discussion on string tension

Discussion in 'Guitars in General' started by glblues, Jan 31, 2008.

  1. glblues

    glblues Member

    Mar 10, 2006
    this is just me trying to tie up all the loose ends on string tension and how to solve it, to make it looser (if desired. or tighter. just reverse the suggestion) as there is no guitar database of knowledge persay.

    its just me theorising things and putting what i have read and played into effect. i hope it makes sense and please correct me if i am wrong anywhere. i'm still hazy about things :)

    use the information to adjust how you would like your guitar to play. as people have said, playability is a personal thing.

    to make string tension looser and/or to have better perceived looser string tension (bendability/playability, call it what you wish), the following can be looked into to reduce the tension:

    strings - a) string gauge: the lower the gauge, the looser the tension.
    b) string winding: how the strings go on the tuning post affects the tension. making the angle where the string goes to the nut shallower relieves tension.
    c) string height: low action aids playbility and bending. that being said, higher action (more than 1.5mm?) on the high E to aid better bending. the lower the action on the high E does not necessarily translate to easier bending on the high E.
    d) string brand: some string brands like ernie ball slinkies with a low corewire add to a "slinkier" feel when bending.

    tuning - tuning down to (say) Eb shortens the scale length to about 24" (if i am correct)

    bridge - change from string-thru to a toploading bridge. (the shortening of string length.)

    nut - a) lubricating the nut (with graphite, nut sauce, etc)
    b) reshaping the nut grooves to allow the strings to vibrate more (this is what i have heard?)
    c) changing to a graphtech nut to get the lubricating feel
    d) nut height. the higher the nut adds resistance to string tension

    string trees - a) getting rid of string trees, or
    b) loosening the screw that binds it down to relieve the pressure
    c) string tree material. again graphtech graphite aids string bending as it glides more efficiently as you stretch the strings while bending. (true?)

    frets - a) opting for a higher fretwire to give a perceived "looser" string tension. (6105s, 6100s. again, this depending on which fret brand you use.)
    b) polishing the frets to get rid of nicks and having them leveled, crowned and smoothened add to a easier perceived tension due to easy bending

    saddles - checking the break angle. too high and it adds string tension. checking saddle material (graphite helps bending resistence.)

    fretboards - maple boards add more resistance to bending versus rosewood.

    scale length - the shorter the scale length, the more slinky the string tension

    truss rod - tightening up the rod to allow for less relief

    6 saddles versus 3 saddles - 6 saddles tend to provide a looser tension? (anyone? not sure about this but i have heard it in forums. based on limited experience, perhaps it might be true)

    tremolos - some say that a floating trem aids bendability, some claim that a fixed trem aids bending as you travel less to the desired note. (i'm clueless here.)

    of course there are other factors at play - a looser string tension does not contribute to twang, a different material for the nut and saddles might be detrimental to tone (some players feel it does change the tone somewhat. graphtech material softens the tone perhaps)

    comments anyone? :p

    (edited to provide additional info and to correct spelling mistakes)
  2. kimock

    kimock Member

    Mar 12, 2005
    Where the Palm Tree meets the Pine
    That all makes sense in a way, I know what you're sayin'.
    Some of it's about playability though, not about string tension, like the fingerboard thing.
    Might want to look for a different title for the whole thing, balance of resistances to playability?
    I don't know what to call it myself.
    Playability issues related to resistance.?
    String "feel"?
    Cool subject, not sure if I can quite get all of it under "string tension" tho.

    good work anyway, whatever it all is!:)

  3. glblues

    glblues Member

    Mar 10, 2006
    heh true. i guess the point of looser string tension is to be able to make it more bendable, playable. anyway, i edited the post to make it clearer :)
  4. MartinC

    MartinC Member

    Jul 24, 2007

    I had assumed that string gauge is the primary factor in string tension, in the sense that on any given guitar with standard tuning, that's what will affect string tension the most, other than tuning down, which has other implications involved. I'd never considered anything beyond that really.
  5. tybone

    tybone Member

    Oct 3, 2004
    Nice data Bluesy. This area of Guitar Feelology is not often summarized in the way you have. All my guitars feel a different because of various combinations of the things you mentioned (scale, frets, break angle, trem etc...). I like to be able to adapt to those kind of changes as I move from guitar to guitar. Variety is the spice and all that.

  6. DavidH

    DavidH Member

    Sep 25, 2006
    You could add condition of the frets and nut height to that lot aswell,having the frets in good nick,level,crowned and smooth and the nut not cut too high all affects how much left hand pressure you need to fret cleanly,affecting percieved tension.A well setup guitar gets that 'plays like butter' feeling.
  7. buddastrat

    buddastrat Member

    Mar 20, 2005
    Looks like a good checklist of things which can help get the desired feel. You know after you go through all those things and fix it to your liking, a lot of times there's another strat/tele that is still more perfect without doing anything. They're weird and really have their own personality.
  8. deoreo

    deoreo Member

    May 15, 2007
    Amen to that!
    I am a very analytical person, and it's easy to get caught up in the whole a+b=c thing.

    I actually just went through this, and measured all the little details about all of my guitars, because there is one, that I prefer head-and-shoulders above the rest, and wanted to know why.

    I think I found the details that I prefer, but I also found a funny thing - one of my guitars has a "perfect" set up on paper, ie: very little relief, super low action...etc...etc...
    And my favorite guitar? - If you looked at its specs. on the paper, you'd want to know when it was going in to have the frets replaced, and get a good set-up! - and I can shred on this guitar like no other in my collection - weird!

    Anyway, this is a long winded way of saying that set up and feel is a very personal thing, and what may be considered "perfect" may not be for you.
  9. ChickenLover

    ChickenLover Member

    Sep 7, 2006
    My 2 cents:

    If you have a string of given mass (i.e. gage/construction/material) and it has a given 'vibrating length' (i.e. from saddle-to-nut)...then the only thing that affects it's tension is the pitch it's tuned to (let's assume the guitar is played here on earth at standard temp/atmospheric P, etc.). However that isn't the whole story because other things affect the feel or the perceived tension.

    Sometimes it helps to look at the extremes. Suppose you had two identical guitars except one guitar had a stopbar-type bridge and a Floyd Rose-type locking nut...and the other guitar had a roller bridge but the stopbar was 1 mile away from the bridge and the tuners were another mile away from the uber-self-lubricating (or roller) nut. See how the first guitar would feel really 'stiff' compared to the super-slinky feel of the second? But, and this is very important for me, you'd probably have to bend the strings WAY off the fretboard just to get any significant increase in pitch on that super-slinky second guitar. And just imagine what that does to your left-hand vibrato...it would be non-existent on the super-slinky second guitar no matter how hard you shook that note. So there's a tradeoff when changing these other factors (but keeping the string gage/brand, vibrating length, and pitch the same). I tend to like left-hand vibrato (a little too much lol) so I almost always set my guitars up so that any length of string past the saddles or the past nut is as short as possible...and I like the strings tight on the saddles for as little slippage as possible. It's one reason I don't like the wrap-over-the-stopbar method of stringing Gibson type guitars.

    Note: those two guitars above would likely sound very different too...but I was just talking about the feel/tension/etc.
  10. glblues

    glblues Member

    Mar 10, 2006
    thanks for the comments guys!

    i have edited the post to add in additional info as and when it comes in
  11. RvChevron

    RvChevron Member

    Jan 7, 2002
    Hong Kong, China

    do you mean the reverse??? If you have high e action and low b action, it'd be hard to grip the b when you bend towards it.

    I'm all for looser string feel for ease of bending. Just try bending a .012 high e on the fifth fret one and half step up with you index finger. that's on a strat tuned to e flat btw.:worried

    Someone please come up with some material to replace the existing steel.

    Let's say using this material, a .012 plain will have the same mass and magnetic properties of a real .012 but with the tension of a .009!
  12. glblues

    glblues Member

    Mar 10, 2006
    oops sorry, i meant to say the high E string higher than normal. i talk to many players who believe that putting the high E string as low as possible aids bending, where you actually need a bit of action to be able to bend the high Es.
    the B string should be of course higher than the high E.

    sorry, not a writer! :p:p
    i amended the post.
  13. justonwo

    justonwo Member

    Mar 2, 2005
    SF Bay Area
    Chicken lover makes a great point. The string beyond the nut and bridge DOES affect the feel, both the length and the angles. Try playing a Gibson with a really sharp angle down to the stop tail and one with a Maestro (almost no angle off the bridge). Big difference in bending.
  14. fullerplast

    fullerplast Senior Member

    May 5, 2003
    All good points, especially Chickenlover's observations on tension and string length outside the vibrating portion. The only other thing I can think of right now that hasn't been said is that string guage by itself is not adequate to compare tensions. One needs to know the material and construction (especially for the wound strings). There can be a very noticable difference between different manufacturers of 10-46 strings for example. Some even list the tension of each string, but not enough do that to make a sizeable comparison table unfortunately....
  15. Macaroni

    Macaroni Member

    Nov 19, 2003
    Los Angeles

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