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Thread: 'A' String Intonation Question

  1. #1
    Registered User Erin M's Avatar
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    Default 'A' String Intonation Question

    Hello,

    As I move up beyond about the 5th fret on the A strings, the string pair starts to sound more and more out of tune with each other, even though they sound perfectly in tune open or on the first few frets. It's quite noticeable by the 12th fret.

    The bridge and nut slots seem to be equal. I've tried removing the tailpiece cover and making sure the strings between the bridge and tailpiece are muted in case there was some weird harmonic or something causing it. The frets are fairly new and not chewed up (only a slight sign of wear). The problem is only on the A strings.

    I'm using a set of D'Addario EJM75C strings - they are only about 3 weeks old. I'm not entirely sure the problem existed before putting these strings on since I was spending most of my time in first position with the old strings on.

    Has anyone ever seen this or know what might be the cause?

    Thank you
    "Flow, river flow. Let your waters wash down, take me from this road, to some other town." - Roger McGuinn

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    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    Default Re: 'A' String Intonation Question

    Quote Originally Posted by Erin M View Post
    Has anyone ever seen this or know what might be the cause?
    Yes, I had that happen once. I made a new mandolin and took it to a festival to show off and get people to play it. The mandolin was new and freshly set up but a player noticed that one unison was playing out of tune. I had carefully set the mandolin up and knew that intonation was good at that time, but like you, I checked the bridge and the nut and all looked well. Finally, as a last resort I changed the strings and the problem went away. It was a string going bad!
    Try a new set of strings and see if that takes care of it.

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  4. #3
    Registered User Erin M's Avatar
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    Default Re: 'A' String Intonation Question

    Quote Originally Posted by sunburst View Post
    Yes, I had that happen once. I made a new mandolin and took it to a festival to show off and get people to play it. The mandolin was new and freshly set up but a player noticed that one unison was playing out of tune. I had carefully set the mandolin up and knew that intonation was good at that time, but like you, I checked the bridge and the nut and all looked well. Finally, as a last resort I changed the strings and the problem went away. It was a string going bad!
    Try a new set of strings and see if that takes care of it.
    Ok, thank you - I will give that a try, but I'll put up with it a bit until these strings need to be changed. I'm sure I would have noticed with the original strings on when I first got the instrument, so I'll bet you're right.

    Thanks!
    "Flow, river flow. Let your waters wash down, take me from this road, to some other town." - Roger McGuinn

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    Default Re: 'A' String Intonation Question

    Have you checked to make sure that the 2 strings are of the same size? One may have been mislabeled. This happened to me once when I bought an old Stradolin that had the G and D courses each using a G and D string. When tuned, the open position was fine, but when fretted were way out of tune with each other. It was obvious what was going on just by looking at the different sizes, but might not be so obvious looking at a pair of A strings. Not sure why this doesn’t happen with 12 string guitars though.

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    Default Re: 'A' String Intonation Question

    Quote Originally Posted by Henry F View Post
    ...Not sure why this doesn’t happen with 12 string guitars though.
    It does. Unless there is considerable work put into compensating the saddle of a 12-string for all 12 strings they play out of tune, especially above first position. Actually that "wet" tuning contributes to the sound that we are familiar with from a 12-string. They can be made to play in tune, at least for brief amounts of time before things start going out of tune, and they still sound like 12-strings, but so many people have used 12-strings as strictly rhythm instruments that makers have been able to get away with building them with simple straight saddles.

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    Default Re: 'A' String Intonation Question

    Part of it may also be that the smaller string on a 12 string is tuned an octave higher than the larger string. The varied finger pressure on each string may compensate for the difference in tone. Whereas on the mandolin, both strings are tuned to the same tone, and now with different gauges with the same pressure, they’re out of tune. Just guessing here. Would love to hear the experts chime in.

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    Default Re: 'A' String Intonation Question

    Sunburst is correct they can be tuned but few are. Several years ago we played a church with along with another group that had a 12 string guitar. After the program I told the 12string guitarist that did not like a 12 string guitar but I could listen to him all night, he asked me what I didn't like about them I told him that all I'd ever heard sounded out of tune, he told me that was because most were. his was the only one I've ever heard that was in tune, and he died a couple of years after this. I'm sure somewhere in this big world there is another that is in tune, but I ain't heard it yet

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    Registered User Erin M's Avatar
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    Default Re: 'A' String Intonation Question

    Quote Originally Posted by Henry F View Post
    Have you checked to make sure that the 2 strings are of the same size? One may have been mislabeled. This happened to me once when I bought an old Stradolin that had the G and D courses each using a G and D string. When tuned, the open position was fine, but when fretted were way out of tune with each other. It was obvious what was going on just by looking at the different sizes, but might not be so obvious looking at a pair of A strings. Not sure why this doesn’t happen with 12 string guitars though.
    Hi Henry - fortunately I happen to have a dial caliper - I just checked and both are the same gauge (0.014). Darn, was hoping for a free replacement string set from D'Addario
    "Flow, river flow. Let your waters wash down, take me from this road, to some other town." - Roger McGuinn

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    Default Re: 'A' String Intonation Question

    Weird, I had exactly the same thing happen a few years ago, and also with the A strings. Checked the usual suspects (nut, frets, bridge, tailpiece) trying to find a solution, until I saw a thread here on the MC that suggested changing strings. I had some spare singles, changed the As, and the problem went away.

    Never happened again.
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    Default Re: 'A' String Intonation Question

    Erin, glad you can rule that out.

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    Default Re: 'A' String Intonation Question

    If there is no height difference it is surely differently-behaving strings. I find that after vigorous use my E strings diverge in the high frets. I assume one of the two gets picked harder. That would be the uphill, inside one, and that one plays flat to the outside one in high frets. I think it gets stretched out more and re-tuned, and ends up just bit more beat up and flexible. If it stretches/thins in the picking area it might not show on a caliper check.

    A new pair always fixes the issue for me. Playing harder brings the intonation issue every time, for me. I get about 20 hrs of hard picking before it stars to show that problem. With gentle playing it's more like 40 hrs. If you like your gauges you can buy plain strings for about a quarter if you buy a dozen at a time, bulk purchase from some vendors.
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    Default Re: 'A' String Intonation Question

    Intonation error between your string pair will be magnified as you get higher up the fingerboard if your bridge is angled across the top - this is because having the bridge angled (actually the bridge saddle) makes the fretted string lengths of the pair slightly different. This small difference makes more of a % difference as the distance to the bridge becomes shorter. I agree that a bad string is likely to be making the problem noticeably worse, though.
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    Default Re: 'A' String Intonation Question

    Quote Originally Posted by acousticphd View Post
    Intonation error between your string pair will be magnified as you get higher up the fingerboard if your bridge is angled across the top - this is because having the bridge angled (actually the bridge saddle) makes the fretted string lengths of the pair slightly different. This small difference makes more of a % difference as the distance to the bridge becomes shorter. I agree that a bad string is likely to be making the problem noticeably worse, though.
    Wouldn't that affect all the strings though?
    "Flow, river flow. Let your waters wash down, take me from this road, to some other town." - Roger McGuinn

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    Default Re: 'A' String Intonation Question

    Quote Originally Posted by Erin M View Post
    Wouldn't that affect all the strings though?
    Half of them, in fact; one of each pair. (but that's with an ideal bridge, ideal fret placement and ideal strings)
    A slight tilt of slant to the bridge does not usually cause a noticeable tuning error. It is generally overcome by all of the other tuning errors inherent in fretted instruments as well as imperfections in tuning.
    Even correctly placed, no bridge can totally eliminate tuning errors for each string and at each fret, and many don't even come very close.

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    Default Re: 'A' String Intonation Question

    If changing the strings does not fix the problem, there may be an inaccurate cut on one of the nut or saddle slots that may be difficult to see with the naked eye. If that is the cause, a stroke or two with the right slotting file is usually enough to fix it.

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  23. #16
    Registered User Erin M's Avatar
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    Default Re: 'A' String Intonation Question

    I'll update when I finally get annoyed enough by it to change my strings. Right now, these strings are hard to come by with things being held up by COVID, so I'm going to play them til the bitter end I am pretty convinced it's a dud string; it actually seems to have got worse.

    Thanks everyone for the helpful replies
    "Flow, river flow. Let your waters wash down, take me from this road, to some other town." - Roger McGuinn

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