Vintage Strat Setup Tips and Tricks

Discussion in 'Luthier's Guitar & Bass Technical Discussion' started by Brad Scott, Feb 2, 2005.

  1. Brad Scott

    Brad Scott Supporting Member

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    Hi everyone,

    Does anyone have and tips or tricks for properly setting up a vintage-style Stratocaster ('56 Time Machine series)? I know these early Strats can sometimes be a bit more of a challenge than those with modern appointments, but I'd like to learn how to effectively set the action and intonation.

    Contrary to a lot of Strat players who like the bridge flush with the body, I prefer it to float at least 1/8" for slight vibrato pullups on the bar. I realize this encourages tuning issues, but I was hoping many of these problems would be reduced with a good setup.

    Please share your knowledge (or links to supporting articles on the Web).

    Thanks!
     
  2. Lyle Caldwell

    Lyle Caldwell Member

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  3. Brad Scott

    Brad Scott Supporting Member

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  4. alderbody

    alderbody Member

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    ok, kinman's tips and trick are great, but i feel they're better suited to strats with his pickups on.

    i'd go for the traditional fender setup tips available everywhere on the web, although they are quite similar with kinman's.

    anyway, try and see for yourself what's best for you.
     
  5. Guinness Lad

    Guinness Lad Silver Supporting Member

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    The kinman site is very good especially since I use Kinman pickups, but the most important thing I have found in order to get great ringing tone is to float the bridge properly. What I mean by this is, "Just exactly how tight are the tremelo scews to the body?" I found this to be the most impotant thing in the tranferring of sound from the strings through the body. If the screws are too loose the plate will not contact the body with enough force to transfer the tone. If the screws are too tight the tremelo will not work properly. The best thing I have done is to pull the bar so the plate is flat against the body and then raise the 6 screws so they are just slightly above the plate. Actually, the 4 inner screws can go higher (further from the plate) then the 2 outer ones. Once I do this I let the bar go back to normal (I float the bridge so if I pull up on the bar my low E sting will raise 1/2 step), I will then play with the 2 outer screws until I hit that resonance point where the guitar comes alive. It may only be 1/8 of a turn one way or another but once you find it you will know.

    Always adjust your pickups so the bass side is lower then the treble side, I don't care what kind of a guitar it is. Finally, for the best tone adjust your pickups close to the strings until they sound harsh (you will start to hear it get more compressed and midrangy). 99.95% of the time I never get closer then 1/16th of an inch on the treble side bridge pickup. The bass side will be slightly lower and the other 2 pickups will be lower still depending upon the guitar. Once you find this spot back them dowm just a touch maybe 1 full turn or less, it depends. You want the harmonics without the harshness. If you go too low the guitar will start to sound a little less lively and you will lose the harmonics.

    Put a slight amount of relief in the neck. Completely straight necks are not the answer. Think about how a string moves once it's played. The most deflection or movement is in the middle of the string not at one end or another. Straight necks cause you to raise the action higher then you would normally have to in order to compensate for fretting noise. This can lead to intonation problems further down the road, because the lower frets will be much closer to the strings then the higher frets.

    Do this to set the neck relief:

    Fret the first string 1st fret and the 1st string wher it joins the body (15th?), there should be a slight gap under the 7th to the 9th frets. I mean slight, just a hair. If there isn't you need to loosen the truss rod (start off with a 1/4 turn max). Remember the rule "lefty loosey, righty tighty". If there is big gap go the other way. Truss rod tweaks can take a day or two to stabilize so be patient.

    Always start off in this order after you put new strings on and are in tune at concert pitch:

    1. Neck adjustments.
    2. Tremelo and intonation.
    3. Pickup adjustments.

    If you do it another way you will most likely be doing it over. Also some guys like the bridge flat against the body, I think the guitar sounds better set up the way it was designed, which is to float it slightly (IMHO). Sorry for the long post, hopefully it will be helpful for you.
     
  6. Brad Scott

    Brad Scott Supporting Member

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    Not long at all, actually it was very helpful. Thank you for the advice - I will try it out.
     
  7. alderbody

    alderbody Member

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    +1 for that harryjmic!!!

    i had them very tight once and when i released them and played with the tension of the #1 and #6 i found the sweet spot.

    the strat plays 500% better since then!

    i prefer the bridge flush to the body, though, but not too tight.

    it just seems to touch the body, so that i can make small pitch variations only with my hand without using the bar.
    ( i almost never use it)

    but it's not wise to "nail" the bridge down on the body if you don't use the bar.
    just leave it there, or just reduce the "floating".

    Leo knew what he was doing when he designed it... :)
     
  8. alderbody

    alderbody Member

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    ...speaking about bridges,

    if you get a Callaham trem block, your tone will improve radically!!!

    :)
     
  9. Guinness Lad

    Guinness Lad Silver Supporting Member

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    The Callaham trem is a must own product, there is no substitute.:) Every guitar should be equiped with one.
     
  10. Sunstone Recordings

    Sunstone Recordings Member

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    really? does the callaham trem make THAT big of a difference on a custom shop strat?
     
  11. plain-boy

    plain-boy Member

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    No offense, but I believe "radically" is a big overstatement about the improvement in tone with the Callaham bridge. It is an improvement and a good one at that. There is a noticeable improvement in tone and feel, but it won't blow you away IMHO and experience.
     
  12. Rodrigo Gonzalez

    Rodrigo Gonzalez Member

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    Well, for me the callaham trem (not only the block) is a must on strats, works like a charm and the tone is (for me) more than noticeably better than any other bridge. I like the virtual pop-in arm too, it's great for making subtle vibratos on chords.
     
  13. nateclark

    nateclark Member

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  14. SNick

    SNick Member

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    Sometimes a little lube, Vaseline or Chapstick works well under the bridge where the fulcrum touches the wood helps. A light oil on the strings at the saddle witness points. Chapstick on the nut and string trees. That will help keep you in tune.

    I have been replacing the stock nut with Tusq XL nuts they are really nice and slick.
     
  15. FXPedal.com

    FXPedal.com Member

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    Using shrink wrap on the bottom of strings helps with tuning issues and reduces string breakage. Use an old string to measure the length from the ball end to the bend where the string went over the bridge plate. Cut 6 lengths of shrink wrap slightly longer - enough so they will cover the strings over the bridge plate but not the saddles - and slip them on the strings. No need to shrink them with a heat gun. When you break a string just reuse the sleeves. Tinning the ball end with solder is supposed to improve tuning as well, although I haven't done it myself.

    Big Bends Nut Sauce in the nut and the edge of the bridge plate is a good alternate to Vaseline and it comes with a micro applicator.

    Another oft-overlooked set-up tip is the tiny spring that goes into the tremolo arm socket. It helps reduce the free play in the arm. Well, not a tip really, more of a reminder. These are easily lost so I keep a bunch around. Sometimes they'll stay once dropped in, others will fall out when the bar is removed and the guitar faced downward.
     

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