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Intonation in the Real World

Intonation in the Real World

by Mike Doolin

from his 2006 GAL Convention lecture

previously published in American Lutherie #92, 2007

Getting guitars to play in tune has been a major topic of interest for many years, both for guitar players and guitar makers, and it has been a major source of frustration as well. During our current “Golden Age of Lutherie” the bar has been raised for standards of craft, playability, and tonal quality, as players have become more sophisticated in their expectations and builders have become better educated and more demanding of their own work. Expectations for accurate intonation have come along with all that: it’s no longer acceptable for a guitar to only play in tune for the first five frets, or in a few keys. Modern players are using the whole neck, exploring extended harmonies, and playing in ensembles with other instruments. They are looking for instruments that play in tune with themselves and with the rest of the musical world.

It turns out that guitar intonation is a huge can of worms, because it is really two topics:

▶ What does it mean to be “in tune?”
▶ How do I make a guitar do that?

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