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Thread: Changing strings leading to ruined action

  1. #1
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    Unhappy Changing strings leading to ruined action

    Hi guys,

    I'm a bit mad today - things just aren't going right.

    Today, I decided to restring my Fender Strat, having not done it in about six or eight months (I know, I know... ) and have a clean under the back plate because it looked like a lot of dust had gathered through the slot where you poke the strings through.

    So anyway, having carefully vaccuumed its innards, I changed the strings (same make and gauge as before) but wasn't making a very good job of tying them off - I didn't leave enough slack before doing the 'knot' and ended up only getting about one and a half rotations around the post. I considered redoing them but thought against it because the more times you add kinks to the strings, the weaker they become.

    When I tuned up, I noticed that the bridge had pivoted up to about 8/32", yanked up by the strings. Fender say 'average' is around 4/32", but previously it had been flat to the body (which Fender mention as an option in the handbook) and had no problem with that set up. My first thought was that new strings were carrying tension and would loosen gradually, so I left it alone for about five hours to settle.

    However, upon my return, the bridge was still angled sharply. I was confused by this point, having made no other adjustments to cause this change, but decided (foolishly, perhaps) to loosen the strings again and tighten the bolts behind the back plate to lower the bridge angle. Long story short, I got the bridge to 4/32" and the guitar in tune.

    However, when I tried to play the guitar I noticed that the action had raised to a ridiculous level. Fender measure it at the 17th fret, recommending 3/32" for the sixth string - mine measures at about 7/32" and is nigh on impossible to play! I love the action as low as possible because it's easier to play - no doubt nearly everyone would agree on that.

    So my question is, why might simply changing the strings have caused these changes and why? What can I do to reverse them or do I have to go through the set-up procedure and adjust all the individual mechanisms?

    Thanks very much for your help.

    Regards,

    Max

  2. #2
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    If you're SURE the strings were the same guage the only things I can think of off the top of my head are if you've tuned to a higher pitch than before, or somehow changed the tension of the tremolo springs - did you remove any when you vaccuumed out the cavity? In any case, it sounds like it needs to be setup from scratch back to factory specs...it might be a good idea to have a qualified tech take a look at it in case there's something wrong that you're not seeing.

    Also since this site is more about music theory, and gear discussions are discouraged, I'd recommend posting your question at the Strat subfoum on TDPRI - lots of very knowledgeable people hang out there.

    http://www.tdpri.com/forum/index.php
    Last edited by walternewton; 08-13-2010 at 09:12 PM.

  3. #3
    Registered User Malcolm's Avatar
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    A third of the way through your post I decided you need to spend the $35 to $50 it will take for a professional set up. Bite the bullet and take it in.

    Stick around and watch so you will know next time.

  4. #4
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    I've had this problem before and assumed a string gauge difference but talked to a metallurgist come full time luthier and he said:

    :Loosen all the strings off and prop the trem up on something like a 9v battery or a stack of coins so that it sits level at the right height. Then tune it to pitch while pushing the trem firmly down against its new prop. When its all in tune, pull the trem forward and get the prop out. Then adjust the rear springs if neccesary to get the E or A back to pitch. It should sit pretty much level and pretty much in tune. Tweak from there."

    When i questioned further he said:

    Its not the string size thats the problem here. Its a bizarre effect called tension shock (or something ike that) where the trem finds a new equilibrium position in some wierd place. You just have to make it find the right position. Brute force is one way...

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by walternewton View Post
    If you're SURE the strings were the same guage ...

    http://www.tdpri.com/forum/index.php
    So... er... yeah... may have possibly found that I've switched to a lighter gauge of strings... I'd looked at the open pack in my gig bag, but they were just spare - I'd used one top E string to replace a broken one. Oops!

    I looked at the Fender website and found a set up guide that's better than the one in my owner's handbook:

    http://www.fender.com/support/strato...etup_guide.php

    Tomorrow I'm going to go through the guide step by step and see whether I can fix it myself.

    Thanks for that forum link BTW, although their sister forum strat-talk.com seems like the one for me. I might post something up if I have further problems.

    Quote Originally Posted by Malcolm View Post
    A third of the way through your post I decided you need to spend the $35 to $50 it will take for a professional set up. Bite the bullet and take it in.

    Stick around and watch so you will know next time.
    Yeah, I can see why you'd think that, but I'm a stubborn sod and like to resolve these things myself if possible. If I really struggle going through the guide tomorrow then, yeah, a trip to the shop I bought it at might be the only solution.

    Cheers gents.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by borge View Post
    I've had this problem before and assumed a string gauge difference but talked to a metallurgist come full time luthier and he said:

    :Loosen all the strings off and prop the trem up on something like a 9v battery or a stack of coins so that it sits level at the right height. Then tune it to pitch while pushing the trem firmly down against its new prop. When its all in tune, pull the trem forward and get the prop out. Then adjust the rear springs if neccesary to get the E or A back to pitch. It should sit pretty much level and pretty much in tune. Tweak from there."

    When i questioned further he said:

    Its not the string size thats the problem here. Its a bizarre effect called tension shock (or something ike that) where the trem finds a new equilibrium position in some wierd place. You just have to make it find the right position. Brute force is one way...
    The 9-volt battery stuff is for Floyd-Rose type trems, not for fixed trems like the Fender.

    And the tech's idea of"tension shock" sounds like mumbo-jumbo to me.

    But more below, re the Max's original post ...

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by MusicMadMax View Post
    So... er... yeah... may have possibly found that I've switched to a lighter gauge of strings... I'd looked at the open pack in my gig bag, but they were just spare - I'd used one top E string to replace a broken one. Oops!
    I looked at the Fender website and found a set up guide that's better than the one in my owner's handbook:
    http://www.fender.com/support/stratocaster_setup_guide.php
    Tomorrow I'm going to go through the guide step by step and see whether I can fix it myself.
    Thanks for that forum link BTW, although their sister forum strat-talk.com seems like the one for me. I might post something up if I have further problems.
    Yeah, I can see why you'd think that, but I'm a stubborn sod and like to resolve these things myself if possible. If I really struggle going through the guide tomorrow then, yeah, a trip to the shop I bought it at might be the only solution.
    Cheers gents.
    You don't need a trip to any shop or to a tech just to change strings!

    It was always obvious from your first post that you've put a lighter gauge of strings on there (or else removed one of the trem springs).

    Also, don't get fooled by pedantic ways of special patterns of how to wind the strings around the tuning-posts ... just have a reasonable number of winds around the post, and don't worry about any special "knots" etc.

    If you are going to stick with that new set of thinner gauge strings, then you need to level the trem by tightening the screws that hold the spring plate to the wooden body of the guitar (always a crude looking mechanism, but it seems to work) ...

    ... you may need to do that by trial and error, ie by several attempts at screwing in/out the spring plate to get the tension right so that the trem is level when the strings are in tune.

    Also, don't worry about kinks in the strings from having not wrapped enough around the posts first time around ... unless that's really bad to the point of weaking the string by a kink which is on the point of breaking, just undo them and re-wind them more carefully with 5 or 6 turns (or more) on the post.

    It's not rocket science, so make sure you know how to do it without getting fooled by fussy detailed instructions from any guitar websites or any fanatically fussy "guitarists" on internet forums.

    Ian.

  8. #8
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    Followed the Fender guide and, after a couple of hours of cursing, got the thing fully functional to factory specifications. I kept the bridge slightly raised at 3/32" (as per the Fender standard) in the end because I didn't want to have to force the spring-plate screws in too much. By loosening the strings and then screwing I could have no doubt got it in further, but figured I'd try it out as is.

    Adjusted the bridge supports as well to lower the action and got it down to about 4/32" at the 17th fret. Unfortunately there's a slight buzz on strings five and six, particularly when playing around 9th fret, which I couldn't seem to get rid of completely despite increasing the height of the bridge supports, so any ideas on that would be great. In fact, could a buzz be caused by the pickups being too close to the strings, not because they're making contact but because the magnetism is messing them around? I initially set the distances as per the factory settings and later moved them further away in a hope of reducing the buzz.

    I'm leaving the number of string wraps around the pegs alone because they look secure (even on top E where it goes round once) and the Fender website says this is acceptable. Oh, and plus I've already cut the string ends because they were annoying me.

    Can anyone tell me why a lighter gauge of string pulls harder on the spring plate? I'd have thought it would have been the other way round...

    Cheers,

    Max

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by MusicMadMax View Post
    Can anyone tell me why a lighter gauge of string pulls harder on the spring plate? I'd have thought it would have been the other way round...
    Lighter strings don't pull harder, of course - on my Strat *heavier* strings will tend to raise the action (but there are lots of different Strat models and bridge designs - I don't know if any of them work "backwards"??)

    Quote Originally Posted by MusicMadMax View Post
    Unfortunately there's a slight buzz on strings five and six, particularly when playing around 9th fret, which I couldn't seem to get rid of completely despite increasing the height of the bridge supports, so any ideas on that would be great. In fact, could a buzz be caused by the pickups being too close to the strings, not because they're making contact but because the magnetism is messing them around?
    Pickup height is important for a number of reasons, but my first thoughts would be insufficient neck relief or a fret that's too high.

    It's great to be able to work on your own guitar...but if you're struggling with basic setup, again, a *good* tech should be able to sort out your issues and get your guitar into optimal playing condition (unfortunately not every guitar store has one...)

  10. #10
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    Not all strings are created equal, measure a few strings with some vernier calipers and you'll see. there are variances in inter (and less so intra) brand sizing, a "0.010" is not always a 0.010 in reality. String density is also a factor in determining tension so thats another variable.

    Quote Originally Posted by Crossroads View Post
    The 9-volt battery stuff is for Floyd-Rose type trems, not for fixed trems like the Fender.

    And the tech's idea of"tension shock" sounds like mumbo-jumbo to me.
    Fender trems aren't fixed (fixed trem seems like an oxymoron to me..) they are as fully floating as a Floyd, though, i guess many people do tighten them hard against the body to make them dive only.

    As for tension shock, I can't understand the concept but I tend to believe anyone with a MEng when it comes to these sorts of things, though, if you have a PhDEng I'll take your word for it

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by borge View Post
    Fender trems aren't fixed (fixed trem seems like an oxymoron to me..) they are as fully floating as a Floyd, though, i guess many people do tighten them hard against the body to make them dive only.
    OK, sorry if I sounded argumentative or dismissive at all - I just dashed that remark off quickly before making a 2nd post as a more direct reply to Max.

    But overall my message to Max (or anyone) is - don't get fooled into endless fussing about setting ultra low action, or worrying over barely noticeable string buzzes, or special instructions of how to wrap strings around tuning posts etc.

    All these adjustments (except maybe truss rod) are simlicity itself for any guitar owner to get their guitar playing & sounding it's best ... without paying a tech. to keep your guitar for weeks whilst screwing the whole thing up professionaly for you .

    Ian.

  12. #12
    Registered User bluesking's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Crossroads View Post
    All these adjustments (except maybe truss rod) are simlicity itself for any guitar owner to get their guitar playing & sounding it's best ... without paying a tech. to keep your guitar for weeks whilst screwing the whole thing up professionaly for you .
    I totally agree with your sentiment. A strat is a beautifully simple instrument. There is nothing complicated or magic about it. There is no need to use feeler guages to measure precise distances. The fender factory spec is of little use because each player is different. Buzzes and string choking are a normal part of playing a strat. You need to test your action through an amplifier, otherwise the action ends up being way way too high because little buzzes can be heard acoustically much easier than through an amp.

    One thing I always find helps is to not expect a guitar setup to be a single operation. Make an adjustment, try it out, leave the guitar alone for 15 mins, try it out again, make another adjustment and repeat. If you try to do everything in one go you will ruin it. This is nothing to do with letting the strings or the wood "settle", it is a purely psychological effect, much like ear fatigue (the best advice I ever got about setting an amplifier or effects tone was from Dario Cortese:

    Make all the changes you like in the first 15 seconds because after this your mind plays tricks on you and you end up messing it all up!)
    Last edited by bluesking; 08-18-2010 at 12:33 PM.
    "Shut Up 'n Play Yer Guitar"

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