Intonation questions

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by embellisher, Sep 11, 2002.

  1. embellisher

    embellisher Holy Ghost filled Bass Player Staff Member Supporting Member

    I have a problem with the intonation on my Zon and my Cirrus. The screw that adjusts the string length is too short on Zon's G string and the Cirrus' G and C string. Anyone else ever had this problem? I'm going to go to the hardware superstore tomorrow to see if I can find some 1 3/8" #4 screws.

    Also, how do you compromise for good intonation between the 12th and 24th fret? Should I set the intonation perfect at 12 and live with a few cents flat at 24, or set 12 a hair sharp and have 24 a little closer to being perfect?

    Obviously, on a fretless, this isn't as much of an issue, but on my Cirrus if I set it perfect at the 12th fret, the notes are noticeably flatter as you go up from the 16th to the 24th fret. A few years ago, this wouldn't have been a problem for me, but I find myself playing up in the horn register a lot more these days, and fretless has improved my ear to the point that a note that is more than 3 or 4 cents off compared to the other instruments is like fingernails on a chalkboard.
  2. john turner

    john turner You don't want to do that. Trust me. Staff Member Administrator

    Mar 14, 2000
    atlanta ga
    remember that the more you compensate for the 12th-24th frets, the more your lower register will suffer, especially around the lowest frets.

    are you using tapered strings? they should help with the higher octave being out.
  3. embellisher

    embellisher Holy Ghost filled Bass Player Staff Member Supporting Member

    The Cirrus doesn't have tapers on it. It sounds so darned good with Cirrus strings I have been afraid to try anything else. What is really strange is that I had no problem with the B or E string. They are perfect at the 12th fret, and just a hair flat at the 24th.

    I know you spend a fair amount of time above the 12th fret, John. In your experience, on a fretted bass, do the notes sound as far off to anyone else as they do to you? Am I being overly anal or paranoid about this?
  4. Maybe I'm wierd, but this is my approach to the whole intonation thing.

    On my 4's, I typically play in the lower registers on the E and A strings, occasionally getting up around the 12th and higher frets (but not often). I aim for "perfect" intonation on the 5th fret on the E and A strings, while trying to hit "perfect" intonation on the 12th fret on the D and G strings, where I typically play between 8th fret and above. That being said, my 4 string basses are 20 fret necks, so the intonation may only start to get muddle at roughly 17-20, and I never get up there anyhow.

    On my 5 string, I try to set intonation at the 10th fret on all strings. I've tried to set it a bit higher, due to the 24 fret neck, but then the lower registers start to sound pretty way off.
  5. pkr2


    Apr 28, 2000
    coastal N.C.
    I would probably suspect the tuner that you are using.

    The notation on even an el cheapo bass is generally pretty darn accurate if it's set up properly.

    The fact that the G string is the prob on both basses also turns on the red light. The chances of having faulty intonation/fret layout on two different basses is pretty low.

    If the intonation is out by a "few" cents on the upper register, there is something other than fret spacing/string mass wrong. more than about one or one and a half cents error after intonating as close as possible is a HUGE error.

    I would try another tuner first and different strings next.

    Also keep in mind that most tuners don't take into consideration that western is tempered scale. Mathematically correct tuning will sound a little off if you have golden ears. Thats why piano tuners usually do the final tweaking by ear, as opposed to a tuner.

    Another thing to consider is that most of the strings intonate properly, therefore the fret spacing must be correct. That leaves only the string as a possible culprit.

    As JT pointed out, tapered strings may help correct the prob.

    I hope I didn't raise more questions than I answered. :)

    Good luck.

    embellisher likes this.
  6. Hey, Jeff -

    I was scared to change Cirrus strings too - I finally put a set of DR Lo-Riders on my Cirrus and just loved them. Sounded like a Cirrus with Lo-Riders on it :D

    That said - if you're looking for taperwounds I'd suggest taking a look at DR Longnecks. They're hex core just like Lo-Riders are and the bottom four strings are tapered.

    They strung through the body of my 35" Lakland (just barely) so they'll fit your Cirrus no problem.
  7. I,too, find something unusual about the intonation being correct at the 12th and the upper registers being "flat". If anything, with the slight additional string height, and the additional tension to press it down it should be sharper or right on.
    embellisher likes this.
  8. When I intonate, say at the 10th fret like on my 24 fret 5 string, The other notes are pretty well in tune, save for maybe the furthest nots away, which are a little bit off. Likr say 447 versus 440. They are off, but not so far off to make a huge difference.
  9. rsautrey

    rsautrey Banned

    Jul 27, 2000
    This is an great topic. I've recently started venturing higher up the neck on my bass (Fender Jazz) so accurate intonation is more important now than it was before. I love the sound of Dean Markley SR2000 but I can't seem to intonate them that great on my bass. All brands of non tapered DR that I've tried and non tapered D'Addario gave me spot on intonation. John Turner & Embellisher, I've heard both praise these strings and I want to know how to get them to intonate more accurately. BTW, my main problems are on the E and A strings from about the 8th fret up. They seem to have some unusual overtones going on or something. I know that most people that use taperwounds have the opposite results in the higher registers. Also, I know that most people who use tapers have bridge saddles that are almost in line with each other, rather than the usual E being the furthest back, then the A up a little, etc, etc. I've tried it all and the E and A always sound unusual from about the 8th fret up. The other theory is that how can a string that is not equal in mass per unit length possibly intonate accurately? Please help!! These strings sound awesome otherwise and stay bright forever. BTW, I'm using the "Will Lee" set. Thanks and sorry my post was so long.
  10. embellisher

    embellisher Holy Ghost filled Bass Player Staff Member Supporting Member

    Thanks for the input, Pkr2.

    I don't claim to have golden ears, but I don't think the tuner is at fault. When I am soloing in the upper register, I can tell(hear) that the notes are flat in comparison to the guitar that I am playing with. The same notes an octave lower are just fine.

    Hambone, I have my Cirrus set up with almost no relief. The string height at the 24th fret is only 1/64" higher than it is at the 12th fret, on the high C string. It is about 1/32" higher at the 24th fret on the low B, with all of the other strings falling somewhere in between.

    Is it possible to have your action set so low that it causes intonation problems? Maybe I should raise it a little, so that the strings have to be pushed down farther, and thus, play a little sharper?
  11. john turner

    john turner You don't want to do that. Trust me. Staff Member Administrator

    Mar 14, 2000
    atlanta ga
    my advice is to trust your ears. if it sounds off to you, you need to go with that feeling. i know that some folks say that it's worse to you because you're listening to it than to an observer, but with questions of intonation and "being on" are concerned, i've found that it can almost be the opposite, so if you are getting a red flag about it, it may be a real issue. why don't you record some stuff into an mp3 and put it up here, and we'll give it a listen and see if it's as bad as it seems to you.

    as for my basses, they sound close enough to not bother me - i can get them really close up to the 24th fret. not perfect, of course, but very close.

    give it a shot with tapers - you can always change them back. worst comes to worst, check the fret distances from the nut - who knows, they might have screwed up (reaching at straws here). make sure the fret distances are compensated for the string thickness - there are a few fret placement calculators around on the web that will build in the compensation amount accounting for the string thickness. i've seen some pretty nice instruments, including a few so-called "boutique" custom instruments, where the frets were off.
  12. I intonate at the 12th and 19th frets; if I can't get it perfect at both places, I "split the difference." This is the method Rick Turner uses (I stumbled onto it in an old issue of Bass Player). I used to check it only at the 12th fret. Since I've been using this method, I notice that the instrument sounds better everywhere up and down the neck.
  13. nivagues


    Jan 18, 2002
    I'm similar to Ionote. After intonating at the 12 fret, I check the 17th. I've found that even though the meter may give a spot-on reading for the 12th, the reading itself is rather broard ie. not sensitive to verfy fine adjustment of the screw. Adjustment at the 17th is more sensitive and look on this as a fine tuner of the 12th fret adjustment. After making sure I have spot on readings for the 12th and 17th, I go to the 19th fret and treat that as a fine tuner of the 17th fret adjustment. There may not be any scientific basis for this but it sure works for me.
    Should add that the action on my J Bass would probably be considered string height at the 17th is 3/32" for all strings. Neck relief is about 3 or 4 thou at the 5th (depressing 1st and 12th). All measurements in play position.
    Cheers. :cool:
  14. ldiezman


    Jul 11, 2001
    Intonating the octaves is Ideal..

    Octave notes should be in tune.... the notes in between are never going to be perfectly in tune.... it is impossible....

    So i say tune from E to E and A to A etc..
  15. lump


    Jan 17, 2000
    St. Neots, UK
    I'm gonna add another vote for taperwound strings.

    I had been using sets that just had a tapered B, or B and E, but recently picked up a set of SR2000 Will Lee's, which are tapered all the way across. It's been a month, and I love these strings. I usually don't like steels because my fingers are pretty noisy (dry), but these strings seem to have a much more "rich" set of overtones than other steels. If this isn't just my perception, it might contribute to rsaubrey's intonation problems. I've noticed too that it takes a little longer for my tuner to settle, although I haven't had any major problems intonating them, other than getting used to seeing my saddles all lined up. :) I like the additional tension too, which has enable me to lower my action a tad. I'm sold on these strings.

    What some of the guys are saying is right though--you can chance intonation around til you're blue in face. There will alway be areas on any instrument that make you wince (try brass if you really wanna chase your tail). And on a stringed instrument, as soon as you change strings, they'll move on ya. IMO Lonote is on the money; sometimes you gotta split the difference.
  16. BFunk

    BFunk Supporting Member

    I would go back to the tuner issue. Recently, I used a Sabine RT7000 to intonate my steinberger fretless. Normally, I would use the standard mode to intonate, which uses a bar graph, but this time I decided to use the strobe tuning mode. I was surprised to find out what the standard mode registered as in tune was grossly out of tune in the strobe tuning mode. In standard mode I could make a 1/2 turn and not see a change in the bar graph. In strobe mode, and 1/8 of a turn was immediately noticeable.

    My point is that if you are using a standard tuner its tolerances may be too large to get the degree of accuracy you need.
  17. I agree about the tuner thing. Most guitarists I know, who have excellent ears, just use a tuner for A-440, from there they use their ears. Me, I'm not as confident in my ears. When I change strings, I have the bass professionally set-up by a certified (!) tech, who is also a friend and has an excellent ear. Bottom line, it doesn't mean squat if a "tuner" tells you you are in tune, if it doesn't sound right.

    Jeff, you mention that you don't think it's the tuner. My question is, are you using a tuner when you set the intonation? If you do, and then something doesn't sound right, then I say it is the tuner. I have nothing to back me up, but tuners are supposed to pick up the fundamental, but I think with so many overtones and harmonics going on with a bass string, it tends to confuse a tuner.

    Personally, I mostly play at frets 1-10, so I tune a bass at the 5th fret and then forget about it.

    My .02.

  18. PhatBasstard

    PhatBasstard Spector Dissector Supporting Member

    Feb 3, 2002
    Las Vegas, NV.
    I have a Cirrus 6 and I have not had the intonation/bridge screw problem you speak of (and I'm very anal about having the intonation "spot on").

    First, yes make sure you are using a quality tuner. Second, I never use harmonics for intonation purposes because, depending on your string height, the actual fretted note could be off from the theoretically perfect harmonic placement.
    Third, be very careful and consistant on how you fret the note when intonating. Being very aware of not bending the string, even a little, to one side or the other.

    I can hit my high B on my C string and it will be almost perfectly in tune with my open low B string.

    If it did have the intonation problem you are having I would probably intonate at the 19th fret (as someone suggested earlier) so that neither note is too far off, splitting the difference. I would also check into a fret dressing (if needed) to make sure your frets are coming to the correct, peak cutoff point on the string (worn frets will begin to sound sharp).

    As far as the Buzz Feiten system, IMHO (and many others in the industry) if your nut is properly slotted (height) and/or you have a zero fret in the proper position this system is unneeded (I know my basses don't need it).
  19. With relief that low, you probably aren't introducing enough additional stretch to account for any pitch difference in the upper registers. What would work at the positions of the lower registers, should work further up the neck. AFAIK, fret placement is a mathematical formula based on scale length with no compensation required for the additional tension when a note is fretted.

    I'm still puzzled why the upper register (when fretted) is flat instead of ever so slightly sharp. Flat would come from two things: a slight drop in tension over a note lower down or a slightly longer distance from the fret to the saddle than would be expected. It doesn't seem possible to have a drop in tension with a fretted note so the actual distance issue would be my focus. Bear with me, I'm just thinking out loud to get a handle on the problem...hmmm.

    OK, here's some possibilities from my point of view (assuming it's not tuner related) -

    1.The crowns of the frets in the upper register are slightly skewed towards the nut. How in world this would happen, I don't know.

    2. The frets themselves are slightly out of position -This is so rare that I hesitate to even suggest it. Actually determining if it's true is very hard - impossible, in fact, without proper tools.

    3. There is something going on at the point the strings are meeting the saddles. Roundwounds don't offer a smooth outer surface to contact the saddle and each string is different in it's surface irregularities. Also, the difference in gauges means that the core is actually floating above the saddle at different heights for each string. IMO this might be where the taperwound strings would help. The area contacting the saddle is smooth allowing nearly infinite adjustment of saddle position without "snapping" into a groove of the windings. It also means a that all of the cores are the same or nearly the same size meaning that you shouldn't have any difference in saddle location because of intonation.

    Again, just thinkin' out loud here.