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String Tension Is it a Luck of the Draw Thing?

Discussion in 'Guitars in General' started by robbph37, Jan 6, 2008.

  1. robbph37

    robbph37 Member

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    I am curious. I like guitars with easy string tension. I dont like the feeling that the guitar is fighting back or stiff when I bend notes. Some do and also like heavy strings but not me. My problem is I find maybe 1 out of 20 guitars that I play that have the string tension that I like. I asked Joe Glaser in nashville about this and he felt it is more of a luck of the draw type thing. I know that Les Pauls with a shorter scale can produce this sometimes but what about others. I am looking for another guitar and this issue has made me more gun shy about buying before playing. What do TGP players think?
     
  2. buddastrat

    buddastrat Member

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    Yes definitely. I have had strats that no matter what you did with setup, break angles, frets etc.. played very stiff. Then there are those who can feel slinky even a gauge up from what I'm used to. Dan Erlewine felt it ultimately as you say, luck of the draw, too.
     
  3. go7

    go7 Member

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    Have an LP Jr. that was like that when new. Truss rod adjustment and presto,smooth easy player.Good Luck!
     
  4. daddyo

    daddyo Guest

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    I don't know about luck. Short scale, properly leveled and crowned frets, slight to no fretboard relief, 9 guage strings, regular alloy strings - are going to give you a slinky feeling guitar no matter what. A longer scale Fender with 10-46 nickel strings will feel stiffer than a Les paul with Super Slinkies all other things equal. I agree that a setup by a pro is a must.
     
  5. David Collins

    David Collins Member

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    Though it seems to be often used in this context, I have to add that I feel "string tension" can be a very inappropriate and misleading. I think string tension should be reserved to describe just that - the tension along the length of the string, not the force taken to press the strings against the frets.

    I still prefer to refer to what you're describing as simply the "feel" of an instrument. It sounds much less specific and technical, probably because it is. You can set up two guitars with the exact same scale length, same strings, same nut height, relief, action, etc., and they can still feel very different (though the actual string tension would indeed be the same). There is such a massive cocktail of other ingredients that go in to determining this that I think it can be written off to some degree as luck of the draw. Though all the measurements of setup may be identical, neck shape, fingerboard radius, neck stiffness, in many cases hardware type and even so much as finish on the neck. Those plus so many other miniscule variables can add up to shape our overall perception of the instrument, and determine it's feel. Two otherwise identical setups, and sometimes one may simply feel easier to play than the other.

    In theory, you should be able to quantify, predict, and control all of these variables, but there are so many it would create a pretty daunting formula. And in the end it all comes down to the subjective perception of the player anyway, so the best way to judge a particular guitar is with your own experience and intuition when trying it out. If you find a guitar that feels otherwise comfortable to you but the action is still a bit stiff however, that should be able to be taken care of with a good professional setup.
     
  6. John Phillips

    John Phillips Member

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    I completely agree with David.

    There's no luck about it, just physics.

    Any string of a given diameter and steel composition (and core-to-wrap ratio, for wound strings), on the same scale length, tuned to the same pitch, at the same temperature, has the same tension. (This is not an opinion, it's a fact.)

    What you mean by tension is the feel of the stiffness (ie rate of change of tension relative to movement) when fretting and bending, which is a totally different thing.

    This is affected by everything from the length of string at each end of the scale (from the nut to the tuner post, and from the bridge to the tailpiece) to the angle over the bridge saddles, the action height (bridge, nut and relief), fingerboard radius, the feel of the neck profile, and even the surface polish of the frets - and probably some other things I've forgotten. Some of these things make a substantial difference in feel with an almost unmeasurably small change.
     
  7. changeling

    changeling Member

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    ...where the strings come in.
    thanks david;great post.

    i agree that there are so many variables that it can sometimes be daunting.
    there are intangible things that are impossible to quantify,for example in a stratocaster. try buying one to replace the one you regret selling and setting it up "just like"the other one:crazy...i've never been able to make it happen in 30 years...but now i think THAT'S cool,the older i get.

    you just keep going back and forth 'til you hit the place you like.

    feels like trying to hit a moving target at times.

    makes you patient,doesn't it?
    r
     
  8. robbph37

    robbph37 Member

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    Thanks for the very technical feedback. I see your point. I simply wanted to get the point across that most guitars feel stiff to me when I bend a note or apply a simple vibrato tech. I am not a big whammy bar guy so I rely alot on my fingers to create this sound(Goerge Lynch etc.). I believe when Joe stated it was a luck of the draw thing he was refering to all the factors that affect an instrument in this regard. That being said it still sounds as though it is not a given on any brand, make or model. My 2 Driskills are awesome in this respect but I suspect others may not be. I get spoiled when I play them too long and try out other guitars. The only other guitar that was as good and easy to play was a Jimmy Page Les Paul. It had the feel of butter in my hands. Awesome! I knew then that I should buy this guitar. It was 4K so you may understand why I did not. Knowing Gibson the way I do it is not a given that any Page Les Paul will be the same or even close. Since then I have found 0 guitars that fit the bill even after some setup attempts. I will keep searching!!!!!!!!!!
     
  9. eryque

    eryque Member

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    David (and others), so if you build a guitar and find that it feels stiff when you're done, is there anything you can do to mitigate it? Or does the guitar simply get sold and you move on to the next one?
     
  10. scottlr

    scottlr Member

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    The very reason I prefer 9s on my Fenders, 9.5s on my LP & SG, 10s on my LPJr, and Gretsch Setzer Sig. With those gauges, they all "feel" pretty much the same.
     
  11. David Collins

    David Collins Member

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    One important point is that "feel" is extremely subjective. When setting up a guitar, I believe any instrument can be set up so that the strings should not feel stiff - largely nut height, proper fret dress, overall action, and of course string gauge. You will still inevitably find some guitars that some players may refer to as "feeling stiff" even though all the setup measurements may exactly match another instrument which they consider more comfortable.

    This is where things like the shape of the neck, fret board radius, and fret height can play a big role in determining the feel. I admit there are guitars I have that although the setup and scale length are identical, one feels much more comfortable than another. Taller frets and fingers further from the wood, shallower or compound radius, slight soft V to the neck - these things may just fit my hand better and make it feel softer, but these things are related to the setup only in how they need to be tweaked to effect my perception of the feel of the instrument.

    So if you were to quantify necessary force to deflect a string to contact a fret, yadda yadda, no, there is no "luck of the draw" involved. It is just physics and geometry as John pointed out. The player's perception of the "feel" of an instrument though can depend on a lot of other things, as mentioned above. In this regard, I can understand someone calling it luck of the draw, though it wouldn't be my personal choice of words. I prefer to think of it as finding an instrument that fits you personally, then tailoring the setup to optimize everything for you. That's how you get the best feeling instrument you can have.
     
  12. scottlr

    scottlr Member

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    I have to say my Setzer Gretsch with 10s, feels like 9s on any other guitar. When I was into 10 on everything, 11s made it feel like the 10s on others. That Bigsby has to have something to do with it, I suppose. And on the LP Jr, the wrap bridge makes 10s feel like 9s. I agree it's physics, and if you want the same feel on every guitar you own, after setup, gauge is the next step imho. And then brand of string can make that even more complicated.
     
  13. buddastrat

    buddastrat Member

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    Well I guess the two biggest luthiers, Dan Erlewine and Joe Glaser seem to disagree with most of you. IME after all the variables of a setup are exhausted and it still feels stiff, well how do you explain that?

    I'm not talking about comparing an LP to a strat. That's obviously different. I'm talking about after comparing two like exact styled strats. Frets, nut break angle, saddle break angle, neck angle, headstock depth, deep or shallow trem holes etc.. and one strat can feel real slinky with the same strings while another can feel taut. The one thing that did help a bit was neck angle, but even that was not enough to make one strat feel like another, tension wise.

    Take the any frets completely out of the equation by simply fingerpicking the open strings. I had a strat that was very taut feeling and after trying every trick in the book several techs simply chalked it up to, all strats are different. I tried three luthiers in the area and then contacted and had a conversation with Mr. Erlewine about it, and he said basically it is what it is.

    BTW, those stiff feeling strats I've owned have been very brillant and percussive. Great for slap/pop and chick'n pick'n. Then there are those strats who have a mushy feel those usually are darker and slow responding.

    Just because the same string is tuned to the same pitch, does not equal the same tension as there are so many other variables. Sure you can fix it by drastically changing things like maybe a different bridge or neck, but at that point it's no longer the same guitar.
     
  14. vinney57

    vinney57 Member

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    Well its not voodoo. If two similar guitars have the same string tension, scale length, string length, breaking angle etc and they feel different... then they are different! Nut friction, wood density, truss rod tension, how tight the pickguard is screwed on (you never know). Point is, it may not be obvious but there will be a reason for a difference in feel.
     
  15. David Collins

    David Collins Member

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    I know both Dan and Joe, and I don't think that either of them are in disagreement with me on this, probably more a matter of semantics than anything.

    To say "it's the luck of the draw" is another way of saying, "I've tried everything I can possibly think of there's just nothing I can do to change it". I wasn't talking about comparing an LP to a strat above either. I was talking about comparing a Tele to a Tele, and similar comparisons.

    The main variables I listed above are the obvious ones - neck shape, radius, fret size, strings - all these in context of otherwise identical instruments - which are major contributors to feel. There are dozens of other lesser variables which can really add up though. A slightly stiffer neck, less or more dense body, hardware material and mass, nut material - even after all the shapes, setup, and fret work are identical, these little things can add up.

    If there are two instruments that appear identical but feel noticeably different, then they aren't identical. Sometimes it's not easy to nail down or quantify what combination of minor details is causing this difference in perception, but there is something physically different. That or the difference is from some other subjective force that effects the player's perception, which though differences could be simply placebo, I don't feel this is often the case. So unless someone can explain the differences in feel by some paranormal force, getting it's aura photographed, having it's finish cracks read, there is something physically different.

    Things like a floppy neck that appears otherwise identical to another can do noticeable things to the feel of a guitar, as can a huge number of smaller variables.

    So I think that you, myself, Dan, Joe, lots of folks aren't really in disagreement here that these differences in feel exist. We may have different ways we prefer to describe their underlying causes however. Describing things like tone and feel always been, and probably always will be a big hurdle in a trade as personal and subjective as anything related to music. Just be glad we're not having this discussion about banjos - that's when I really start to tear my hair out.
     
  16. buddastrat

    buddastrat Member

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    Very well stated David. I believe you are right on the money.
     
  17. David Collins

    David Collins Member

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    One of the hardest things in this business is establishing a common language. It seems that almost everything that really matters to tone and feel have to be described in such a metaphorical sense, it's hard sometimes to tell whether we're saying the same thing or opposites.

    Just be glad we're not discussing banjos here - I'd hate to try to have a discussion like this on a banjo forum....
     
  18. buddastrat

    buddastrat Member

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    Yes I wish it was simple and concrete like the "brown sound":rotflmao
     
  19. robbph37

    robbph37 Member

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    Here is what I get after all the discussion ( well thought out by the way from everyone, thank you). If I find a guitar that plays the way I like I should buy it if I can because my history has proven that they dont come around very often. I just have to believe that this is a rare quality because I dont find many guitars that fit the bill for me. I have played alot of brands from $10,000 on down and this issue keeps coming up for me. I thought about it for awhile after my first post and realized that I could remember every guitar that had that magic feel for me. The grand total is 6 out of hundreds of guitars that I have played. I could even recall each guitar brand and make and when I played it. There has to be something special going on that only happens every so often. I have had players pick up my Driskill and instantly notice how easy and soft it feels when you play it. They cant believe it and have a puzzled look on their face as if to say "I dont know why but this guitar is easier and more responsive to play." From comments made there are some of you that have had or still have that type of guitar. I realize this is not a big issue for some but for me I want a guitar that helps me perform the best that I can. I dont know how many guitars that Joe G handles in a years time but I could tell it is a rare quality from his repsonse. I have to believe if it was as easy as setup issues , He would know about it.
     
  20. jezzzz2003

    jezzzz2003 Member

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    Its simply the way the guitar is set up,
    for instance, why would one guitar feel slinkier to another with the same scale length in the same model? does it come down to colour? no.. ;]
    Its all about the nut slots and most importantly the bridge saddles, lower the saddles for a slinkier feel, the higher they are, the more solid the string tension will feel.
     

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