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  1. #1

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    I have a Gibson 339 and ever since I bought it there have been tuning stability problems when bending notes, especially on the G and (to a lesser extent) B strings. The problem is intermittent - the guitar can be fine for a while and then suddenly not. I assumed a sticky nut but it's now been to two different luthiers both of who reworked the nut and tried other minor adjustments, and although the problem is less serious it hasn't disappeared altogether. I considered replacing the nut and/or installing locking tuners but both luthiers were adamant this was not necessary.

    Recently I bought a Les Paul. For the first couple of weeks the guitar was fine, but recently to my horror it's been showing signs of the same problem with the G string. The thought of more trips to guitar techs, more money spent and no satisfactory solution is pretty dispiriting. I also think I shouldn't be having to mess around with pencil shavings, nut sauce etc on a guitar that lists at over £3,000.

    None of my non-Gibson guitars have this problem but they are PRS or Strat types and I'm assuming this has to do with the angle angle of the headstock or the angle of the string after it goes through the nut. Anyone any experience/suggestions?
    Last edited by Ozymandias; 08-22-2012 at 08:13 AM.

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  3. #2

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ozymandias
    ...Anyone any experience/suggestions?
    Good afternoon, Ozymandias...

    My son has only Gibsons; this is our standard practice when changing strings, whatever the guitar (or bass...). Once strung up, and tuned to pitch, the guitar is suspended by each strung in turn, and a slight 'up and down' movement, similar to a yo-yo, is used. The weight of the instrument will 'bed down' the string, ensuring that the ball end and tuner windings are nicely snug, and pre-stretches the string. The new string won't break, even with a Les Paul to lift. The guitar is then re-tuned to pitch, and that's about all. We don't have any changes to tuning, be it Gibsons or others, straight from the packet; there is no 'bedding-in' period (although a check after an hour or so of play is never a bad thing...).
    Bends..? Yes, we bend; no tuning problems. I won't believe anything about angles or such. Strings stretch (slightly...), some tightening-up can be expected when changing strings. That's how we cope, anyway.
    Hope this helps...
    Last edited by Dad3353; 08-22-2012 at 09:26 AM.

  4. #3

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    Tuning stability is not the tuners.

    There are always causes, sometimes there is some player actions involved.

    Can you describe what you mean by instability? Does the pich change up or down? When?

    It is the G string typically for several reasons:

    A plain G shows a great deal of pitch change for a given dimensional change. Far more than adjacent strings.

    Players bend the G quite a bit.

    Stiffness of a plain G and how it passes through the nut slot and ARUND THE TUNER POST, can have a big impact.

    >>> I also think I shouldn't be having to mess around with pencil shavings, nut sauce etc on a guitar that lists at over £3,000.

    The string is not directly aware of the cost of the guitar. If you absolutely require that no nut goo is ever used, then consider the possibility that your particular combination of playing style, strings, specific tuning problem (if you can let us know), and tuner post windings, may require a delrin nut.

    But please first describe the exact problem. Pitch up or down and under what conditions. Maybe the problem will become clear.

    Chris

  5. #4

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    I have a 335, it is very stable, and I bend. It's strung with Daddario 11's, plain G.

  6. #5

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    Well yeah, plenty of players have no tuning problems - and there is nothing particularly unstable about "Gibson-Brand" guitars.

    But the OP certainly has a real problem. In my opinion/experience it is always solvable. Although sometimes it does include some piloting changes.

    Chris

  7. #6

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    Try stringing like this fellow suggests:


  8. #7

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    Oh my, as they say.

    In my opinion, this is not a particularly helpful video for tuning stability issues.

    I suggest a "locking loop" (easy enough to search for a pic), and an absolute maximum of two turns on the post. One turn is better, and really anything over 1/2 a turn (so the string is in contact with the post and not just on the locking loop) is absolutely fine.

    Really, (really, really,...) there is absolutely no value in laying on the windings once you do a locking loop. Windings lead to progressive friction, thus progressive tension, on the post - and this leads to tuning instability.

    Locking Tuners:

    THE BENEFIT of locking tuners (beyond what some see as convenience) is not the locking action, but that the tuners strongly discourage misguided use of lots of windings on the post.

    So players report improved tuning stability when using locking tuners, but mis-attribute this to the locking action itself.

    In my opinion.

    Chris
    Last edited by PTChristopher; 08-22-2012 at 01:52 PM.

  9. #8
    Thanks to all who replied.

    To try to answer some of the questions that have been raised.

    The problem is intermittent as stated. Most conspicuously I bend a string (usually the G) and when I release it the string is flat. It's not subtle - the string is very noticeably flat afterwards. I have very occasionally observed the string go slightly sharp in the sequence: bend - note goes flat - tune up - bend - note goes sharp. But I'd be wary of reading a pattern into this: it doesn't happen every time, it's much likelier that the string will go flat and then flat again, and when it does go sharp it goes sharp by a much smaller margin than it normally goes flat.

    I'm really at a loss to understand what about my playing style might contribute to this. I bend notes if the style requires it. One song I've been working on recently is Jeff Beck's "Cause We've Ended as Lovers" and that may give some indication of the type of playing that brings out the problem. A tone-bend and then held with a bit of vibrato. I don't have big hands, generally play with a light touch, and don't go in for a lot of wild bending or vibrato. I have had hand problems that mean I have to play with light strings (9s) and low action but nothing out of the ordinary.

    The reason I referred to Gibson is two fold: I have no problems with my other guitars, I have it with both my Gibsons, and surfing around the net I do get the impression that this is a perceived problem with Gibsons.

    I have 4 electric guitars other than the Gibsons and 3 have locking tuners. I have no problems with any of these which has probably encouraged me to feel, possibly wrongly, that locking tuners might fix it. But I also have a reasonably inexpensive Strat copy that has non-locking tuners and no tuning problems.

  10. #9

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    I had tuning problems until I upped my strings gauge and started locking the string over itself and turning.

    I especially had problems with strings slipping most on Fender guitars before I started the above process.

  11. #10

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    >>> Most conspicuously I bend a string (usually the G) and when I release it the string is flat.

    OK. This is typically from a sticky nut, or EXCESSIVE turns on the post. As you bend, the string pulls the 700 turns on the post tighter, which leaves a longer free length of string, and your pitch drops.

    >>> I have very occasionally observed the string go slightly sharp in the sequence: bend - note goes flat - tune up - bend - note goes sharp.

    >>> But I'd be wary of reading a pattern into this: it doesn't happen every time,

    OK, got it. Been the route.

    Same stuff. Sticky nut and too many turns on the post. Excessive turns both give and take tension as the progressive friction sorts itself out while you play.

    As for the nut: Nut goo is OK, but a well shaped slot is better.

    "Well shaped" means a round bottom (this is not going the way I meant it to,...) that is slightly larger than the string radius. Like .002" larger.

    BUT, it also means a nice orderly exit from the BACK of the nut. The rear exit should be ideally shaped to prevent any string contact with a sharp edge. So the back of the slot tapers slightly downward and slightly outward toward the tuner on most Gibson headstocks. This is a subtle and easy thing to do. It really can help quite a bit with tuning stability.

    A more advanced maneuver is to alter the slope of the slot. Ideally it is not parallel to the headstock, but slightly shallower, again with the slightly rounded rear exit. It really can make a difference.

    But you have to meet the guitar halfway. Locking loop on the tuner post and two turns at the absolute maximum. Less than one turn is better, but it bothers some people visually sometimes.

    And on the video: What on earth does a string bend holding a 3 pound load as the neck hangs from the string have to do with anything? The actual string tension is not 3 pounds. Even super light .010 to .046 will have individual tensions in the range of 16 to 18 pounds. Useless twaddle, which is unfortunate since I'm sure the guy is very helpful and well-intended.

    Locking loop and 2 turns maximum.

    If that does not do it, look at the nut slot profile, then the slope, then the rear exit.

    It all matters and all works. Go figure.

    Chris
    Last edited by PTChristopher; 08-22-2012 at 04:20 PM.

  12. #11
    Quote Originally Posted by PTChristopher
    >>> Most conspicuously I bend a string (usually the G) and when I release it the string is flat.

    OK. This is typically from a sticky nut, or EXCESSIVE turns on the post. As you bend, the string pulls the 700 turns on the post tighter, which leaves a longer free length of string, and your pitch drops.

    >>> I have very occasionally observed the string go slightly sharp in the sequence: bend - note goes flat - tune up - bend - note goes sharp.

    >>> But I'd be wary of reading a pattern into this: it doesn't happen every time,

    OK, got it. Been the route.

    Same stuff. Sticky nut and too many turns on the post. Excessive turns both give and take tension as the progressive friction sorts itself out while you play.

    As for the nut: Nut goo is OK, but a well shaped slot is better.

    "Well shaped" means a round bottom (this is not going the way I meant it to,...) that is slightly larger than the string radius. Like .002" larger.

    BUT, it also means a nice orderly exit from the BACK of the nut. The rear exit should be ideally shaped to prevent any string contact with a sharp edge. So the back of the slot tapers slightly downward and slightly outward toward the tuner on most Gibson headstocks. This is a subtle and easy thing to do. It really can help quite a bit with tuning stability.

    A more advanced maneuver is to alter the slope of the slot. Ideally it is not parallel to the headstock, but slightly shallower, again with the slightly rounded rear exit. It really can make a difference.

    But you have to meet the guitar halfway. Locking loop on the tuner post and two turns at the absolute maximum. Less than one turn is better, but it bothers some people visually sometimes.


    Chris
    Thanks for this Chris - I appreciate your taking the time.

    I will try your suggestions. My problem with nut goo is a sense that it isn't just fiddly and messy but never really seems to work. It may lessen the problem a bit but probably won't fix it. But I'll give it a try.

    The more technical stuff about reshaping the nut etc is beyond me, I need to rely on guitar techs for that sort of thing. Unfortunately my confidence in local techs has taken a bit of a dent after spending quite a bit of money on not getting this problem fixed.

  13. #12

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    >>> uning problems until I upped my strings gauge and started locking the string over itself and turning

    Higher gauge strings have less pitch change for a given length change. It is not much, but enough to make a difference in some cases.

    Chris

  14. #13

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    Quote Originally Posted by PTChristopher

    THE BENEFIT of locking tuners (beyond what some see as convenience)

    Chris
    Hey.. they are convenient. I even like the string trim feature on the Planet Waves tuners. Not a big deal certainly but given the choice and no particular downside, I like locking tuners.

    Ozy.. Chris already covered it, but there are some other ways in which the nut may communicate things are not optimal. One indicator of the string binding at the nut is a 'ping' you get when the tension releases while tuning. Another one is while you're tuning up you'll notice that sometimes your turning the peg and the string is not changing pitch in unison as they should. In the middle of this, reach up and push down on the string above the nut. If the tension releases and the string tunes up, it's sticking. All of this is an easy fix.
    Last edited by Spook410; 08-23-2012 at 12:21 PM.

  15. #14

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    Hiya S410,

    Yes, definitely convenient locking tuners when operating as new. Also, the PW cutters seem to hold up fairly well even if they loom a little worn.

    I also think that the Sperzel and PW locking mechanisms hold up well.

    In my opinion locking tuners are a little like purge valves on diving masks or snorkels. Slightly convenient and fairly reliable. But they encourage laziness, and when they do fail it can be significantly unfortunate. In my cranky opinion, "Just another thing to break", sort of.

    But many really like the locking tuners available on the market.

    >>> One indicator of the string binding at the nut is a 'ping' you get when the tension releases while tuning.

    Yes, definitely. And on a hollowbody you can hear the ping as if it is from the bridge, but it is from the nut.

    Chris

  16. #15

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    Is the tailpiece screwed flush to the body? I've always found that when they're raised there isn't enough tension in the string to keep it in tune. Give the strings a really good stretch and then you should be fine. The problem you have to me sounds like the string is either sticking or there is still some slack in the string.

  17. #16

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    Hi Gabe,

    Tailpiece height has no actual bearing on string tension. The height "adjustment" on a stop tailpiece has a history of lore and effects attributed to it. But the actual height adjustment has no practical bearing on sound or tension unless you are talking about almost no break angle over the bridge - I mean like less than 3 or 4 degrees of break.

    Many feel that having the strings only hit the saddles and not dig into the back of the bridge body is at least a tidy way to set the tailpiece height. This results in more than adequate downward force on the bridge.

    In my view, any reasonably inquisitive looks at tailpiece height and bridge break angle on solid body and hollow body guitars end up concluding that you need "enough", and after that it has no bearing on sound or tuning at all.

    "Enough" turns out to be not very much. There are simple calculations you can do to take the tension of the strings and turn that into a downward force calculation on the bridge. On an archtop this can be fairly significant, and too much downward force can cause top collapse and all the kids in school will laugh.

    Very roughly speaking, a break angle that is over about 7 degrees will be fine. With no change based on a greater break angle. No more "sustain" on the Les Paul.

    There are Bigsby equipped guitars with less break angle, and the players seem quite happy even though you can sometimes observe some saddle instability if the saddle is not a very nice fit against the bridge body (on a T-O-M).

    None of this affects string tension.

    If there is a VERY long length of string between the bridge and tailpiece (6,7,8 inches) and a VERY shallow break angle you can detect a slight difference in perceived tension in lateral deflection if you use a gauge to measure it. But this requires a pretty extreme case.

    All in my opinion. Well except for the assorted lore of Les Paul tailpiece height,...; it's lore.

    Chris
    Last edited by PTChristopher; 08-23-2012 at 01:35 PM.

  18. #17

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    More on string tension:

    A .016" B string has around 23 pounds of tension (~10,5 kg). This is completely unaffected by the tailpiece height.

    To fret a note takes about 6 ounces (170 gm) of finger pressure, but we often use a bit more.

    To do a full-step bend at the 12th fret takes a bit over 4 pounds (1,82 kg) of pressure, including moving the G string over as well to get the full-step bend.

    4 pounds is quite a bit of fingertip effort.

    If you had say 25 inches (63,5 cm) of string between the bridge and the tailpiece, AND the break angle over the bridge was extremely shallow (maybe 3 degrees) then:

    The .016" B string would still have around 23 pounds (~10,5 kg) of tension. This is still completely unaffected by the tailpiece height.

    To fret a note would take a bit less than 6 ounces (170 gm) of finger pressure if the string moved very freely through the bridge. The slight stretch of the 25 inches of string between the bridge and tailpiece would become almost perceptible under very controlled conditions.

    To do a full-step bend at the 12th fret would still takes a bit over 4 pounds (1,82 kg) of pressure, including moving the G string over as well to get the full-step bend. The string would be slightly easier to bend, but you would have to bend farther. Actually, the pressure might well go up since you would likely need to move the D string a bit as well as the B and G.

    Anyway, the string tension is unaffected by any of this. And the misdescribed "tension" of lateral force required when playing, is only practically affected under somewhat extreme (or absurd) conditions.

    Chris
    Last edited by PTChristopher; 08-23-2012 at 06:07 PM. Reason: added metric non-goofy units of measurement