Mandolin woes

how to intonate


I fancied having a go at Mandolin, so I got my sons out of the spare room.
Of course, a couple of strings were broken, but it was playable, so I decided to get some new ones.
When I took the old strings off (not knowing anything about Mandolins) the bridge fell off.
I have tried putting the thing back on both ways round, but can’t seem to get the intonation anywhere near right (it’s a compensated bridge by the way)

The upshot is that when I tune the pairs of string open and then fret them, they are horribly out of tune.

I am, in my ignorance doing something wrong and in this instance, Google does not seem to be my friend :(


Hi Steve, hope you got some time and patience LOL. I’ve set up 2 mandolins in my life time and never want to do another.
OK, if it’s a f - hole mando the bridge will set pretty close to the points of the f holes. Then tune up the g strings and compare open and octave frets. If note is flat move bridge slightly forward, sharp the opposite. If you experience out of tune notes on the lower frets after getting them same on octaves then you’re looking at the nut being to high.

Google “setting mandolin intonation” and you’ll get a couple good pages.

This site is pretty decent
Folk Of The Wood

Of course Steve…you know once you’ve set this up we’re all going to be keeping you real busy… :laugh:



Thanks Yaz & Spreadie,

I suppose it’s just a matter of being more patient. I can intonate the thing and the open strings and 12th fret notes are within acceptable limits, it’s when I fret notes that the problem happens.
Maybe it’s a nut problem (I’m the nut!) :laugh:


to check intonation you want to check 12th fret harmonic against 12 fret noted
my mando’s seem to be where the bridge on the thick string side(G)
is a bit south of the high string(E) side
by maybe 1/2 to 3/4 inch

Hi had the same problem with mine Steve. It just took a little patience and careful listening to get the thing right by moving the bridge.

My mando is only a cheapie so I guess it’s a bit like buying a cheap guitar - not everything is perfect. Maybe your frets are a bit out. Dunno.

Great fun to play once I got over thinking upside-down.


The action can affect intonation as well. The higher the strings the more they are bent when fretted. If the octave seem right but the rest seem a little sharp then the string height may need lowering. This could mean the nut or the bridge is a little high, or both (or need to be raised, of course). Also check the neck for straightness. A little bend may be normal, but that causes the string height to be a little different at different locations on the neck relative to the way the harmonics are set.

What helps me a little is to check the tunning of a sting beyond the 12 fret for any slight differences.
If it was correct at the 12th fret but still sounded a little out in a cord.
I could usually correct by catching the tuning being slightly sharp or flat on maj notes north of the 12th fret.
But we are talking about very tiny adjustments at that point.
I agree with phoo on the action affecting intanation.
You might flatten the neck slightly.


Thanks for the pointers guys. My inexperience with this instrument really showed.

It was a matter of making ultra small adjustments to bridge position and string height, plus there was a small amount of binding in the nut, which I solved with the time honoured pencil method.

Now all I have to do is learn how to play the thing :)

After being used to thumping away on my acoustic, you have to have a touch like a midwife to play the mandolin!

Thanks all, problem solved. :agree:


Quote: (Beefy Steve @ Feb. 18 2009, 10:07 AM)


plus there was a small amount of binding in the nut, which I solved with the time honoured pencil method.

Thanks all, problem solved.


Pencil lead works every time! :agree:

Glad you got it going Steve, have fun!