1. Please take 30 seconds to register your free account to remove most ads, post topics, make friends, earn reward points at our store, and more!  
    TalkBass.com has been uniting the low end since 1998.  Join us! :)

E string out of tune at 1st fret

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by SasquatchDude, Feb 11, 2014.

  1. Whenever I fret a low F on 4th string, it comes out severely sharp, to the point of almost resonating as a minor 3rd with the open A – a half step difference!

    The 12th fret harmonic is in tune with the open E so I've ruled out intonation as the culprit, plus the problem doesn't extend to any of the higher frets (if the intonation were off, the problem would only get worse going up the neck, right?).

    So logically, I'm guessing the issue has something to do with the height of the 1st fret... would a fret level be in order? In my two years of playing, I've been lucky to have had no issues beyond anything a DIY saddle/truss rod adjustment didn't fix, so I'm sort of at a loss here.

    Thanks TB'ers.
  2. punkjazzben


    Jun 26, 2008
    From my limited experience of this, it could be that the nut is cut too high, forcing you to stretch the string further down to fret at that end of the neck.
  3. 96tbird

    96tbird PLEASE STAND BY Supporting Member

    Check this for nut slot height:

    Fret at 1. Note gap of string over 2nd fret.

    Fret at 3. Note gap over fret one. It should be equal or less than the previous check. If it's a bigger gap, get nut slots adjusted.
  4. lz4005


    Oct 22, 2013
    99% sure it's the nut.
    Either the slot is too high, or the string is 'witnessing' at the headstock edge rather than the fretboard edge. Though if it's the later, all the notes should be out of tune relative to the open note and 12th harmonic.

    The other 1% chance is that the first fret is in the wrong place. That almost never happens.
  5. AuBassMan

    AuBassMan Supporting Member

    Oct 17, 2011
    Central Virginia
    Endorsing: REMIC Microphones
    I've had this happen before...different fret and string...but turned out to be the string. Do you have any old ones that you could try to see if that might be it?
  6. JTE


    Mar 12, 2008
    Central Illinois, USA
    You've not ruled out anything. The 12th fret harmonic will ALWAYS be an exact octave of the open string. To check intonation you have to compare the open (or the harmonic) to FRETTED notes. Start there.

    Then if it's still a problem look at the nut (IME, almost no mass-produced factory nuts are cut correctly) as others have suggested. But do the intonation correctly!

  7. Thanks for all the advice so far! I'll check the nut slot height and the string as soon as I get home.
  8. For proper intonation you have to check the fretted note at 12th fret and the open string.

    Anyway, it sounds like your nut is quite high if it's noticeably out at the first few frets.
  9. elgecko


    Apr 30, 2007
    Anasleim, CA
    That. The 12th fret harmonic needs to be in tune with the 12 fret.
  10. Whoops, my bad... I'll start with looking the intonation over again. Thanks.

    Granted, the other fretted notes on the E seem fine, so it's probably in the nut.
  11. Stick_Player

    Stick_Player Banned

    Nov 13, 2009
    Somewhere on the Alaska Panhandle (Juneau)
    Endorser: Plants vs. Zombies Pea Shooters
  12. 96tbird

    96tbird PLEASE STAND BY Supporting Member

    Yes this. I totally missed it when I read the post. Open to harmonic is NOT intonated.
  13. Zooberwerx

    Zooberwerx Gold Supporting Member

    Dec 21, 2002
    Virginia Beach, VA

    *Set your witness points at the bridge and nut.

    *The string / 1st fret clearance should be .003-.005" while depressing the string directly above the 3rd fret. A set of feeler gauges is $4 at Pep Boys...a good investment IMO.

  14. 1958Bassman


    Oct 20, 2007
    The first fret being sharp isn't related to the intonation. If you have a straightedge, place it on the frets and butt it up to the nut and look for a gap over the 1st fret. If you see a gap, the fret is too low. If you have a feeler gauge, measure the height of the strings at the first fret without pressing down on them- I suspect you'll see that the E is too high or the 2nd fret is too high. You do hear a different pitch when you fret at the 1st and 2nd frets, right? If not, the 1st fret isn't doing anything but if you do, your description of fretting at the first fret seems odd- the only way to hear a half step when the string correctly hits the 1st fret is by cutting the nut slot way too high. If the pitch becomes more sharp as you move down the neck from the 12th fret, it would bear this out.
  15. Many thanks to all y'all for the tips and troubleshooting. The problem seemed to be resolved after loosening the string enough to lift it out of the nut, then putting it back in and tuning up again. Whatever it was, it was apparently in the E slot.

    Woohoo! I can play a true F again!