How to Intonate a Three-Saddle Tele
Vintage-style, straight-bar saddles will never intonate properly—we find a way to fix this issue that doesn’t involve replacing the entire bridge.
One of my clients recently brought me a fascinating guitar to work on (Fig. 1). It's a 1993 Japanese custom-shop Fender Telecaster that screams “1962-Tele-meets-Nascar." This Tele is in excellent condition and plays great, but not in tune. The bridge has three vintage-style, straight-bar saddles. Unfortunately, these saddles will never intonate properly (and they never did back in the day), so I need to find a way to fix this intonation issue that doesn't involve replacing the entire bridge.
Fortunately, several vendors make "tilt-compensated" saddles that are perfect for this Tele. (Searching eBay or visiting websites for custom part-makers like Joe Barden or Callaham Guitars, or going to vendors like stewmac.com and allparts.com will yield a number of options for tilt-compensated saddles.) Let's see what's involved with retrofitting a Tele with this type of saddle.
With its cool custom paint job, this 1962 reissue looks sharp. But by today's standards, a Tele is simply not gig-worthy if you can't intonate it.
Here's the problem:
Fig. 2: This guitar came from the factory with period-correct straight-bar saddles. Unfortunately, such saddles are impossible to intonate accurately.
Two strings share each of the three straight-bar bridge saddles (Fig. 2). If you correctly intonate one of the strings in each of the pairs, this puts the other string way out of tune. The end result? Three strings are intonated and three aren't. Typically, the best-case scenario is to average the two strings on each saddle, but the strings are always more out of tune than with a correctly adjusted 6-saddle Tele bridge.
Fig. 3: These brass "tilt-compensated" saddles offer improved intonation while preserving the characteristic tone of a three-saddle Tele.
But many Tele freaks prefer the tone of a classic 3-saddle bridge (why it sounds different from the 6-saddle bridge is another discussion), so rather than replace the entire assembly, enterprising players developed the tilt-compensated scheme (Fig. 3). This allows for accurate intonation without losing the snap and twang of a classic 3-saddle bridge.
If you have a guitar with a 3-saddle bridge, you can replace the straight-bar saddles with a tilt-compensated set and have the best of both worlds. It sounds simple, right? Hey, let's just swap out a few saddles. Believe it or not, there's a lot more to it.
Before doing any work on a guitar, it's important to take measurements. These will help you determine if you need to make any necessary setup adjustments to the guitar you're about to modify.
After tuning the guitar to pitch, I always check three crucial things:
- The action at the 12th fret.
- The amount of relief in the neck.
- The action at the string nut.
In this case, all the measurements looked spot on. Moving from the 1st to 6th string, the 12th-fret action measured 3/64" x 4/64". The neck relief was .012" and the action at the 1st fret was 1/64" x 2/64", again moving from the 1st to 6th string. [To review the setup process for an electric guitar, see How to Set Up a Fender Stratocaster. The same basic principles apply for setting up a Telecaster.]
After taking these measurements, remove the strings and the bridge saddles. Once the saddles are off, compare them to the new tilt-compensated saddles to see if the height of the new saddles will match up.
On this Tele, the new saddles appeared to be a little taller for the two E strings—strings 1 and 6—but otherwise they matched the height of the old saddles. So I installed the new saddles and tuned the Tele to pitch, and once again took the above three measurements.
Fig. 4: With the tilt-compensated saddle, the 6th string sits too high on this guitar, even with the height-adjustment screw backed out all the way.
Overall, the action was pretty close, but the two E strings were just a little too high (about 1/64" too high), even with the height adjustment screws backed all the way out for both E strings (Fig. 4 and Fig. 5).
Fig. 5: Like the 6th string, the 1st string sits too high.
There is only one cure for this—remove the offending saddles and mill them down underneath.
Milling the saddles.
Fig. 6: When a barrel saddle sits too high in the bridge assembly, you need to remove some material from its underside. Here the saddle sits in a vise, protected by leather pads. Once it's secured, you can scribe a guideline in the end of the saddle to indicate how much brass (in this case, 1/32") needs to be milled away from the bottom.
I determined the saddles needed to be lowered 1/32" below the 1st and 6th strings. Removing this much will allow for additional adjustment in the event my client wants to lower the action more than 1/64".
I put the saddle in a vice that's equipped with leather pads on the jaws to prevent the saddle from being scratched. Then I measured 1/32" from the bottom of the saddle, and used a scribe to mark this distance. This mark tells me how far to mill the saddle (Fig. 6).
You can mill a saddle by hand on a flat surface using 80-grit sandpaper or alternatively on a belt sander or grinder. If you opt for a belt sander or a grinder, be extremely careful. All it takes is one slip and the saddle is ruined. At best, if the saddle slips out of your fingers, it will launch across the room.
Fig. 7: A saddle in the process of being milled on a flat surface that's covered with self-adhesive, 80-grit sandpaper.
That's why I prefer to do this job by hand on a flat surface. It takes a lot longer this way, but you have much more control over the saddle, and to me, that's worth it. Fig. 7 shows the underside of a saddle in the process of being milled on a flat surface.
With saddles milled, the next step is to install them and tune the guitar to pitch. With the new saddles installed, the action looked great. Now the process of adjusting the string spacing begins.
Adjusting string spacing.
Fig. 8: Measuring the distance between the 1st string and fretboard edge.
Spacing the strings is rather tedious, but it's critical for playability. On the new tilt-compensated saddles, the strings sit on a rounded surface. To prevent the strings from sliding sideways, you need to file grooves into the saddles—one groove for each string. In addition to holding the strings securely, these grooves also ensure proper and consistent spacing.
Measure approximately 1/8" from each side of the fretboard at the last fret—this will be the starting point. Once you have the outside edges of the two E strings evenly spaced from the fretboard sides, make a small groove in the saddles to hold the strings in place.
To match the grooves to their respective string gauges, I use a string nut file. (These special gauged files are available in sets or individually from luthier supply shops.)
Fig. 9: Measuring string-to-string spacing.
Next, move each of the remaining four strings to their proper spacing. The goal is to have them an equal distance apart, measuring from the outside edge of each string. Use a precision metal ruler to check your spacing (Fig. 9).
Fig. 10: Filing the string grooves with a nut-slotting file.
Once I have the spacing correctly set, I file a small groove under each string (Fig. 10). The spacing for this particular bridge is approximately 13/32" from string to string. Of course this will vary, depending on the width of your guitar's fretboard. To ensure proper spacing, always measure several times before you file the grooves.
Remember: When filing the grooves for each string, make sure you use the properly sized file. If the file is too small, the strings will bind in the grooves, causing tuning issues. But if the grooves are too large, the strings can rattle in the grooves. Also make sure each groove follows the proper angle for each string as it comes out of the bridge plate.
Adjusting the intonation.
Once the string spacing is correct and you've filed the string grooves, it's time to adjust the intonation—the point of this whole project. Adjusting intonation requires several things: a precise tuner (a strobe tuner is preferable), a screwdriver, and a lot of patience!
Fig. 11: Adjusting intonation takes a very accurate tuner and a lot of patience.
Start by tuning the guitar to pitch. Then, one string at a time, compare the 12th-fret harmonic to the fretted note at the 12th fret. The harmonic is your reference tone. When comparing the two, if the fretted note is sharp, tighten the intonation screw located at the back of the bridge assembly (Fig. 11). This moves the saddle backward. If the fretted note is flat, loosen the intonation screw to move the saddle forward.
Always retune after each adjustment and then check intonation for accuracy. The goal is to match these two tones so they're perfectly in tune … to a certain extent. I've found this process works great for the low E, A, D, and high E strings (the 6th, 5th, 4th, and 1st). For the G and B (3rd and 2nd) strings, I use a tempering method so those strings will sound more in tune with the rest of the strings. I intonate the B string approximately 1 cent sharp at the 12th fret and set the G string approximately 2 cents sharp at the 12th fret. The end result produces slower "beating" or oscillation between the notes when you play a chord, making the guitar sound more in tune. This temperament "fudging" can vary from one guitar to another, and many techs, luthiers, and players have developed their own particular tempering scheme.
Note: A cent is 1/100th of a semitone or half-step, so you see why a precision tuner is necessary for adjusting intonation. If you don't have an accurate strobe tuner—one that can give you a 1/100th cent reading—it's best to simply intonate each string to match the 12th-fret harmonic.
That's it for now. See you next time for another adventure in DIY guitar maintenance.
- Squier Tele Makeover: Surf-Twang Tweak-a-Rama - Premier Guitar ›
- Tone Tips: Maximizing Tuning Stability - Premier Guitar ›
- Tools for the Task: Tele-Style Bridges - Premier Guitar ›
- Tone Tips: Maximizing Tuning Stability - Premier Guitar ›
For these new recreations, Fender focuses on the little things that make original golden-era Fenders objects of obsession.
If there’s one thing players love more than new guitars, it’s old guitars—the unique feel, the design idiosyncrasies, the quirks in finish that all came from the pre-CNC era of instrument manufacturing. These characteristics become the stuff of legend, passed on through the years via rumors and anecdotes in shops, forums, and community networks.
It’s a little difficult to separate fact from fiction given these guitars aren’t easy to get your hands on. Fender Telecasters manufactured in the 1950s and 1960s sell for upwards of $20,000. But old is about to become new again. Fender’s American Vintage II series features 12 year-specific electric guitar and bass models from over two decades, spanning 1951 to 1977, that replicate most specs on their original counterparts, but are produced with modern technologies that ensure uniform build and feel.
Chronologically, the series begins and ends, fittingly, with the Telecaster—starting with the butterscotch blonde, blackguard 1951 Telecaster (built with an ash body, one-piece U-shaped maple neck, and 7.25" radius fretboard) and ending with the 1977 Telecaster Custom, which features a C-shaped neck, a CuNiFe magnet-based Wide Range humbucker in the neck position, and a single-coil at the bridge. The rest of the series spans the highlights of Fender’s repertoire: the 1954 Precision Bass, 1957 Stratocaster in ash or alder, 1960 Precision Bass, 1961 Stratocaster, 1963 Telecaster, 1966 Jazz Bass, 1966 Jazzmaster, 1972 Tele Thinline, 1973 Strat, and 1975 Telecaster Deluxe. The 1951 Telecaster, 1957 Strat, 1961 Strat, and 1966 Jazz Bass will also be offered as left-handed models. Street prices run from $2,099 to $2,399.
Fender '72 American Vintage II Telecaster Thinline Demo | First Look
Spec’d To Please
Every guitar in the series sports the era’s 7.25" radius fretboard, a mostly abandoned spec found on Custom Shop instruments—Mexico-made Vintera models, and Fender’s Artist Series guitars like the Jimmy Page, Jason Isbell, and Albert Hammond Jr. models. Most modern Fenders feature a 9.5" radius, while radii on Gibsons reach upwards of 12". Videos experimenting with the 7.25" radius’ playability pull in tens of thousands of viewers, suggesting both a modern fascination with and a lack of exposure to the radius among some younger and less experienced players.
T.J. Osborne of the Brothers Osborne picks an American Vintage II 1966 Jazzmaster in Dakota red.
Bringing back the polarizing 7.25" radius across the entire series is a gamble, and it’s been nearly five years since Fender released year-specific models. But Fender executive vice president Justin Norvell says that two years ago when the Fender brain trust was conceptualizing the American Vintage II line, they decided the time was right to “go back to the well.”
“We’ve been doing the same [models], the same years, over and over again for 30 years,” says Norvell. “We really wanted to change the line and expand it into some new things that we hadn’t done before and pick some different years that we thought were cool.”
“It takes a lot of doing to go back in time and sort of uncover the secret-sauce recipes.”—Steve Thomas, Fender
To decide on which years to produce, Fender drew from what Norvell calls a “huge cauldron of information” from Custom Shop master builders to collectors with vintage models to former employees from the 1950s and 1960s. The hands-on manufacturing of Fender’s golden years meant guitars produced within the same year would have marked differences in design and finish. So, the team had to procure multiple versions of the same year’s guitar to decide which models to replicate. Norvell says some purists would advocate for the “cleanest, most down-the-middle kind of variant,” while others would push for more esoteric and rare versions. Norvell says that ultimately, the team picked the models that they felt best represented “the throughline of history on our platforms.”
Simple and agile, the Fender Precision Bass—here in its new American Vintage II ’54 incarnation—earned its reputation in the hands of Bill Black, James Jamerson, Donald “Duck” Dunn, and other foundational players.
Norvell says the American Vintage II series was developed, in part, in response to calls to reproduce vintage guitars. Just like with classic cars, he says, people are passionate about year-specific guitars. Plus, American Vintage II fits perfectly with the pandemic-stoked yearning for bygone times. “For some people, these specific years are representative of experiences they had when they were first playing guitar, or a favorite artist that played guitars from these eras,” says Norvell. “These are touchstones for those stories, and that makes them very desirable.”
Fender’s electric guitar research and design team, led by director Steve Thomas, dug through the company’s archive of original drawings and designs—dating all the way back to Leo Fender’s original shop in Fullerton, California. They found detailed notes, including some documenting body woods that changed mid-year on certain models. Halfway through 1956, for example, Stratocaster bodies switched from ash to alder. That meant the American Vintage II 1957 Stratocaster needed to be alder, too. That, in turn, meant ensuring enough alder was on hand to fulfill production needs.
Among the series’ Stratocaster recreations is this 1973-style instrument, with an ash body, maple C-profile neck, rosewood fretboard, and the company’s Pure Vintage single-coils.
Thomas and his team discovered another piece of the production puzzle when researching how pickups for that same 1957 Strat were made. “We realized that if we incorporated a little bit more pinch control on the winders, we could more effectively mimic the way pickups would have been hand-wound in the ’50s,” says Thomas. “It takes a lot of doing to go back in time and sort of uncover the secret-sauce recipes.”
Thomas proudly calls the guitars “some of the best instruments we’ve ever made here in the Fender plant,” pointing to the level of detail put into design features, including more delicate lacquer finishes which take longer to cure and dry, and vintage-correct tweed cases for some guitars. New pickups were incorporated in the series, like a reworking of Seth Lover’s famed CuNiFe Wide Range humbuckers, which were discontinued around 1981. Even more minute details, like the width of 12th fret dots and the material used for them, were labored over. Three different models in the line feature clay dot inlays at unique, year-specific spacings.
Ironically, modern CNC manufacturing now makes these design quirks consistent features in mass-produced instruments. While the hand-crafted guitars from the ’50s and ’60s varied a lot from instrument to instrument. “Everything needs to be located perfectly, and it wasn’t necessarily back in the day,” says Norvell. “Now, it can be.”
Don’t Look Back
With this new series so firmly planted in the rose-tinted past, Fender does run the risk of netting only vintage-obsessed players. But Norvell says the team, despite being sticklers for period-correct detail, sought to strike a balance between vintage specs, practicality, and playability. The 1957 Stratocaster, for example, has a 5-way switch rather than the original’s 3-way switch. Norvell also asserts that the “ergonomic” old-school radius feels great when chording. “It might not be [right for] a shred machine, but it feels great and effortless.”
The 1966 Jazz Bass is also represented, shown here in a left-handed version.
Norvell also pushes back on the notion that Fender is playing it safe by indulging nostalgia and leaning on their past successes. He says that while the vintage models are some of the most desirable on the market, the team “purposely did not stick to the safe bets,” citing unusual year models like the 1954 P Bass and the 1973 Stratocaster.There’s a good reason why anything that hails back to “the good ol’ days” hits home with every generation. We’re constantly plagued by a belief that what came before is better than what we’ve got now. But with the American Vintage II series, Fender makes the case that guitars from the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s can very easily be a relevant part of the 2020s.
JET Pedals Releases The Red Sea
The Red Sea was born out of the vision to provide complex signal routing options available to the live/performing musician, that up until now, are only found in a studio mixing environment.
Introducing the Red Sea, an all-analog signal routing matrix, designed for countless stereo and mono signal path routing options. The Red Sea was born out of the vision to provide complex signal routing options available to the live/performing musician, that up until now, are only found in a studio mixing environment. The Red Sea has accomplished this in a compact, easy-to-use, and cost-effective solution.
Wet | Dry | Wet
The Red Sea gives you the ability to run a FULL Stereo wet dry wet rig using only 2 amps or just 2 signals to the FOH, while also giving you complete control over your Wet & Dry mix! Use the Blend knob to control the overall mix between stereo wet effects and mono dry/drive signals.
Stereo Dual Amps
Run dual amp modelers if full stereo w/ stereo effects. Gone are the traditional ways of one amp in the Left channel and another in the Right channel. Now use the Red Sea to seamlessly blend between two separate amps in true stereo. Think of this as a 2-channel amp where you can blend anywhere between both amps.
Stereo Parallel FX
Red Sea has two independent stereo FX loops. Use each FX loop to run stereo delay's and reverb's in parallel, where each effect does not interact with each other. Huge soundscapes can be achieved with washy reverbs and articulate delay repeats while being able to blend between each FX loops mix level.
The Red Sea can also do the following routing options:
- Wet | Dry utilizing a single amp
- Clean Wet | Dry | Wet (drives DO NOT run into wet effects)
- Wet | Dry | Wet with dual delays (one in the L channel & other in R channel)
- Parallel Dual Amps (run dual amp modelers in FULL stereo)
- Convert a tube amp's serial FX Loop to a parallel FX Loop
- Stereo and Mono analog dry through (avoid latency in digital pedals)
Crazy Tube Circuits Announces the Stardust V3
Stardust V3 was designed to capture the sound and response of 3 distinct amplifier models.
Stardust V3 was designed to capture the sound and response of 3 distinct maxed-out amplifier models. An all-analog signal path with discrete gain stages featuring MOSFET transistors provides juicy overdrive tones with great note separation that clean up to that sparkly sound that we all love and heard in recordings of the past. Set gain and tone and control everything from your guitar. Sparkly clean to crunchy mean are all there.
You can select the amplifier voicing via the onboard toggle switch.
BSM: Voiced after a blackface amp head that was primarily targeted for bass guitar players but got famous for electric guitar classic rock tones.
VLX: Voiced after a chimey 2x10” combo offering the perfect amount of controllable crunch
DLX: Voiced after one of the most popular low wattage 1×12″ combo amps that have found their way in countless recording studios and clubs around the world.
Stardust V3 now comes with top-mounted jacks and soft-click true bypass via a high-quality relay. The pedal has loads of output volume and enhanced headroom provided by 18V DC (boosted internally) so that it can also be used as a preamp going straight into your Power Amp or AudioInterface when combined with a separate speaker simulation device.
Street price: 199 Euro / 199 USD.
For more information, please visit crazytubecircuits.com.
EarthQuaker Devices Presents the Third Incarnation of the Sunn O))) Life Pedal
The Sunn O))) Life Pedal circuit has been meticulously tweaked from the original and includes a third footswitch.
Sunn O))) present an enhanced version of the Sunn O))) Life Pedal Octave Distortion + Booster, in collaboration with their comrades at EarthQuaker Devices. The Sunn O))) Life Pedal circuit has been meticulously tweaked from the original to squeeze every last drop of heavy crushing tone available. The octave section has been fine tuned to make it more pronounced without losing the bottom end and we added a third footswitch, utilizing Flexi-Switch Technology, for the octave to allow an additional method of quick and radical tone shaping.
“Working on this new version has been a great continuity of this collaboration which feels so right, and sounds so right,” says Stephen O’Malley. “It’s a really beautiful pedal and it’s also a beautiful art collaboration. I think we made something really interesting that people can enjoy to use for their own music, but also, it makes a lot of sense to release a piece of distortion as a release for our band. We’re really happy that this is a trilogy now.”
The Sunn O))) Life Pedal is designed to represent the core front end chain used in those sessions, to drive the tubes of the band’s multiple vintage Sunn O))) Model T amplifiers (or take your fancy) into overload ecstasy. This is a 100w tube amp full stack’s holy dream, or its apostate nightmare.
Sunn O))) Life Pedal is a distortion with a blendable analog octave up and a booster
- Features 3 different clipping options: Symmetrical Silicon, Asymmetrical Silicon & LED, and pure OpAmp Drive
- Distortion and booster can be used independently
- Expression and footswitch control over analog octave up
- Octave blend allows total control over how much Octave is mixed into the circuit
- True bypass with silent relay based soft touch switches
- Features EarthQuaker Devices’ proprietary Flexi-Switch® Technology
- Lifetime warranty
- Current Draw: 15 mA
- Octave Distortion: Input impedance: 1 MΩ / Output impedance: <1 kΩ
- Booster: Input Impedance: 500 kΩ / Output Impedance: <1 kΩ
- List Price: $299 USD