Fretted notes out of tune

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Luke Bartlett
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Fretted notes out of tune

Post by Luke Bartlett » Wed May 03, 2017 4:52 pm

Hi, I was hoping some of you would be able to help me with this problem I've had for a while now. What happens is that although the open strings of my guitar are in tune, certain combinations of fretted notes or a fretted note and open string will sound considerably out of tune. For example, I'm currently learning J S Bach's Bourree from Suite in E minor and the open D plus 11th fret F# combination in bar 14 sounds very out of tune, the problem does seem to get worse further up the fretboard. I am used to this kind of thing on my electric guitars​ but the classical obviously doesn't have any intonation adjustment. I thought it might be the old strings I had on the guitar but I've restrung it and the problem persists. The guitar is an Admira Virtuoso, so not mega expensive but not cheap rubbish either!

Thanks
Luke

Marshall Dixon
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Re: Fretted notes out of tune

Post by Marshall Dixon » Thu May 04, 2017 2:31 am

Luke Bartlett wrote:
Wed May 03, 2017 4:52 pm
Hi, I was hoping some of you would be able to help me with this problem I've had for a while now. What happens is that although the open strings of my guitar are in tune, certain combinations of fretted notes or a fretted note and open string will sound considerably out of tune. For example, I'm currently learning J S Bach's Bourree from Suite in E minor and the open D plus 11th fret F# combination in bar 14 sounds very out of tune, the problem does seem to get worse further up the fretboard. I am used to this kind of thing on my electric guitars​ but the classical obviously doesn't have any intonation adjustment. I thought it might be the old strings I had on the guitar but I've restrung it and the problem persists. The guitar is an Admira Virtuoso, so not mega expensive but not cheap rubbish either!

Thanks
Luke
Intonation of the classical guitar is done by adjustments of the nut and/or saddle. The G string is the more problematic on a classical, tending to sharpen the further up the fretboard you go. Is this a new problem? Could it be related to changes in humidity? Is the action too high?


There are several free apps to measure frequency. Both I found out by other members posting this info. PanoTuner is one and PitchLab is another. They measure down to one cent. It will be necessary for you to know by how much the strings are out of pitch.

When I check intonation I'll put one of those foam earplugs between the strings not being tested. I draw out a fretboard and test every note on the fretboard and write it down to see if there is a pattern.

Here is a reference I found that is very informative:
viewtopic.php?f=11&t=87563

Rick-in-Annapolis
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Re: Fretted notes out of tune

Post by Rick-in-Annapolis » Thu May 04, 2017 11:56 am

You might try changing strings. It could be that one or more of your strings is defective, thus
affecting the intonation of your guitar. I would first try a new set of the same string brand/type.
If this does not improve things, try a different brand.

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bear
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Re: Fretted notes out of tune

Post by bear » Thu May 04, 2017 12:24 pm

I don't have first hand experience with the Admira Virtuoso. A look at the net suggests using EJ45 strings. I've noticed similar problems with some inexpensive factory made guitars.
This is what prompted me to spend buku $$ 0n a luthier made.
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Stephen Kenyon
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Re: Fretted notes out of tune

Post by Stephen Kenyon » Thu May 04, 2017 5:32 pm

Assumings its not the fault of the strings (and it won't be the guitar) consider how you are fretting the upper fret notes. You'll find that if you push your finger right up to the fret and keep pushing (towards the bridge) it will go slightly flat, and vice versa. It being the 3rd string you mentioned is indicative because this is the string most prone to this problem, and high positions especially.

This may or may not happen when you are only fretting one note, but is increasingly common with some more challenging chords.

Oh and I wouldn't finger up there in that Bach without good reason!
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Luke Bartlett
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Re: Fretted notes out of tune

Post by Luke Bartlett » Fri May 05, 2017 8:11 am

Thanks for the help guys, how would I go about adjusting the nut/saddle? Is it something I can do myself or a job for a professional luthier/repairer? I am actually using EJ45C strings and will have a look at my fretting.

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James Lister
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Re: Fretted notes out of tune

Post by James Lister » Fri May 05, 2017 8:45 am

If you have a smartphone or tablet, get a free app as Marshall suggested (I use gStrings).

To check the intonation, compare the frequency (pitch) of the 12th fret harmonic on the g string with the fretted note at the 12th fret on the same string. If the fretted note is sharper than the harmonic, then the string needs more compensation (i.e. longer string length). D'Addario string are usually very reliable in terms of intonation, but I do normally recommend trying changing the strings before doing any work on the saddle.

Generally, the g string has the greatest intonation errors, which is why many makers and manufacturers make saddles with a set-back for the g string, like this:
saddle.jpg


Increasingly, luthiers make the saddles so that each string is compensated precisely, which looks like this:
saddle2.jpg

If you find that you just need some more compensation on the g string, then you should be able to do the work on the saddle yourself by creating a set-back/notch as shown in the first photo. Depending how curved the back of the saddle is, this is also likely to lower the action slightly on that string. If this causes a problem, you might be better to get a new saddle made for you. Making a new saddle yourself is possible (quite a few members here have done it), but does require a good level of skill to get it right. I wouldn't worry about nut compensation - nuts are much more difficult to get right, and the improvement you get is very small.

James
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joachim33
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Re: Fretted notes out of tune

Post by joachim33 » Fri May 05, 2017 10:04 am

James Lister wrote:
Fri May 05, 2017 8:45 am
If you have a smartphone or tablet, get a free app as Marshall suggested (I use gStrings).

To check the intonation, compare the frequency (pitch) of the 12th fret harmonic on the g string with the fretted note at the 12th fret on the same string. If the fretted note is sharper than the harmonic, then the string needs more compensation (i.e. longer string length). D'Addario string are usually very reliable in terms of intonation, but I do normally recommend trying changing the strings before doing any work on the saddle.
James and others:

I frequently read about members complaining on intonation of strings, but I am quite new to this. What I start to sense is: I should compare (might be a vocabulary issue) the flageolette version to the fretted version the octave on the same string. They need to agree within reason. How much of a deviation you think is tolerable? Event when tuning the string I struggle to get the basses better than 2 cent, due to the winding.

Remark: "Flageolette" might be the German/Swedish/Norwegian name for what you call "harmonic". I had most of my tuition in German and am currently using a Norwegian language book.

Best wishes
Joachim

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souldier
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Re: Fretted notes out of tune

Post by souldier » Fri May 05, 2017 12:33 pm

Try using normal EJ45 rather than with the composite G. I've read individuals getting worse intonation with that composite string. Also how high is your action? Higher action tends to lead to sharper intonation. As others suggested, a compensated saddle can also help and bringing the guitar to a luthier may be best if don't feel comfortable adjusting things yourself. You can also try using a carbon string for the 3rd string such as Savarez Alliance which tends to intonate better due to the thinner diameter and it sounds less tubby while blending better with the other treble strings.
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Contreras
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Re: Fretted notes out of tune

Post by Contreras » Fri May 05, 2017 1:19 pm

James Lister wrote: Making a new saddle yourself is possible (quite a few members here have done it), but does require a good level of skill to get it right. I wouldn't worry about nut compensation - nuts are much more difficult to get right ....

James
Amen to that ... I made a new bone nut and saddle for an old beater that I refurbished to see how French polish worked. The saddle was easy and sounded great; the nut sounded terrible - fortunately I kept the old one.
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Larry McDonald
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Re: Fretted notes out of tune

Post by Larry McDonald » Fri May 05, 2017 3:37 pm

On my Ramirez 1a, I simply filed the nut as shown in James Lister's first photo. Worked like a charm.
I also learned to play with a lighter touch.

The 12th fret harmonic is never exactly one octave above the fundamental. This is due to "inharmonicity". The string doesn't vibrate from the exact termination point due to the stiffness of the string material. This is maybe 2-3mm (W.A.G.) away from the nut and bridge, depending upon the string. The percentage of the non-vibrating portions of the string is greater for the harmonic than they are for the fundamental, so the sounding string length is not 2:1. I always thought that luthier made guitars have taken inharmonicity into consideration; my Thames is perfect without the nut being adjusted. I have no idea how Michael did this, and I even had him use jumbo fret wire!
All the best,
Lare
P.S. I am a piano tech and we deal with inharmonicity with every string we tune.
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Lawler
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Re: Fretted notes out of tune

Post by Lawler » Fri May 05, 2017 3:57 pm

Larry McDonald wrote:
Fri May 05, 2017 3:37 pm
I simply filed the nut as shown in James Lister's first photo. Worked like a charm.
Do you mean the saddle?
I also learned to play with a lighter touch.
Nice. Larry, is there somewhere I can hear your playing?

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Larry McDonald
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Re: Fretted notes out of tune

Post by Larry McDonald » Fri May 05, 2017 4:15 pm

Yep, it should read "saddle". Nice catch.
No, you can't hear me play, except in the recording I made for my books. I pulled all of my recordings and original works several years ago after making the mistake of "going public" too soon, before I reached my "mature" voice. But there are a few vids floating around of my performances at Notre-Dame (Paris) and the Vatican, but I've asked the owners to please not post them on the internet until I am ready.

I have been in discussions to commit to video recording portions of the next edition RCM "Bridges" books. If we can reach an agreement, you will be able to hear me in the next few years.
Lare
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Author of The Conservatory Tutor for Guitar
2008 Michael Thames Cd/Br
Royal Conservatory Advanced Guitar Instructor
Royal Conservatory Advanced Theory Instructor

Lawler
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Re: Fretted notes out of tune

Post by Lawler » Fri May 05, 2017 4:37 pm

Larry McDonald wrote:
Fri May 05, 2017 4:15 pm
No, you can't hear me play, except in the recording I made for my books. I pulled all of my recordings and original works several years ago after making the mistake of "going public" too soon, before I reached my "mature" voice.
According to your site bio you're approaching 60? I applaud your young-at-heart attitude.

Marshall Dixon
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Re: Fretted notes out of tune

Post by Marshall Dixon » Fri May 05, 2017 5:10 pm

Luke Bartlett wrote:
Fri May 05, 2017 8:11 am
Thanks for the help guys, how would I go about adjusting the nut/saddle? Is it something I can do myself or a job for a professional luthier/repairer? I am actually using EJ45C strings and will have a look at my fretting.
joachim33 wrote:
Fri May 05, 2017 10:04 am
[quote="James Lister" post_id=<a href="tel:1197867">1197867</a> time=<a href="tel:1493973912">1493973912</a> user_id=12098]
If you have a smartphone or tablet, get a free app as Marshall suggested (I use gStrings).

To check the intonation, compare the frequency (pitch) of the 12th fret harmonic on the g string with the fretted note at the 12th fret on the same string. If the fretted note is sharper than the harmonic, then the string needs more compensation (i.e. longer string length). D'Addario string are usually very reliable in terms of intonation, but I do normally recommend trying changing the strings before doing any work on the saddle.
James and others:

I frequently read about members complaining on intonation of strings, but I am quite new to this. What I start to sense is: I should compare (might be a vocabulary issue) the flageolette version to the fretted version the octave on the same string. They need to agree within reason. How much of a deviation you think is tolerable? Event when tuning the string I struggle to get the basses better than 2 cent, due to the winding.

Remark: "Flageolette" might be the German/Swedish/Norwegian name for what you call "harmonic". I had most of my tuition in German and am currently using a Norwegian language book.

Best wishes
Joachim
[/quote]


Luke - I agree with James about not considering nut compensation, at least at this point.

My procedure is to 1) set the string height at the nut 2) set the action at 12th fret by adjusting the saddle and 3) only then figuring the intonation of the saddle.

As souldier mentioned, the type of string might make a difference too.

Joachim - not sure what you mean about the windings, but they stretch out also. Two or 3 windings around the tuner capstan for the bass strings and 3 to 4 for the trebles are what I like.

Generally a 2 cent deviation may be acceptable, but for octaves, no. Especially between the open string and 12th fret. Get those right on.

I find the electronic tuners very sensitive and they pick up many of the partials, creating a bit of confusion in their reading. It seems that I get a clearer reading by plucking the note being tested at it's middle point between fret and saddle, and doing so rather more gently so as not to excite the secondary (and tertiary, etc.) vibrations too much.

I don't use the harmonic to test the set up, but the open string and the 12th fret. And as I mentioned above, insert a foam earplug to silence the sympathetic vibrations of the other strings. Pushing the string down in a perfect vertical direction is touchy, and you can see how a difficult chord might displace the strings enough to make a difference in the intonation. I'll try it several times until I get a consistant result and it won't go any flatter. I don't accept any error in sharpness at the 12th fret. They will only be accentuated by the action of fretting.

Check out Frank Ford's web site frets.com. He has posted alot of how-to information regarding string installation, set up action, intonation and doing the math involved for figuring correction.

There is a certain amount of deviation that you will have to live with; 1 or 2 cents is generally tolerable, but 3 cents is getting into the audible range. And look at the fretboard as a whole. This can tell you of a misplaced fret, say if every string plays sharp at a certain position.

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