Tight strings on a Telecaster
Q: I'm, glad I found your website. I have
a question concerning a Telecaster I just purchased.
First, to let you know, I have a Gibson Les Paul
Custom, and Fender American Standard Stratocaster. I use .11's
all my guitars, and the action (string height, neck relief, nut
height, etc.) is very similar on both. Both play extremely well,
and even with the .11's, the action (i.e. bending the strings)
is very easy (very elastic, or what I call very "bouncy").
In short, I can bend the strings and it's very comfortable.
I just purchase a Fender Special Addition Lite
Ash Telecaster (actually Korean made). It is my understanding that
they are very well made (maybe not as well as American made, but
better than the one's made in Mexico). I have owned Korean
made guitars before and have not had the problem I am having with
My problem is, when I got it (I changed the strings
to .11's as I usual do), I noticed that the strings were extremely
"tight". It was difficult to bend them even thought I'm
using the same string gauge (.11's), the same string height,
etc. It almost felt like I had .15's on it. It obviously needed
to have a professional "set up" done by a Luthier (as
I always do regardless of the guitar). I have a guy that I have
used for years and always does a great job. When I picked it up,
he definitely improved the bending of the strings, but I have to
say, it's still a lot more difficult to bend the strings compared
to my other two guitars (or other guitars I've owned in the
past). The string height after the set up is about the same as my
other guitars also, but it's still very "tight".
I know he thought there was too much relief in the neck (I thought
maybe there was not enough, but I trust him, not myself). He also
had to raise the nut a little, and of course intonated everything.
However, although I do feel improvement, I feel like it's still
I'm looking to find out what may be the
problem. I want to let you know that it does have a vintage Tele
bridge with the 3 "un-compensated" bridge saddles. He
said that he got the intonation as close as he could for that type
of saddle and we discussed getting the kind that is compensated.
After playing the guitar, I'm convinced I would more comfortable
with a modern Tele bridge. Could the bridge be the problem with
my "tight" strings? If I go with a modern bridge with
6 independent saddles, will that help?
Is there anything you can recommend that I look
into that will help? Anything that he might not have considered?
Sorry for the long email, I just wanted you to
have all the information so you could help figure out why it's
more difficult to bend the strings.
A: The most obvious answer would be that a Les
Paul has a 24.75" scale length and a Telecaster has a 25.5"
scale length. You can raise the pitch of a string by shortening
it or by tightening it. The longer string takes more tension to
pull it up to pitch. Hence, a .009 string on a Fender feels like
a .010 on a Gibson. People talk much hocus pocus about the pickups,
the neck wood and the hardware, but the salient difference between
the sound and feel of Gibsons and Fenders is the scale length. But,
you are feeling no difference between your Fender and your Gibson
with the same strings on them. Further, the action only governs
how high the strings are above the frets. Bending is a function
of the tension on the string. The lower the tension the more percentage
tension change you make by bending. Bending a .009 string one
inch will change the pitch by three whole steps, bending a
.013 one inch will give you one whole step.
The only thing that I can think of that fits
all of the evidence is that if the action on the Tele is very high,
you have to bend the string down to the fingerboard before you start
bending it for pitch. This would increase the perceived stiffness
of the string. I wonder also about your luthier raising the nut.
If the string buzzes against the first fret it must be raised. If
the string clears the first fret, the nut's job is done. Buzzes
anywhere else, besides the first fret, are not the fault of the
nut. Making it higher than necessary just makes the guitar harder
to play and intonate.
I am not a huge fan of "relief"
in the neck. If your frets are not all the same height, you can
miss the high frets by raising the action. You can functionally
raise the action by bowing the neck. If you look at the motion of
the string after it is plucked (especially if you can look at it
with a variable speed strobe light) it does move most in the center
and there is a little hump where you pluck it and a reflection hump
as far from the nut as your pick was from the bridge. As you fret
higher up the neck the string travel gets smaller. With very light
strings some relief is necessary. Acoustic guitar necks are set
perfectly straight. If you have a noticeable bow in the neck, you
need your frets dressed. Most relief that I see is actually a cover
for a poor action set. It is always possible to make a guitar play
and not buzz using only the bridge adjustment and the truss rod,
but the fret dress is the heart of the action set.
Six bridge pieces will certainly help with your