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Tuning Problem. Low frets.

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(@bigstu)
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Joined: 21 years ago
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I've just bought myself a new Johnson Tele copy. It was cheap but the sound is pretty good for the price & my first electric. BUT. The low frets are out of tune.

Following the guide on Nils's great page I put on new Ernie Ball Slinky 10's, checked the neck, tightened the tuners, polished the fretboard, adjusted the saddle height, adjusted the intonation. I am using a great free little tuner on pc called AP guitar tuner. Checking all the above (thanks Nils) I have adjusted the intonation so that the open string is in tune & it is also in tune at the 12th fret. However, the strings are badly out of tune at the lower frets. For example at fret 1 on the fat E it is closer to F# than F & slowly improves till it gets to the 12th fret where it is in line with the open string. The lower strings seem to be more out than the high strings although these are quite out too.

How can this be? How can a string be perfectly in tune open at the nut & then so far out on the first fret? Is there something wrong with the guitar or is this just what to expect with a cheaper model? Also the sustain is quite good except for the G & D strings (they are on the same saddle section), it's a little flat & twangy even with 3 different types of strings tried.

Thanks for any advice.

Stu


   
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 Nils
(@nils)
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Joined: 20 years ago
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.

How can this be? How can a string be perfectly in tune open at the nut & then so far out on the first fret? Is there something wrong with the guitar or is this just what to expect with a cheaper model? Also the sustain is quite good except for the G & D strings (they are on the same saddle section), it's a little flat & twangy even with 3 different types of strings tried.

Thanks for any advice.

Stu
There are two (maybe more) possibilities for strings going sharp. Since you say it is worse starting at the 1st fret but gets better I will assume that the string height at the 12th is good.

The first I am guilty of all the time and that is pressing too hard and causing the string to go sharp. Just need to press enough that it rings.

The second is the height of the strings at the nut. If you lightly fret the string at the 3rd fret you should barely be able to get a piece of newspaper under the string at the first fret wire.

On the sustain part make sure that the strings are not touching anything but the saddle itself like other parts of the bridge with the exception ofcourse where they get connected.

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(@ricochet)
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Joined: 21 years ago
Posts: 7833
 

How can this be? How can a string be perfectly in tune open at the nut & then so far out on the first fret? The frets can be improperly located.

Those strings can be sitting too high in the nut slots, so they're stretched when pressed down on the lower frets, putting them sharp.

FWIW, I've got a Gibson that listed for over $5K whose sixth string goes 12 cents sharp when fretted on the third fret. It's not just cheap guitars.

The "Buzz Feiten Tuning System" that Washburn advertises is just moving the lower frets closer to the nut to compensate for this string tension effect.

If a fretboard's laid out according to the fractional length of a vibrating string for the various notes without making any compensations, it'll never intonate perfectly. Often certain string gauges will intonate better than others. I rarely play in standard tuning. (I've pretty nearly forgotten how.) I've found the relative intonation of various strings can change quite a bit as the tuning is changed.

"A cheerful heart is good medicine."


   
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(@noteboat)
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Joined: 21 years ago
Posts: 4921
 

The above answers will cause a note to go sharp, but not to the extent you're talking about - if your first fret is really closer to F# than F, that's a huge difference.

For Ricochet's Gibson (assuming a scale length of 24-3/4") 12 cents sharp at the third fret is less than 1/8" out of place under his playing conditions. A big difference, but one that might be explained by a combination of factors like the nut slot being angled, poorly done fret crowning, string gauge substitution/tuning changes etc.

For your Tele copy (assuming a scale length of 25-1/2") to be off a quarter step at the first fret - to produce closer to F# than F - we're talking about more than 1/2".

It's possible - but not very likely - that the fret spacing is off on the neck. I've seen that once in a while, but usually on older, cheap, anonymous foreign instruments, not name brands. Modern instruments like Jacksons are more apt to be machine made.

My guess is a combination of two things: high strings at the nut (which are pulled sharp when fretted, and pulled less sharp as you go up the neck) and incorrect intonation.

The method I use for intonation is to match harmonics and fretted notes.
Your 12th fret harmonics should exactly match the pitch of your 12th fret fretted notes - if they don't, the overall string length isn't correct in relation to where the frets are. I'm thinking your harmonics will be lower than the fretted notes - which means your scale length is really too short for the neck, and the fretted notes will all be sharp. They'll progressively get a bit less sharp as you move up the neck.

If your intonation is right, the fret spacing is right, and it's still out of tune, the trouble (at least part of it!) probably lies in truss rod adjustment and/or neck set. If that's the case, take it to a luthier for an opinion - he or she will also check the nut slotting for you.

Guitar teacher offering lessons in Plainfield IL


   
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(@ricochet)
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That SJ-200 Gibson has a 25 1/2" scale length, BTW.

"A cheerful heart is good medicine."


   
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(@bigstu)
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Joined: 21 years ago
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Topic starter  

Thanks guys. Here's an update.

After more slight adjustments on E & A strings saddle I was able to get the intonation almost exactly identical between open & 12th fretted notes on all strings (the others were spot on already). The other solution mentioned by Nils was the height of the strings at the nut, when fretted at the 3rd there was barely daylight at the first fret. So the solution seemed to be that I was pressing down too hard on the frets. Sure enough, when I fretted lighter it went from (on Ap tuner) F# -40 to around F +10, pretty close. I was hardly touching the string. The guitar has a very light touch it seems which I guess could be a good thing.

I think the reason for this is that the acoustic I've been playing exclusively for the last year or so has a very high action- at least twice the height at the 12th fret than that listed on Nil' site. So I have been accustomed to pressing much harder than I would need to on an electric. So I guess the solution is to get the acoustic checked as it seems to sit very high at the saddle. I have noticed a lot of trouble with it higher up the board trying to get the strings not to buzz especially on barre chords.

Who would've thought such a simple thing would make such a difference.

Also the 'flatness' of the G string is not that bad but if I pluck it with other strings it only vibrates for about half as long. Nothing seems to be touching at the bridge but it's not that bad & I can definately live with it for a while.

btw, this Johnson guitar is great & I would recommend them to anyone for the price, despite these little problems it sounds better than some guitars I checked out that were more than twice the price, it looks fantastic, is easy to play & makes me want to play more & more and isn't that what it's all about?

Thanks for all your help. :D


   
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