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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jan 2011
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    Center City Philadelphia
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    Need Advice re Lower Tension Strings versus Lowered Action

    I have recently begun studying classical guitar again after a multi-decade hiatus and am really enjoying it. I picked up a new Cervantes Millennia PE (Palo Escrito) to study with.

    My issue is that I am having trouble fingering full barre chords up the neck (say around the 7th fret). I'm sure part of this is hand strength and technique -- or lack thereof -- but I'm also sensing this particular guitar is harder than others. I used my teachers guitar the other day and it was nowhere near as difficult.

    I've checked the action and it seems within the usual tolerances (e.g. 4mm on the 6th string). Would lower tension strings make a significant difference? (I'm assuming this guitar is strung with hard tension strings, but don't know for sure as they were on there when it came from the shop.)

    As a first step, would trying medium (or even low) tension strings make sense? Lowering the action would be a logical step as well, although I'd like to exhaust other avenues first as I've yet to locate a luthier in the area (Philadelphia). Any recommendations on brands?

    Thanks!

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Apr 2010
    Location
    Edinburgh
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    3,275
    Yes, a lower-tension string will help a little, and hopefully all you need is a little help. Lower-tension strings are also amenable to a subtle vibrato, which will help melodies sing.

    Is the problem when you try to do a full barre without the addition of other fingers, or is mainly when you do, say, a B Major chord? If the latter, you don't need to have equal downward pressure across the whole of your finger, only really on the second string (the first and sixth strings should not be a problem). In such instances, it is very useful to be able to have trained your finger to apply pressure at various points along its length.

    This is something I show my students. Just wriggle your finger around, applying pressure on different strings. For instance, do a full one-finger barre. Apply most pressure to the 6th string. No problem. Now transfer it to the 5th, still doing a six-string barre. Try to play a good-sounding note on the 5th string, even though you can't get a sound out of the other strings. Now try it on the 4th string - quite tough, but worth trying. Etc, all the way to the first. Over time you will develop a very pressure-sensitive finger, able to adapt its pressure points as the music demands.

    The most important thing is only do this for a couple of minutes a day. You won't get a cigar for hurting your finger. Good luck.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jan 2011
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    Center City Philadelphia
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rob MacKillop View Post
    Is the problem when you try to do a full barre without the addition of other fingers, or is mainly when you do, say, a B Major chord? If the latter, you don't need to have equal downward pressure across the whole of your finger, only really on the second string (the first and sixth strings should not be a problem). In such instances, it is very useful to be able to have trained your finger to apply pressure at various points along its length.
    Thanks for the thoughtful reply, Rob. It's definitely the first issue you mentioned, the full barre without the addition of other fingers. (I've always cheated by doubling up on barre fingers, i.e. using the middle finger to add some pressure.) Even though I play fairly high tensioned strings on my archtop (TI 13's), the classical guitar strings feel like they're in another league. I will definitely try your exercise, as well as switching to lower tensioned strings to see if that provides some relief. My guess is that 80% of this technique and strength related, as our most things in life.

  4. #4
    There are arguments for and against all kinds of strings in the classical world, i 'd say watch over your fingers more than anything else, especially till they adapt to the new guitar and material. Classical music does need a bit of a higher action to play, compared to jazz chords or runs for example. Since it requires no modification on the saddle, i 'd try the medium tension strings (which are quite popular), before going for a lower action.

    I remember a few years back getting into playing a lot of classical, i had the exact same difficulty. I eventually did both, played with a low action saddle, medium tension strings and even tuned down a half step for practice. As the hands grew more comfortable, i got to extra hard tensions today, if anything just to match the tension on the none-nylon guitars i play. Just don't over push the hands, make sure the instrument is comfortable.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jun 2010
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    'Tis safer under the bridge...
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    This shop is in Philadelphia: The Classical Guitar Store ...since 1967 - Home .

    I am sure they can recommend a luthier.
    Great Deals with Great Folks: max52 (Guild-Benedetto Artist Award); prickards (Ribbecke GC Halfling); Cincy2 (Comins Concert)

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jun 2010
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    'Tis safer under the bridge...
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    I am no expert but I roll my index finger to the boney side to hold a full barré down. I saw Michael Chapdelaine "cheat" in a few of his Ytube videos by pressing his middle finger over the index to sound a barré and if it is good enough for Michael, it is good enough for me.

    Check that your Cervantes does not have low frets. Low frets make a clean barré hard work.

    I started out on a 650mm short scale Taiwan Yamaha with 7.5mm/6.5mm action at the 12th fret and high tension La Bella black nylon strings and wondered why it was so much hard impossible work. It came from the box that way! And I was told back then that the pros played 660mm scale length and extra high tension strings. It was dispiriting because I struggled badly with my "short scale soft string" amateur guitar.
    Great Deals with Great Folks: max52 (Guild-Benedetto Artist Award); prickards (Ribbecke GC Halfling); Cincy2 (Comins Concert)

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jan 2011
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    Center City Philadelphia
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jabberwocky View Post
    This shop is in Philadelphia: The Classical Guitar Store ...since 1967 - Home .

    I am sure they can recommend a luthier.
    Thats where I'm taking lessons! Great shop.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Aug 2012
    Location
    Bend Or
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    52
    I found this video to be beneficial for forming barre chords barring chords on classical guitar kevin - Bing video

    I've tried medium tension strings but definitely like high tension better they have more robust sound. I have a partially amputated index on my left hand and can still barre fine most likely it's a technique issue.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Jan 2011
    Location
    Center City Philadelphia
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    Thanks, nd. I'm sure 90% of it is technique driven, but I did switch to medium tension strings this weekend on my Cervantes, and it helped out a bit with the left hand. I'll definitely watch the video carefully as I need all the help I can get.

  10. #10
    I recently switched to low tension strings... oh boy, I should have done it 25 years ago. It's a no brainer for me. I have pain in my wrists/hands (working with computers all day long), and trying barre chord on even medium tension was a no go. With low tension I can actually play.

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Mar 2010
    Location
    Chicago area
    Posts
    23

    Same issue for me!

    Several months ago I purchased a Cervantes Crossover 1 Signature to add some nylon to the repertoire, but it has sat in its case as I was experiencing the same issues you are. I know I'm used to the easy playability of my archtop, but trying to play barre and jazz type chords up the neck on the Cervantes just wasn't happening for me. The action just seems hopelessly high. When I got it I tried to fix it and messed around with the truss rod and took the saddle down to a point so low I had to buy a new one.

    I finally threw in the towel and have now taken it to a pro for a set-up. When he first played it he thought it was pretty good as is, so I'm not expecting any huge changes when I get it back, but I'm hopeful. Maybe I just have to give it more playing time to adjust to it. He also suggested low tension strings.

    One other issue I have with it is that it's a real beast to tame. It is so unexpectedly loud and responsive that I get a lot of string noise etc. and uneven notes And it has a sound port which feels like my face is pressed up against a soundhole on the front of a guitar! Most difficulties are undoubtedly due to sloppy technique I can get away with on a smooth archtop. It's going to take some work and refinement in my technique if I decide to keep it. I do think I could really start loving the tone if the other negatives I'm having get sorted out.

  12. #12
    When i went to Barreuco solo concert/ master class ions ago.My whole focus was checking out the string/neck action.So this guitar case that looked like prop for a syfi alien coffin.The inside was an invitation to shrink your self and curl up in it sleep like a baby.Well he pulls out his baby and sure enough the action was high compared to anything i have ever played.So went back and embraced the standard.Not to happy but determined.And now happy.

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