Sunday, October 29, 2006

Guitar Stringing

A good guitar will be your friend for life, and it pays to be nice to your friends. I am a bit obsessive on the subject of properly stringing a guitar. When I play, or when I hand someone a guitar that I have re-strung, I expect that guitar to feel good, play in tune and, most importantly, to stay in tune. "well, it's got new strings" is the lamest, albeit the most uttered, excuse for tuning instability. When I hand a guitar to a player, I want to hear the words, "goddamn, this thing sounds great!" And then "well, it's got new strings" takes on a completely different meaning. This is how I do it.

First of all, regardless of the funk factor, I clean the guitar, the whole guitar. I despise dirty instruments, and I won't put strings on a dirty guitar. It's like putting clean underwear on a dirty ass. Doesn't make sense. So, first things first. In this example, let's assume we are changing strings on a Gibson with three tuners per side and a tunamatic bridge and stop-bar tail piece. I like to work with the guitar on it's back and I put a small pillow under the neck. Unwind the tuners until all the strings are loose. Put a cloth under the strings at the area of the bridge and cut the strings one by one with a string cutter. As you cut the last string, the tail piece will pop off so keep a finger on it to prevent it from scratching the finish. Remove the tail piece and bridge and put them aside, well clear of the work space.Remove each string from it's tuning machine and throw them away.

Every string change is an opportunity to be nice to the fingerboard. Using a terry cloth towel, clean the wood between each fret. I don't use chemical cleaners for this, a little elbow grease works best. Then, run a pencil eraser up and down each fret four or five times. If you've never done this, you will be shocked to see the difference before and after. And you will definately feel the difference in playability. After a thorough cleaning, apply a bit of regular lemon oil to the wood with a Q-tip. Don't worry about getting the lemon oil on the frets. Let the oil get happy for a few minutes, then wipe the finger board down from end to end with a relatively clean cloth. When the strings are off, it is also nice to give the entire guitar a good wipe down. Just a clean cloth will do. I don't use chemicals unless there is a specific reason to do so.

After cleaning the headstock, turn the tuning keys so that each post is positioned with the hole pointing 90 degrees to the string direction. With a stop bar tail piece, I like to load all six strings into the holes before stringing. then I caefully replace the bridge, making sure that it was put back the same way it was taken off. Sometimes it is helpful to wedge a small sponge under the tail piece to keep it in place until the string tension holds it properly.

I always install the 'D' and 'G' strings first for two reasons. First, it wil prevent undue lateral torque on the neck and second, it will hold the tail piece immediately in place. So, pass the 'D' string up and over the tuning post, and put the index finger of your right hand between the string and the post. with your left hand, put the end of the string through the hole on the outside of the headstock. Now, pull the string through with your index finger still in place, and bend the string sharply toward the body of the guitar. pass the end of the string back under the post and under the hole where you first inserted the string. Then pull it up and over the inserted string, between the string and the post bending it sharply. Now, and this takes practice, hold the string in your left hand and at about the fourth fret and put tension on the string as you remove the first finger of your right hand. Try to maintain tension as you do this. Now, hold the string in the nut slot with your right first finger and keep the tension with the remaining fingers and thumb of the right hand while winding the string with your left. If all of this is done correctly, the string will be locked into place and when you wind it to tension, you should have three wraps of string on the string post. This not only looks nice, it wil help the string stay in tune. Wind it up to pitch.

Now do the 'G' string in the same way but realize that you have to think in a mirror image as to direction. Wind each string to pitch as you install. Cut the excess string length as close to the post as possible. Now for a little stretching. If you have a capo handy, install it directly over the nut. pull each string at least three times at the fourth fret, the seventh fret, the twelfth fret and over the pick-ups. Re-tune the guitar to pitch and repeat. Now tune the guitar and play a bit. Doesn't it feel nice? Don't the frets feel a bit smoother when you bend notes?

At this point, it may be necessary to make some intonation adjustments at the bridge but that is another subject. This method takes a bit of time and practice but if it is done properly, your guitar will feel better, stay in tune with a greater degree of reliability and you will have had some fun being good to your guitar.

Remember, a good guitar will be your friend for life. And it pays to be nice to your friends.

No comments: