How To Intonate A Banjo

Knowing how to intonate a banjo can give you a more accurate and professional sound, and will give you a better understanding of how a banjo works. So if you have noticed that your banjo is sounding a little “off,” you probably need to adjust the bridge and get the intonation just right. This brief tutorial will get you on the right path to perfection.

  1. Tune your banjo. The first step to intonating your banjo is to tune it. Use an electronic tuner for a more accurate tune. This is necessary to achieve perfect intonation. After you have tuned your banjo, check each string again to ensure the tuning has held.
  2. Check the harmonics. To test the current intonation of your banjo you will need to utilize harmonics to determine if your notes are flat or sharp. Harmonics are accomplished by lightly touching any string on the twelfth fret and then strumming it. Lightly touch the first string on the twelfth fret and give it a good strum. Take note of the pitch as you will use this as a comparison. Next, push down completely on the string at the twelfth fret and strum it. Listen carefully to the pitch of the note to determine if it is flat or sharp in comparison to the harmonic. If the note sounds too high, it is sharp, and if it sounds too low it is flat. You may need to compare the two several times to accurately determine the pitch.
  3. Adjust the bridge. The goal of intonation is to match the harmonics with the actual note. If you determined that the note is sharp, you will want to move the bridge backwards toward the base of the guitar. If you determine that the note is flat, you will want to move the bridge forward toward the frets. Move it in small increments and make sure the bridge is at a right angle with the strings, as this will ensure that all of the strings are properly intonated. Test the banjo after each move by playing the twelfth fret harmonic followed by the twelfth fret note. Your banjo is properly intonated once the two notes match.
  4. Alternate method. One alternate method to intonate you banjo is by using a ruler to measure the distances between the twelfth fret and the bridge, and the twelfth fret and the nut (the bridge near the neck of the guitar). These two distances will be exactly the same on a properly intonated banjo. Think of the twelfth fret as the middle point between the bridge and the nut, and move the bridge so that the measurements are exactly the same. Test it out using harmonics and then make any necessary adjustments. Once you are finished, you are ready to play!
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