Stew Mac String Action Gauge, Nut Files, getting everything right, Fender Strat Tele Content ;)

Guildedagain

Senior Member
Joined
Jun 8, 2016
Messages
1,657
Reaction score
36
If you're like me, too many guitars, and some of them frankly don't play or sound as good as they could because too many guitars and not all properly set-up, nevermind aging strings and other factors such as any guitar is not the same everyday. You're not the same everyday. The world isn't the same everyday. Just as the weather changes, so do our guitars, daily.

I have too many guitars and it's time to part with some, again. And I can't bear to part with them not finished, not playing right. It's not just monetary, it's about getting something right, and being able to pass it on with pride.

Acquisition phases, and divesting phases... When the dust settles, there should be less, a lot less... but only the cream of the crop should be left in your possession.

And do you tell what from what when half of them are somewhat lame because of common issues such as;

Nut slots too high causing sour cowboy chords. There is nothing, absolutely nothing that will make me give up on a guitar faster than one that sounds like crap in G and D, forget it.

String height off, too high, too low, making the guitar harder to play in one case or causing muted notes when strings fret out.

And if you're like me and you have a raft of electrics, pickup height is a biggie. Too high can pull the strings out of tune, causing oscillation/warble/wolf notes.

With a short list of specs and the Stew Mac gauge, I was able to set-up 5 guitars in a few hours, better than they've ever been. Three Teles, two Strats.

On two of the Teles that I built last year, the bone nut slots were still a tad high, totally wreaking havoc with my chords at the nut.

The clearance @ the 1st fret when string is depressed @ the 2nd should be .006" on the trebles and .010 on the bass strings. It's really almost nothing. Luckily for me, I finally bought nut files from .010 to .056 so I can do this and make it right. I use business card over the frets to protect while lowering the slots as needed.

When this is done, or at any time, verify your relief and adjust as needed.

On Fenders, it becomes slightly more complicated because of radius used. For 7.25" radius, relief is .012/0.3mm, for 9.5"-12", it is .010"/0.25mm, 15"-17" .008/0.2mm.

Then your string height, easy peasy on most Fender guitar. 7.25" radius = 5/64"/0.2mm Bass 4/64"/0.16mm Treble. 9.5"-12" radius = 4/64" Bass 4/64"/0.16mm Treble.

Then finally your pickup height.

For non high output p'ups 6/64"/0.24mm Bass 5/64"/0.2mm Treble with the strings held down at the last fret. For high output staggered pole piece types, 8/64"/0.36mm Bass 6/64"/0.24mm Treble

This would be a really good time to set intonation since you've done everything else.

I do it by ear, and having the correct string height helps, it prevents overly sharp fretted notes at the 12th fret.

I play the fretted note gently, and the harmonic. If the harmonic is flat, make the string longer. If the harmonic is sharp, make the string shorter.

With Teles doing two strings at a time, you just have to get lucky, and if not, they make offset saddles in brass to get around it.

Now, assuming your strings are still reasonably serviceable, you should have great playing great sounding guitars.

At this point you have a baseline for tweaking your p'ups if you like to find sweet spots.

The guitars must all be tuned dead on before making any comparisons. Dead on.

All my Strats/Teles have 10's. I tried 9's, and while they are twangier sounding, they can't take any kind of a beating for Bluegrass, they just sound terrible and on Strats I think the 10's work with the Trem system (vintage 6 screw), a lot more resonance, a lot more sustain.

At this point I was able to do a recorded shootout of three Teles, acoustically and plugged in, and the winner was surprising, because it had potential and I built it from scratch with high hopes from vintage parts but was a dog on account of everything being slightly off. In the end, it made "the" Tele I've had for 20 years redundant.

Then between that one Tele and the Strat that's been a love hate relationship since I first laid eyes on her, Excalibur. This guitar's got more personalities than Sybil, it can range from the best you've ever played to the worst you've ever played.

This Strat now playing better than ever after some latter day sorting out and back from the chopping block. A late reprieve, I went through all the motions and it sold on Reverb within two hours of posting for $2500 "offer" to my $3200 price and the buyer started being a problem instantly. I canceled it and I feel like I just got this guitar all over again. A sign from God obviously, was not time to let go.

The Strat of course did more for me than the Tele ever could, so now it was time to do this with Excalibur and a Strat of immense significance, 80's USA reissue Fullerton made Sunburst, Alder body/Rosewood board. A Strat of amazing sonic properties unplugged loud like it half acoustic, endless sustain. Consistently about twice as loud unplugged as any other Strat.

I adjusted everything on it too, strings were way high and I knew that, that's why it was louder. All things being the same, Excalibur, the one I just sold but then was saved, ended up with the absolute keeper.

It's a '74 Olympic White Hendrix lookalike Strat that's been my obsession for a long time, but at the end of the day, if a guitar doesn't play like it should, you're not going to be making music with it, just getting frustrated.

Back to the Stew Mac gauge. What a GEM! I bough it and a Chinese knockoff graduated differently at the same time and I thought I might like that one more, but I could pitch it in the trash now. The Stew Mac tool is indispensable, so easy to use, so easy to read, with glasses that is.

I do all of my guitar work with different strengths of readers. For nut filing, I use something extreme, for restringing and adjusting something milder.

This is basically just doing a little tune up on your Fender guitar. My approach has always been eyeball everything but the eyeballs aren't what they used to be, and frankly, without the String Action Gauge, you'd be hard pressed to tell 6/64" from 5/64".

Btw, even though I listed metric measurements, that's not how my brain works. I like 64th's. A very fine measurement indeed.

Score of of these gauges or chime in if you already have one.

$30 you'll never regret spending.

Excalibur.
 

Attachments

Last edited:

GAD

Wrinkled Member
Staff member
Joined
Feb 11, 2009
Messages
11,169
Reaction score
698
So many words! (says the guy working on a 6000 word article) :)

Doing your own setups is something I feel every guitarist should know how to do. You can save loads of money frustration and time and get your guitars *exactly* the way you want them. Some people just don't have it in them, though. I've known guitarists with $10,000 guitars that bring them to the shop to have the strings changed, but hey - if it keeps the good techs in business I'm all for that too! :)
 

Guildedagain

Senior Member
Joined
Jun 8, 2016
Messages
1,657
Reaction score
36
Back when Clapton was God, he did play a Gibson ;]) I never quite forgave Clapton for switching, I'm starting to now and this is hard for me because I'm was an SG fiend first, 20 years of nothing but SG's in the 80's, and then I fell for a Flametop Les Paul in the 90's, fell really hard. Traded a '62 PBass, '66 SJ J.r, '79 Hardtail Strat plus cash, what? Cash? Yeah, plus cash for a Burst, an amazing guitar, but I wonder howe much the attraction is just physical?

I went through a shit ton of Flametop LP's over the next couple decades, sold my last one last summer, and I'll never have another one.

In the meantime, Strats and Teles wormed their way into my heart and at the end of the day, that's what I really love. My Strat. If there was a fire and you just grab one, that's the one. And my P Bass.

Clapton got his first Strat, Brownie, 1956 Sunburst/Maple board, before the end of Cream, but couldn't use it in that context. Maybe in Blind Faith, I'm not sure, but by Layla and other assorted love songs, that's all he used and I missed the 335 wielding Clapton that played Crossroads, the Flametop wielding Clapton is God from the Beano album.

Even though I fell in love with Strats in the 90's when vintage ones were still within reach and had in my possession a 1960 (birth year) Strat Sunburst that was virtually unplayed, due to it's owner not coming back from Nam. That one and a multitude of other Strats didn't make me actually prefer them to my Les Paul.

In time, or maybe switching from the Guns n' Roses tone to a more rootsy sound made me start looking at Fender guitars again in a new light.

Age old question though, a Les Paul or a Strat as a desert Island guitar?

I have to go with the Strat, uniquely contoured, more organic. More tonally versatile, and the trem adds a whole new soundscape.

So in the end, God played a Fender ;[)

PS Also a consideration, you don't snap the headstock on a Strat. On a Les Paul, it's a constant worry.
 
Last edited:

Nuuska

Senior Member
Joined
Jan 18, 2016
Messages
2,888
Reaction score
163
On Fenders, it becomes slightly more complicated because of radius used. For 7.25" radius, relief is .012/3mm, for 9.5"-12", it is .010"/2.5mm, 15"-17" .008/2mm.
......
Btw, even though I listed metric measurements, that's not how my brain works. I like 64th's. A very fine measurement indeed.

Score of of these gauges or chime in if you already have one.

$30 you'll never regret spending.

Hello

First the negative - there's a decade-mistake - should be 0.3mm & 0.25mm & 0.2mm

Now we got that right - so let's concentrate on positive stuff 😍

Wery well written - enjoyed reading it - agree 100% that every guitar player should have some basic tools and knoledge to perform setup.

You get the work done right when needed - and you get it done to your taste - i.e. intonation may wary a lot depending on how hard your fretting touch is. Plus you can experiment with different settings without having to pay someone for doing that for you.
 

Guildedagain

Senior Member
Joined
Jun 8, 2016
Messages
1,657
Reaction score
36
Yes, corrected. ;[) I knew I wasn't even meant to write about mm's...

Thx for the kind words. I've been tinkering with guitars since I first got into electrics. It's kind of like bicycles or motorcycles or vintage cars. It's a hobby, and they're quite mechanical. I've always been rather good at adjusting any guitar on the fly, within minutes, but usually just eyeball, feel, and what the strings are telling you. Are they ringing, or not ringing? It's all in what you want. For years, I set up my action just above fretting out and used .009s for super fast agile lead playing, but it's not much of an acoustic sound.

With these guitars all suddenly setup very well and conservatively, strings not very low, pickups not very high, I'm able to bang out hillbilly bluegrass stuff like I'm playing an acoustic, but better, and easier. It really makes the guitar come alive.

Using measurements brings out new possibilities, straying and then returning to known baselines.

Also, establish your own for a given instrument, tweak it just how you want it, then record it.
 
Last edited:

fronobulax

Backup bassist, Frono and the Mod Squad
Joined
May 3, 2007
Messages
17,214
Reaction score
239
Age old question though, a Les Paul or a Strat as a desert Island guitar?
I understand the concept of a "desert island" something and how the idea can frame a conversation in useful ways, but I am always amused when there is an implicit requirement for electrical power or some other element of "civilized infrastructure".
 

Nuuska

Senior Member
Joined
Jan 18, 2016
Messages
2,888
Reaction score
163
For desert island - a nylon string guitar - while if you end up staying there 4 centuries - with any luck you MIGHT learn how to make new strings using whatever grows there.
 

Quantum Strummer

Senior Member
Joined
May 26, 2015
Messages
2,328
Reaction score
64
I enjoy setting up guitars. The process itself is satisfying, as is playing a guitar that's been well dialed in. I've just finished fine tuning the last of my DR string holdouts, a '96 Rickenbacker 380 Laguna. The GHS Burnished Nickel Rockers I use now (not counting flatwounds and acoustic strings, of course) have slightly higher tension, which means trussrod tweaking, and the wound string diameters are a little different too, which means intonation tweaking. You can set the neck relief really low on a Ric without choking or buzzing, and the dual trussrods let you get the treble string relief just right. This model has a wider than usual neck width too: ~1.75". And 'cuz the body is walnut rather than maple it's quite light: 7lbs, 2.5oz.

-Dave-
 

richardp69

Senior Member
Joined
Aug 11, 2009
Messages
3,441
Reaction score
162
I'm one of those guys that will even have my Luthier do my string changes in addition to everything else I ask of him. It's done well, not that more expensive than doing it myself and I just fu-----hate to change strings. So, go ahead and shoot me or at least say I'm a lazy SOB but frankly, Scarlett, I just don't give a damn.

I do use my Stew Mac string gauge tool really often though. I like to disclose string height (good or bad) when I sell a guitar
 

Guildedagain

Senior Member
Joined
Jun 8, 2016
Messages
1,657
Reaction score
36
I understand the concept of a "desert island" something and how the idea can frame a conversation in useful ways, but I am always amused when there is an implicit requirement for electrical power or some other element of "civilized infrastructure".
Seeing as it's a desert island, amplification wouldn't really be needed, so the best sounding guitar unplugged is the one you want.

I rather like banging away on a well strung electric unplugged, I really like that tonality actually. You can really practice those chops without being too loud, your house mate will really appreciate it. Tonight, I grabbed my bedside axe and started banging out some chords and G runs during our evening movie time in bed and she didn't say anything. Try that with an acoustic, it ain't happening, nevermind having a guitar that huge in bed.

Sometimes, a beat up old Tele is all the guitar you need.

In a desert island setting, it would be a pretty decent weapon as well.

I used to be really into Burnished Rockers, and Nickel Rockers. Kinda rekindling the flame with GHS. I'm about to try a few packs of thin core 9-42 and 10-46 Boomers, interested to see how they compare with Slinkies.

What I really want is some Cryogenically treaded nickel strings.
 

Nuuska

Senior Member
Joined
Jan 18, 2016
Messages
2,888
Reaction score
163
Banging out . . . in bed and she didn't say anything . . . 😂
 

Guildedagain

Senior Member
Joined
Jun 8, 2016
Messages
1,657
Reaction score
36
Rereading, interesting the dual truss rods, never thought of if. Yeah, what if you could set your bass and treble relief separate?

I'd like a Rick of some kind. Always wanted a vintage bass, but not cheap, and always seemed to slip through my hands somehow.

I had this once, the memories will have to suffice.
 

Attachments

Quantum Strummer

Senior Member
Joined
May 26, 2015
Messages
2,328
Reaction score
64
Rereading, interesting the dual truss rods, never thought of if. Yeah, what if you could set your bass and treble relief separate?

I'd like a Rick of some kind. Always wanted a vintage bass, but not cheap, and always seemed to slip through my hands somehow.

I had this once, the memories will have to suffice.
I've seen guitar techs complain about how tricky it is to set up a Rickenbacker, but it's really not. With the trussrods you just have to figure out their behavior by doing the work a few times…then you get it. The rod adjustment is more sensitive than most. When I turn one of the adjusters it's by no more than 1/10th of a rotation at a time, and one such turn is usually all it takes. This is with the post-1980 rods…the earlier ones work differently. Interestingly the guy who improved the rod behavior was Forrest White, former Fender plant manager and co-designer of the Jazzmaster/Jaguar rhythm/lead circuit.

I've got the 6-string version of your Rickie ex. ☺ Well, it's a v64 reissue from 1995. I swapped out the "hot toaster" (~10.6KOhms) in the neck for a lower-wind version (~7.2K). Interestingly the higher wind pickup isn't higher in output than the normal version, just grittier in the mids and a little darker overall. I like the original hot version in the bridge position of this guitar. Either it or the Ric 380 I mentioned above would be contenders for a do-it-all desert island guitar. The 360 in particular is really loud and full acoustically. It gets Pyramid Gold 11 gauge flatwounds, which get replaced every 4–5 years. Those strings just don't give up!

-Dave-
 

Guildedagain

Senior Member
Joined
Jun 8, 2016
Messages
1,657
Reaction score
36
Ahhh so much to talk about, relief, learning a guitars idiosyncrasies but being in tune with it. But learning most of all.

I find mornings to be revelatory or guitar exploration. The light is better, you can see better. And your head and your hands work better.

Crazy on that Rick TR sensitivity. I'm usually an 1/8th turn kind of guy, if I have to do anything at all to it. Better guitars seem to need very few truss rod adjustments. I don't think I even knew how to do it in the 80's. Only in the last few years have I been getting really more into this. Probably something to do with our climate change, mostly warmer, but wetter also.

Very cool on the Forrest White connection. I'm quite a rabid fan of the Pre CBS Fender days. So much has been written, books, of which I have a few. Reverb has had some great Tony Bacon archive interviews with some of the top Fender guys. Some of which seemed a little bitter, not sure if White was among those.

Rickenbacker's history, although mostly unknown to me is fascinating, same part of the world, very early innovators, the Frying Pan, and then came along the Beatles...

I'd love to have a 90's V64 reissues. Good years those were. Rickenbacker has some of the nicest "glows", really tasteful shades.

Yes, lower wind = better. Duchossoir writes in his Stratocaster book that Leo pretty much had it right somewhere around 7000 turns for a Strat p'up, and increasing winds to get higher output affects higher frequencies negatively. Not really worth the trade off at all.

Some surprisingly powerful Strat and Tele p'ups are in the 5.5-5.75kΩ

I can't seem to kill my GHS Brites Flats on a Butterscotch Ash Tele, a 1992 that Fender didn't even make a bid deal or of being a 50 year anniversary, no special stickers or anything. Just a killer Tele with all slotted screws that looks like it's 70's years old and has a flamey neck.

I got some GHS 10-45 Boomers in the mail, dirt cheap 6pack sets, installed a set on the Warmoth Tele and pleased. You get em up high and they just sing...
 

Attachments

Quantum Strummer

Senior Member
Joined
May 26, 2015
Messages
2,328
Reaction score
64
Crazy on that Rick TR sensitivity. I'm usually an 1/8th turn kind of guy, if I have to do anything at all to it. Better guitars seem to need very few truss rod adjustments. I don't think I even knew how to do it in the 80's. Only in the last few years have I been getting really more into this. Probably something to do with our climate change, mostly warmer, but wetter also.

Very cool on the Forrest White connection. I'm quite a rabid fan of the Pre CBS Fender days. So much has been written, books, of which I have a few. Reverb has had some great Tony Bacon archive interviews with some of the top Fender guys. Some of which seemed a little bitter, not sure if White was among those.

Rickenbacker's history, although mostly unknown to me is fascinating, same part of the world, very early innovators, the Frying Pan, and then came along the Beatles...
I'm pickier about getting the necks just right with Rickenbackers 'cuz it's possible to set the relief really low without fret buzz or tizz. With most other guitars I set the relief a little higher. This also seems to allow for slight movement with seasonal humidity changes without needing any tweaking. I keep the Rickies right on the edge, though.

Forrest White wasn't happy about what happened at Fender after Leo sold the company—he quit in either '66 or '67—but he revered Leo. He was part of Music Man too. When Leo formed G&L Forrest took a job at Rickenbacker. There was a "competing for dad's attention & affection" dynamic between him and George Fullerton, otherwise I suspect Forrest would've been part of G&L too.

The roots of Rickenbacker go all the way back to the National resonator guitars. Adolph Rickenbacker's shop made the resonator cones for those guitars and may've made at least some of the bodies too. Correction: Rickenbacker made bodies for National. Not sure if he ever made cones but initially he certainly didn't.

-Dave-
 
Last edited:

Guildedagain

Senior Member
Joined
Jun 8, 2016
Messages
1,657
Reaction score
36
You're tight, Forrest revered Leo. I think it was George that made it sound like Leo could barely tie his shoes without him in a Tony Bacon interview.

I've got three National products more or less I realized a while back while doing some reading up on American brands. My '59 Supro Silverburst 3/4 scale.

My WWII era National Lap Steel with the built OD Green cord, maybe the most soulful one I've ever heard/played and I've had a pile of lap steels over the years.

My 70's vintage Dobro, not too shabby in it's own right.

Not all made by National at the time when National was actually making the guitars, but the companies seem to own one another over the years.
 

Quantum Strummer

Senior Member
Joined
May 26, 2015
Messages
2,328
Reaction score
64
I forgot to mention Paul Barth above. He had a hand in design both at National and then after WWII at Rickenbacker. At Ric he was involved in both guitars and pickups. Co-designed the horseshoe, toaster and hi-gain p'ups.

National had a humbucking pickup in 1941, briefly used on the New Yorker archtop and maybe some lapsteels too. Wouldn't surprise me if Barth was also in on that. The pickup got lost in the shuffle with WWII and the post-war reorg of National into Valco. I think Barth joined Rickenbacker at that point. I played and then passed on one of those New Yorkers at Elderly Instruments maybe 25 years ago. Nice guitar, sounded jazzy warm when plugged in, but big archtops weren't much on my radar then.

-Dave-
 

Guildedagain

Senior Member
Joined
Jun 8, 2016
Messages
1,657
Reaction score
36
Yeah, Valco... I needed to brush back up on who owned who when. They were the parent company behind all of those killer amps like the Silvertone Twin 12 with the head in speaker cab. I'm suddenly nostalgic for that amp. So many other cool amps, Danelectro in particular.

Any expensive archtop is completely wasted on me, still to this day...

Barth probably never really got recognition for this, Seth Lover widely regarded as the father of the humbucking pickup. Himself later designing some nice ones for the 70's Tele Deluxes. Interesting also is Fender's use of the humbucking pickup in the PBass starting in 1957, a move "not emphasized by Fender as Seth Lover still held a patent".

I wonder, what's bassier, all things equally vintage, a PBass, or a Rick?

Really should get a book on Rick history, but it would just lead to Joneses... Sometimes you just have to walk away ;]]
 
Top