Question for the techs/setup gurus

Discussion in 'Luthier's Guitar & Bass Technical Discussion' started by 98FlySupreme, Mar 8, 2006.


  1. 98FlySupreme

    98FlySupreme Member

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    I've often wondered why some guitars (with string guage, action height, and scale length all being equal) play much easier than others. For example, an old friend of mine had this '79 Strat that played itself basically. The action was moderately low, but the amount of effort needed to fret or bend a string halfway across the neck was nil. The guitar was an absolute treasure to play and it really inspired me to play my best everytime I had a chance to touch it. Unfortunately, I could never get any of my guitars to play nearly as easily as his. In fact, I've never played another guitar quite like that one, but there have been a few--very, very few--that have come close.

    So why is this? We were using the same string guage, tuning, scale length, and action, but my guitars had a tighter feel while his felt like zero-tension. You hear about some guitars being "player" guitars, but I think that exists on different levels. Some guitars play really well, like my Parker, but it couldn't hold a candle to that '79 Strat.
     
  2. John_M

    John_M Supporting Member

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    If you have a Strat, take the string trees off.

    Different strings have different tensions - if you are both using the same strings, then this is not an issue-

    I note you mention same guage, but not same brand - - this is important. While the low E may be .046, ratio of core to wrap is important in feel.

    Slinkys feel great - try em out!

    BTW - I don't consider myself a guru -- more of an addict.
     
  3. 98FlySupreme

    98FlySupreme Member

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    I tried using his strings (Slinkys and then later some set of Gibsons). In fact I tried doing everything. End result was always the same--not even close. Somebody has to know what I am talking about? It's both a joy to play a guitar like this and tragic that none of your own seem capable of having that buttery feel.
     
  4. John Phillips

    John Phillips Member

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    I know exactly what you're talking about and I still can't explain it despite having set up around 5,000 guitars at a rough guess. Some guitars just play easier than others. I can get pretty much any guitar to play well, but some are just magical for no apparently good reason. I don't even measure guitars when I set them up, I go by feel and sound, and I know exactly how all the various bits interact... but some of them just feel better from the start.

    At one point I found three in a short space of time that had 'it' and were all cream-colored (a Strat, a Les Paul Custom, and an SG), and I started to doubt my belief that the color didn't matter ;). I don't like the look of cream guitars so it wasn't psychological either...
     
  5. dankayaker

    dankayaker Supporting Member

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    I'm no professional luthier but I think everything from the cut and angle of the nut slots to the amount of relief in the neck to the height and angle of the saddles effects the playability . . not to mention the condition and consistency of the fret leveling and the actual strings.
     
  6. 98FlySupreme

    98FlySupreme Member

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    This '79 Strat was indeed cream. It's starting to sound like a Twilight Zone episode.
     
  7. trisonic

    trisonic Member

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    Interesting question and the same one I asked Robbie Gladwell back in the early nineties (why is my ES335 stiffer with the same set of strings than my Zion which has a longer scale). I can't remember his answer but it was not definitive but something about the sum of all parts and their settings (he published it in Guitarist). This has no impact on tone as my ES 335 has a remarkable tone (and more flexible in its sound than my Les Paul) - I just don't play it as much.
    If I handed it to you, you'd probably say this guitar is killer (no, I'm not planning on putting it in the Emporium, either), I'm just comparing it to my other guitars.

    Got a flame top and back too!!!!!:D

    Best, Pete.
     
  8. Shredcow

    Shredcow Member

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    The bridge would play a very big part, whether its floating or fixed. Also, in the case of a floating trem, the springs would play a part (whether the springs are broken in or new and stiff) in the tension of your strings.

    You compared the strat to your parker (with a tremolo right) so I guess the trem would be a part to look at.
     
  9. 98FlySupreme

    98FlySupreme Member

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    No, compared to my Strats it was even very loose. Or any other guitar I've ever owned for that matter.
     
  10. Guinness Lad

    Guinness Lad Silver Supporting Member

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    Other then string construction, who knows? This is why when I play a guitar when shopping, I look for the guitars which just seem to tune up easier, play more in tune and allow me to just fly. I don't know what it is but I can walk into GC and play 3 of the same guitar and 1 of them I'll just burn on and the other to I will sound like a hack. Actually, I probably sound like a hack on all three.
     
  11. Rock Johnson

    Rock Johnson Member

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    Interesting that you say that.

    I had a rather bizarre experience with my Vandenberg Custom Quilt along those lines. The locking nut screws (the ones that hold the pads down onto the strings) had gotten worn out over time, so I needed to replace them. I wanted to use a different type of screw anyway, so that my two locking nut guitars could use the same allen wrench.

    Anyway, I changed to a different locking nut, and the guitar played COMPLETELY differently. It was shocking - almost like I had a completely diffferent guitar. I didn't change anything - even the strings LOL...

    Just goes to show you that even a seemingly inconsequential change can have MAJOR impact on the feel of a guitar.
     
  12. 98FlySupreme

    98FlySupreme Member

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    I'm starting to think that maybe my suspicions are being confirmed. Those suspicions being that the nut is what heavily influences what I am talking about.
     
  13. GuitslingerTim

    GuitslingerTim Member

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    The most relevant factors went without mention--the number of springs on the trem, the tension on the spring claw, and the amount of relief in the neck. Strings can also have an affect. I had a new guitar that came with D'addario strings that felt very stiff. I replaced them with Super Slinkies and the feel of the guitar changed from stiff to loose and sloppy.

    The height of the strings at the nut will affect how stiff the action is, but so will the breaking angle of the strings at the nut. It's not uncommon to see string trees installed in different positions on the same model guitar.

    Anytime I play a guitar that has a setup I like, I always fret the strings between the 2nd & 3rd frets and make a note of how high the strings are over the first fret--the best measurement for nut slot height. Fretting the 5th string at the first and last frets and noting the distance between the string and fret at the 8th fret will provide a general idea of the relief setting.

    My point is that setups don't have to be a mystery if a player applies some analysis. Guitars with high action and generous relief feel stiff, as do guitars with low action and little relief. The buttery feel is achieved with medium action & relief, medium-low tension at the spring claw, and low action at the nut.
     
  14. coolharmony

    coolharmony Supporting Member

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    Many factors contribute to the playability of a guitar as mentioned by others on this thread and ultimately it's the sum of all the parts. While I have set up many guitars, the guitars that played effortlessly were ones that a professional luthier had replaced the nut and had either refretted the guitar or dressed the frets (even on new guitars).

    In each case the luthier set the guitar up for a specific string type and gauge and adjusted the neck to a tolerance of thousands of an inch over a few days time to let the neck settle in. Other factors such as scale length have a significant effect on string tension and playability as do fret height and width, nut width and neck profile.

    Hope this helps.
     
  15. Deaf Eddie

    Deaf Eddie Member

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    GuitslingerTim has it nailed - I've set up a lot axes and had the action go from stiff to magic by PROPERLY CUTTING THE NUT SLOTS.

    Everybody is aware of how adjustments to the bridge and trussrod (relief) can affect the action, but most players forget to consider the nut as an agent in the overall setup and feel. If your action is ballpark-close to optimum, it can easily have as big an influence on the feel of the axe as the bridge height.

    BTW, the nut is the LAST adjustment you want to make when you set up an axe, as you can't easily "raise" the action there once you have lowered it!
     
  16. John Phillips

    John Phillips Member

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    I totally disagree - you want to get the nut right first, or possibly after the relief (although that can always be readjusted easily later). If you don't get the nut right first you'll waste time adjusting the bridge only to have to do it over again once you have got the other end right - or possibly, you'll never get it right at all.

    This is the exact problem with most factory setups (the nut is almost always too high) and compounded by DIY owners, who are mostly too inexperienced or unwilling to adjust the nut and often the truss rod, but are happy to play around with the bridge since it's the 'obvious' adjustment. Most guitars come in for a setup with the nut too high and the bridge too low, and usually too much relief - so they feel stiff and intonate badly in the lower positions, don't play easily in the middle, and choke above the 12th fret. Without getting the nut the right height first, you can't fix the other two problems properly without just making the action too high overall.
     
  17. emjee

    emjee Member

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    So THATS why my MIM Strat plays better than my buddys American made one!:jo
     
  18. Hey There,

    You are absolutely right about the nut. As least as I have it. The "proper" order for a setup is, and I'm leaving out the minor details, flatten neck, cut nut, add relief, set action and radius at bridge, adjust as neccessary for optimum playability and then intonate the bridge. Since the nut is a one-shot deal, be sure and cut it with the neck flat. If you happen to get a slight first-fret buzz it will likely go away as you add the relief that you need. It's so funny to write this kind of thing because every guitar is so different and it seems that I learn something new on each one. I just keep coming back to that general order as it seems to work really consistently.

    Take care,

    Geoff
    www.sfguitarworks.com

     

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