Questions on Tuning: Attack or decay and how much variation is acceptable up the neck

Hi all, I’ve been busy restringing my guitars and the following questions came up again in my mind so I thought I’d investigate to get to the bottom of them. However, I did a bit of a search on the website and forum and then the internet in general but didn’t really find any definitive answers (but did find plenty of conflicting ones :sweat_smile: ) so was interested in what others here think/do when tuning their guitars :thinking:

  1. Do you tune to the attack or decay of the string? If attack then hitting you’re in tune, but sustained notes might go slightly flat. If decay then the hit is slightly sharp but sustain in tune. Does it depend most on your playing style? For instance if I am doing a series of fast palm-muted open E’s on the 6th string then a sustained power chord, should I have the attacks on the Es in tune and power chord slightly flat or vice versa? Or maybe do I split the difference? Or does this not happen to others, am I attacking to hard and need to lighten my touch? (most likely! :joy:)

  2. How much variation is acceptable beyond the 12th fret? I have tuned open strings and set the intonation using the harmonic on the 12th and the fretted note on the 12th, which are both in tune. The notes between 0 & 12 are in tune, however the further I go up from the 12th they tend to go sharp, eventually by several cents. Does this mean my intonation is set incorrectly? Or does this mean my neck needs adjusting? Or is this variation normal as guitars aren’t perfect so a degree of variation is acceptable? Or is it something else?

I am using a Boss TU-3 tuner on chromatic mode as the reference.

Thanks in advance for any insights on this! :sunglasses::+1:


Wow. I never thought of tuning regard to attack and release xD

Personally I will tune the 6th string slightly lower becoz I am going to reach higher frets very frequently, so that the songs I play staying in tune. You can check out how I play the song on guitar here

To be absolutely precise, I have used harmonic tuning technique and some physics (yeah, real physics thing when you have two very close but not equal frequencies you create interference) And I forgot how to do so becoz it is unecessary to be that precise :rofl:

To put it simple stupid, it really depends on your playstyle and personal preference. Hope it helps.

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I just recently learned to do my own basic setups. According to the instructions I followed, after setting the intonation at the 12th fret, if you often play past the 12th, you should repeat the intonation process at the 17th fret.


I usually tune for the sustain.

A couple reasons, notes last some time after picking, and fretting something will generally raise the pitch a little anyhow (obv depending on guitar an how hard you press), conversely you cant make the note go flatter.

I would expect on an electric where you can dial in intonation to be within a handful of cents at the 12th fret.

Alo note that you will never get every fret spot on, thats not how your average guitar works ( there are special guitars that do…)


Oh… thanks for the clarification! Didnt realise Jeff is talking about intonation and guitar setup :sweat_smile:
I let the luthier handle all the details and got my acosutic guitar setup few days ago. And its awesome :sparkling_heart: He said since I am playing in DADGAD the guitar need to be setup differently, and probably this is one of the reason haha

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Not just that, look at an accurate chromatic tuner and the frequency of the note changes between striking it and it decaying some. regardless of intonation etc.


I tune for the sustain/decay as well. Not sure why, seemed to be more accurate as the pitch when hitting will vary a bit, but the sustain will be the truth…

I just intonate at 12th fret, AFAIK it’s only needed when changing the type of string you’re using. I read somewhere that all fretted instruments have varying intonation throughout, and that’s as good as you’ll get it. Apparently frets would need to be wiggly for all to be perfectly intonated.


They exist and are called true temperament guitars, sadly you’ll sound like crap if you are playing with or too anyone else who doesn’t also have one…


Oh alright. When I want to record a song, I usually retune the string according to that song, to deal with the specific out of tune problem

I am always wrong, would say not being perfect is what make a guitar sounds natural


I wonder if those wiggly fret guitars are intonated for one tuning only? And out for all others.


Sustained notes go flat because the harmonic content of the vibrating string changes, leaving you with more lower frequencies. It happens on other stringed instruments as well, think about hitting a note/chord on a piano and how its sound changes.

Personally, I set intonation to the attach as the duration of “sustain” needed may vary depending on the particular song, so I think it’s a good middle ground. However, if you notice that your chords, especially the 5th and octaves, don’t seem to be entirely in tune, you should fine tune the intonation.


Thanks so much @DarkWillowTM @markr31 @RobDickinson @jkahn @Jozsef ! That is really helpful and also super interesting! I have always tuned for the sustain/decay (didn’t want to influence the discussion earlier) but wondered if I was doing it wrong.

Hadn’t heard that before Mark, good to know! But if you adjusted again to sort out the 17th fret wouldn’t that throw out the 12th? :thinking:

Yeah I typically find that the case too. Maybe some minor tweaks as the strings age? But otherwise, kind of a one and done thing right (unless changing to a different string gauge)? At least that’s how it seems to work for me.

:scream: :exploding_head:

Hmmm good question? :thinking:

Ah! Okay! Yeah that makes sense!

Thanks Jozsef! Really good point! Hmm so maybe tune to a mid strength attack to be a “middle ground”, so hard attacks might be slightly sharp and the decay will naturally go flat, but neither should be extremes? (assuming intonation is all good)

PS - @DarkWillowTM I checked out your TikTok vid… OMG that was incredible! That’s some of the coolest playing I’ve seen! Bravo!! :clap::star_struck:


Cool question! Ideally you’ll want your guitar in tune ALL the time :slight_smile:

If I have to choose I would tune so the sustained note rings out in tune - but when tuning you have to pick the string with “medium hard attack”, not overly hard or whisper light.

When playing metal, for example chugging on the low E, it is normal that each pick pulls the string slightly sharp. Honestly I find that super annoying and quite bad sounding… which is why I use an Evertune equipped guitar for all my metal rhythm playing… for example Metallica songs. The special bridge with the spring system keeps the chugged notes perfectly in tune, regardless of how hard you pick. It’s really the only way you can currently play that style of music perfectly in tune. If you hear this effect a lot, also when you don’t intentionally pick super hard, then you’ll need to work on picking lighter.

As for intonation, it sounds like you’re not quite done with the setup? If you have the guitar perfectly intonated from 1 to 12 fret, but it goes significantly sharp further up on the neck… I was wondering if you have very high string action up towards the 22th fret? The higher the string “flies” over the frets, the more it will be pulled sharp when fretting it. That’s just physics for you :wink: (as it happens, the Evertune bridge also solves that problem, it just sounds perfectly intonated all across the neck… always).


@nzmetal, interesting topic. How much difference is there in the pitch at the moment of attack and later during the sustain phase? How many cents?

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Thanks Kasper! Really appreciate your detailed response :smiley::+1:

Okay, cool! That’s a good point!


This is great to hear as that’s what I use! :sunglasses: However, I have typically been setting up in Zone 3 to allow for bending, but probably should leave at least the low E in Z2 given what I normally play :joy: although at the moment I’m working on a song that does require bending that string. Perhaps I am too close to the edge on Z3 and need to come back a bit more into Z2 to avoid sharp notes but still have some ability to bend?
(Link for info for anyone not familiar with an Evertune bridge)

Ah yes of course! I reckon you’re on to it! This is something I have been wondering about as I’ve had a nagging feeling that either the action or the neck set up on my newer Solar is not quite right. The action is definitely higher up the neck but I wouldn’t say it’s really high, however it’s probably higher than it should be. Tonight I’ll spend some more time and see if I can figure out what needs adjusting, make the tweaks and see if it helps. If not, I’m inclined to take it to be professionally set up I think, just to be sure, as knowing me I’m liking screwing something up! :crazy_face::joy:

Thanks again!

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Hi John! :smiley:

Well, if I understand the meter on the TU-3 correctly, it has 10 segments either side, counting up to +50cents sharp and down to -50cents flat, so typically it would be around 5-10cents sharp.

Tonight I’ll work on tweaking the setup a bit more as Kasper suggested and then try to record a demo of what happens on the tuner from attack to decay :slight_smile:

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I set up my Evertune bridge for both bending AND handling hard pick attacks - but putting it right on the edge.
My process is like this; I keep tuning up with the normal tuners to the instant I can hear the note starting to go sharp. Then I very slowly dial it back until the pitch no longer goes up when I press as hard as I can down on the 2nd fret (on a normal guitar, so an overly hard pressed fret will pull the note sharp). For me that puts the Evertune bridge in a position where there is enough spring “wiggle room” to handle hard picks/chugs… but bends still feel almost entirely normal. Looking at the bridge you should also be able to see the bridge saddle moving forward just a tiny bit when you bend, before it “catches on” and allows you to bend the note.

When recording, if you really need to chug some metal riffs, you can always turn the machine head another turn to temporarily disallow bending on the low E…


For the tuning I guess there is an argument to be made. I try to tune to be spot on on the attack. That’s because I don’t have a very light touch so I don’t want to be too sharp when playing. I might also add that when tuning I attack almost as I would play. So, that’s why some suggest to tune the open strings slightly flat so that when playing you are in tune.

As for the intonation, I recently did a setup of my Ibanez and now the intonation is spot on all the way to the 24th fret.
To do that I measured the pickups height and took a note. Then I screwed them all the way in. I put on new strings and stretched them until tuning was stable.
I set the relief and action and then I started looking into the intonation.
I tuned each open string to be spot on. Then I compared the natural harmonic at the 12th fret with the open and the fretted note. As the guitar has 24 frets, I was also checking the fretted note on the 24th fret too. I adjusted the string length accordingly until all that matched.
A bit laborious but well worth it.

I now experiment with pickup height but at this stage, this doesnt have to do with the intonation.

I’m not sure if any of that helps but I hope it does!


Thanks again Kasper, this is brilliant advice! My process was essentially the same except the 2nd fret step, that’s genius! I tried it and it works great! :smiley::+1:

Nice! Thanks Lefteris! Makes good sense. I tend to hit and press hard too, so that approach would help :smiley: :+1:

Thanks also for the breakdown of your intonation process, sounds like a good one to follow! Checking right up to the 24th fret is a good tip. And yes agreed, certainly well worth getting it right despite the work! :sunglasses:

Certainly does! Most appreciated! :metal:

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