Guitar Tuning

In guitar tuning, a temperament is a tuning system that slightly
bends to find middle ground to the pure intervals of pure intonation. Most modern musical instruments are tuned in the equal temperament system. So “perfect tuning” is a search never mastered. It’s an ideal never realized in guitar tuning.

image Truss rod for guitar adjustments
Trussrod view relax and tighten for better action and intonation

“Temperament, in music, the accommodation or adjustment of the imperfect sounds by transferring a part of their defects to the more perfect ones, in order to remedy, in some degree, the false intervals of those instruments, the sounds of which are fixed; as the organ, harpsichord, piano-forte, etc.
Temperament is what the Italians call participatione, or system temperato, because it is founded on temperature; that is, on the diminution of some intervals and augmentation of others, by which it partakes of the diatonic and chromatic systems.” according to Wiki Musical temperament notes.

Perfect Guitar Tuning

Can perfect guitar tuning be achieved? Sorry, it cannot. But we can get very close. It is impossible to place the frets on the guitar so that all notes
on the instrument will be perfectly in tune in every key — simply impossible, because of the way tuning works. However in the shop, when building and setting up guitars, we take all of this into consideration.

Proper intonation is what makes a guitar’s strings play in tune as you fret different notes on the fret board. If the 12th fret note is flat or sharp, your intonation is off. On most electric guitars you can adjust the intonation for each string individually at the bridge with each saddle.

image of guitar neck being checked for string buzz, action and intonation
A fret notched straightedge for guitar neck being checked for string buzz, action and intonation in The Haywire Custom Shop

The height of the strings at the nut


Very often, the strings are too high at the nut. As with the action when it is too high, chords will be very difficult to play, particularly near the nut.
Normally, the strings at the nut should barely be higher than the height of a fret.

Locking tuners just make string changes faster and have a cleaner look.
Locking tuners do nothing for tuning stability. Anyone who says they do doesn’t know how to properly wind a string around a traditional tuning peg. What they will do is take a well balanced guitar and make the neck nose dive from the huge extra weight added. Is that what you had in mind?

12-Tone Equal Temperament

12-Tone Equal Temperament guitar tuning is difficult. This is the musical scale which “ordinary” guitars are constructed for – in theory. In reality, the best that can be achieved is a close approximation to Equal Temper.

How do we solve the problem of imperfect guitar tuning? We set the guitar up properly, cut the nut slots just right, radius the strings to the neck. Then we set the action low, lubricate all friction points, set the intonation at the saddles correctly. In addition, and get the action very low, check again to make sure the truss rod is set perfectly. Lastly we tune the guitar with an accurate digital tuner to get to notes dialed in perfectly.

About the Author:

Mr. Rick Mariner Owner and Founder and CEO of Haywire Custom Guitars Inc. He is a member of The Association of Stringed Instrument Artisans (A.S.I.A.) as well as a guitar player. Rick holds a bachelors degree from University of Md. and a Masters degree from George Washington University. Rick developed his exclusive 8 – Point “Gig- Ready” guitar process that allows for Custom Guitars that are “GIG-READY”. With Rick’s many years of development and guitar set-up experience, Haywire Guitar shop “Builds satisfied players… one Haywire guitar at a time”.

2 Comments

  1. Tom Prough May 5, 2020 at 3:08 pm - Reply

    I have a 1967 silvertone arch top that needs neck and action work done. I know it is basically a wall hanger but wish it to look respectable. Any approx costs available??

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