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  1. #1

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    Why do the same strings feel different on different guitars? I play TI 12 jazz flats on several guitars, but the strings feel “stiffer” on some guitars more than others, even on guitars with the same scale length. My best feeling guitar is my ES-125, on which the strings feel the loosest. I wish I could replicate this feel on all my guitars, but I don’t understand all the factors involved. The original vintage frets on the ES-125 are definitely the lowest of all my guitars—I suspect that that, and the interaction of nut slot height, action, bridge angle, etc. all play into it.

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  3. #2

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    There are a lot of factors- scale length, nut slot height, action height, tallness of the fret, fretboard radius, neck relief, neck thickness and taper, break angle at the bridge and nut, etc. And that's not even mentioning the strings!

    Also where are you were playing on the neck. As you get up past the octave the string gets shorter and gets proportionally stiffer, which is why the tone changes especially noticeably on the thicker strings.

  4. #3

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    Total string length has an effect. Longer strings, meaning more string length between the tailpiece and the tuner capstan, tend to have a softer feel, regardless of the scale length, which is almost negligible compared to the total string. The difference between 24.75" and 25.5" is only .75", and the difference between the total length with a stop tailpiece and a short trapeze tailpiece is much more than that. Plus, some headstocks are longer than others, thus more string between the nut and the capstan.

  5. #4

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    I think neck and fret dimensions are also a factor. Your hand is stressed and/or accomadated mechanically differently by different fingerboard widths, neck shapes, fingerboard radii, fret heights and shapes, etc. Some allow you to position your hand in a way that make it easier to press down than on others.

    John

  6. #5

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    Quote Originally Posted by sgosnell
    Total string length has an effect. Longer strings, meaning more string length between the tailpiece and the tuner capstan, tend to have a softer feel, regardless of the scale length, which is almost negligible compared to the total string. The difference between 24.75" and 25.5" is only .75", and the difference between the total length with a stop tailpiece and a short trapeze tailpiece is much more than that. Plus, some headstocks are longer than others, thus more string between the nut and the capstan.
    This gets my vote.

    I've spent a long, unhappy time working through this.

  7. #6

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    Quote Originally Posted by John A.
    I think neck and fret dimensions are also a factor. Your hand is stressed and/or accomadated mechanically differently by different fingerboard widths, neck shapes, fingerboard radii, fret heights and shapes, etc. Some allow you to position your hand in a way that make it easier to press down than on others.

    John
    This stuff too, but for me mostly fret height, i.e. taller is better.

    Do not provoke the demons of Pain.

  8. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by rabbit
    This stuff too, but for me mostly fret height, i.e. taller is better.

    Do not provoke the demons of Pain.
    Yeah man that’s part of it. When practicing four to the bar comping for a few minutes I start getting tendon pain on the inside wrist joint. Certain guitars only. Seems opposite for me: lower frets, looser feeling strings, less discomfort.

  9. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by sgosnell
    Total string length has an effect. Longer strings, meaning more string length between the tailpiece and the tuner capstan, tend to have a softer feel, regardless of the scale length, which is almost negligible compared to the total string. The difference between 24.75" and 25.5" is only .75", and the difference between the total length with a stop tailpiece and a short trapeze tailpiece is much more than that. Plus, some headstocks are longer than others, thus more string between the nut and the capstan.
    Is the amount of string wound around the peg irrelevant here? I think I’m going to have to bust out with a ruler and compare and contrast to see if I can’t find out where the magic of my ES-125 lies.

  10. #9

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    I think this is universal:

    More distance between the trapeze tailpiece and the bridge the softer the feel for the fretting hand.

    Other aspects of attack, sustain, sound, etc. might be affected too but we're focussed here on the fretting hand.

    My ES-125 is magic too.

  11. #10

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    -Why do some guitars feel stiff?

    The topic can be divided into three subcategories; mechanical, acoustical and ergonomics.

    Most of you are familiar with the sound of a stiff guitar; the painful dissonance of a pitching fretted note. Whenever a guitar sounds like that you may perceive it as stiff, even though there may be other forces in play, like intonation or how you hold and fret the particular guitar in question. But then there are a multitude of mechanical factors that have to be balanced so that the guitar plays the way you like. It takes a while to get to know a new guitar and what adjustments are required.

    Mechanical factors

    • String gauge
    • Scale length
    • Bridge height
    • Nut height
    • Neck relief and actual string height across the entire fretboard
    • Bridge radius
    • String break angles
    • String slot friction
    • Elasticity (strings, tailpiece, bridge posts, frame)
    • Total string length inc. "dead strings" behind bridge and nut.
    • Fret height (technique dependent)


    Acoustical factors

    • Tuning
    • Intonation
    • Sustain


    Ergonomics

    • Fretting technique
    • Bending technique
    • Fretting position
    • Picking position
    • Body and guitar position (typically when playing seated)
    • Neck profile
    • Guitar body size


    (Some of the factors listed above are complex and affect more than one subcategory.)

  12. #11

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    Is the amount of string wound around the peg irrelevant here?
    I think it is. The string is wound so tightly around the capstan that any possible movement or stretch would be impeceptible. Most often, the length from the bridge to the tailpiece will be longer than from the nut to the capstan, but different guitars can vary a lot. Friction on the strings at the nut and bridge are a factor, but they do slide, otherwise tuning would be impossible. Well cut and burnished slots can aid in a softer feel versus rough and tight ones. It's not the most important factor, but it all adds up.

  13. #12

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    If you could lock every string at the nut and bridge on every guitar, that would stop the non-vibrating length of string from stretching when you deflect a string to play a note. That makes the feel tighter.

    At that point, there would still be differences, as others have pointed out. My guess is that the two most significant factors are non-vibrating string length and neck dimensions. Breakover angle and friction at nut and bridge also matter, but I don't have a guess as to how much.

    I prefer a trapeze to a stop tailpiece because of the looser feel created by stretching in the non-vibrating portion of the string.

    I also prefer a narrow neck -- to an extreme. I often play a Yamaha Pacifica 012, the cheapest model, because the neck is tiny. It makes everything feel easier.

    I was surprised to find that the longer scale length on the Yamaha didn't bother me. The tiny neck made it largely irrelevant.

    One thing I wonder about is if it would be possible to make a truly great sounding guitar with a tiny neck, or if greater neck-mass is essential to great tone.

  14. #13
    Quote Originally Posted by JCat
    -Why do some guitars feel stiff?

    The topic can be divided into three subcategories; mechanical, acoustical and ergonomics.

    Most of you are familiar with the sound of a stiff guitar; the painful dissonance of a pitching fretted note. Whenever a guitar sounds like that you may perceive it as stiff, even though there may be other forces in play, like intonation or how you hold and fret the particular guitar in question. But then there are a multitude of mechanical factors that have to be balanced so that the guitar plays the way you like. It takes a while to get to know a new guitar and what adjustments are required.

    Mechanical factors

    • String gauge
    • Scale length
    • Bridge height
    • Nut height
    • Neck relief and actual string height across the entire fretboard
    • Bridge radius
    • String break angles
    • String slot friction
    • Elasticity (strings, tailpiece, bridge posts, frame)
    • Total string length inc. "dead strings" behind bridge and nut.
    • Fret height (technique dependent)


    Acoustical factors

    • Tuning
    • Intonation
    • Sustain


    Ergonomics

    • Fretting technique
    • Bending technique
    • Fretting position
    • Picking position
    • Body and guitar position (typically when playing seated)
    • Neck profile
    • Guitar body size


    (Some of the factors listed above are complex and affect more than one subcategory.)
    Although I like the local shop and separate independent luthier that I use to do my setups and repairs, this rabbit hole seems like a lot of trial, error, and personal preference to get right.

    This begs the question then: if a guitar feels stiff, with all these variables involved, is there an approach to solving the issue that is within the grasp of a non-luthier? I am not averse to basic setup tasks, but this seems daunting.

    The stiffness is not a dealbreaker and I don’t think the guitars that feel stiff to me are junky or not worth keeping, it’s just that I would like to make them more playable for my particular touch.

  15. #14

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    Guitars with high action usually feel stiff to me. Probably that's because the string has to be stretched so much to fret it. Lower action feels much looser because the string only has to be stretched a small amount. That is really more of a factor than string length, but I tend to assume that one has the action set to what is preferred, so I was assuming equal action height on everything. Of course, that isn't necessarily the case. I set my action as low as I possibly can without getting any buzz or affecting the tone, using my usual touch. Vigorous picking will produce buzz. YMMV.

  16. #15

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    Raise the stop tailpiece, to reduce the breakover angle.

    Lighter strings.

    Lower action.

    Lubricate nut and bridge saddles

    Tune down.

    All these things have the potential for softening the feel. No luthiery involved.

    I don't know if some strings are stretchier than others. The greater the elasticity of the string the softer the feel and maybe the more difficult to keep in tune.

  17. #16

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    Quote Originally Posted by wzpgsr
    Although I like the local shop and separate independent luthier that I use to do my setups and repairs, this rabbit hole seems like a lot of trial, error, and personal preference to get right.

    This begs the question then: if a guitar feels stiff, with all these variables involved, is there an approach to solving the issue that is within the grasp of a non-luthier? I am not averse to basic setup tasks, but this seems daunting.

    The stiffness is not a dealbreaker and I don’t think the guitars that feel stiff to me are junky or not worth keeping, it’s just that I would like to make them more playable for my particular touch.
    Consider this;

    You run the racks to pick the ONE (i.e the best playing, best sounding guitar in the store). Then after a couple of months it doesn't play the way you like anymore. The simple reason being the guitar needs adjustment. So you either do it yourself or pay the tech.

    The tech's personal preferences may be different than yours, so you'll have to communicate the problem you experience. If he doesn't understand the problem, you better find another tech or learn how to do it yourself.

    Some guy buy a guitar on-line, then call it a "dog" if it plays stiff, doesn't hold tune or has some other issue the new owner can't dial out. He would then sell the guitar on-line with the description "my best sounding guitar".

    Some guys will tell you life is too short to troubleshoot a guitar that doesn't perform. Others will say that until you've learned to tweak a guitar your training is not complete.

    Now listen close:

    1. Learn how to properly string a guitar.
    2. Address the nut. You may not see the problem with your naked eye.
    3. Address the neck; It has to be straight, flat without a twist. Understand that you can't use a business card to verify relief.
    4. Address the bridge radius, not the nominal radius, but the actual bridge radius when intonated and under string tension.
    5. Address the tailpiece and the bridge string break angle.
    6. Check your playing position, your picking position and your fretting technique. Remember that guitars are different and that you may have to adapt your position to a new guitar (One could even become a better player in the process).