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Thread: Would A New Fretboard Fix Intonation Issues?

  1. #1

    Default Would A New Fretboard Fix Intonation Issues?

    Howdy,

    I've got a 2011 Kentucky KM-1500 Master series mando that I really like except for one thing: Open chords (folk chords) never seem to intonate correctly.

    I bought it second hand from a music store (it was an ex-demo instrument) and just figured a good setup would make it sound nicer.

    Once I got it to a guy in my local area that makes mandos/bouzoukis he pointed out that the fretboard was twisted/warped. I could see it as soon as he pointed it out and panicked, thinking I'd really screwed up. He said he could reshoot the neck and that should take care of everything.

    Unfortunately, when I went to pick it up after he'd finished working on it, he said he had to really shave things down to get a level surface and the intonation problems still persist.

    I can't help but wonder whether a new, correctly sized fretboard would fix things as I've taken the mado to several people now and they all say the scale length and fret spacing is correct.

    Can anyone advise further? I really like the sound of this instrument and won't have the money to buy anything of a higher grade for a long time, so would like to make the best of what I've got.

    Thanks,

    Will

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Would A New Fretboard Fix Intonation Issues?

    It seems that if it was shaved to get rid of the twisted neck and the fret spacing is correct then the bad intonation could be caused by the placement of the bridge or the slots in the nut or bridge saddle are incorrect.....If you can find a copy of Siminoff`s book there is a pic of the correct fret spacing or even compare the KM-1500 to another mandolin that may be handy....I had one mandolin that was built with incorrect fret spacing and I had a luthier get a new slotted fingerboard from Gibson and he installed it and everything was fine, spot on at all frets...You might also check to see if there is any bow in the neck which could cause bad intonation, that could be corrected by adjusting the truss rod, have that done by someone that has done them before, not for a beginner by any means...

    Good luck with what ever you do, those are usually good mandolins and shouldn`t have a problem like you described...

    Willie

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    Default Re: Would A New Fretboard Fix Intonation Issues?

    I agree with Willie. If the fret board is now flat and the frets are correct the problem has to be somewhere else. The people that are telling you that the scale and frets correct, do they know and work on mandolins? It really sounds to me like a nut problem. Do the strings ride at the front of the nut ( are the slots back cut properly)? Are all the slots the same height from the fingerboard? Mandolins are very temperamental, a little bit off makes a lot of difference.

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    Default Re: Would A New Fretboard Fix Intonation Issues?

    I agree if it is only the open chords it is more likely a nut problem. To some degree you are always dealing with some compromise on a fretted instrument. Even compensated nuts aren't perfect. How bad is it?

  5. #5

    Default Re: Would A New Fretboard Fix Intonation Issues?

    While poor fret spacing would cause this, it is unlikely the problem. More likely is that it is a setup issue.

    The way to narrow this down is to figure out where it is flat or sharp.

    Also, how are you tuning it? A mandolin is very sensitive to tuning, and also impossible to get in tune up and down the fingerboard on all strings. Acceptable is as good as it gets with a mandolin. If you have a good sense of pitch, you will hear it slightly out of tune, even when everything is correct.

    For setup...

    Set the nut height
    Set the relief
    Set the bridge height
    Move the bridge for intonation (this may change the action so adjust as needed
    Basic setup work can be done with the current strings, but they should be a new set for setting the intonation.


    Once we have this done, be very critical of the tuning (don't rely on a normal electronic tuner, they are not accurate enough - this goes for setting intonation too). You will need to buy/borrow a strobe tuner or a similar digital equivalent. If you have extremely good pitch, you can do it by ear, but it is difficult to get spot on by ear.


    Once everything is setup and tuned, a few cents off here and there is expected on a fretted instrument. But it should still be pleasing.

    Lastly, it is easy to bend the the strings out of tune even when the action is correct. With high action, it gets very difficult to keep the intonation correct.
    Robert Fear
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  7. #6

    Default Re: Would A New Fretboard Fix Intonation Issues?

    Hello to everyone,

    First off, thanks to everyone for taking the time to give me your feedback. I appreciate.

    I had typed a long reply with a lot of detail, but when I hit "Reply to Thread" it just blanked everything I had written, so I'm going to go with a shorter version of what I originally said:

    1. It's been setup and triple checked by a professional mandolin maker named Paul Shippey in Weston-Super-Mare, England, and he says all the fret spacing, bridge, nut and truss rod settings are correct. I trust Paul 100%. He's good fella and makes some outstanding instruments.

    2. I've been told many times mandos are imperfect instruments, so if I'm wanting perfection in tuning, I'm going to be disappointed.

    3. To that end, I'm thinking maybe I'm just looking for a different sound. I've seen a 1989 Kentucky "Dawg" for sale about 4 hours from me, so maybe that's what I should move towards. My one misgiving having not played it yet is that I had the tail end of the fretboard scalloped on my Kentucky to cut out pick/fretboard noise and the Dawg doesn't have this. As it's a pricey beast (£3,000), I'd hesitate to have it scalloped if I bought it for fear of decreasing its value. What say you all?

    4. I have a rather irritating case of tinnitus that the doc says will make me more sensitive to some sounds/pitches than others. I attribute this to me being somewhat hypersensitive to sharp and flat notes. Other folks that have played my mando say they don't understand what I'm talking about, so I reckon it's just me.

    Ok, that's considerably shorter than my first reply, but hopefully I've hit all the high spots. I appreciate the input and if y'all can add anything about the Dawg (hopefully a few comments here won't wreck the thread too much), it would be helpful.

    Y'all have a good weekend,

    Will

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    Default Re: Would A New Fretboard Fix Intonation Issues?

    If you are hearing problems that others can't hear how do you know that it's not just the nature of the beast? Will the Dawg sound the same? Don't misunderstand me your sensitivity to the sharps and flats could be medical and would apply to all mandolins, or it could be an attack of acute MAS!

  9. #8
    Registered User Ivan Kelsall's Avatar
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    Default Re: Would A New Fretboard Fix Intonation Issues?

    Hi Will - You're meaning the 'Dawg' at a well known purveyor of mandolins & sundry instruments in the UK ?. Regarding 'scooping the extension',if it's well done by a good luthier,then in the eyes of some folks,it's 'more' desirable rather than less.
    My Weber mandolin isn't 'scooped',so i tutored myself to pick in such a manner as to not hit the fingerboard with the pick (well,not too often !).

    ''Mandolins are imperfect instruments'' ?. - So are all the other fretted instruments. Frets themselves are a 'compromise',albeit a very,very good one (in most cases).So forget that bit.

    If you do visit the ''well know mandolin emporium'',don't limit yourself to the 'Dawg' mandolin in making a choice of another instrument. It's been there for quite a while which may indicate that it 'might not' be that hot - although,i'm sure that somebody will like it & with the right brand / gauge of strings on it,it might sound superb. Try as many mandolins within your price range as you can, & don't limit yourself to make / style either,
    Ivan
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  10. #9

    Default Re: Would A New Fretboard Fix Intonation Issues?

    @Mandoplumb: You're absolutely right. I need to play the Dawg first before I make any decisions.

    What's acute MAS?

    @Ivan Kelsall: You would be right on the money, sir. :D

    Thanks for the advice. It's probably silly to say this, but I'd like a second mando just for a change in sound. For instance, my Kentucky sounds really nice, but it would be great if I could find a really nice one with a bit more warmth/reedy-ness, if you know what I mean.

    I know a violin maker who is in the process of making his first mandolin and I'm really looking forward to playing it when it's finished. It would cost about the same as the Dawg, but would have a bit of a non-traditional appearance (wood rather than "ivory" binding, different inlays, etc.). If it's really nice, I might ask him to make me a more traditional one. I like the traditional style looks more.

    Lots of good things to think about here. I knew I had come to the right place for advice.

    I hope you all have a good week.

    Will

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    Default Re: Would A New Fretboard Fix Intonation Issues?

    MAS --- Mandolin Acquisition Syndrome. The disease that all mandolin pickers have. It may dormant for some time but when active we just gotta have another mandolin. We will use any excuse to justify our "need" for one.

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    Registered User cbakewell's Avatar
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    Default Re: Would A New Fretboard Fix Intonation Issues?

    Not sure if this is useful or not, but have you tried recording yourself playing and then comparing with what you hear whilst playing?

    I have one mandolin that sounds odd to me when playing, but not to others, and not on recordings.
    Colin Bakewell

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    Registered User Mike Conner's Avatar
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    Default Re: Would A New Fretboard Fix Intonation Issues?

    Will,
    You have had all the standard measurements checked - eg scale length, etc. These all checked out to the "numbers".

    However, it has been my experience that factory instruments often closely follow the traditional calculated fret spacings (like you get when using the StewMac calculator). In looking at intonation and setup for both mandolins and guitars, it can turn out that the nut to 1st fret distance needs to be a little shorter than the calculated amount (about 0.013" to 0.020" for guitar, less for mandolin). This might be your "nut problem".

    A non-invasive way to check if it's the nut: capo the mandolin at the first fret, then re-tune the strings to correct pitch at that position - Ab/G#, Eb/D#, Bb/A#, F. Then play and check the intonation up the neck against a chromatic tuner. If it is reasonably in tune (and you define reasonable here ;-) ) then your problem is the nut and not the fret spacings. You can even play with the bridge position to be certain of that affect on the intonation (eg: if the notes up the neck with the capo in place are sharp, your bridge needs to move towards the tailpiece slightly).

    This is a wordy post, but the capo test is quick and easy with no impact on the mando. It wouldn't surprise me if you needed to move the nut a little closer to the 1st fret - a really easy fix.

    //mike

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    Default Re: Would A New Fretboard Fix Intonation Issues?

    My A2 needed to have the nut moved 1mm away from the first fret. Drove me nuts till I found it, now it plays beautifully in tune.
    THE WORLD IS A BETTER PLACE JUST FOR YOUR SMILE!

  16. #14

    Default Re: Would A New Fretboard Fix Intonation Issues?

    Thanks, everyone. Particularly Mike Connor and pops1 as I've never heard of this sort of nut issue. I'll get my capo out and give this a try later today! I really, really hope this will fix things. I love this mando, I'd just like it to play a bit nicer.

  17. #15

    Default Re: Would A New Fretboard Fix Intonation Issues?

    Ok, guys, maybe I'm just wanting to hear a difference, but I reckon Mike's capo test was spot on. After putting a capo on at the first fret and re-tuning to standard it sounded a lot better to me.

    Now, that being said, the open G chord still had a bit of dissonance with regard to the B note (at least to my ear), but the C and D chords sounded really good if not great and the chop chords really sounded super.

    So, now come a couple more questions:

    1. What does this mean in terms of nut settings? Does the nut need to come back away from the fretboard or move in closer?

    2. Would changing the nut also necessitate a change in bridge position and thus really produce a much better/more in tune sound?

    3. Is this something the guy I normally go to would know about and can easily adjust or is this one of those things that only comes occasionally and you need to go to someone who has specifically correct this particular problems many times before?

    I'm really hoping this is going to be the fix. It certainly seems to have made a big difference!

    Very much appreciated,

    Will

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    Default Re: Would A New Fretboard Fix Intonation Issues?

    My A3 has had a fair bit of work done on it over the decades (I've owned it 30 years). Neck straightened, new frets, tried various bridges, etc. I had an intonation issue too. The solution? A compensated nut!

    Voilla! Problem solved!

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    Registered User Mike Conner's Avatar
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    Default Re: Would A New Fretboard Fix Intonation Issues?

    Quote Originally Posted by WillHelton View Post
    .....

    So, now come a couple more questions:

    1. What does this mean in terms of nut settings? Does the nut need to come back away from the fretboard or move in closer?

    2. Would changing the nut also necessitate a change in bridge position and thus really produce a much better/more in tune sound?

    3. Is this something the guy I normally go to would know about and can easily adjust or is this one of those things that only comes occasionally and you need to go to someone who has specifically correct this particular problems many times before?

    I'm really hoping this is going to be the fix. It certainly seems to have made a big difference!

    Very much appreciated,

    Will
    Will, it's great that you now know the source of your trouble, and the nut is a pretty straight forward fix. Your knowledgable luthier can likely diagnose which direction to move the nut, but let me try to describe what to look for, and maybe that will help you in your discussions:

    => You were in tune when capo'd at the 1st fret, so we can assume that the bridge is in the correct spot and you can leave it alone for now.

    => No capo, tune your open strings carefully to pitch. Play the 7th fret and 9th fret notes for the E and A strings and see what the chromatic tuner says. If you are sharp, maybe the nut needs to move closer to the 1st fret. This would also mean that maybe your fretted note (eg the 7th fret E on the A string) may be a little sharp compared to the open string. But, not necessarily - these notes may be OK, and your problem is on the frets closer to the nut, so....

    => Check the 2nd fret pitch on the G string (note is A). If the pitch is sharp, and the *nut is at the correct height*, then the nut needs to move closer to the 1st fret. If it's flat, you need to move further away. Every mando I've set up that needed some help needed the nut closer to the 1st fret.

    The procedure to move the nut can be pretty simple. My razor saw has a 0.013" kerf. I use the nut as a guide and saw between the nut and the end of the fretboard. The nut usually falls free or pops off easy, and the fretboard has now been shortened by the width of the saw kerf. A little clean up of the resulting slot and the freed up nut, and then glue back on with a dot of gel superglue. A more precise and fussy way would be to make a new slightly thicker nut that covers the spot where the old nut sat, and might be needed anyway if the repositioned nut ends up a little to low. I've been pretty lucky.

    For the most fastidious and discriminating ears, the deluxe compensated nut might be justified, but that is definately a luthier level job and many would not be excited to do it (ie: open wallet wider).

    I hope this gives you some detail you sought.
    //mike
    Last edited by Mike Conner; Oct-11-2016 at 1:45pm.

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    Default Re: Would A New Fretboard Fix Intonation Issues?

    I would measure before cutting anything. The distance on mine from the nut to the first fret was the same as the distance from the first fret to the second fret. I knew that was wrong. Your repair person should be able to figure the calculation of the spacing from the center of the first fret to the nut and measure it with a caliper.
    THE WORLD IS A BETTER PLACE JUST FOR YOUR SMILE!

  22. #19

    Default Re: Would A New Fretboard Fix Intonation Issues?

    Thanks, Mike. That's really useful information. I'll discuss this with my luthier. I'm really excited about this hopefully fixing things.

    Much appreciated,

    Will

    - - - Updated - - -

    Thanks, pops1. I'll also bring this up with my luthier.

    You guys are such a wealth of knowledge.

    All the best,

    Will

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    Registered User Ivan Kelsall's Avatar
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    Default Re: Would A New Fretboard Fix Intonation Issues?

    Will - If you want a 'warmer' tone,then there are a few old Gibson Oval hole "A4" styles at TAMCO that i'd want to try out. They can sound incredibly good. If i had the cash to spare for a non-Bluegrass mandolin,i'd go for one of those.
    Here's Robin Bullock playing his own Gibson A4,
    Ivan
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    Default Re: Would A New Fretboard Fix Intonation Issues?

    In most cases this kind of intonation issue is the nut slots are not cut evenly, and may not wide enough or too wide. Once the nut slots are set properly it will usually fix the issue. The saddle may also not be cut perfectly. Many cannot hear the dissonance so don't fix it. Tuning is always a bit more difficult with pairs of strings at the same frequency. If it is slightly detuned open but fine when closed that is likely the case. Not everybody can slot a nut properly, and on a mandolin it is a. It is a very subtle difference that can cause this. It is rarely the fingerboard that causes this. As stated above, a really good setup will fix this. Worst case scenario you may have to have a new nut and bridge installed. I recommend the Cum errand Acoustic bridge for accuracy of the saddles.
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