Fretless intonation

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by mnadelin, Dec 17, 2003.

  1. mnadelin


    Apr 6, 2003
    Kalamazoo, MI
    My fretless MIM fender jazz has always had some intonation problems. In order to play in tune, I have to play about a finger's width behind the line. So to play in tune, the right edge of my finger has to be before the line, even when the open strings are in tune. Is there anything I (which really means a luthier) can do to correct this? My dad says it's because the bass is "cheap" (relatively speaking), so I'll just have to deal with it. It's not too bad because I still know where to play, but I'm really a beginner with fretless and when I'm in a gig, I want to be able to nail the line if possible.

  2. embellisher

    embellisher Holy Ghost filled Bass Player Staff Member Supporting Member

  3. Chasarms

    Chasarms Casual Observer

    May 24, 2001
    Bettendorf, IA USA
    The only wrinkle in setting intonation on a fretless is making sure you are hitting the same spot on the neck every time you check the pitch.

    The easiest way to do it is with a capo.

    1. Get a decent tuner and a capo.

    2. Tune all open strings to pitch.

    3. Clamp the capo on the neck at the 12th stop position. (AKA fret on a fretted fingerboard) The straight edge of the capo should give you a good, clean look at the position. Make sure it is right on.

    4. Pluck the string. It should play in pitch as well. If it is sharp, use a small phillips screwdriver to TIGHTEN the screw on the back edge of the bridge. When you do this, you should see the saddle (the part of the bridge that the string breaks over) moving back toward the back of the bridge.

    5. Work in small increments. One or two full turns of the screw at the most. It typically won't take much tweaking. Once you turn the screw, you should remove the capo, tune the open string to pitch again and replace the capo before testing the octave pitch again.

    6. Once you get both the open string pitch and the octave pitch to play in tune, you have the intonation correct.

    7. If the note plays flat, LOOSEN the saddle screw to move the saddle forward toward the neck. The wrinkle here is that often when loosening the screw, instead of the saddle moving forward, the screw will back out of the bridge. If this happens, you should just push the saddle forward with your finger until the head of the screw is again flush with the bridge plate.

    Good luck. It should make the bass much more enjoyable.
  4. That's the way I do it, too.

    Try to use your ears rather than your eyes (i.e. the lines) to determine whether you're playing in tune. Once you learn to trust your ears, you'll have a much easier time.