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Thread: Intonation issue

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    Registered User misterstormalong's Avatar
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    Default Intonation issue

    I bought my mandolin new in 2010 and have never adjusted the bridge.

    I noticed recently, however, some marks in the varnish which suggested that the bridge had moved towards the tailpiece at the E string end. When I compared the E strings open and at the twelfth fret, however, they were perfectly in tune.

    The G string end of the bridge does not appear to have moved, but the G strings are registering sharp at the twelfth fret.

    Does this suggest I need to move the G string end closer to the tailpiece as well? But if I do that the whole bridge will have moved towards the tail.

    Is this to be expected or have I got everything wrong?

    Richard
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    Default Re: Intonation issue

    If you action has raised due to humidity or whatever, it will change the intonation. I would move only the G string side and leave the E string where it is. If the G string side is lowered (if it raised) it will return intonation to what it was. Since you are in Europe I am guessing it is damp. I lightly make a pencil mark on the top and bridge to note location, they both come off easily. I doubt seriously your bridge moved toward the tailpiece, toward the nut I would believe, maybe the wound strings moved it forward???? Is the saddle straight to the foot of the bridge?
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    Registered User misterstormalong's Avatar
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    Default Re: Intonation issue

    Thanks for the response. I'm not with the mando right now but I'll try adjusting the G side when I can. Is there a difference between fretting at the twelfth fret and using harmonics?
    Eastman MD504
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    Registered User DougC's Avatar
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    Default Re: Intonation issue

    Quote Originally Posted by misterstormalong View Post
    Thanks for the response. I'm not with the mando right now but I'll try adjusting the G side when I can. Is there a difference between fretting at the twelfth fret and using harmonics?
    No. There is no difference, except that the harmonics do not require pressing a finger down and possibly relying on the height of the fret, that would alter the tension. So using harmonics is a better method.
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    Registered User Walt's Avatar
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    Default Re: Intonation issue

    Quote Originally Posted by misterstormalong View Post
    Thanks for the response. I'm not with the mando right now but I'll try adjusting the G side when I can. Is there a difference between fretting at the twelfth fret and using harmonics?
    I may be misunderstanding what you're asking with "Is there a difference between fretting at the twelfth and using harmonics?," but for purposes of checking the intonation, you must fret at the twelfth fret. Now, some people will also pluck the harmonic at the twelfth in addition to fretting at the twelfth, but there is no way to check the intonation without actually fretting the instrument.
    For example, let's say your bridge is forward by 1/32 of an inch. Thus it will fret sharp. However, if you play the string open, and play the harmonic above the twelfth fret, the pitch will be perfect octaves of each other even if the bridge is off. The reason is, your finger does not have to be perfectly over the twelfth fret to play the harmonic. Whether you play the harmonic 1/32 above the fret or below the fret, it is going to produce an octave of the open string.
    The two most common ways to check the intonation are to (a) play the open string and the twelfth fret and see if they are an octave apart, or (b) play the twelfth fret harmonic and fret the twelfth fret and see if they are the exact same pitch (this is what I find easiest).
    I hope that makes sense. Doug is right to caution about being careful about applying too much pressure or movement when you're at the twelfth fret, but one way or the other you will have to fret the instrument in order to properly intonate.

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    Registered User grassrootphilosopher's Avatar
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    Default Re: Intonation issue

    So many things can change over time. To me it seems nearly impossible to determine what the problem may be. Sometimes it just pays to generaly check your mandolin setup.

    We have Brad Laird as a fellow mandolincafe poster. He has useful tips about intonation and bridge placement that you may check out here: http://www.bradleylaird.com/blog-art...st-lesson.html
    To me this was very useful.

    Then there is Rob Meldrum, another cafe member who has an ebook for free about setup. You may check this thread with posts by Rob Meldrum. The thread also has his contact info I think: https://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/t...Meldrum/page13
    The contact info for Rob Meldrum is at least in this thread: https://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/t...ums-free-ebook

    There was a thread that discussed a problem that frequently occurs with mando bridges. Over time the top of the bridge tilts forward thus causing the mandolin to intonate sharp. I had this happen (to my expensive mandolin). The remedy is to pull the bridge top back. This is not for the faint of heart. In the thread where I read about the problem Roland White was mentioned to perform "bridge osteopathy" resulting in a loud crack noise and remedying the situation without any damage to the instrument yet scaring the owner with the sound (that came of the strings that suddenly jumped back to the proper position, thus the "cracking noise").

    A top cavein may cause intonation problems. So if your instrument is inexpensively built, or just very old (teens Gibson etc.) then this may be a problem.

    As allways a good luthier may help you. As you are in South East England, why donīt you treat yourself to a nice trip to TAMCO in Brighton. Show Trevor your mandolin and ask for advice. Play all the wonderfull instruments he has, treat him to a pint and come home educated.

    Cheers.
    Olaf

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    Registered User misterstormalong's Avatar
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    Default Re: Intonation issue

    I noticed the mark on the surface next to the bridge but I didn't actually notice a sound problem. I mostly play chop chords, I don't play melody up the neck much and my ear probably isn't good enough to detect what I presume is only a slight problem at the nut end.

    Anyway, I'll have a crack at adjustment. If that doesn't work I'll be very happy to take it back to TAMCO for Trevor to take a look. That's where my mando journey started.

    I was fascinated by the fifth tuning logic of the mando. We were having a day out in Brighton so I decided to make an exploratory visit. Roger made me an offer I couldn't refuse, I walked out with a mando and the rest is history.

    The danger will be avoiding another purchase. If I ever was to make another purchase, I always intended to take my old mando with me for comparison and to ensure any upgrade was worth it.
    Eastman MD504
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    Default Re: Intonation issue

    I always loosen tension on the strings before moving a bridge, otherwise you will move the bridge more than intended.
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    Default Re: Intonation issue

    I am on the other side of the coin from Br1ck, I never loosen the strings to move the bridge.
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    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    Default Re: Intonation issue

    For anyone who is interested, here is my method of checking intonation at the 12th fret.
    First, tune the string pair to exactly the same note. If we have any ear training at all, we know how to listen for "beats". Tune the two strings until there are no beats, meaning they are exactly the same note.
    Now, fret one of the strings at the 12th fret and pluck both strings. They will be an octave apart if the bridge is properly placed, and if we have any ear training at all, we know that we will not hear any beats in the exact octave. If there is a beat, then the octave is off and the bridge needs to be moved. I find that method to be the most accurate method for me; far more accurate than electronics or trying to compare harmonics and fretted notes. YMMV

    As for the bridge in question in the OP. If the action height is good and the neck condition (bow) is good, the position of the bridge needs to be where the intonation is best. If it moved, it moved (could have been bumped... who knows...), that's not important; it simply needs to be where intonation is best.

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    Default Re: Intonation issue

    One suggestion if you decide to move the bridge under full string tension be very careful to not just try to move it by the top (saddle).
    This can cause the string tension to slam the bridge over, and those 2 adjusting wheels can make nasty marks on the top. Don't ask me how I know.

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    Registered User Tavy's Avatar
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    Default Re: Intonation issue

    > far more accurate than electronics or trying to compare harmonics and fretted notes.

    +1.

    It's also worth pointing out that I can get a harmonic to vary in pitch by several cents depending how close to the right spot I am with my finger - clamp an accurate tuner on and try it - you may be surprised.

    Plus you don't spend your days playing tuning on the harmonics, it's the fretted notes that matter, and not just at fret 12, but all over.

    As to why this has happened, have you changed string gauges or brands? Was it right to begin with?

    It is pretty common for the bridge to drag forwards towards the nut over time BTW, so some periodic adjustment is required.

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    Registered User misterstormalong's Avatar
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    Default Re: Intonation issue

    I slackened off the middle strings and the end strings depending on which end I wanted to move. I found it fiddly to move one end about say 1mm without affecting the other end, but I got there eventually.

    The E strings didn't like being repeatedly loosened and tightened and both snapped but the string set was overdue for a change.

    The intonation on the G string is now corrected as well as I'm likely to achieve, but judging from the marks in the varnish that alerted me to a possible problem in the first place, the whole bridge is now about 2mm nearer the tailpiece than it was when I bought it. The bridge and saddle are properly vertical.

    I can only think that these marks have always been in the varnish and I simply never noticed them before.

    Thanks to everyone for your input.
    Eastman MD504
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    Default Re: Intonation issue

    It is not uncommon for a bridge to be in the wrong position for long periods of an instruments life, depending on who owned it and how much it was played. Or how good an ear the owner had.
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    Default Re: Intonation issue

    I got it from TAMCO so it must have been set up properly! It's had a couple of accidents when the strap button came out. Maybe it got dislodged soon after I bought it, and then partly dislodged the other way later. This could have left a mark in the 'wrong' position. Who knows?
    Eastman MD504
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    Registered User Walt's Avatar
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    Default Re: Intonation issue

    Quote Originally Posted by Tavy View Post
    It's also worth pointing out that I can get a harmonic to vary in pitch by several cents depending how close to the right spot I am with my finger - clamp an accurate tuner on and try it - you may be surprised.
    I have a very good guitar player friend who told me the same thing years ago, but I could never detect a variation in pitch (other than the normal variations that come from using more or less force when hitting the strings). But, I definitely have not used a strobe tuner to check so I'm not prepared to die on that hill. I'm curious now.
    I'll say this, if you can vary the pitch of the harmonic by placing your finger slight degrees out of position, then that is a reason to never use harmonics when tuning or setting intonation. It would be close to impossible to consistently center your finger in the exact perfect position.

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    Default Re: Intonation issue

    Quote Originally Posted by Walt View Post
    I have a very good guitar player friend who told me the same thing years ago, but I could never detect a variation in pitch (other than the normal variations that come from using more or less force when hitting the strings). But, I definitely have not used a strobe tuner to check so I'm not prepared to die on that hill. I'm curious now.
    I'll say this, if you can vary the pitch of the harmonic by placing your finger slight degrees out of position, then that is a reason to never use harmonics when tuning or setting intonation. It would be close to impossible to consistently center your finger in the exact perfect position.
    The trouble nowadays is that we have the technology to measure things in milliseconds. Making a string vibrate as a 'harmonic' or a fretted note is actually a 'moving target' when it comes to the concept of 'pitch'. An electronic device can show how the vibration goes into tune and then out of tune in one instant. People assume that a wooden box with strings attached is the same as some sort of electronic device that puts out perfect tones. (This is the reason that electronic piano keyboards drive my wife nuts...)
    Anyway, the harmonics are a series of tones, a lot of tones actually, that go up and up as well as down and down. And getting them all to vibrate with another set of other harmonics increases the odds that there is a pretty good match. Not a perfect match but certainly close enough to have a 'starting point' to intonate the rest of the strings.

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    Default Re: Intonation issue

    Although I'm happy to have fixed the intonation problem, it was minor in comparison with the way in which strings can go out of tune anyway. It doesn't happen so much at home, but in a crowded performance environment with heaters, drafts and prople moving about, I find myself frequently having to retune and you don't always get the time to do that perfectly.
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    Default Re: Intonation issue

    It's a mandolin, I tune a lot.
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    Default Re: Intonation issue

    I agree with DougC. One can get so caught up in technology that one loses all common sense. Years ago while camping, I met a banjo maker/player that was bragging on how perfect his fingerboard was and how superior it's intonation was from Gibson that was laid out in the past when brains was all we had. Now we have computers that lay out the fret locations to a couple of ten thousandths, so much more accurate. I asked how wide a pencil mark was and how you could cut that accurate to center of mark, he couldn't answer.

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    Default Re: Intonation issue

    Quote Originally Posted by misterstormalong View Post
    Although I'm happy to have fixed the intonation problem, it was minor in comparison with the way in which strings can go out of tune anyway. It doesn't happen so much at home, but in a crowded performance environment with heaters, drafts and prople moving about, I find myself frequently having to retune and you don't always get the time to do that perfectly.
    The situation does make a difference. Sitting at home tuning and fussing with 'perfection' versus standing at a crowded pub trying to hear if you are in tune, these are entirely different concerns. In public I keep a tuner attached, or I use it often. (I don't like the looks of a mechanical gizmo hanging onto the headstock.) So there are compromises.

    If building an instrument is improved by a laser cutter or computer aided gizmo, then 'great, I'm all for it'. But the goal, (for me at least) is to share something meaningful in the best way possible. And you can't measure that as far as I know.
    Last edited by DougC; Feb-28-2019 at 11:07pm. Reason: do all of the tuners feel the same? Loose? Tight??

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    Default Re: Intonation issue

    In the venue where I play regularly we're supposed to go outside and tune up in advance. The rule was obviously not made by a mandolin player!

    I try to do a quick tune while the rest of the group are taking up their positions or there is an introduction. If the banjo player is with us it gives me some cover!

    I always keep the tuner on the headstock. It doesn't look cool but it gives me a chance to check between numbers especially if the banjo player or the mountain dulcimer player is changing to a different tuning. The guitarist, of course, only has to worry about where to put the capo.
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    Default Re: Intonation issue

    >In the venue where I play regularly we're supposed to go outside and tune up in advance. The rule was obviously not made by a mandolin player!

    Haha, try that with a banjo!

    Old joke: "How long does it take to tune a mandolin/banjo?" - "no one knows!"

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    Default Re: Intonation issue

    With a headstock tuner they work best with a light pluck of the string. So light you wouldn't begin to hear it, even in the middle of a tune. I usually put a thumb on one string, finger on the other and mute one while lightly plucking the other. No need to go away from the group as long as you are not striking the string hard with a pick. Just my 2 cents, but we don' t really have any rules at our jams, we just come to play and have a good time.
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