Episode 001: Intonation

Proper intonation can make even a modest bass sound great. Learn how to intonate your instrument, and how often.

Plenty of players understand you need to tune your instrument before you play. But did you also know you need to make sure your instrument is in tune with itself? That’s what intonation is all about. Listen to this episode to learn how the process works, and how doing it regularly will help you sound your best.

Music: Jahzzar, Please Listen Carefully; spinningmerkaba, Urbana-Metronica (wooh-yeah mix)

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Show notes

  • Why this topic?
  • What is intonation?
    • Making your instrument in tune all the way up and down the fingerboard, aka “in tune with itself.”
    • Think of it as setting the length of the string precisely
    • You won’t believe the difference in how good the instrument sounds!
      • Dave: Paul changed my bass life with this. Seriously.
    • Part of a full tune-up
  • How does intonation work?
    • The octave harmonic will always be at an exact point — halfway along the string’s vibrating length
      • Vibrating length = from nut to where the string leaves the bridge saddle
    • Theoretically this is exactly where the 12th fret of the instrument is, but remember we’re practical 🙂
    • Each fret precisely set by manufacturer based on mathematics + scale length
    • Since the bridge saddle adjustment may have changed, frets may no longer be located exactly at the theoretically ideal point (also string mass, size matter)
  • How do you intonate?
    • Touch the string at the 12th fret, without fretting — then pluck and release the string instantly after you pluck, high chiming tone
    • Make sure harmonic is in tune, then check if fretted octave note is in tune
      • Paul: Use an accurate tuner. I don’t trust tuners on the headstock for this; plug into a good digital or strobe tuner
    • If not, you need to adjust the bridge saddle forward or backward
      • If the fretted note is flat, move saddle toward nut, making vibrating length shorter
      • If the fretted note is sharp, move saddle away from nut, making vibrating length longer
      • Do it a little at a time, checking repeatedly
    • Repeat for each string
  • How often do you need to do this?
    • Dave’s experience
      • I now check pretty frequently (more than I’d like to admit)
        • If my sound isn’t where I want it or feels “off” – I blame intonation
        • BUT – That’s hardly ever the source
      • String changes
      • I do monthly setup adjustment routine now – Final step (TR/BH/I)
      • I use a word document for notes – I’m not embarrassed!
    • Paul’s experience
      • Each time you change strings just do a quick check… if same make/gauge don’t expect to to it
      • Any time you change string mfr or gauge
      • Any time you’re preparing to record!
      • At change of season — temperature and humidity affect the bass
      • If you find yourself having to make adjustments too often, if your tuner is a good one, may want to have bridge looked at
        • Dave: Or your head?

 

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