View Full Version : The importance of intonation - part the second

08-30-2011, 01:38 PM
I posted something regarding the importance of setup a while back and mentioned how much my ear has improved since I've been playing only instruments set up pretty much perfectly. I could have searched for and resurrected that thread, but I'm basically too lazy. :)

Anyway, our worship leader at church has moved on to another ministry and I am switching back from bass to guitar to front the band temporarily until we find a new worship leader. We had a special rehearsal Sunday evening to get our feet under us (I've not played guitar in almost 4 years and one of the young ladies who was singing backgrounds will be picking up most of the lead vocal duties.)

So, I've been getting my feel for guitar back the past week. At the last minute I remembered how much problem we have with electrical noise because of the poor wiring and flourescent lights in our building so I decided to switch to a humbucker-equipped guitar that had been sitting in the case for four years. Before I bought nut files, this was my "best" guitar as far as setup at the neck, so I didn't touch it when I bought the files. The Casino I'd been using this week had been horrible, so the first thing I did when I got nut files was level the frets and set it up.

So, I get to rehearsal and my "great" guitar sounds absolutely horrible! It's so bad I can't stand it, and can't even play! The others are saying, "no, it doesn't sound that bad," but every time I'd play certain chords I'd just cringe and completely lose my composure. If I was a violent man I think I'd have smashed the guitar to smithereens then and there (and it's a pretty expensive axe). To me, it sounded like I was stepping on a cat! When we stopped to eat some pizza I ran home for my Casino that I set up a couple of years ago and the rest of the rehearsal we actually got a little work done.

The funny thing is, I have a very good friend who is blind and has perfect (absolute and relative) pitch. Years ago he'd commented on the intonation on that guitar and I thought he was nuts because it sounded great to me and I'd measured the intonation at the first fret and it was within a few cents - better than any of my other guitars at the time. After Sunday night's fiasco I checked it again, and it's still within a few cents at the first fret - and I consider it almost unplayable.

I'm not 100% sure that the improved pitch sense is a good thing - my blind friend I was talking about won't listen to a lot of recorded music by "big names" because he can't deal with the tuning issues on the recordings. I went from being able to play what was my "best" guitar with total contentment to be ready to smash it because it sounded to me like I was strangling a cat even though everybody else in the band was saying it was okay. Crazy stuff.