View Full Version : What is intonation???

10-16-2008, 07:57 AM
The title says it all....

I am still kinda new to this fretted string thing and not sure what is ment by "My Intonation is off" and how do you go about fixing it????

also "Dressing Frets" as in shorts skirts and high heels?????

10-16-2008, 08:05 AM
The title says it all....

I am still kinda new to this fretted string thing and not sure what is ment by "My Intonation is off" and how do you go about fixing it????

intonation is basically just how "on-the-dot" every note is when it is played on each fret. at first, this may be hard to hear with your own ears (hell, after 20+ years of music experience i still have trouble with it). but if you were to take a multi-note chromatic tuner, and play each string at each fret, the needle should (in theory) be right at the 440Hz mark for every note played. fret placement and saddle/bridge placement are usually the deciding factors when it comes to good intonation.

but being that ukuleles are nylon stringed instruments, unless you play each note EXACTLY the same regardless of what finger you use, just the extra stretching from fretting the string can change how accurate the intonation is. so it may sound great when you play it, but when i play the exact same instrument, it may be off.

so if you are checking your intonation with a chromatic tuner, 3-4 points of deviation from the center (for me) is acceptable. for others, its not, but like i said, its impossible to make it exact. the nature how how notes are played on stringed instruments just includes too many variables for that level of precision.

10-16-2008, 08:35 AM
There are a couple different concepts, I guess....

1. Probably 95% of the time when you hear someone say that an instrument is out of tune, they mean that the instrument is CURRENTLY out of tune and needs some quick adjustments so that it matches pitches with itself and the other instruments it's playing with.

2. The other 5% of intonation issues refer to an instrument that is more or less PERMANENTLY out of tune due to a flaw in the construction. As stated above, intonation problems with fretted instruments are often caused by the bridge being placed incorrectly (too close to the tail = flat, too far from the tail = sharp). The precision involved in bridge placement is a question of millimeters, and the resulting intonation problems can range from subtle to major. A simple test to check how true your ukulele (or any other string instrument) is to pluck the harmonic octave tone that occurs half way between the nut and bridge on each string... for ukuleles and guitars this is right at the 12th fret. Next, play the note by fretting the string in the usual manner. In an ideal imaginary world the tones would be identical... it's impossible to achieve perfect intonation but a good instrument should be able to fool human perception into believing... if the second tone sounds flat the string is longer than it should be, if it sounds sharp the string is too short. These are the sort of issues you can't fix by turning the tuning pegs and you'll have to decide if it's off by more than you can live with... if so you may have to have the bridge adjusted by a pro.


10-16-2008, 08:44 AM
Right. Or, perhaps in simpler terms, intonation means that when you play fretted notes, they just as much in tune as open string notes. The most common thing that throws off intonation is a poorly adjusted bridge. If the bridge is in the wrong position or the saddle is shaped incorrectly, that changes the position of the string's halfway point relative to the frets, throwing off intonation. Also, when the action is too high (strings too high off the fretboard, caused usually by a saddle or nut that's too high or a bowed neck), the greater distance required to push the string down to the fret puts more tension on the string, making the notes sharper. The easiest way to check your intonation is to compare the pitch of the 12th fret harmonic to the fretted 12th fret note. If the fretted note is sharper or flatter than the harmonic, the intonation is off and needs to be adjusted.

From my experience, there doesn't seem to be a lot of wiggle room for adjustments on ukes. Really you should check intonation when you're buying a uke, and if you already have a uke, it can be adjusted, but really, if you have like, a $50 uke, it probably cant be adjusted to a perfect level if it's already way off, so you may as well just get a more expensive uke, which will probably already have better intonation and action to begin with. (Except Ohana. They're too stupid to check for good action, even on their very nice $300 instruments...)

10-16-2008, 08:54 PM
Regarding it being "difficult to identify by ear", I would say that if you can't hear your intonation problem, then it isn't.a problem. You know it IS a problem when you get the open strings perfectly in tune, but chords sound out of tune. If it sounds bad, it's a problem.

10-16-2008, 10:34 PM
okay guys and gals...want to really see how good or bad your ear is Here is a site that has 3 test...have fun and you will be surprised probably at your results. The average person cannot tell when a note is 4 to 5 % off pitch.....
website - http://tonometric.com/adaptivepitch/

Fred Miu
10-17-2008, 01:28 AM
hey mike, i got 88.9% i hope thats ok?

10-17-2008, 08:34 AM
...the needle should (in theory) be right at the 440Hz mark for every note played.
I think you mean the middle mark on the meter. It's only 440 Hz if the note plucked is A4. A5 is 880, A3 is 220. C5 (C above middle A) is 523.2511 Hz.

I have a chromatic tuner that can change the value of A4 to almost any number within about 10 Hz on either side of 440.

The frequency for A4 is an arbitrary number and has meandered over a large range in the history of Western music. A4 is currently popular at 440 Hz, but some instruments are tuned with A at 441 or 445. Some orchestras still use a different pitch for A4, especially in Europe. At one point A4 was as high as 480 Hz and has been as low as 380 Hz.

See Wikipedia's note on pitch standards (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pitch_(music)#History_of_pitch_standards_in_Wester n_music).

10-17-2008, 09:08 AM
Okay, dressing frets - the process of taking off the edges. I do mine in a sort of "flat" rounded profile - of course, my F/B's tend to be wider, and they flow into the binding.

The current craze is semi-hemispherical, but I've yet to see it on `ukulele. I've tried it, and its much easier to do prior to fretting. I like to fret first, then dress (as most of us do).

This is one of those detail things that I place in the realm of a contributing factor to how the instrument "plays". If you've never played an instrument with dressed frets, you won't miss it.


10-17-2008, 01:54 PM
I like to dress my frets in hot pants or mini skirts....then of course I thought we were talking about intonation....then jeans and a t shirt might be okay so i can concentrate on hearing instead of my eyes bugging out...

10-17-2008, 02:18 PM
I like my frets undressed and rough.

10-17-2008, 04:14 PM
Intonation= that little fly that you try to smack but always seems to get away:D

10-18-2008, 12:20 AM
I like to dress my frets in hot pants or mini skirts...


Hot Pants...Smokin'!

And please be sure to give the drummer some.

(Currently on a major league James Brown kick)

In Dave G's vids for his ukes he demonstrates the intonation for each by showing that the open note, harmonic and fretted note on the 12th fret are all the same.

Another thing that might throw that off too is if the action is way too high. Then the string will actually stretch when you fret a note and change the pitch.