Intonating My New ESP LTD GB-4 Bass

Membership has its privileges. I got a new LTD bass from ESP for playing in Exhumed. While I have a couple ESP basses, they are tuned to D for other bands. So, on the last Exhumed tour, I had to drag my old B.C. Rich Ironbird out of retirement because it was tuned to B standard (and looked cool). Exhumed is sponsored by ESP, though. That’s largely just because Matt Harvey is, like, you know… Matt Harvey. He pulled some strings and Tony at ESP made sure we’d all be repping proper for our upcoming tours.

Yeah, that’s the bass I chose. I like the body style a lot; it looks like a Fender P-bass and a Gibson Thunderbird got together and fucked. And yeah, I chose “seafoam” green, or as I like to call it, “doktor” green. Or as I also like to call it, “maybe this metal thing won’t pan out after playing for 26 years and I’d like something that wouldn’t look inappropriate covering dad-rock at a bar” green. In any case, it came tuned to E standard and I needed it in B. So in lieu of hiring someone to do it, I did my own down and dirty intonation on this bad boy.

As you should know, changing the tuning on a guitar or bass requires re-intonating it. The strings will pull on the wood of the neck with either more or less tension, so the truss rod inside the neck needs to be adjusted to compensate and keep the instrument in tune throughout the fret board. 

First, and this should go without saying, I change my strings.

These days, for Exhumed, I’m using D’Addario ProSteels gauge 55-110. I’m a fiend for steel strings, fuck the hell out of nickel. The higher strings never sound as ballsy. Unfortunately, it seems no one makes a set of 115 strings in steel anymore, so I gotta deal with a slightly lower gauge than I’d prefer.

What we’re looking for here is buzzing. The lower tuning is putting much less pressure on the neck and allowing it to bow backwards. I check the buzzing on the second and third frets and yeah, there’s a lot.

Buzzing means the neck is not bowing forward enough because it does not have enough tension on it anymore. Adjusting the truss rod will fix that. On every bass I’ve ever had, this adjustment location is behind the nut and accessible through a hole on the head of the bass. Sometimes I can adjust with the strings on, sometimes not. On the LTD GB-4, there is an easily accessed adjustment wheel on the heel of the neck… they even pack a tool for you to adjust it with.

Just a little nudge, about a quarter turn counter-clockwise, was all I needed to stop the fret buzz. The neck looks straight as hell and it plays great. But I wasn’t done yet.

With this slight change on the neck tension, there’s slight changes all over. It’s time to check the note voicing. Luthiers can do this with a fancy machine that shines a light on the strings for real strobe tuning. I do it with a Boss TU-2 tuner pedal because I’m a cheap and poor death metal bassist playing through distortion; super-precision ain’t always that important to me.

Basically, I want the open string to match the 12th fret and the natural harmonic of the 12th fret. If the fretted note is a little sharp, I need to move the saddle back away from the neck. If it’s a little flat, I need to move the saddle towards the neck. Moving the saddle also changes the tuning of the string, so I need to retune with every adjustment and check the voicing again.

It’s an easy enough operation with a normal Philips screwdriver. The notes were just a few cents off, so it didn’t need much adjusting. I also was able to lower the saddles just a bit on the bottom strings. You’ll never have perfect intonation. Never. Every time you finger those frets, you’re bending the string out of perfect intonation. So, really, it’s just getting it to sound close and pleasing to the human ear.

Now that I’ve got all intonated and ready to go, I am so amped on this bass. It plays super fast, feels good, and is well balanced. I really like through-body stringing, too; it adds some nice resonance to the whole shebang. I can’t wait to have it on stage and rock your balls (or tits, or gender non-specific parts) off with it.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I’m no fucking expert. This is how I learned to do it from reading some books. If you’re an expert and got tips or problems or wanna school me in general, by all means, comment! I love learning things!

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