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Guitar tuning problem

Q: I recently purchased a used Seagull Mahogany Spruce acoustic guitar. It is a beautiful instrument with a great sound, however, I'm having trouble with intonation on the 5th and 6th strings. They will tune to an outside source (a tuner), but, when I finger the first fret on both of those strings, it raises the pitch a whole step rather than a half step. This, in turn, throws off all the other pitches. Do you have any idea what might be causing this or how to go about fixing the problem. It only happens on those two strings and Ii've replaced both in hopes that would fix the problem. I'm desparately searching for a solution as I really enjoy the guitar and dont want to part with it and search for a new one.
Any help you can offer is appreciated
Thanks, Owen

A: Your problem is that your frets are way out of alignment. Your second fret is high on the bottom end. When you push the 5th and 6th strings down to the first fret they are actually sounding from the second fret. What you need is called an action set. We straighten the neck and level the fret tops. That puts a little flat spot on the top of any fret that is too high. Then, we re-round the fret tops and polish them so that they look like they haven't been worked on. Lastly we fit the nut and the saddle and the ramping from the saddle top down into the bridge pin hole. Seagulls come new from the factory with a very nasty action set, but, other than that, they are very well made and will hold an action set as long as any other brand.

Driving frets into the fingerboard takes practice. The fret is pre-bent to a slightly greater curve than the radius of the fingerboard. With a polished faced hammer, you seat the two ends of the fret into the fret slot and then tap gently and evenly across the fret bead to seat the middle. The tapping reduces the curve of the fret until it matches the fingerboard exactly. Metal memory lasts longer than the ability of the fret slot to grip the fret. If the fret bend matches the fingerboard perfectly it takes very little grip to keep it from falling out. It will stay seated forever, or until it's worn enough to have to be replaced. If kinks are produced by hitting the fret too hard in one spot, the fret will rise out of the slot until the tension is equilibrated. It sounds to me like there is a kink under the gap between the 4th and 5th strings on your second fret. That fret will need to be pulled and re-bent and re-driven or just replaced.

Every music store in the world offers an "action set," but unless they have a professional luthier on staff, they mean that they are going to raise the saddle and play with the truss rod until the buzzing stops. You can always get the strings high enough to miss the high frets, but that can make the guitar very uncomfortable to play. You also need your frets filed and your nut slots filed to make your guitar play slick.

Steve Mason

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