String spacing at the bridge is SO important

Discussion in 'Acoustic Instruments' started by Frozen Rat, May 21, 2019.

  1. Frozen Rat

    Frozen Rat Gold Supporting Member

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    When I first got into guitars I always wondered why certain brands/models seemed easier to fingerpick than others. As I learned more about how they are constructed I learned about nut width and thought (for a little bit) that was what made the difference between a guitar that was easy to play and one that felt cramped. I quickly figured out that 1 11/16" is too narrow for my thick fingers and found 1 3/4" the best for me.

    But it's string spacing at the bridge that matters further down and under the right hand (as you all already know). For a long time I was used to Gibsons, which tend to have between 2 5/32" and 2 3/16" spacing at the bridge. Taylors too. I think it was my first Martin that made me stop and think about this, as it was so much easier to play fingerstyle. Come to find out that was because it had 2 1/4" spacing at the bridge. So I've been sticking with 1 3/4" nuts (I find 1 13/16" a bit too wide: doable, but not my favorite) and 2 1/4" at the bridge, which has made me pass up many a good deal, especially on Santa Cruz guitars (typically 2 3/16"). If I see 2 3/16" in the specs I move on without delay.

    There are some builders who use 2 5/16" bridge spacing. I just got one today. That guitar ended up having a structural problem and has to go to the shop, but the five minutes I played it before loosening up the strings and putting it back in the case was a joy for my right hand. I love 2 5/16" spacing at the bridge. I'm sure I've played others with this spacing at the bridge, but it's been so long I don't recall them. What I found is that I'm more comfortable with that spacing. I still like 2 1/4", but I like 2 5/16" a bit better. I play bare fingers, and maybe that's what that spacing is designed for. I'm not sure how I will like it with a plectrum of course. I'm sure alternate picking will feel weird at first having to go a little further upward with each stroke. But I rarely play with one so it won't matter.

    I can only surmise that the bulk of guitars built, using 2 3/16" at the bridge, do so because it's a friendlier spacing for strumming, chording and picking. What do you all think?
     
  2. Bryan T

    Bryan T guitar owner Silver Supporting Member

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    I’ve never put much thought into it. My Martin apparently has 2 3/8” spacing. My Lowden has 2 1/4” spacing. I played other guitars with 2 3/16” spacing. I honestly couldn’t have told you if they were all the same or not!
     
  3. nmiller

    nmiller Drowning in lap steels Gold Supporting Member

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    This is one of those specs that doesn't matter to me at all. I've played and owned a million guitars and I can't even vaguely describe which ones have narrow or wide spacing at the bridge; they all feel the same to me. At the nut is a different story.
     
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  4. thebowl

    thebowl Member

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    I play fingerstyle on acoustics. I am conscious of string spacing at the nut, but not at the bridge. I have fairly long but skinny fingers.
     
  5. Tony Done

    Tony Done Member

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    I prefer wide spacing as it makes backstrokes and frailing/clawhammer/drop thumb-type playing easier, but I can get by OK on narrow, eg Gibson electric, spacing and for straight fingerpicking, it makes not difference at all.
     
  6. zombywoof

    zombywoof Member

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    The skimpiest string spread on any of my guitars is my 1942 Gibson J50 which is 2 3/16." The widest is also on a Gibson, my 1932 Gibson L-1 which clocks in at 2 3/8". The rest are in between those two.
     
  7. Bryan T

    Bryan T guitar owner Silver Supporting Member

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    Do you notice a difference?
     
  8. Frozen Rat

    Frozen Rat Gold Supporting Member

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    That does appear to be the minimum and maximum I see out there on the market. As for me, I can clearly feel the difference. 2 3/16 feels cramped. 2 1/4 feels pretty good, 2 5/16 feels like it was designed for guys with thick fingers, like me. If I had prong or tine-like fingers I could handle 2 3/16 I'm sure.
     
  9. s2y

    s2y Member

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    I can't say I have paid much attention to bridge spacing. Classical might throw me off on a steel string initially, but I think I'd adapt. As long as it's not super narrow or wide, I probably won't notice. Nut spacing is a little more important to me.
     
  10. Frozen Rat

    Frozen Rat Gold Supporting Member

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    I envy you guys who can pick up anything and just play. I don't know why I'm so sensitive to things like this. Nut width is critical to me too. 1 11/16th is way too narrow. 1 13/16th is a hair too wide. 1 3/4 is perfect. If it's too narrow I can't chord cleanly, if it's too wide I get a bit out of sync playing and my thumb can't get over the top the way I like.

    Another thing I forgot to mention as pretty important is a particular element of string spacing. I notice that most manufacturers place the treble e string too close to the edge (for me). Man, do I hate doing pull-offs in those situations. And my palm will mute the treble e string on many chords if I'm not careful. I hate having to pay attention to so many things. Bourgeois guitars often have that treble e real close to the edge (as do Taylors) and I couldn't own one without having a new nut made. The makers who do it perfectly, in my option, are Goodall and Froggy Bottom. They put that treble e string exactly where it should be.
     
  11. zombywoof

    zombywoof Member

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    What may be throwing you on a classical is the flat board. But that does bring up another factor when it comes to playability which is board radius.
     
  12. paddywhack

    paddywhack Silver Supporting Member

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    ...if I play any guitar regularly I get used to it.... I have neck widths that go from I~5/8 to a full 2 inches
     
  13. Frozen Rat

    Frozen Rat Gold Supporting Member

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    I had a classical as my first guitar, as a kid. I used to wonder why I couldn't play certain chords and do a lot of other things I was supposedly to be able to.

    The problem now as an adult is that on narrower-nut guitars my thick fingers mute neighboring strings on a 1 11/16 neck, but not everything, cleanly. And oddly enough, 1 13/16 is already getting a bit wide and when I'm doing single note stuff I'm not as fluid. Guess my muscle memory knows what it wants and won't accept alteration.
     
  14. paddywhack

    paddywhack Silver Supporting Member

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    ...the key for me is to play the guitar regularly...when I get a guitar that I don’t get on with that well I just play it until I do....it’s largely dependent on putting the time in.....at this point the dozen or so guitars that i play on a regular basis vary so much that I tend to be able to play just about any guitar cleanly and without difficulties....

    ....sure I can express different styles and songs better on certain guitars...but I can play almost any song I know well enough on almost any guitar I have in my hands....and I do know a lot of songs that are all over the place genre and style-wise...

    ....maybe i’m a freak...I dunno...I just figure that if I can get along with varying nut widths and neck profiles than others can too....maybe not...

    ....it’s really a non issue because I know some fantastic musicians that rely on pretty specific specs and setups.....they don't bother with any guitars that don’t feel just right to them....one things for sure..with all the builders out there from large to small...there’s a great feeling guitar for everyone...
     
  15. s2y

    s2y Member

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    Yup. It would throw me off for a minute, but I'd get used to it after a while. I really need to get a classical guitar again at some point. I haven't had one for a really long time.
     
  16. TwoHandsTenThumbs

    TwoHandsTenThumbs Silver Supporting Member

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    I notice it, especially when immediately switching between instruments, but I can adapt pretty quickly. Whatever instrument I am playing most often becomes the new benchmark of normal for me, in terms of comfort and familiarity.

    I am pickier regarding neck profile and scale length, which I can also adapt to, but do so more grudgingly.

    It also depends on what I am playing - repertoire- in this context as well. It can make minor adaptations and passing annoyances seem greater than they might be when approaching other material.
     
  17. s2y

    s2y Member

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    [​IMG]

    Try this beast on for size! 35" scale 6 string bass. Went with 17mm bridge spacing to keep the neck from being too wide, especially since I don't do much slap on a fretless. I did ok messing around on a friend's 34" scale 6 string with 20mm string spacing on the bridge.

    Overall, I try to make sure I can play most guitars out there. My only deal breakers are high action+low radius, v cuts, neck dive, and 7+ string basses are hard to mute the unused strings. I owe a lot of that to some classical guitar lessons and being forced to use classical technique. Without that, my guitar/bass options would be much more limited. I also would lack the endurance to practice or play for hours on end. I probably would have eventually done damage with my old technique to the point I might not be playing any more. I'm at home on a small acoustic, dread nought, and wild/odd basses.
     
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  18. Rod

    Rod Tone is Paramount Silver Supporting Member

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    Whatever the spacing is on Martin’s works well for me... I’m a flatpicker
     
  19. Frozen Rat

    Frozen Rat Gold Supporting Member

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    If I were mainly a flat picker I think I would want 4 1/8," which is where most new Martins are these days. When I use a pick I don't appreciate wide spacing at the bridge as much as when playing fingerstyle. All in all though, I'd still much rather have wider string spacing and adapt with the pick rather than trying to adapt with my thick fingers when not using a pick.
     
  20. gibson3798

    gibson3798 Member

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    I think it's just another forum based topic that's taken root. Unfortunately, there are so many more of these minutia based topics floating around, that new players are convinced by the repetition that they need to be concerned about these things. They're presented very factually and passionately until a post like this one and the other one I read that basically said we don't know, or care about string spacing at the bridge, so hopefully anyone who's wondering if this is a crucial element to playing the guitar can see not all agree. It's not SO important to many, many of us.
     

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