saddle. – RishiNandha_M Apr 6 at 11:48
  • When was the last time you changed strings, and did you (or why did you) change the weights of your strings? – Carl Witthoft Apr 6 at 14:02
  • I did lighten the weight of the strings, but that on its own doesn’t explain the problem. My guitar should accommodate a range of string gauges, and historically it has. – Mike More Apr 7 at 6:40

As has been mentioned, if you've changed gauge or type of string, your intonation may be off. But I would first check for obvious setup or installation issues with the strings. Changing gauges or types of string can and will cause your intonation to be off (which can be corrected on most electric guitars by adjusting the bridge saddles) but being nearly a semitone off at the 5th fret is way, way outside the type of error you'd expect to see for an intonation issue - even after changing string type or gauge. It might be more typical to be off by half that amount, at the 12th fret. So, I would start by checking the following:

  • Make sure the nut hasn't shifted. On a telecaster, the nut sits in a slot and usually stays put. But make sure it's not slipped out of position (or backwards, or otherwise incorrectly installed)
  • Make sure the strings are seated well in the nut slots and break smoothly over the nut. Make sure they're routed correctly to the tuners.
  • Make sure the strings are breaking correctly over the slots in the bridge saddles (versus being hung up next to the saddles or otherwise incorrectly installed).
  • Make sure the bridge saddles haven't shifted. On some bridges the saddles are essentially held in place by a spring, if the saddles get tweaked during string install, the spring can get compressed and string tension can "clamp" the saddle in an incorrect position.

Finally, make sure you are deliberately setting the witness points if you're not already doing that - basically, the witness point is the point at which the string bends over the nut or the bridge saddle. In some cases, a string needs to be "set" over the witness point when first installed (by gently pressing down to crease the string). Otherwise, the string can exhibit a sort of spring-like behavior where the pitch changes as notes are fretted, which basically makes it impossible to set or maintain intonation. Often, when a string exhibits intonation issues near the extreme ends of the fretboard, it's because this is happening. It's more commonly a problem on bass guitars or other instruments with heavy strings, but it can be an issue on guitars as well, especially if the nut slots aren't well formed or the break angle over the nut or bridge are really shallow.

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  • After working with my guitar today, it’s clear that the problem is the action is somehow too high. That is, if I play a harmonic on the 12th feet the pitch is fine but the distance to the fret is sufficient to bring the tone almost 1/3 the way to the next semitone. The contribution discussing witness points makes the most sense, that the string under tension is arcing and thus further from the fret board, and when I press it, there is increased tension and tone is off. The newness of the string, lack of elasticity might also make it more sensitive to the 1-2mm stretch to the fret board. – Mike More Apr 7 at 6:45

Seem like you changed the gauge of strings. Let us know! If so, it'll be the intonation.

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How long was the last set of strings on? Also, where do you live? We are in the change of seasons right now and that means wood will get finicky, more so for an acoustic but electrics are also affected. This happens to my Gibson every couple years and I need an adjustment. It could be that you inadvertently moved the bridge pieces when changing strings, neck might have bowed a little. You say you pot 9s on it but did you change from 8s or 11s. A change a gauge can require a new set up.

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  • Lad set was on for a long time, years. I live in Washington state. New strings are lighter. – Mike More Apr 7 at 6:47

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