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Advanced Member
Username: s_wood

Post Number: 378
Registered: 5-2002
Posted on Sunday, November 24, 2013 - 9:38 am:   Edit Post

I've been doing my own setups for years, and I've always set my intonation by comparing the pitch of a note fretted at the 12th fret against the 12th fret harmonic. I've recently noticed that lots of internet sources, including Alembic's site and other bass maker web pages, recommending comparing the pitch of an open string against the pitch of the 12th fret on that string. There also many internet sources, including bass maker web sites, that teach the 12th fret/12th fret harmonic method.

So, what's the deal? Is one method better than the other?
Senior Member
Username: cozmik_cowboy

Post Number: 1629
Registered: 10-2006
Posted on Sunday, November 24, 2013 - 11:05 am:   Edit Post

The 12th-fret harmonic is the octave of the open string; the actual mid-point of the string. The 12th fret should be the mid-point as well. As the point of the exercise is to move the actual (harmonic) mid-point to match the purported (metal) mid-point, using the harmonic method just seems to me to make more sense.
Also, the harmonic will read stronger on your strobe than the open string (this holds true for lesser tuners as well, but if at all possible, you should use a strobe for accuracy).
I am sure, however, that the open-string method would get the job done (what, you think I'm going to tell Mica she's wrong????) - though in several hundred set-ups, I've never tried it.

Senior Member
Username: lbpesq

Post Number: 5606
Registered: 7-2004
Posted on Sunday, November 24, 2013 - 11:14 am:   Edit Post

I've always used open string vs. 12th fret with a strobe tuner. I've never tried the harmonic method. Of course there may be a difference between doing this on a guitar vs. a bass.

Bill, the guitar one
Senior Member
Username: cozmik_cowboy

Post Number: 1630
Registered: 10-2006
Posted on Sunday, November 24, 2013 - 12:08 pm:   Edit Post

No difference; I use the harmonic on both (probably at least 50:1 more guitars).

Senior Member
Username: bigredbass

Post Number: 2083
Registered: 9-2002
Posted on Sunday, November 24, 2013 - 3:55 pm:   Edit Post

For me, I do it this way:

First, I will compare the open string to the 'chimed' octave harmonic over the 12th fret. This is mostly a check to see if I'm 'in the neighborhood' as far as saddle placement.

But then, the real check for me is to then compare the note fretted at the twelfth fret with that same open harmonic: I'm playing fretted notes (except when I'm lazily backsliding and playing country on open E's and A's . . . .) all the time. And depending on your action, it can make a difference. If you check this on a bass that has a pretty high action, that fretted twelfth and the octave harmonic twelfth will read slightly sharp or flat in comparison.

I occasionally get really fussy and compare against the next octave up as well just for grins. Much past that, the relentless IC logic of most tuners begins to butt up against the vagaries of tempered-tuning, and I don't want to flirt with OCD, so I stop before I get too freaked about it.

Admittedly, 'real close' is enough for a lot of situations on a bass playing low, single notes, but it can get messy quick on a guitar playing chords.

I got chapter and verse about this when I played for several years with a steel player who had perfect pitch. He could pick out whoever was 'out' on the bandstand, and rightly felt if he could keep a pedal steel 'right' all night long, we should be able to as well.

Three cautions:

Only do this with brand-new, just installed strings.

And remember that even though the new Brand X strings you're trying out are also roundwound and exactly the same guages as the Brand Y you just took off, you need to do this again: They will read out differently. You can only skip this if you are replacing same with same, on an axe that's already adjusted for them.

And third, always tune UP, never go sharp and let the key down to 'in tune': It will usually keep slipping a bit more. Tuning up tends to 'set' it much better.

J o e y

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