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Guitarists might have heard the word intonation before; mostly it is used when talking about a guitar’s setup. Setup can be defined as a way of fine-tuning relationships between the components of the guitar. This includes the nuts, the bridge, the guitar strings, and the saddle. A set up for an electric guitar optimizes the guitar’s sound and can be compared to tune-up for bicycles or cars.

Guitar manufacturers set them up according to their specifications, so any expert guitar technician can handle both basic setups and customized setups to match a playing technique and preference.

Intonation is the degree to which notes played on a guitar are in perfect tune. Imagine you’ve just tuned your guitar using open strings….but when you play a fretted note it’s out of tune. That’s a red flag that your intonation is off. Bad intonation will cause sour notes and chords that are dissonant.

This Video does a great job of explaining and demonstrating what intonation is.

Another factor to consider is that the lower the action on the guitar, (meaning the distance between the string and the fretboard) the more accurate the intonation. Depending on how a guitar is set up, you can either get dramatic or subtle intonation issues. Intonation problems are especially risky for guitarists who play live music in front of an audience because it can ruin the live performance or session.

How to adjust your intonation

When you notice your guitar is not playing in tune, especially when you play notes around the neck, it should be a sign that you need to adjust your intonation. If you want to test the intonation of your guitar, start by playing an open string, then play the same string on the 12th fret of your guitar. If the sound of the 12th fret is out of tune, be sure to adjust your intonation. It is corrected by adjusting the string length by moving the saddle closer or further away from the bridge. Guitars with proper intonation have the best pitch accuracy.

Steps in adjusting intonation

  • Compare pitches

Start by playing an open string. Let’s say the 6th string or the E string and make sure the string is perfectly in tune. You can use any tuner to check the pitch. Then press the same string on the 12th fret and compare pitches. To get the most accurate readings, play the strings with a soft to medium attack. When there is bad intonation, the note on the 12th fret will read sharp or flat. Correct this by simply adjusting your guitar’s saddle.

  • Make adjustments

After comparing the pitches, you will need to make some necessary adjustments to get the string completely in tune. Make sure to adjust the length of the guitar string using a flat-headed screwdriver.

Be sure to adjust the saddle if the fretted note in your guitar is flat towards the neck area. Adjust the guitar’s saddle back if the fretted note is sharp along the bridge. It is a good idea to memorize a creative method for remembering the proper way to adjust. “sharp/back, flat/forward ” Make 1/4-turn changes until you get an understanding of how much the saddle will need to move in order to have an impact on the tuning. It might take many full spins to get the accurate saddle.

  • Repeat the procedure for each string.

You should re-tune your guitar to pitch then double-check your adjustments with a tuner. If the 12th fret pitch is not the same as the open string, you should repeat the procedure. This will have to be done for every string. While this procedure can be time-consuming, the end effect is amazing! Your guitar will sound precisely like you want it to.

This Video does an excellent job of explaining and demonstrating how to set your intonation.

As the video points out, the first thing you should address if your guitar sounds off, is if your strings have gone bad. We’ve included more on this below, and ways to protect and prolong the life of your strings.

How does rust affect guitar strings?

The corrosion of compounds containing steel or iron, iron itself is referred to as rust. Steel is found in guitar strings and is the base of practically all the acoustic and electric guitar strings. On the other hand, various components such as copper contain materials such as bronze or brass, or silver steel compositions that are utilized to wrap the wires in various guitar strings. Guitar players say that when you play new strings you get a brighter and rounder sound. That’s because the strings are new and they have no rust. When the strings get played corrosion starts to happen affecting the vibration of the string thus taking away sustain and clarity on your sound. 

Is it okay to use a rusty guitar string? 

Due to excess moisture in the atmosphere or the moisture retained on the cords from sweaty palms, the guitar strings will rust fast. Ensure your guitar gets stored in a dry, warm environment, and that you are using good-quality strings and clean your hands prior to playing.

A guitar that has actual visible rust signs has been kept improperly for a period. If it is an acoustics system, the timber is likely to be harmed, but if it is an electric system, the electrics are likely to be exploited. These guitars can be re-strung, but are still damaged. There is a significant probability that the fingerboard and frets have been harmed as well.

Strings do not rust in ordinary use, although they can deteriorate. Acid from the hands corrodes the metal, dust beneath the strings will dull the guitar’s tone, a build-up of dirt and debris on the strings will shorten the lifespan, and the strings will end up losing intonation as they age.

 How to make strings last longer

  • Once you start playing the guitar, make sure you wash your hands! Your strings will rust faster if you play with filthy hands.
  • Secondly, you can use a product like the String Sling. A product that’s made specifically to protect and prolong the life of your guitar strings. It’s a high quality microfiber cover that you attach to your neck very easily and completely cover your guitar strings from top to bottom, protecting them from the elements that cause rust. It also turns into a very comfortable guitar strap and you can store your guitar picks, tuner, capo and more. 
  • Thirdly, you can wipe them down with a towel or washcloth to remove dirt and moisture.
  • Lastly, you should to clean the fretboard on a regular basis. 
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