Tuning Issues? May Be More Than Just an Intonation Problem

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Intonation issues are normally fairly easy to address. If your neck and body have matching scale lengths, finding the correct intonation is simply a matter of moving the bridge saddle toward or away from the nut at the end of the neck, until the 12 th fret pitch is equal to your open string. But what if your open string and 12 th fret pitches are equal, but the pitch somewhere in the middle is off?

For instance, say you’ve tuned up. Checked intonation. All good. Then you play a D chord and there is a glaring, cringe-worthy dissonance. One of the strings is out of tune. So, assuming that some strange phenomena has occurred between tuning and hitting that D chord, you consult your trusty Boss TU-2 and re-tune. Lo and Behold, you find that all of the strings are still perfectly in tune. They have never been so in tune. Puzzled, you re-check intonation and check the pitch of every string at the 12 th fret. Perfectly intonated.

What the heck? You play the D chord again. You hit it really hard… The chord is loud (as a D chord should be) but the ugliness remains. With the chord still fretted, you pluck each individual string to find the culprit. Just to be safe, you start with the A string. Sounds good. Then the open D. Lovely. You hesitantly swipe your plectrum against the G-String. It is immediately clear, to your incredibly developed ear, that the G-string fretted at the second fret is completely out of whack. What should be an A sounds more like an A#. You quadruple check your intonation. Open string and 12 th fret are in tune. Now you are completely perplexed. And vexed. You are totally and utterly vexed and perplexed. You then move down the fret board. Open D is good. 1 st fret, slightly sharp. 2nd fret = ugly. 3rd fret, still ugly. 4th fret is slightly better. 5th fret sounds acceptable, but not perfection. At the 6 th fret everything is as it should be, and the rest of the fret board sounds great.

Now you are probably thinking “There is something wrong with my guitar neck. They made it wrong!” You visualize tearing all of the frets off of your neck, filling the empty slots with super glue, and angrily filing new slots to fit the frets into, placed of course, for more accurate tuning. Your outrage is justifiable, but incorrect. There is something else going on here, and the solution doesn’t require re-fretting your entire neck. Most likely, the problem is in the nut.

You can verify that the issue is the nut with a simple test. Place a capo at the first fret. Still having issues? If not, the nut is indeed the villain here. The point where your string breaks over the nut is a critical spot, and if the nut is cut wrong or has been modified incorrectly, wacky tuning problems can be the result. You can take your guitar to a tech, and have them attempt to modify the nut. Luckily, nuts are very affordable, and typically replacing a nut can be a fairly low risk job. If you are not confident in your skills, a tech will replace the nut for you. Whether you choose to have the nut modified or replaced, odds are your tuning issues will be resolved.

  • Guitar Tuning Problems
  • Intonation
  • 2nd fret out of tune
  • frets