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Thread: Is The Note On The 5th Fret Of Your Mandos A String a D?

  1. #1

    Default Is The Note On The 5th Fret Of Your Mandos A String a D?

    Im asking about YOUR mandolin, not a hypothetical mandolin. Is your mandolin in perfect tune and is the intonation right according to D, G, A, and E each being an octave higher at the 12th fret?

    If those conditions are correct for YOUR mandolin then, when you play the 5th fret on the A string, do you get a perfect D note that is neither flat nor sharp?

    My new Kentucky KM-252 is tuned and the intonation seems right yet when I play the D note it is sharp, very sharp. Other notes going up the neck are sharp, too.

    If YOURS is playing a good D then Im wondering if raising the bridge will alleviate my problem.

    Thanks.

    IdahoBaird

  2. #2
    Professional Dreamer journeybear's Avatar
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    Default Re: Is The Note On The 5th Fret Of Your Mandos A String a D?

    Raising the bridge will exacerbate the problem. Most likely you have to move the bridge back a bit.

    When you press down on a string, you stretch it a little. Fretted strings are a little sharper than non-fretted. The best way to set intonation is to make sure the octave fret (12th fret) is exactly halfway between bridge and nut. You can do this with a ruler, but ultimately you want to hear it's correct. You should slacken your strings so you can move the bridge easily, and then tune up one string - not necessarily all the way, but enough so it's making a good tone. Fret each half of the string at the 12th fret, and adjust the bridge so that both notes are the same.

    Someone with more expertise than me will be able to explain how a compensated bridge affects this (where there is a bit of offset built in) and which string to use to get the best overall result. But this will get you closer. Using a tuner is also very helpful in all this.

    Another thing to keep in mind is that it is nearly impossible to have your intonation be perfect all the way up the neck. Since one tends to do most playing in the first seven frets or so, that's where you really want to get the intonation right. This will require a tuner. Once you've gotten the intonation close via the above method, fine-tune things by fretting in this area, say from the third to seventh frets.

    Sounds like a bit of a pain? Yup. This is why some folks bring their instruments to a shop for a set-up. You can do it yourself, and it's an act of love. But so is shelling out a few bucks to a pro. That said, search here for Rob Meldrum's free online set-up guide. I haven't, but many people have and say nothing but good things about it.

    In answer to your question, yep.

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    Registered User Greg Mirken's Avatar
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    Default Re: Is The Note On The 5th Fret Of Your Mandos A String a D?

    If fretted notes are most sharp at the low frets but get closer in-tune as you move up to the 12th fret, the culprit is the height at the nut. As you push the strings down to contact the fret you are stretching them, raising the pitch. A nut that's too high is one of the most common factory set-up problems; no amount of fiddling with the bridge will help. It's not difficult, but a bit tedious, to have a repairer set the string height just right at the nut.
    And most of my mandolins are old Gibsons, so no, they don't fret in tune, but that's another issue.
    Last edited by Greg Mirken; May-08-2021 at 4:20pm. Reason: Added an irrelevant thought.
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  6. #4

    Default Re: Is The Note On The 5th Fret Of Your Mandos A String a D?

    The only way for intonation to be perfect for every course at every fret is to have squiggly frets. Search images of "true temperament frets" to see what I mean. But it should be "reasonably" in tune, or you have an intonation issue. Ideal intonation is always (with a possible exception for those true temperament necks) a compromise, but it better be a GOOD compromise. A good luthier knows a lot of tricks to make it work.

    Sometimes it's the nut that's off. In that case, the notes will be more off the further you go down from the octave. First check the nut height; if that is reasonable then the nut is not in the correct location. I bought a new a Martin HD28 that was "in spec" for Martin, but the nut was way too close to the first fret, so notes at the low end were noticeably sharp. This was most noticeable for the low strings because it combined with the sharpening caused by stretching the strings when pushing them down.

    As pointed out above, all bets are off if the action is too high (either at the nut or the bridge) and not properly compensated for. If the nut is too high and everything else is correct for a low action, the notes closest to the nut will be the most sharp. (But this can also be caused by the nut too close to the bridge.) If the bridge is too high and everything else is correct for a low action, the notes higher up the neck will be sharper. If both are too high, it's a real mess.

    I suggest taking it to a good luthier. It's not uncommon to get an instrument even from a highly regarded manufacturer that needs additional setup.

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    Registered User DavidKOS's Avatar
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    Default Re: Is The Note On The 5th Fret Of Your Mandos A String a D?

    Quote Originally Posted by JeffLearman View Post
    The only way for intonation to be perfect for every course at every fret is to have squiggly frets. Search images of "true temperament frets" to see what I mean.
    Anytime you move the frets away from the 12th root of 2 system that determines the placement in 12 tone Equal Temperament you may get the intonation closer to "true temperament"...in one tonal center and a few closely related ones. The rest of the key centers will be unusable as they will have some really bad intervals.

    Here's the thing: on fretted instruments like guitars and mandolins, the only intervals that correspond exactly to the "pure" intervals are the octave and unison.

    Good points about bridge and nut action and adjustments being part of making a mandolin play as "in tune" as possible.

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    Registered User Bruce Clausen's Avatar
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    Default Re: Is The Note On The 5th Fret Of Your Mandos A String a D?

    Quote Originally Posted by DavidKOS View Post
    Anytime you move the frets away from the 12th root of 2 system that determines the placement in 12 tone Equal Temperament you may get the intonation closer to "true temperament"...in one tonal center and a few closely related ones. The rest of the key centers will be unusable as they will have some really bad intervals.
    Agreed. The "squiggly frets" idea looks like an attempt at getting so-called "just" temperament that will sound good only in simple diatonic music in one key. There used to be a classical guitarist who played on a guitar where you could quickly change between each of half a dozen or so fingerboards, each of them fretted for a different key. He spoke of the invention as revolutionary, but it didn't sound so great, frankly, and I think the idea died quietly.

    Granted, there is a tiny problem with traditional fretting: we have straight frets set parallel to the nut, but the bridge compensates for the different string diameters and materials by setting a different length for each course. But would anything be gained by making each fret mimic the curve on the saddle (with half the compensation at fret XII, one third at fret VII, etc.)? It wouldn't be an easy job for the builder, and probably wouldn't make a difference any of us could hear.

    The OP hasn't given us much help here. It seems likely to be a problem with the nut or nut slots. But if this mandolin is really "very sharp" on both A strings and no others, and only from the fifth fret up, a pro repair person should probably take a look.

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    Default Re: Is The Note On The 5th Fret Of Your Mandos A String a D?

    Mines very close myself, but no fretted instrument is going to be perfect on every fret. If as you as its ridiculously sharp Id check the intonation, I know it might seem perfect, but sometimes one string has to suffer for the benefit of the others. My E, A and D strings are intimated well but my G is off a lot, especially above the 7th fret and above the 10th fret is almost unplayable. In reality I need a new bridge to get all the strings intimated well, you might unfortunately be in the same boat as me. I know it doesnt solve the issue but hopefully this helps you find the exact issue in the first place.
    -Ross

    P.s. Bruce, are you talking about fanned frets as thats pretty much a description of exactly what they do? If youre interested in that idea might be worth looking up fanned frets and multi scale instruments.

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    Default Re: Is The Note On The 5th Fret Of Your Mandos A String a D?

    Another thing that hasn't been mentioned. If you have tall frets and press harder with one finger (the one that frets the 5th fret for instance) you could easily press too hard and cause that note to go sharp.
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    Martin Stillion mrmando's Avatar
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    Default Re: Is The Note On The 5th Fret Of Your Mandos A String a D?

    My mandolin is in tune, but my chewing gum does lose its flavor on the bedpost overnight.
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    Default Re: Is The Note On The 5th Fret Of Your Mandos A String a D?

    Sadly, no MC ...

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    Registered User John Bertotti's Avatar
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    Default Re: Is The Note On The 5th Fret Of Your Mandos A String a D?

    If your nut is tapered a bit on the board side it will cause problems, Now I'm going to go get this song out of my head.
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    Default Re: Is The Note On The 5th Fret Of Your Mandos A String a D?

    sounds like you need to set the intonation by moving the bridge to start. Here is a popular free book on how to do it: https://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/t...ing+intonation

    good luck.

  20. #13

    Default Re: Is The Note On The 5th Fret Of Your Mandos A String a D?

    Quote Originally Posted by DavidKOS View Post
    Anytime you move the frets away from the 12th root of 2 system that determines the placement in 12 tone Equal Temperament you may get the intonation closer to "true temperament"...in one tonal center and a few closely related ones. The rest of the key centers will be unusable as they will have some really bad intervals.
    No, you're confusing "true temperament" (which is a marketing term, not a technical one) with "just temperament" or "just intonation" which is tuning an instrument to be "perfect" for a given key (but always with compromises, because there are lots of definitions of what a "key" is.)

    Quote Originally Posted by Bruce Clausen View Post
    Agreed. The "squiggly frets" idea looks like an attempt at getting so-called "just" temperament that will sound good only in simple diatonic music in one key.
    Nope, it's not an attempt at just intonation or anything like it.

    True intonation makes a guitar's notes match a piano's notes, assuming the piano is tuned to equal temperament (and ignoring "stretching" which is done on a piano.) It makes the guitar ACTUALLY be in equal temperament rather than just close to it. It's like having every fret compensated the same way the bridge is. It has to be done to match the guitar's action and the gauge of the strings. It basically compensates for all the nonlinear stuff so that you get what you expect to get using the 12th root (but don't quite get, because, physics: inelasticity, bending due to action, etc.)

    I'm not talking about all the intervals sounding perfect, because as we know that's not possible. The "best" you can do (to make most of the intervals have no beats) is "just temperament" but as said above, that only works in one key.

    But both Bruce and David bring up the valid point that a correctly tuned instrument will often give intervals that have beats and may sound out-of-tune to those who aren't familiar with equal temperament. The most obvious example is a major third, which has obvious beats; the third is sharp of what would be used for just intonation (which would have no beats on the third -- but NASTY beats for certain other intervals.) Don't try to play jazz with just intonation! Or any music that modulates much.

    There used to be a classical guitarist who played on a guitar where you could quickly change between each of half a dozen or so fingerboards, each of them fretted for a different key.
    That was for just temperament, not true temperament.

    Admittedly, true-temperament instruments sound a bit odd, mostly since we're used to the vagaries of normal guitars. They sound a bit like a keyboard playing guitar samples, for the obvious reason. If you're interested, search on Youtube. There are some interesting comparisons. Here's one from a couple of my heroes, Adam Neely and Paul Davids:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-penQWPHJzI

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    Default Re: Is The Note On The 5th Fret Of Your Mandos A String a D?

    Ive never had a mandolin that each string is a perfect octave at 12th fret.
    I try to get each string close. If A Id noting sharp move bridge to lessen the sharpness and hopefully it wont makeE or D too flat. Bridge does not have to be straight across mandolin.
    Different gauge A string may help. I have even sanded saddle down to the point of moving one string in relation to others. At s last resort you could move to fiddle and not have to worry with frets period

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    Default Re: Is The Note On The 5th Fret Of Your Mandos A String a D?

    Absolutely correct, if A string is higher at nut than others it would cause this problem

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    Default Re: Is The Note On The 5th Fret Of Your Mandos A String a D?

    Quote Originally Posted by JeffLearman View Post
    No, you're confusing "true temperament" (which is a marketing term, not a technical one) with "just temperament" or "just intonation" which is tuning an instrument to be "perfect" for a given key (but always with compromises, because there are lots of definitions of what a "key" is.)
    Sorry. I assumed it was the usual attempt to "sweeten" tunings. I had no idea there was an effort to make a guitar match a piano.

    That may not work so well, as a piano has the outside octaves "stretched" to compensate for how the hammers hit the strings and our ears hear pitches.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stretched_tuning

    https://livingpianos.com/what-is-stretch-tuning/

    " Even if a piano is tuned to 440, the higher octaves would sound flat to the human ear if they were mathematically perfectly in tune. You may wonder how this can be. This is where stretch tuning comes into the equation. The human ears are imperfect in how they perceive pitch. They tend to hear flat in the higher register. To counter this, the octaves must be stretched beyond their normal pitches in order for the human ear to hear them correctly. A good piano tuner will know how much to stretch the higher octaves to make it sound correct to the human ear."

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  26. #17

    Default Re: Is The Note On The 5th Fret Of Your Mandos A String a D?

    Well, it's not so much to match a piano, but to match a tuner. I was just using a piano as an ideal instrument (which it isn't!) As I said, 'ignoring "stretching" which is done on a piano.' The point of the squiggly frets is to get the tuning as correct as possible for each string, compensating for anything that would make one string different than the others.

    Stretch tuning on a piano is a whole 'nuther matter. There are various reasons. The main one is to avoid beats caused by inharmonicity (overtones are actually higher than theory predicts due to inelasticity in the string.) Overtones are sharp, so you tune higher notes sharper to avoid nastiness. Another one is to compensate for the fact that the human ear/brain detects low notes as sharper than they really are, so we tune them flatter. That's a really odd one that I noticed with the first synthesizer I owned back around 1980, which was not stretch tuned. The only lesson there is when tuning up to play with a piano, tune your high strings to sound good with the piano, and the low strings to sound good with your high strings. (I wish guitarists would have a clue about this. But thankfully most use digital tuners which get close enough if the piano is on-key.)

    OK, back to mandolin intonation. :-)
    Last edited by JeffLearman; May-13-2021 at 3:44pm.

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    Registered User Bruce Clausen's Avatar
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    Default Re: Is The Note On The 5th Fret Of Your Mandos A String a D?

    Quote Originally Posted by JeffLearman View Post
    True intonation makes a guitar's notes match a piano's notes, assuming the piano is tuned to equal temperament (and ignoring "stretching" which is done on a piano.) It makes the guitar ACTUALLY be in equal temperament rather than just close to it. It's like having every fret compensated the same way the bridge is. It has to be done to match the guitar's action and the gauge of the strings. [/url]
    Thanks for your explanation, Jeff. So it sounds like "True Temperament" is someone's trade mark standing for "equal temperament". I mentioned above in post #6 the idea of improving (ever so slightly) the tempering of fretted instruments by sqiggling each fret so as to compensate for the different scale length of each string or course. It sounds like the "TT" invention compensates as well for differences in string height (which certainly do affect intonation). But does this leave us with an instrument that now has to be refretted every time we change string gauges or adjust our bridge height or truss rod?

    The guitarist I mentioned in my post above was trying to reproduce some of the historic temperaments that preceded the equal-semitones system we now use— the old tunings that harpsichord tuners still know and use. The problem with the invention was that the player had to change fingerboards repeatedly during concerts in order to move to a piece in a distant key. True Temperament would seem to involve similar headaches.

    Didn't Joni Mitchell have a guitar with electronic sensors on every string at every fret? The sensors drove digital samplers— not only did she get perfect intonation, but could set any tuning for the open strings. Maybe that's the way to go for people who demand Perfection.
    Last edited by Bruce Clausen; May-13-2021 at 1:52pm.

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    Default Re: Is The Note On The 5th Fret Of Your Mandos A String a D?

    The easiest way to think of True Temperament is that it's like a compensated bridge for every fret. Nothing more than that, really, and for the same reasons that a bridge is compensated: so all the strings are as true as possible.

    Joni used a Roland VG-8 and possibly other solutions to her problem that she used 3 dozen or more different tunings and hated to waste time during a show to return. (I once put together a spreadsheet of all the different tunings she used, ignoring changes that could be made with a capo, and it was over 30. Lost it, unfortunately.) To use the VG-8 you put a special pickup on your electric guitar, which sends a separate signal for each of the 6 strings to the VG-8 floor unit, and it processes the sound in a wide variety of ways, including pitch shifting (and it can also trigger synthesizers/samples.) Subsequently I believe she used a Variax which is a similar thing from Line6. I don't know whether she ever tried robo-tuners, which would have been yet another solution (but wouldn't have solved the issue she's complained about, that when tuned very low, the strings buzz and knock against their neighbors.)

    Wait, weren't we talking about mandolins at some point?

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    Default Re: Is The Note On The 5th Fret Of Your Mandos A String a D?

    Depending on the humidity, my E and G courses can be perfect all the way up to the 12th fret. D and A courses wander a bit. The lower the humidity the more accurate the fretting. As the humidity gets above 50% the tuning tends to drift across all courses.

  33. #21

    Default Re: Is The Note On The 5th Fret Of Your Mandos A String a D?

    I read somewhere saying "mandolin means off tuned instrument" !!!
    All instruments are off tuned to some degree, EXCEPT electronic keyboards which never need tuning !!!(unless you need quarter note tuning which is done ONCE)

  34. #22

    Default Re: Is The Note On The 5th Fret Of Your Mandos A String a D?

    Mandolin is Italian for ' out of tune '

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    Registered User Frankdolin's Avatar
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    Default Re: Is The Note On The 5th Fret Of Your Mandos A String a D?

    If that's a new mandolin with original strings. It needs strings. Before you look at anything, change the strings.

  36. #24
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    Default Re: Is The Note On The 5th Fret Of Your Mandos A String a D?

    Well I have just tuned one of my latest mandolins and it is a perfect octave on the 12th fret on all strings, and the D on the A string is bang on D. However, I do the bridge compensation myself to fit the strings I use. Is somewhat tedious filing away at a blank saddle, but there is no other way to get it spot on. Other strings won't give the same result. So, it is possible if you get the compensation correct for the strings you use, and the bridge position correct. If I had your mandolin I would change the strings first, then adjust the bridge position to give the octave at the 12th fret, then check the string clearance at the first and 12th fret and adjust. Then check the bridge position and adjust again if necessary. If there are still problems then look at the saddle compensation and replace the saddle if necessary. That should fix the problem. We seem to have drifted off the topic somewhat.
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    Professional Dreamer journeybear's Avatar
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    Default Re: Is The Note On The 5th Fret Of Your Mandos A String a D?

    That happens so rarely around here, it hardly bears mentioning.

    Thanks for your clear, succinct input. Hopefully the OP is benefitting from the good advice in this thread mixed in with the folderol. Have yet to hear. Perhaps he's busy implementing these improvement and procedures.
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