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Tech Tips




Q. "How do I intonate my guitar or bass ?"
   Intonation is the term used for the procedure of adjusting the string length to keep a guitar in tune with itself. Pressing down a string the tension of the string changes depending on the height from the fret. Idealy a properly intonated guitar will show the open string note, the 12th fret note and the 12th fret harmonic in tune. Unfortunately it is not always possible to have all three exactly in tune depending on the quality of the instrument. However, it is usually possible to have the open and fretted notes in tune. This is why we use the open note instead of the harmonic to test the tuning.

The procedure for setting your intonation is as follows:

1. Plug into your tuner and with the volume on full tune the open string to the pitch it will be used at. (Some prefer the harmonic however we have found not all instruments are precise enough for this).

2. Lightly press the string to the 12th fret and recheck the pitch at the tuner.

3. If the pitch of the open string and the pitch of the fretted string at the 12th fret agree, then your string is properly intonated.

4. If the fretted note is sharper (higher) in pitch, you will need to lengthen the string. To do this turn the saddle length adjustment screw clockwise to move the saddle towards the back of the bridge.

5. If the fretted note is flat (lower) in pitch, you will need to shorten the string. To do this turn the saddle length adjustment screw counter-clockwise to move the saddle towards the front of the bridge.

6. Once you have done all strings it's a good idea to make sure the open strings are in tune and double check all. Check the notes in several positions to see how they match up and if they are off check your adjustments.

Our techs Note: These are the basic guidelines. However you must take your own playing style into consideration. If you normally press the notes hard and press lightly when making the adjustments it will most likely be off. Also make sure to pluck the string like you normally would when playing because all these factors make a differance. And last but not least - Always make the intonation the last thing you do. Make sure the string height, truss adjustment and neck angle (bolt on) is set before setting intonation.

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Q. "My Les Paul intonation is still sharp even with the saddle all the way back."


   The Les Paul uses a tunematic bridge. The saddles are flat on one side and angled on the other. Sometimes you need to remove the individual saddle and flip it around so that the flat side is to the back of the bridge. This way you get the most length out of the string. I've encountered this numerous times over the years. Also, it's more important to make sure your 12th fret fretted note and the open note are both in tune together than the harmonic. So if you can get the fretted note and open together but the harmonic's a little off you're probably alright. Most tuners are more accurate than the human ear. Of course some may dispute this but most factory guitars are not perfect so getting perfect intonation is almost impossible. In twenty years and too many intonation setups to count, I've never had anyone complain yet.

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Q. "What are the tonal differences between Alder, Ash, Poplar, Basswood, Mahogany and Maple?"

Alder: full and rich, with fat low end, nice cutting mids, and good overall warmth and sustain. Alder is generally considered to be one of the "traditional" Stratocaster body woods.

Ash: exhibits a "snappier" tone with a bright edge but with a warm bass, and long sustain. It is often considered as the other "traditional" Stratocaster body wood.

Poplar: one of the softer hardwoods, nicely resonant with a meaty tone. This wood is being used by many guitar manufacturers as a substitute for alder as it is quite similar in tone.

Basswood: the principal wood used on most Japanese made instruments. This is due both to its tonal response, (once again, very similar to Alder) as well as the fact that Basswood is much more readily available to the manufacturers in Asia.

Mahogany: deep warm mids, good sustain and nice "bite"

Maple: punchy, bright, and has a nice bite on the high end. Often used only as a laminated top instead of an entire body, as it tends to be a particularly heavy wood.

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Q. "What does the term "neck radius" mean, relative to my guitar ?"

   The measure of the curvature of the top of the fretboard from edge to edge, is often referred to as the "neck radius". Actually, the correct terminology would be either fretboard, or fingerboard radius and the neck shape and size would be called "neck profile". The fretboard radius can be found by first drawing a circle with a corresponding radius, (the "radius" is the distance from the center of a circle to its outer edge), and then cutting out a portion of that circle corresponding to the width of the fretboard. For example, if you have a 7 1/4" radius fretboard. You could tie a piece of string to a pencil, measure out a length of string to 7 1/4", and put a thumbtack on the other end of the string. Secure the tack, stretch the string, and draw a circle. By cutting out a piece of that circle the width of your fretboard, you will have an example of an arc with the same curvature as that of your fretboard radius.

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Q. "What is a V, C or U shape neck ?"

   The letters V, C, and U are used today by Fender in an attempt to describe the shape and contour of the back of our guitar necks. Necks described by these letters will correspond (although not quite as exaggerated), to the visual appearance of these letters. The V shaped necks come in two different versions, a "soft" V and a "hard" V. The "soft" V shape is a bit rounded off, whereas the "hard" V is somewhat more pointed. There are a couple of other neck shape descriptions which do not have directly corresponding letters. These are the "oval" and the modern "flat oval". Many people, however, do use the letter "C" when referring generally to these "oval" shapes. The "U" shape is chunky and rounded, with high shoulders, as seen in the exaggerated letter U. There is no doubt that it is easier to understand the application of these terms to the necks when you put your hands on them and get the feel, however, the use of these letters is pretty accurate in describing the shape of the back of Fender necks.

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Q. "How often should I have a set-up done on my guitar or bass ?"

   Since guitars and basses are made of wood they are subject to changes in temperature, humidity, changes in the wood's fibers, string tension and individual playing styles. For this reason they may need to be reset on a regular basis. There is no exact period to go by and the ultimate decision will be yours. Once your guitar is set up properly the first time, it will make it easier to feel like something has changed. Some things to look out for is:
- Dead Notes
- Buzzing or dead notes when bending
- Not being able to get the guitar in tune

   Also if you change the gauge of strings or tune down chances are pretty good you will need the instrument to be adjusted for the changes.

   We usually recommend new instruments go thru a breaking in period of 2-3 months and then be checked for truss and intonation adjustments.

   If you do not feel comfortable making adjustments in the action of your guitar, we would recommend that you have a qualified technician check out your instrument for the proper setup adjustments.

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Q. "Why is my Strat noisy when the 5-way switch is in position 1, 3 and 5 and not in position 2 & 4 ?

   Single coil pickups are inherently noisy because of the nature of their design. Historically, Fender and most other guitar manufacturers, have relied on single coil pickups, but there has always been a trade-off between the great tone they provide and the 60 cycle hum which they introduce into the signal. On most modern Stratocasters, (excluding the U.S. Vintage series which uses 3 identical pickups), the middle pickup is reverse wound/reverse polarity to the other two pickups. When the middle pickup is used together with either the bridge pickup (position 2) or the neck pickup (position 4), the hum is canceled out in precisely the same manner that a humbucking pickup eliminates hum. In positions 1 (all the way toward the back of the guitar), 3, (middle position), and 5 (toward the front of the guitar), however, each pickup is being isolated, and when used alone, will not cancel the hum. You may find it a benefit in noise reduction, however, to add extra shielding to the guitar's control cavity, either in the form of shielding foil or carbon shielding paint.

( The above Tech Tips taken from fender.com - visit Fender's website for more tips and faqs )

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Q. "How Do Potentiometers (pots) work ?"

   Pots are available in various ohm ratings; 25K, 50k, 250K, 500K, 1 meg etc.. There are two type tapers - Audio & Linear. Guitars usually use audio taper, because our ears don't hear changes in volume in a linear fashion as you might expect. The value of the pot used is usually determined by the guitar's pickup(s). Generally, 250K pots are used with single coil pickups, 500K with humbuckers, and 50k or 25k with active pickups. Higher value pots allow more high frequencies to come thru and produce a brighter tone, while lower values block higher frequencies and fatten the tone. The value also affects the smoothness of the pot's taper to some degree.

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Q. "Which is the best way to Shield for less noise"

   Lots of vintage instruments, and many new guitars, have single-coil pickups which are highly susceptible to 60-cycle hum.

   One quick and easy method of eliminating much of that pesky noise is to apply shielding. You can shield your instrument with conductive copper tape, or with conductive shielding paint. In our experience tape works better than the paint.

   In order to completely shield your guitar, you'll have to dismantle and de-solder most of the guitar's components. It is highly recommended that you make detailed notes on how every component was originally wired. Mark specific wires and solder points with tape labels to help you rewire the instrument. Be very thorough, one mislabeled or unlabeled wire could cause a great deal of confusion when you rewire the system.

   ALL of the shielding must be in contact with ground. There are several ways to apply a ground to a shielding network. When using copper shielding foil, the ground wire can be soldered directly to it. Another method is the use of a solder lug attached to the control cavity's sidewall (make the lug out of scrap brass attached with a small wood screw, or simply use a brass screw). Solder a wire from the volume pot casing to this lug for a good ground. If your volume pot housing is in contact with the foil, a ground jumper wire isn't necessary.

   It's easy to connect a ground from a shielded cavity to the pick guard foil in a "Strat" style guitar. Apply the control cavity paint or foil over the top of the body, in the area that would be under the pick guard and around the pick guard screw below the bottom tone pot. The foil on the pick guard should also surround this screw hole, so that when the pick guard is screwed into place, the grounded foil on the pick guard will come in contact with the cavity shielding.

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Q. "Why do I get a buzz on only 1 note ?"

   There's no 1 reason that can cover every possibility. But, one that is very easily overlooked shows up at the shop all the time. After strings have been on for a while sometimes the string will become bent (arched) on a note that possibly gets played a lot or is squeezed hard over and over. This arch will create a dip in the string height immediately after the fret. If the bend is on the "A" note on the six string (5th fret) then the buzz would occur over the sixth fret. In the case of a bend, the string will have to be replaced to resolve the problem.
Another string related buzz comes from a dent being worn into the string where the string meets the fret. Again, changing the string would be the solution.

    If the buzz is from a groove in the fret itself, then the frets will have to filed or replaced. Don't try filing your frets unless you have experience. The best thing would be to get it to a local repair shop and have them look at it.

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Q. "My strings keep slipping out of tune."

   The number one way to avoid strings going out of tune is installing the strings properly. The one mistake most musicians make (because no one bothers to tell them) is not making sure the winding is nice and tight at the tuner. Make sure each turn is under the previous one and make sure you leave enough extra when you cut them to have about 3 complete turns. This of course can't be accomplished with the big "e" on a bass but 2 are usually possible. After putting them on take the string from about the 12th fret and pull up. This will tighten the rest of the winding to the tuner.

   Sometimes strings get stuck in the nut. When you tune there may be tension on either side of the nut that releases when you start playing. This changes the tension on the string and throws tuning out. Filing the nut grooves wider will solve this but it should only be done by someone with experience.

   There's always the possibility that the tuners are not functioning properly. I haven't ran into tuners that slip as much as tuners that jump because of the gear ratio and the tuner shaft not fitting well against the gears. Sometimes the gear will gradually become shaved in spots due to loose fitting shafts. This usually is on open tuners or inexpensive types with the back which can be removed. In this case it's best to replace the keys with some type of sealed tuner.

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Q. "What are the differences in string types ?"

   There are a lot of strings out there these days and it can make it really confusing as to what string will do the best job for the players' particular needs. Unfortunately, the same strings will sound different on different guitars. There are a few things that can narrow it down such as type of metal, winding, thickness, etc.. Below is a general guideline that may help to make a decision. In the end, experimentation will be your best guide. Keep in mind the style of music you play and what you want to do. If you are a rocker and like scraping the pick against the strings you won't like flatwound.

Material Winding Tone
Nickel Round Wound Warm
Stainless Steel Round Wound Bright
Bright Bronze Round Wound Bright
Phosphor Bronze Round Wound Warm & Bright
Nickel Flat Wound Dark
Nickel Half Round Warm

NOTE : String gauge can make major differences in truss rod adjustment and intonation. If you are experimenting, it may be best to stick with one gauge and test it in different types of strings. If you are using a locking tremolo, changing the gauge will definitely throw it out.

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Q. "What do the numbers on my capacitor mean?"

   Ceramic Capacitors are marked in a couple different ways. Older capacitors used a series of colored lines similar to resistors, newer capacitors usually use three digits and is measured in pico farads. Typical values for guitar caps are .02mfd, .022mfd, .047mfd, .05mfd, .1mfd (.01 - .1 are the useful limits). .01 will give the least amount of change, .1 the most.

For capacitors that use three digits the first two digits are called "significant" and the last digit is the number of zeros to add to the end.

Example: 223 = 22,000 pico farads

To find the Micro farad equivalent divide the number by 1,000,000.
Example: 22,000 / 1,000,000 = .022

103 = 10,000 pF = .01 mF
203 = 20,000 pF = .02 mF
223 = 22,000 pF = .022 mF
473 = 47,000 pF = .047 mF
503 = 50,000 pF = .050 mF
104 = 100,000 pF = .1 mF

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