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In a previous article a brief discussion posted the basics of intonation and its definition. This article is an update and discusses intonation from the view of three of the top luthiers who concentrated on the issue of intonation when constructing a new guitar and the view from session player, Buzz Feiten.
During a recent attendance at a LMII lecture luthiers, John Gilbert, Greg Buyers, and Paul Jacobson presented their formula (or systematic approach) to address "intonation" when constructing a guitar. These three luthiers focused on acoustic or classical guitars as they do not build electric or solid body guitars.
To avoid being boring, the information the lutheirs presented is being skipped as is pertains to construction "stats" and mathematical formulas that are too long and too complex to post here.
Suffice to say that the builders did acknowledge that until recently (several years past) exact intonation of acoustic and nylon string guitars was not their main concern. That is now changed. Intonation is now an important phase of construction. With that stated below is a summary of the concept presented by Mr. Buzz Feiten.
Buzz Feiten is not a builder (luthier). He is a session, recording, and live performer (see and he developed the Buzz Feiten Tuning System@ several years ago to exact an intonation system for electric, acoustic, and classical guitars.
Mr. Feiten states . . ." If a guitar does not tune correctly and intonate properly then its furniture to him despite the beauty, wood selection, and price of the guitar. . ." Thus quite a significant statement.
In a nutshell Feiten argues that the age of tempered tuning needs to be replaced by well tempered tuning for the guitar. His model of the tempered tuning is the piano where piano strings are tuned not only with strobe, but to the ear. Thus, well tempered.
Conversely, a guitar (any guitar) has two parts that impacts a guitar string. The string nut and the string bridge. If either part is off then intonation is off and constant tuning is required.
It is understood that other factors play into tuning and intonation. That being guitar string construction, fingerboard scale lenght, and correct construction of the instrument. Taking for granted these factors are equal then the focus goes to the tempered tuning of the guitar string impacted by the string nut and the string bridge.
To achieve a well tempered tuning/intonation for the guitar a tweaking of the string is required. Tweaking a piano string is easy. That is, a piano string can be adjusted (tuned) to a note and no string nut or string bridge is required. Thus a well tempered tuning is pleasing to the ear and intervals of 3rds, 6ths, 10ths, and 11ths are harmonius.
So if one tunes their guitar strings to a piano player then checks the same to a tuner one will find a difference. The tuner will probably show the guitar is out of sync.
To overcome this phenomenon and achieve well tempered tuning for the guitar Feiten designed the extended string nut and worked with several companies that makes tuners (e.g., Korg, Peterson) to have a selection for tuning and intonating the Buzz Feiten modification. The modification requires professional installation and enables the guitar string(s) to be tuned and intonated by way of a well tempered sound.
So in a nutshell, where a guitar is tuned in fourths (4ths) the 2nd and 3rd strings is a major third interval that breaks up that harmonius, or pleasing, sound of 4ths. And just for conversation sake, the human ear loves the sound of 4ths, 5ths, and octaves (ala Wes Montgomery).
So if one tempers, or tweaks the interval of a 3rd then it will require tweaking the other four guitar strings then intonating and presto a sweet sounding guitar intonated.
However, no one should forget the aforementioned about an instruments construction and quality of a string and its core. Thus, no matter how advanced a tuning/intonation system is if there are logistical issues then tuning and intonation will be a constant problem for the guitar.