How To Adjust the String Height and Intonation on Your Guitar
In this lesson, you are going to learn how to adjust the string height and intonation on your guitar. This is a very important thing to know because it will determine how your guitar plays and sounds. As well as how motivated you will be to pick it up daily to play it. Remember, the more you play the guitar, the more you take care of the guitar strings, and keep the guitar maintained, the better you will get at it. It’s that simple!
What is string height? Well, I’m glad you asked. String height is the distance the strings are from the fretboard. This height makes a huge difference in how the guitar feels when you play it. If it is too high, as in this picture the strings will feel stiff and be hard to push down to hold chords and play notes.
This can also work in the opposite direction if the strings are too low. When the strings are too low, they will rattle and cause what is commonly known as “fret buzz” where the note buzzes when you play it. This fret buzzing is a very common problem with guitars and stringed instruments.
Of course, this can be fixed with adjustments if you know where to make them on the guitar. The reason for this lesson is to learn about the guitar so it can be properly maintained and always in shape to play at its best. When the string height of the guitar is correct, it is easy to play and feels good when you play it.
What is intonation? This can be a bit more confusing, but also very important to the playability of the guitar. As the intonation is what determines the guitar being in-tune throughout the whole fretboard. This is created by the length of each string from the nut to the bridge.
Another thing that is very common with the guitar is that it will be in-tune at the first few frets when playing basic chords, but when these chords are played further up the neck, they sound out of tune. This means that the intonation is off and needs to be adjusted. Like the string height, this can be adjusted at the bridge with the screws provided.
The guitar bridge
The bridge of the guitar is a very important part of the instrument as it functions on many different levels. It does three things:
It holds the strings in place
Adjusts the string height below the 12th fret
And it adjusts the intonation (length of the strings)
As well as provide a place for the tremolo bar (only on some bridges)
This is all done at the bridge with the screws and hole provided for these purposes. Now, since there are many different types of guitars, there are many different types of bridges. Especially a wooden acoustic guitar bridge compared to a metal electric guitar bridge. But they function the same way.
Adjusting the string height at the bridge
The string height is adjusted with a tiny Allen wrench (usually comes with the guitar when you buy it) that fits into the Allen screws on the bridge where the strings go over them. There are usually two on each string on the bridge of a Stratocaster style guitar. A Les Paul bridge can only be adjusted by the two screws at the ends of the bridge.
What I like about the Fender style bridge (revolutionary for its time) is that each string height can be adjusted by two small Allen wrench screws. This allows you to not only adjust the height of the string but also its radius. This can perfectly match the radius of the guitar fretboard.
Adjusting the intonation at the bridge
Like I mentioned before, this is very important to make sure the guitar is in-tune all the way u the fretboard. You can usually tell if your guitar needs the intonation adjusted when you play chords around the fretboard. If they sound in-tune everywhere you play them, then you’re ok. But if they don’t then you need to adjust the intonation.
This can be easily done at the bridge after you adjust the string height. Also done with the screws at the bridge. But these screws on a Stratocaster style guitar are located at the back of the bridge. And designed to easily adjust the intonation fo the guitar strings.
To adjust the string intonation correctly, you want to make sure that each string is in-tune in the open position (regularly tuning it) and also at the 12th fret. You put your finger down on the 12th fret and the guitar string should be in-tune there as well. If it is not, it needs to be adjusted. It can be in one of two positions if not in-tune.
Sharp: This means the string is too short and needs to be lengthened.
Flat: This means that the string is too long and needs to be shortened.
Watch the video lesson below
Knowing whether the string is sharp or flat and whether the string is too long or too short will allow you to make the proper adjustments. This should be checked on each string. Make sure that the strings are in-tune in the open position as well as at the 12th fret.
Use an electric guitar tuner
This can be done by ear if you have been playing for a while and have a well-developed ear. But if you’re a beginner or don’t have a well-developed ear (most people don’t o don’t worry about it) then I recommend that you use an electronic guitar tuner.
The type of guitar tuner I use is a Snark Clip-on tuner and you can easily find this on Amazon or anywhere else online. Or if you have a music store close by, you can get one there as well. No matter where you get it, I recommend you use one of these. They are easy to use and have a nice big display for reading the notes that you are tuning up to.
These tuners are very popular and just clip on to your guitar headstock. You clip it on your guitar headstock, turn it on, and start tuning. It’s that easy. And by using a guitar tuner, you’ll be able to not only keep your guitar in-tune, but you’ll also be learning a bit about what tools are needed to keep your guitar in tip-top shape.
Tools needed for the job
In addition to the clip-on guitar tuner, you’ll need a small Allen wrench. This usually comes with the guitar, but if not or you lost it, here is an Allen wrench set you can look into purchasing. They usually come in a set and it’s best to buy them that way as you may need one for the truss rod in the future.
You will also need a screwdriver to adjust the intonation of the strings. These can also be bought individually or in a screwdriver set. I recommend a set as they can be used for other things as well. So you won’t waste your money buying them.
If you have multiple guitars and feel that you might be doing more of this one them all in the future, you might look into getting a guitar maintenance kit.
These are very nice as they have additional tools to help maintain your guitar. String winder, Allen wrenches, screwdrivers, string action gauge, fret leveler, etc. This might be your best bet to keep your guitar working at it’s best.
When it comes to playing the guitar, you want to be aware that it is designed to be maintained. Simple things like adjusting the string height and intonation can make a huge difference in the way it plays. So take some time to learn about how to do this along with other simple tasks and your guitar will be fun to play and sound good every time.
And if you are just getting started on the guitar, be sure to grab my FREE training guide Beginner Guitar Secrets to help you get moving in the right direction. Have any questions? Contact me through my website and be sure to follow me on Social Media for my latest lesson updates.
Until our next guitar lesson, take care.