How to Set the Intonation on Your Headless Guitar/ Bass

Setting the intonation on your headless guitar or bass is key to being able to play in tune. If your instrument is not intonated, then fretted notes will not be in tune even if all the open strings are.

When we intonate our guitar/ bass, what we are doing is simply changing the length of each string so that it matches its “ideal” length. This length is going to vary from one guitar/ bass to the next depending on several factors, including: string gauge, string material, and action (this is important to note if you change your strings to a different set or change the action since you might have to re-intonate).

Of course, no guitar/ bass is going to be perfectly in tune (for that you need those squiggly frets, more properly known as “True Temperament”), but what we aim for is for the intonation to be as good as it can get.

Note: It is highly recommended to check the pitch after each adjustment in the playing position. Gravity affects the pitch of a string more than you might think. In this tutorial the guitar is on its back only to give a better view of the demonstration.

Let’s get started!

1. First we want to make sure that the string is perfectly in tune. A strobe tuner is most desirable since it allows you to be very precise, however, a headstock tuner will do the job as well. Once the string is in tune you want to compare the pitch by playing the octave above, the 12th string. If the note is sharp, the string needs to be lengthened by moving the saddle right. If the note is flat, the string needs to be shortened by moving the saddle left.

2. Fully loosen the string by turning thumbscrew counter-clockwise. Pull the string out and push it to the side.

3. Take the hex key (which should have been included in your case. If not, you can easily find one at a hardware store.) and loosen the screw holding down the bridge by turning counter-clockwise. Note that this is a monorail bridge and that in order to adjust the position of the saddle, we have to move the whole bridge. (This type of bridge is used on many headless guitars/ basses with some variation, including: Strandberg, Ibanez, Skervesen, Bootlegger, Mayones  and many more. Kiesel is among the few to use a different design.)

4. As stated in step one, you will need to move the bridge depending on its pitch. If it’s sharp, the string needs to be lengthened, if it’s flat, it needs to be shortened. Remember to only move it in small increments at a time.

5. Re-tighten the screw with the hex key by turning clockwise and tune up the string.

6. Repeat steps 1 – 5 until the octave matches the open string pitch as closely as possible before moving on to the next strings.

Your headless guitar/ bass is now fully intonated!

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