Posted by: kubiakl | October 8, 2011

Seven Turns

Recently I switched brands of strings, from the DR Pure Blues that have been my mainstay for years to the GHS signature Eric Johnson Nickel Rockers.  And at first I loved them.  The tone was there, everything felt more percussive, and the rollerwounds caused less string noise.

The last batch I ordered had some issues though.  Maybe something happened in the mailing process, but for some reason my newer sets didn’t feel or sound right.  There was a dryness to them that made it hard to play.  That lasted for two sets.  I didn’t try the third.

Instead I went back to DR strings.  There has never been an issue and they sound and feel great.  But when I changed back I noticed my setup had drifted and needed to be reset.  So I raised the bridge saddles on a string or two and started playing again.  Suddenly my sound was incredibly treble heavy, not the smooth tone I had before.

It turns out that guitars are even more temperamental than you might think.  Small changes can have huge effects on the sound.  A quarter turn with a screwdriver on one component might change your overall tone.  I realized this especially when I was adjusting the bridge height – too low, and everything sounded spongy.  Too high, and my bass strings had a ringing hollow sound.

Pickup height was another area I had to toy with.  Since I don’t care for a lot of treble I set my Strat pickups closer to the strings on the bass side.  I also like a lower output sound, so my pickups are pretty far from the strings.  Basically the treble side of the pickup is close to flush with the pickguard and the bass side is slightly higher.  At some point I might try to find pickups with less treble output but for now my sound has returned.

My point is this: if you’re setting up your guitar, be mindful of how small changes will affect your tone.  Tiny turns make big changes.



  1. Shouldn’t you adjust your pickup height for the best articulation and responsiveness, and use the amp settings, tone knob and/or EQ to adjust the tone?

  2. Rob, you’re right – all of those things have an effect on the amplified tone of the guitar. But for me it has to start with a good acoustic tone (even on an electric guitar). Most people do exactly what you said – set the guitar up to play well, then use the pickups/amp/eq to shape the tone. And that’s exactly how you probably should do it… but I (and I’m sure some others) have to feel it from the guitar itself.
    It’s funny you mention this, because I just spent every evening this week trying to reset my Telecaster. I had it sounding good but like a dummy tweaked the truss rod and lost it. From there it was a frustrating process of turning various screws and nuts until I had it close to where it was.
    At one point it played perfectly and the sound from the amp was great… it just didn’t have that extra “oomph” that I get from all these little tweaks.

    A lot of it has to do with resonance. From my experience there’s a certain set up point where the body will vibrate like crazy, and that’s one of the things I look for. When it played perfectly and sounded great the resonance just wasn’t there and it felt off to me. Once I have the guitar set up to feel right then I can allow myself to worry about the factors you mentioned.

    So yes, you’re correct. Those are the things you should do… just not the things I do. 🙂

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