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Thread: What is the optimum distance from the bridge for a tailpiece on a solid body?

  1. #1
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    What is the optimum distance from the bridge for a tailpiece on a solid body?

    One will sometimes see recommendations for solid-body guitars that use a bridge and tailpiece to string "backwards". That is, the strings are fit through the holes in the tailpiece, facing the end of the guitar,, with the strings wrapped around the top of the tailpiece, heading towards the bridge. The idea, as I understand it, is to reduce the angle that the strings make from tailpiece to saddle, ostensibly improving acoustic sustain.

    One also sees things like "piano" tailpieces, that essentially do the same thing for the wound strings by providing anchor points for the strings further back in order to subtend a slightly shallower angle.
    2c0b1acd26204090bd6da0c84e7eec29.jpg
    Many semi-acoustics also use a tailpiece that provides a greater distance from bridge to string anchor point, and shallower angle at the saddle, that is obtained with a tailpiece inserted into the body and center block.

    Is there any sort of set of principles for dictating just how far back a tailpiece should be? Alternatively, is there any recommended angle that the strings shouldsit atop the saddles at? That presumes that one could alter the angtle by either rqaising/lowering the tailpiece, or by moving the tailpiece forward or backward.

  2. #2
    Supporting Member Steve A.'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mark Hammer View Post
    One also sees things like "piano" tailpieces, that essentially do the same thing for the wound strings by providing anchor points for the strings further back in order to subtend a slightly shallower angle.
    Click image for larger version. 

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    Many semi-acoustics also use a tailpiece that provides a greater distance from bridge to string anchor point, and shallower angle at the saddle, that is obtained with a tailpiece inserted into the body and center block.

    Is there any sort of set of principles for dictating just how far back a tailpiece should be? Alternatively, is there any recommended angle that the strings shouldsit atop the saddles at? That presumes that one could alter the angtle by either rqaising/lowering the tailpiece, or by moving the tailpiece forward or backward.
    The bridge in your picture has one big advantage over most of the wraparound bridges I've seen: the strings don't wrap around the bridge which makes it much easier to replace strings, especially if you break a high E string at a gig. I really don't know how that "baby grand" shape works but I think it simplifies adding the "tailpiece" part of the bridge with it having 3 sides instead of 4. Plus I think it would be stronger.

    As for angle of the strings going over the saddles my friend Felix likes to crank the tailpiece as low as feasible to increase sustain and the transfer of string vibrations to the body. (With some bridges if you lower the tailpiece too much the strings will hit the body of the bridge. Ouch!)

    One other issue: the total length of the string from tailpiece to tuner affects the "feel" when bending notes. I like regular wraparound bridges because it is more responsive to your bends. Compare the E string on a strat to the E string on a LP... that's why the strat feels so sluggish to me when bending the E or B strings. (The longer length does allow your bends to be more accurate pitch-wise which can be important to guitar n00bies.)

    One will sometimes see recommendations for solid-body guitars that use a bridge and tailpiece to string "backwards". That is, the strings are fit through the holes in the tailpiece, facing the end of the guitar,, with the strings wrapped around the top of the tailpiece, heading towards the bridge. The idea, as I understand it, is to reduce the angle that the strings make from tailpiece to saddle, ostensibly improving acoustic sustain.
    I was looking into that recently because some of the used guitars at GC are strung up that way which my friend says is WRONG! DEAD WRONG! Well, the threads I found suggest that it changes the "feel" when bending, making it more sluggish (in my terms) but still a matter of taste.

    I don't see how a "lazy" angle over the saddles would increase sustain — a sharper angle increases the force of the bridge pressing against the body. My friend will do that on strats, too, by adding a shim in the neck pocket closest to the neck pickup which allows him to raise the saddles.

    BTW before the introduction of the tune-o-matic bridge some Gibsons used the tailpiece as a bridge so the strings went in backwards, wraparound style. I think that they only did that on solid body electrics since they already had great wooden bridges on their acoustics assuming that you used the string gauges they were designed for.

    Acoustics are different because you want the tailpiece secured to the sides at the bottom strap button so it doesn't affect the vibrations of the top. As to the length from the bridge to the string ends I have no idea what would be best.

    Steve A.
    Last edited by Steve A.; 01-23-2018 at 06:08 AM.

  3. #3
    Supporting Member Chuck H's Avatar
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    I wouldn't think that a shallow angle is better than a steeper one for transmitting vibration. unless you wanted to transmit it to the tailpiece.?. Which doesn't make sense to me since there is a length of string that ISN'T tuned to correct pitch between the bridge and the tailpiece. That would cause a sum/difference effect in vibrations transferred to the wood. Wouldn't it? My readings have led me to believe that a steeper angle AT THE BRIDGE (and at the nut) is better for transferring at pitch vibrations to the wood. More pressure at the point at which the string is tuned. The angle for something like a flat top, steel string acoustic is typically steep. And you do want to transfer vibrations into the wood with such a guitar. Better for sustain? Probably only when acoustic interaction contributes to sustain. That's not usually the case though. For a flat top transferring vibration is about volume. The top has to vibrate to make sound. AND same with an arch top. But with an arch top design the tailpiece is suspended. The only way to put pressure onto the soundboard is to have the strings pushing down on the bridge. In this case the arch top design is important to the angle and structural stability. For an electric guitar transferring vibration into the wood can only contribute to sustain in circumstances where acoustic feedback is a larger contributor to sustain. Otherwise I should think that keeping vibrations out of the wood keeps them from damping. And that contributes to sustain. Wood is relatively soft compared to the strings and hardware parts and so has the greatest affect on damping vibration. That doesn't mean solid body guitars should be designed to minimize transfer of vibration to the wood. There's a reason (other than pickups) that different solid body guitars have characteristic tones. But I'm getting sideways...

    For solid body electrics I would think that a shallower angle would contribute more to sustain (when THAT is important for tone) and a steeper angle would transfer more vibration to the wood (when THAT is more important for tone). I guess it's a balancing act.
    Last edited by Chuck H; 01-23-2018 at 02:24 PM.
    "I'm just going to perform a bit more scientific investigation, turn it up to 11 and rip of the knob." überfuzz

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    I asked because, as much as I assume that all those companies who have made all those guitars that have received all that acclaim MUST be doing something right, they have also entrenched some dumb things for decades, simply because "that's the way we've always done it". Case in point: same dumbass tone-cap value for the neck AND bridge pickups, even though nobody will ever use their bridge pickup to nail a muted woofy sound. So if they can do something that maladaptive for that many years, I'm open to the possibility that there may be better approaches to bridge-tailpiece angle that simply haven't become standard yet.

  5. #5
    Better Tone thru Mathematics bob p's Avatar
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    Mark, I see that you've been quoted in Premier Guitar. Again.
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    "Stand back, I'm holding a calculator." - chinrest

    "I happen to have an original 1955 Stratocaster! The neck and body have been replaced with top quality Warmoth parts, I upgraded the hardware and put in custom, hand wound pickups. It's fabulous. There's nothing like that vintage tone or owning an original." - Chuck H

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    Yeah, it happens. Just can't keep my mouth shut. Thanks for the nod, Bob.
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  7. #7
    Supporting Member Steve A.'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Chuck H View Post
    For solid body electrics I would think that a shallower angle would contribute more to sustain (when THAT is important for tone) and a steeper angle would transfer more vibration to the wood (when THAT is more important for tone). I guess it's a balancing act.
    I've always played my guitars as much without an amp as with an amp. If you pull the strap tightly on the back of your neck it will transfer much of the strings vibrations to your spine! Or lean back against a sheet rock wall with the butt of your guitar right against it... Well, I haven't done any of that for many years but you might want to try.

    The better the string vibrations are transferred to a solid body like a LP with a mahogany back and a maple top the longer it sustains. Yes, if the guitar was made of a softer wood it might just soak up the vibrations and let them fizzle out. And I suppose if you were running really high gain the more efficient transfer of string vibrations to the body might increase the possibility of unwanted feedback... just a guess because Homie don't do that anymore!

    My friend Felix is as picky about sustain and tone as Eric Johnson (and he can play a lot like him, too!) and he times the sustain on all of his guitars before and after modifying them and a sharper angle on the saddles and nut definitely increases the sustain on his LP-type guitars and his Fender-type guitars.

    While Felix focuses on sustain I am more interested in tone and response but it all seems to boil down to the same thing since we usually both really like the same guitars.

    The strings transfer their energy to the neck through the nut for open strings but more often through the frets to the fretboard to the neck and through the neck joint to the body. He refrets all of his guitars with Dunlop 6100s and now mostly 6105s using Titebond liquid hide glue which greatly increases the vibrational transfer. Having the neck and body "talk" to each other well is important to both of us. I suppose that having the vibrations from the neck be in phase with the vibrations from the bridge might have something to do with the overall communication between the neck and body.

    Speaking of bridges Felix likes to replace the stock TOMs with a new uncut one from Gibson so he can make his own slots (the factory ones are often cut too deep .) He says it makes a big difference to the tone but my ears aren't as picky as his.

    Like I said perhaps the high gain crowd might prefer less string vibration transfer to the body as it might help control feedback but for me the more transfer, the better...

    Steve A.
    Last edited by Steve A.; 01-24-2018 at 07:37 AM. Reason: removed unwanted space
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    I look at the overall physics of the guitar, and consider that, apart from the resonant/absorptive qualities of the wood, the strings are applying pressure along two axes. On the one hand, there is the lengthwise axis, with the strings pulling the headstock and tailpiece towards each other (or trying to, at least). On the other hand, there is the pressure the strings apply to the bridge, pushing it downward into the body.

    Different guitars adopt different strategies for that, often depending on the "essence" of the design. So, it is easy to imagine that a big jazz box, that assumes a vibrating top, will opt for optimizing the downward transfer of string energy through the bridge into the top. A more solid instrument will likely opt for a stop tailpiece, and concentrate on the end-to-end transfer. Guitars like Teles can often provide the choice to have the strings pass through the body and over the saddles (and 90 degrees is about as sharp an angle as you can get), pulling the bridge assembly in toward the body, OR load the strings through the end of the bridge assembly, pulling neck and bridge together more tightly. Players have their views about which tonal outcome they prefer.

    And while we are talking Fenders, note that the Jazzmaster vibrato subtends a shallower angle at the bridge than the MUstang vibrato, which is wholly different than the Strat bridge/vibrato system. Do folks notice any difference in sustain between the systems.

  9. #9
    Supporting Member Steve A.'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mark Hammer View Post
    I asked because, as much as I assume that all those companies who have made all those guitars that have received all that acclaim MUST be doing something right, they have also entrenched some dumb things for decades, simply because "that's the way we've always done it". Case in point: same dumbass tone-cap value for the neck AND bridge pickups, even though nobody will ever use their bridge pickup to nail a muted woofy sound.
    Hmmm... a lot of Gibsons have bridge pickups that are too bright and neck pickups that are too muddy, at least in my opinion. Putting a .033uF cap in the bridge and a .015uF in the neck can help with that. On one Gibson I found that setting the bridge tone control to 8.5 made it a perfect match with the neck pickup so I measured the resistance at 10 and at 8.5 to calculate what value of resistor to add between the two terminals used on the tone control. Voila!

    A good example of your point is that Strats are still often shipped with no tone control on the bridge pickup which might have been appropriate in the mid 50's when Fender had a big market in C&W. It makes more sense to me to connect the middle tone control to the neck and middle pu's*** and the bottom tone control to the bridge pu. They did eventually change from the 3 position switches to 5 position selector switches on strats in 1977...

    http://www2.fender.com/experience/te...lector-switch/

    *** Leaving the middle pickup unconnected to either tone control works for a lot of people like Eric Johnson and Jimmie Vaughan.

    So if they can do something that maladaptive for that many years, I'm open to the possibility that there may be better approaches to bridge-tailpiece angle that simply haven't become standard yet.
    Gibson does not ship their guitars with the tailpiece cranked all of the way down as I suspect that can cause premature strings breakage at the saddles. For some reason the bass side is usually higher than the treble side. (My friend Felix checks out at least a dozen or two new Les Pauls a month looking for the particular guitar with the ultimate sustain — his Holy Grail — so I take his word on that.)

    Having the tailpiece raised does affect the "feel" of the guitar, making it a little spongier and easier to bend, just like wrapping the strings around the tailpiece backwards. Here is a thread about top wrapping...

    Red 333
    02 October 2009 - 05:51 AM

    One reason some people wrap the tailpiece is to keep the bridge from collapsing. Some players like to set their stop bar very low, in order to increase the mechanical coupling between it and the top. As result, the strings take a very steep angle as they leave the stop bar and meet the saddles. The strings can touch the edge of the bridge's body this way, which can have a negative effect on tone. Worse, the increased downward pull of the strings can pull the bridge posts toward the stop bar, "collapsing" it over time.
    • Wrapping the tailpiece provides the advantages of low stop bar position (so good mechanical coupling), while the strings meet the saddles at a good break angle, as they're crossing the top of the stop bar, first. The break angle is great enough to clear the bridge's body, and there's enough downward force on the saddles so the strings don't slip, and screw up the intonation. It's not so great that it pulls the bridge backward.
    • Most players also find their set up feels a little slinkier when the break angle is not as steep (which is the reason many raise the stop bar). If it's too steep, your tuning can slip, though.
    • See, whether this set up (or any set up) works for you depends on a lot of pieces and parts that have to work well together as a system in order to produce the best results. One factor we haven't mentioned yet is the quaility of the hardware. On some guitars, you can raise the stop bar all day long without any noticable change in tone or sustain, simply because the studs and bushings are not made to exact tolerances, so energy is lost regardless of what position they are in. So saying things like a lower stop bar increases tone or sustain is a rule of thumb, but not an absolute rule. The body of the guitar may naturally resonate in such a way that stop bar height is irrelevant, too. It depends.
    • Each individual guitar has some set up where it plays and sounds best, but it's different for every guitar. That's why it's good to learn how to do your own set ups, so you can experiment with what sounds best and feels best to you on that particular guitar.
    • Dan Erlewine has written some great books on guitar set up and repair: How to Make Your Electric Guitar Play Great! and Guitar Player Repair Guide. Every guitarist could benefit from one or both of these!

    Red 333
    caliban335
    02 October 2009 - 09:14 AM

    On page 147 of the book "The Early Years of the Les Paul Legacy" Robb Lawrence wrote the following as part of a section on Goldtops and the then new Tune-O-Matic bridge. I'm providing it verbatim, including bad grammar and punctuation.
    To complete the assembly, the new bridge was used in conjunction with the stop/stud tailpiece - this being generally placed 1 9/16" behind the center of Tune-O-Matic bridge to anchor the strings. Today, many people are unaware that, originally, these items were depicted in the catalogs and shipped normally with the strings over the top of the tailpiece (the way it was designed). This original stringing method is naturally comfortable to rest your hand on at the bridge area. With the studs screwed in deeply for full vibratory string-to-body contact, the guitar's overall sound is enhanced as it was intended. It also helps to prevent the strings from breaking as easily on the sharp metal edges. Furthermore, instead of the tension just pulling on the stud screws laterally, when wrapped around the stop bar, it torques the tension in the body differently (as inherent with the Goldtop's big tone). The original method results in more body resonance and better acoustic tone.
    I don't know whether it's authoritative, but I thought I'd pass it along.
    Ricochet
    02 October 2009 - 02:19 AM

    You guys know you can just turn those screws and raise the stopbar producing the same effect?
    It's not that simple. The theory is the transference of tone and sustain is improved because you screw the entire TP-posts down to the body.
    wrapping strings around a stopbar tailpiece? - Gibson Brands Forums

    BTW some of the posts suggest that having the tailpiece screwed down to the body can cause the bridge studs to pull backwards towards the tailpiece. I don't see that as a major proble because the studs can be easily replaced. Most new T-O-M bridges come with them so whether you install them or not you still have spares...

    Steve A.

    P.S. One other trick to increase sustain is to pull all 4 bushings and reinsert them with Titebond I making sure that the ground wire still has complete continuity ("99 and a half just won't do".) So how do you spell OCD...?

    P.P.S. One more tidbit from the Gibson forum thread...
    IbbysB4Epis
    02 October 2009 - 06:18 AM

    Raising the tailpiece also helps with "Sharp G string and not enough saddle travel" intonation issues. I have 3/16" stainless spacers under the tailpiece on my guitars. The spacers function just as though the tailpiece is all the way down on the body with the benefits of a raised tailpiece.
    Last edited by Steve A.; 01-24-2018 at 05:14 PM.

  10. #10
    Supporting Member Chuck H's Avatar
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    It's probable that a tighter angle increases sustain (typically) because it encourages a more solid anchor system with less looseness in the parts.?. Same for the Titebond trick. Also, perhaps, accentuating the pressure at the point where the correct pitch is produced may contribute something to the elimination of phase error introduction (think of the strings from the nut to the saddle or from the bridge to the tailpiece.?. I'm just thinking out loud. Since there's so little definitive on the subject it makes sense (to me) to try and burn down the possible mechanisms in operation.

    But I think I'm not alone if I call shenanigans on a sharper angle altering intonation is any way. String length is string length. I don't see how what happens behind the break over point at the saddle can alter intonation. Ok... Maybe a Bigsby? But that's not what I'm talking about. The distance from the saddle to the nut and the tension between those points determines the pitch. Not angle. No way.
    Last edited by Chuck H; 01-25-2018 at 02:47 AM.
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    "I'm just going to perform a bit more scientific investigation, turn it up to 11 and rip of the knob." überfuzz

    "...less ear-friendly but handy for jazz." Leo_Gnardo

    "Shut up, you big dumb poopy-head!" Justin Thomas

  11. #11
    Supporting Member Steve A.'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Chuck H View Post
    It's probable that a tighter angle increases sustain (typically) because it encourages a more solid anchor system with less looseness in the parts.?. Same for the Titebond trick. Also, perhaps, accentuating the pressure at the point where the correct pitch is produced may contribute something to the elimination of phase error introduction (think of the strings from the nut to the saddle or from the bridge to the tailpiece.?. I'm just thinking out loud. Since there's so little definitive on the subject it makes sense (to me) to try and burn down the possible mechanisms in operation.

    But I think I'm not alone if I call shenanigans on a sharper angle altering intonation is any way. String length is string length. I don't see how what happens behind the break over point at the saddle can alter intonation. Ok... Maybe a Bigsby? But that's not what I'm talking about. The distance from the saddle to the nut and the tension between those points determines the pitch. Not angle. No way.
    If a steeper break angle did affect the tuning you could always adjust the intonation. I think it is a matter of personal preference. I love how a wraparound bridge responds instantly to my bends but it does make it easier to go off-pitch. Some people like the looser feel of a shallower break angle. Fortunately with most guitars we can set it to our own preference.

    I don't see why anyone would not want more sustain on their guitar acoustically but if that's what they want c'est la vie...

    Steve A.

  12. #12
    Supporting Member Chuck H's Avatar
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    Well most of my criteria for judgement of tone comes from my personal experiences in a live band environment. I know that most guitars won't be played in that way, but it's a benchmark for my purposes. If it fits in the mix and inspires players then it's a good tone The transition from there to the studio is much shorter from a performers perspective (IMHE) than from bedroom to studio. I know times are changing and I'm a dinosaur. many recording artists are working out of their bedrooms now!?! But my point is that from "my" perspective acoustic feedback is a very relevant tone and sustain contributor. And I personally think something will be lost when that aspect is gone. You can hear it in many of the great recordings that are still considered definitions for "tone".
    "I'm just going to perform a bit more scientific investigation, turn it up to 11 and rip of the knob." überfuzz

    "...less ear-friendly but handy for jazz." Leo_Gnardo

    "Shut up, you big dumb poopy-head!" Justin Thomas

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    Old Timer olddawg's Avatar
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    One of my favorite non trem bridges has always been the old Leo Quan Bad Ass. It has virtually no string length to a tail piece. One of those and a well cut brass nut has miles of sustain. It may be in part because they tend to be put on old growth mahogany LP Jrs and SGs though. As usual it's perception, preference, and application. I like Strats too. But they are alchemy. People can spend days and come to blows over what makes them sustain...

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    I'm not so concerned with long note sustain as much as how the initial attack and fade out sounds. I adjusted the tailpiece on my LP types so the high strings have just enough tension to keep them solidly in place without sounding dull. It gives them a fatter sound. I set the tension on the lower strings for more definition. Sustain is fine either way. There's probably an optimal tension for maximum sustain where the string has adequate downward force and somewhat even tension on the top and bottom at the break point. There isn't that much transfer of vibration through a thick metal saddle/bridge, but Brass does roll off the high end a bit compared to Steel. I think the reason people prefer bent Steel Strat saddles is the thin Steel resonates and absorbs some upper-midrange compared to thick Steel saddles. Some of the best "sounding" saddles I have are ~1/8 thick molded Brass on a cheap SX 'VTG Series' guitar -- sweet and bell-like without sounding dull. Just waiting to commit to new pickups.

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