Strat Set Up, Part One

January 3, 2013

By Daniel Brooks

It seems a Stratocaster is always one minor adjustment away from perfection. Whether you just got your first new one as a holiday gift, or you are still in love with that well-worn old Strat you’ve played for decades, you’ll find the ideal set-up is often a work in progress that seems to evolve as you continue to better know your guitar. You may also find, as you become more experienced (and may we all become more experienced), that the set-up you had a few years ago is no longer a good fit for your style and technique. Here are a few ways to tweak and adjust your way toward that ever-elusive perfection.

The first thing to consider is your strings. Most of the adjustments you’ll make to your guitar are best done in conjunction with one of your regular string changes, and a new set of strings always restores any guitar’s tone to its optimal, well-defined brightness. But it is also a good time to consider the gauge and composition of your strings. Whether you use traditional nickel strings, newer stainless steel, a nickel/stainless hybrid or one of the new alloys such as iron/cobalt or maybe a coated set of strings, the simple rule remains: Heavier strings sound better. There are those who disagree, but the laws of physics side with heavier strings. Bigger string equals bigger sound as the increased mass of a heavier string moves more air, and exerts a greater effect on the magnetic field of your pickups. It is, of course, up to you to find the balance between this and the comfortable playability of a lighter string, but if all else is equal, always go with the heavier string.

When your Strat is unstrung, unbolt the neck and look at the surfaces where neck and body meet. If there are any inspection tags glued to the neck or the body, carefully take them off and clean off any glue residue. It may seem insignificant, but that a little piece of paper it prevents the neck and body from being in full contact, and it dampens a small but noticeable amount of resonance that comes from the interaction of neck and body.

Some Stratocasters feature a micro-tilt adjustment that lets you change the angle of the neck to the body. Unless your Strat is radically out of whack, you’ll never use this for its intended purpose, but you can use it to increase the resonance of your guitar. Before you bolt the neck back on, find the correct allen wrench and, in a counter-clockwise motion, unscrew the micro-tilt a turn or two. Bolt the neck back on to the body, as tightly as it will go, but don’t force it, and screw the micro-tilt clockwise until it is firmly in contact with the small metal plate imbedded in the neck. This will help transmit vibrations between the neck and body for better resonance.
Now, restring your guitar and tune it. If you are going to consistently use something other than standard tuning, then tune it to that. It is important to know that differences in tension between heavier and lighter string gauges and higher and lower tunings will affect the position and function of your tremolo tailpiece, if your Strat has one. Look at your bridge. If the difference in string tension has pulled it up at an angle to the body, effectively raising your string height, then you need to adjust it.

Take off the back cover plate. You may want to consider playing for a while without this back cover plate. Many Strat players swear it opens up the guitar and lets it breathe and resonate with noticeably better tone. Try it and find out for yourself how it sounds, you can always put it back on. For the moment, however, let’s return to our setup.

Look at the cavity on the back of your Strat. You should see at least three springs connecting the tremolo to the body. Four springs is better and five is best. More springs will stiffen your tremolo’s action, but it will also make it a lot more stable. Your bridge will not move as easily in response to vibrating and bending strings. To adjust the springs’ effect on the bridge, tighten the two screws, an equal number of turns, to pull the tailpiece down until it is parallel to the body, or loosen them if they’re too tight. Some guitarists like having the tremolo pulled tight against the wood. It gives additional resonance at the expense of being able to bend chords up with the whammy bar. Feel free to experiment, it is easy to adjust it back without changing the strings.

Once you’ve adjusted the springs for your desired bridge angle. Retune the guitar and look down the edge of the neck to see if it is straight. One string gauge or two will probably not affect the neck, but if a slight bowing occurs, give your truss rod an eighth to a quarter turn, clockwise, then retune and recheck. The truss rod will resist a bit, but it is designed to be tightened and loosened to adjust the bow of your guitar’s neck. Unless you are freakishly strong, or your guitar has some hidden defect, or you just can’t stop tightening it, you are unlikely to break your truss rod with an allen wrench.

The next thing you want to address is your action, or, the height of your strings above the frets. If you play with a light touch, a lower action will work for you, but slide guitarists and players with heavier hands will probably benefit from raising the action a bit to avoid fret noise. Tune your guitar and then measure the space between the 17th fret and the bottom of each string. Fender specifies an optimal clearance of 4/64th of an inch, which translates to 1/16 of an inch, or 1.6 millimeters. By comparison, the thickness of a US penny is 1.55 millimeters. Each bridge saddle on any model Stratocaster will have two allan screws that let you raise or lower the height of each individual string. Be sure to give each allen screw the same number of turns so that the bridge saddle remains parallel to the bridge plate. Failure to do so will affect the sound and performance of your guitar.

Once you have adjusted the tremolo spring tension, the truss rod and the action, then you’re ready to fine tune the intonation. Ideally, the 12th fret should mark the exact halfway point between the nut and the bridge. The fretted string is then exactly one half the length of the tuned, open string, it will vibrate with exactly twice the frequency of the open string to play the note an octave higher. Of course, the diameter and the height of each string will affect this ratio, so we have to adjust each string accordingly.

To set the intonation, tune the guitar. Use a tuner to be as precise as possible, and to get a visual representation of the note which will make life so much easier (well, this aspect of it, at least). When every string is in tune, pick any string and play a harmonic at the 12th fret. Just lightly touch the string, without fretting it, above the 12th fret and pluck it with your other hand. It should make a pure, beautiful bell-like tone. Then fret the same string at the 12th fret and pluck it again. It should make the same note. If the fretted note is a higher pitch than the harmonic, then the distance between the bridge and the 12th fret is shorter than the distance between the bridge and the halfway point of the open string. Lengthen the string. Turn the screw at the far end of the bridge clockwise a whole turn. Retune the string (check all the strings) and repeat until the harmonic and the fretted note are exactly the same pitch then adjust the next string. Each string may take a few turns, but no matter how far out of intonation your Strat may be, it is designed to never be more than a few sixteenths of an inch from where it’s supposed to be. You’re always almost there, one minor adjustment away from perfection.


  1. Gary J says:

    Great article!  Thanks PGS!!

    posted on January 4, 2013 at 4:37 am
  2. Howard D. Johnsen says:

    About the thicker strings; I disagree. In my opinion, what sounds best is what feels “right” for the guitarist. Granted, better sustain and a more detailed sound might be the result of heavier strings, but that isn´t necessarily better unless it makes the player play better.  If I restring my strat with thicker strings, it feels like an entirely different guitar to me, and makes me less confident in my playing the same way as if I lower my guitar strap a few inches. The way I see it, there is no better or worse when it comes to music and playing instruments, rather more (or less!) right.

    posted on January 4, 2013 at 4:39 am
  3. Mark Hyman says:

    The action is adjusted by an Allen wrench, therefore any screws would Allen screws, not Ellen screws. Otherwise overall some nice information.

    posted on January 4, 2013 at 4:39 am
  4. Jeff says:

    Modern Strats all seem to have the adjuster bolt for the truss rod in the headstock just north of the nut.  My mid-80s ‘57 Reissue and my Eric Johnson, both vintage-types, have the adjuster bolt at the body end of the neck.  How does one adjust the neck to remove curvature when strung?  Thanks.

    posted on January 4, 2013 at 4:46 am
  5. George says:

    I’m looking all over my toolbox for an Ellen wrench.

    posted on January 4, 2013 at 4:47 am
  6. Terrance says:

    Well- I have recently bought a fender tele and it had 11’s on it . Not sure all the gauges I would guess 11 - 48 . The gtr was great - it has been a habit to change to my 10 - 46 strings as always. I did notice the guitar ws not quite the same as when I purchased it - same with my strat - this to me will not effect my confidence when playing - less playing will effect my confidience, being less rehearsed. will have an impact. Nice read thanks

    posted on January 4, 2013 at 4:50 am
  7. Joe Brackman says:

    The truss rod can be adjusted more accurately than just eyeballing. You can capo at the first fret, then fret at the neck/body joint (15th or 16th fret) to isolate the neck curvature. Then, while still fretting at the 15th or 16th fret, measure the clearance under the eighth fret using a feeler gauge. Stew-Mac has great numbers charts to get you started on proper clearances. I made notes on my final adjustments for my personal reference.

    posted on January 4, 2013 at 4:50 am
  8. Daniel says:

    Thanks Mark Hyman. There may actually be something called an Ellen Screw, but my guess is it’s outside the scope of this article.

    posted on January 4, 2013 at 4:53 am
  9. Nit Pick says:

    Good God you little ninny petty bastards (commentors - NOT Daniel Brooks & PGS)!

    Thanks Daniel for a great write-up. Lots of useful information.

    posted on January 4, 2013 at 5:12 am
  10. D-man says:

    Probably should teach those who are first timers,how to balance the pickups as this is especially important ,if you use heavier gauge strings.Too close ,damping occurs and no matter how good you set the intonation it will sound out of tune ,too far away and it won’t drive the amp and will sound thin,no matter what pedals you put on it.Also there is a reason Hendrix,Vaughn,Trower, and all the great strat players that use fat strings tune down a half step,to licensing up the strings and allow better vibration,but also to make it more playable and easier to manage the bigger strings and bends ,vibrato etc.

    posted on January 4, 2013 at 5:13 am
  11. D-man says:

    Licensing,should be loosening,Damn auto-correct.

    posted on January 4, 2013 at 5:16 am
  12. Michael says:

    Yeah, When i removed the sticker between neck and body, it really helped to resonate more. But i also recommend to strat owners : when you want a longer sustain, replace the nut on your guitar. Graphtech or bone. depends on the tone you want to get, but its a huge difference in a sustain and staying in the tune. And when you breaking strings a lot, replace the saddles, I got the stringsavers classic from graphtech, (they are not missing the strat twang) and stop breaking strings. I play a lot like “SRV heavy style strumming”, and dont have problem with breaking strings anymore. Really usefull article PGS.

    posted on January 4, 2013 at 5:28 am
  13. rawdog says:

    Is there a perfect trem set up that eliminates the need for a locking nut? I’ve seen the string/spring tension videos etc. and it seems that there is no one perfect way to have the tone/feel of a fender trem w/the ability to stay in tune with radical use (dive bombs, etc.)

    posted on January 4, 2013 at 5:30 am
  14. ed_e says:

    Very good article, it contained a ton of very useful information. In regards to the optimum string height the article mentions 4/64 as the specification to strive for for most players.  Is that spec the standard for all the strings or should one be a bit more generous with the spec on the 3 lower strings of the guitar?

    posted on January 4, 2013 at 5:33 am
  15. Eddie G. says:

    Being a strat & tele player for over 20 years…I have run the gamut from thin, light, “slinky” strings….to the think, heavy, “piano wire” type of strings….and both offer different results. I would say it realy all depends on the sound the PLAYER is trying to get. from the smoky, crunchy, bluesy tones of the past, to the biting, sparkly tones of another generation….I have three teles….and four strats of various years..(sorry no vintage or classic stuff….just mostly 80’s and 90’s Squiers!) but I love them all, they all have a different vibe to them, they’re each as individual as children….(so much so that they all have names!..LoL!) I appreciate this article greatly, if there was someone who could have pointed me in the right direction those many years ago….I might have spared my fingers from being split open by strings too thin… generating blisters from strings too thick! I now have a healthy balance of both “thin” & “medium” strings….and I have all my guitars intonated and “re”-setup every 8 months…...its just like having an oil change!...Great article!!

    posted on January 4, 2013 at 5:51 am
  16. Michael says:

    to rawdog: no its not a perfect, like when you have locking nut, but for a strat and guys who uses tremolo on strats absolutly sufficient.  for the style of using tremolo like jeff beck or david gilmour or jimmy pages in the evenning it stays in tune. But for some crazy tremolo shaking and really heavy using of tremolo for longer time , its gonna go out of tune a bit. You should also remember that strat in general is not a modern guitar with 100 % playability, its more about the sound ..  hope that helps :)

    posted on January 4, 2013 at 6:23 am
  17. Yemhek says:

    One problem shared by virtually every Strat I’ve ever used or worked on is that there isn’t enough room on the bridge plate to correctly intonate low tunings on big strings.  If, for instance, you string with 11-52s, and then tune down to double drop-D, you’ll find that you can’t move the low-D saddle far enough away from the nut to get proper intonation—other factors (such as string height) being reasonable.

    A common workaround is to remove the spring behind the saddles under the offending strings, but this may still not provide enough saddle travel.  I’ve seen saddles (the stamped ones on older Strats) flipped around to get the fulcrum point further away from the nut, too, but that sure feels weird under my hand. 

    And there are saddles that have been modified (shortened) to allow a little more room, but that sometimes interferes with the angle of the string as it enters the trem block. and definitely changes the timbre of the string when played.

    There may be third-party bridge plates or trem assemblies that allow more travel fore-and-aft, or other aftermarket products that help, but stock Fender Strats just aren’t built for low tunings and big strings.  Which just serves to illustrate that you should know what you intend to do with your instruments before you buy them.

    posted on January 4, 2013 at 6:24 am
  18. Joe K says:

    Useful article. Thanks PGS.

    Have to disagree strongly on the the part where is states bigger strings = BETTER sound.

    The physics part “increased mass of a heavier string moves more air, and exerts a greater effect on the magnetic field of your pickups” may be technically right, but that does not necessarily make for a “better” sound, just a different sound that may or may not suit the player.

    Heavy strings may be part of the wonderful SRV tone, but BB King and Billy Gibbons use .008s.

    posted on January 4, 2013 at 6:26 am
  19. Majo says:

    yes but they use humbucker style guitars, i personally found the better sound on my les paul with lighter strings and on strat with thicker. and i think that i read somewhere billy gibbons was using heavier strings and BB adviced him using lighter strings, so hi wont hurt his fingers that much.

    posted on January 4, 2013 at 6:37 am
  20. Larry says:

    Rev. Billy Gibbons now uses .007s.

    posted on January 4, 2013 at 6:48 am
  21. Stu says:

    Nice article :o)

    Regarding truss rod adjustment ... Clockwise adds bow or decreases bow?

    Removing stickers from the neck pocket ... hmmmm ... how many old Strats would be “de-valued” by removing the stickers of who did what & when to the neck or body? .. Just a thought.

    I totally agree on string gauges, It’s all down to player preference and what is your “sound”.
    I would try changing the type of string rather than the gauge first, you may get that “sound” without having to re-set up the guitar.

    Pickup height is crucial too .. experiment with it .. it really makes a huge difference.

    posted on January 4, 2013 at 7:12 am
  22. Shtew says:

    There’s some good info here indeed.
    However…no mention of proper Nut adjustment…which can affect action and intonation, as well as tuning issues.
    Or pickup adjustment…which on a Strato can greatly affect intonation & sustain.
    In a couple of the Comments, Nut material relating to sustain is mentioned….the function of a Nut is to establish string spacing, height over the first fret, final adjustment of scale length, and proper angle of strings to the tuning machine….tho after a string is fretted, the Nut is out of the equation…

    posted on January 4, 2013 at 7:29 am
  23. STUART HURST says:


    posted on January 4, 2013 at 7:33 am
  24. christopher cole says:

    Tone has lots of components, but heavier strings do sound better. Howard has a point that what sounds best is the guage that a player feels most comforatble playing, but he is sort of missing the point of the passage, wherein the author says “if all else is equal.” I would—and did—make a point of switching to increasingly heavier guage strings just for the huge improvement in tone. Your fingers will get stronger and your technique and touch will come back once you get used to the heavier guage—as long as you don’t push it too far. To me, the tone is worth the effort and patience.

    posted on January 4, 2013 at 7:55 am
  25. stevieod says:

    I am requesting that a printable form of these articles be made available.  It would be so helpful as a notebook reference for all us struggling guitarists striving to keep our instruments in good playing order.

    I thank you.



    posted on January 4, 2013 at 8:06 am
  26. murray sanders says:

    The only way to do a truss rod adjustment is with a feeler gauge , not with your eye , Leo and staff printed up the proper way to do a setup years ago and it’s on the fender site for all to see . for those who don’t know put a capo on the first fret and fret the strings on the 21 fret and generally the measurement is about 10 thousands of an inch between the string and the fret at the 8th fret but this measurement can be done to taste , this has been the way I have set up my guitars for 52 years , Leo got it right all those years ago , brilliant man . best regards Murray.

    posted on January 4, 2013 at 8:16 am
  27. Leif says:

    To respond to Rawdog, the trick I used to use was to use graphite in the nut slots, pencil lead is graphite, and you can rub your strings over a pencil lead, with the guitar tuning backed off.  Tune up, then you just need to wipe everything clean.
    I now have a tusq nut, it seems to work pretty good, but I don’t go nuts on the trem any more.

    Another trick is to stretch the strings out, tune up, stretch, tune… a few times, then I bend the strings tight over the saddles, this eliminates some slop behind the bridge, I was told this years ago by some old dog of a tech.  He swore that is where a lot of the de-tuning happens.

    Lastly, you can bore the string holes deeper in your bridge block.

    posted on January 4, 2013 at 8:38 am
  28. asc says:

    Hendrix used 10-13-15-26-32-38. Stevie used 12-16-19-28-38—56 and went down to an 11 on the high E later in his career. I am not sold on the whole heavier is better by way of physics statement. I believe they all sound good and sound unique. There are sounds you just can’t get with one or the other. I play 11’s and 12’s but when I play my friends guitars with 10’s I get a totally different sound, not better or worse, just different.  To all the young players out there just starting out experiment with what works for you, not what someone says is better for one reason or another, especially physics, music transcends those laws.

    posted on January 4, 2013 at 9:44 am
  29. Bob says:

    Good article, but 3 points.
    1- if you have a 2 point tremelo on a Strat, it is designed to float. If you plan on using your bar, then set it up to float, as it doesnt like to come back in tune if it isnt floating. Also, never turn the 2 Allen head posts that adjust the overall height of the bridge with tension on the strings. This will creat a groove in the post, that will mees with the proper return of the bridge when using the Tremelo.
    2- when adjusting intonation, I follow the instructions above, but on the lower strings, use the fretted note on the 5th fret to determine how far to move the saddle. My rational is that’s where you need those strings to be in tune when playing cords, not at the 12th fret. Try it as described above, and you will see the fretted notes will show out of tune on your tuner on the lower strings at the 3rd,through 7th fret.
    3- Stretch your strings!

    posted on January 4, 2013 at 11:15 am
  30. PicoHill says:

    I am a hybrid-picker…. That is to say flat pick in thumb/ pointer finger and then I use middle and ring fingers on pinches and upstrokes… I can honestly say that on the Strat I get more compliments on my tone as I have moved to heavier strings (GHS nickle 12s).
    Billy had better tone before BB got to him about the strings!
    By his own admission BB said he never learned to play rythym, so I might take his tone advise with a grain of salt, legend though he is.
    Dick Dale plays with 13-62s or something crazy like that… And so does Santana… If you want to talk tone!

    posted on January 4, 2013 at 11:47 am
  31. Richard says:

    Tremolo issue is always a big challenge to me, even mine has 5 springs.
    Should I tune the strings after bending, or after using the tremolo to get all strings stay in tune more? Seems can’t have both world, so i just leave it alone.

    Thank you Daniel & GPS, it’s useful information.

    posted on January 4, 2013 at 12:46 pm
  32. blaine says:

    This heavier is better thing is bunk. Your playing an electric guitar - it has nothing to do with your string gauge.  The greatest impact on your tone is a “great guitar” and “a professional setup” on that guitar.  It will sing and play beautifully.  Never under estimate a quality instrument and a true guitar tech artisan.  That’s where the magic is!  A poor quality instruement will never sound good - nor play well.
    Also all you freaks out there playing the old harmony, kay and danelectro’s for the cool factor - they will never sound good and always need a crap load of pedals to make any sound.  They are made from the lowest quality materials, softwoods and masonite to acheive the lowest mass produced cost in the 50s & 60s.  Purchase the best you can afford and buy it once - it will last a lifetime.

    posted on January 4, 2013 at 1:05 pm
  33. Trebor says:

    One trick that the custom shop uses is to remove the tremolo and remove the finish at the mounting
    holes near the pickguard so the tremolo makes contact with the wood and not the finish. This will compensate for lighter string and give you sustain out the wha-zoo.

    posted on January 4, 2013 at 1:58 pm
  34. PicoHill says:

    @blaine….. Have you heard Dan Auerbach or Dick Dale or SRV or Jack White?

    posted on January 4, 2013 at 2:33 pm
  35. Shtew says:

    At what Voodoo site did you hear that…?
    And string gauge has much to do with everything…a larger string vibrating within a magnetic field of a pickup will indeed produce more output & truer tone, as well as less string rattle due to higher tension…THINK about it…!

    posted on January 4, 2013 at 2:39 pm
  36. asc says:

    So all you heavier string advocates think Jimi Hendrix had bad tone? (10-38)  Maybe you need to think about it.  Tone comes from your soul and out through your fingers regardless of your string gauge. My argument and stance on this issue will remain; one is not better than the other, only different.

    posted on January 4, 2013 at 3:01 pm
  37. Ken says:

    IMO, bigger strings do make for “more” tone and no doubt that different composition makes for different tone (play your strat unplugged and just listen). It’s up to you whether that is “bettter” or not (it’s YOUR guitar and YOUR tone, so make up your own mind, right?)  When I changed from 9s to 10s , it was a huge difference (better to my ears),  I completely agree with blaine about getting a good set up by a pro. It does make a difference. I can do it myself, but when I have my professional tech do it, it’s just better.

    posted on January 4, 2013 at 3:10 pm
  38. Arne says:

    Billy F. Gibbons uses extremely light gauge stings (007-038) but I don’t think his tone is bad.

    posted on January 4, 2013 at 5:09 pm
  39. Chris says:

    I cant seem to move my truss rod, i have a complete set of allen keys from small enough to do the saddle heights to giant. if anyone could give me an indication of which size i should be using for a 2001 American Standard that would be appreciated!

    posted on January 4, 2013 at 7:59 pm
  40. Steve says:

    I think a Stratocaster sounds best when you leave enough float in the vibrato to resonate the system.  It’s that imperfection that such a setting provides that really lets the character of the guitar sing. Strats are not meant to be Les Pauls, if you want that solidity, get a Les Paul.  Also, string gauges don’t matter as much as hands and amp settings.  Use the Fender recommended distances from the pickups though because if they are too close to the strings this can really screw up the tuneability of the instrument via magnetic pull.

    posted on January 5, 2013 at 1:42 am
  41. Shtew says:

    Chris: That should be an 1/8” allen wrench for the truss rod adjustment…

    posted on January 5, 2013 at 4:02 am
  42. Geoff Beck says:

    No mention of proper nut adjustment…... Strat setup part one, check back.

    posted on January 5, 2013 at 10:41 am
  43. blaine says:

    hey@picohill - i’ve heard Dan, Dave, Jack White and yes they all turn up the volume and ride the pedals. That’s how you make a lousy guitar sound like something.  It has nothing to do with the freakin strings - so many players go to heavier strings from hitting the road extenslivly and the strings start to feel like rubber bands - its like lifting weights.  I too fell into this whacky gauge thing building special weighted sets and freaking out if I couldn’t find an 11.5 high E. Putting special trem blocks in my strats.  It was making me crazy - then one day I found a great guitar and dropped a stock set of 10-46, had a prof-set up by a really really good guit-tech. And have never looked back.  Now I look for the guitar that talks to me - and don’t worry about this little mind bending jibber-jabber.  Here’s my simple advice - ITS IN THE WOOD.  Look for properly cured tone woods - yes! theres a major diff in a quickly dried pc of ash or maple or mahog and an aged pc with correct moisture %.  Remember the wood was a living thing with a cell structure. Don’t get lost in the metal junk we bolt to the guitars. Find the right tool and foucs on the job of using it to its full potential - you owe it to that beautiful piece of wood that grew years and years to find its place in your hands - now it your chance to make something beautiful.

    posted on January 5, 2013 at 12:01 pm
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  45. Colin Cannon says:

    Ellen Wrench was actually the sister of Allen. Her wrech tip and overall concept and construction were found by many engineers to be machanically incorrect and unsuitable for any purpose. Allen’s however, was found to be handier, appropriate, and of course was developed in a time when the world was run by men and mens ideas.

    Sorry Ellen :)

    posted on January 8, 2013 at 2:49 am
  46. Chris Brush says:

    I’m all for rolling my own, but when it comes to setting up MY strat, I wouldn’t touch it myself. That’s for the luthier. I suggest you do the same. This information could result in some serious problems if not done properly. Just saying. Even taking the neck off - you could easily gum up the screws. Let the pros do it, it’s what they do, and they need jobs too.

    posted on January 8, 2013 at 2:55 am
  47. Steve says:

    You lost me right after…heavier strings sound better. Very sophomoric.

    posted on January 8, 2013 at 3:19 am
  48. Eddie G. says:

    I think sometimes we overthink things too much. Granted there MIGHT be “scientific” proof that heavier strings give you a “better” tone…...but what happens when what YOU think is a perfect tone ISN’T what someone ELSE thinks is a perfect tone? Then the scientific evidence might prove false, least by logic’s standards. I think…..correction…..I FEEL that music cannot be quantified by science…’s not about the amount of beats between the 8th notes on the drop-beat of the chord progression that is based on a Phrygian scale….it’s about closing your eyes….....listening to your “insides”......and letting THEM tell you what to play. This is not to say that all that music theory and intructional videos that are out there should be totally ignored….surely you have to have a “touch” of actual ability to play your instrument, and this doesn’t only aply to guitars, but to ANY instrument…there HAS to be a foundation on which to base your playing skills, but in the end, it’s not so much about the technical acpect of music that sends people into other realms….but the FEELING and EMOTION you can convey, regardless of the strings….effects….guitars…..amps…etc. that you use. It’s the No. 1 reason why people can INSTANTLY identify the opening notes of “classic” songs…Cocaine…....Smoke On The Water….....Purple Haze…....Sunshine Of Your Love….......Sweet Home Alabama….......Freebird….....Sharp Dressed Man….the list is ENDLESS! And I’d be willing to wager that when most (or maybe ALL?) of those songs were written the guitarists and musicians that actually performed them didn’t sit around obsessing about the paper in between the neck and the body…..the guage of their strings…..whether or not the finish was in contact with the trem block or not…....nah…..I’m almost sure they were more concerned with the reliability of their amps…....or the batteries in their effects pedals…...whether or not they would break a string mid-performance…....if the bass player would drown them out…....if they would remember their chrod progressions, or if they’d forget where the breaks were in each tune…...I’m sure there IS a place in the music world for most of the technical aspects, but to me I feel there’s so much more to it than just that. I’ve read coutless articles where the “guitar playing elite” have stated they bought instruments that would make US laugh! But they didn’t have a clue back then as to what a “perfect setup” was until they were able to GET one…..going off of that I would say then that the three most important things are: 1 - getting your instrument setup PROFESSIONALLY…(no one who owns a Jaguar or Rolls Royce goes to the mechanic on the corner!...but heads to the dealer!) 2 - LEARN your instrument…its not just about Aeolian / Mixolydian scales, or tapping like Yngwie, or about being a “shred-master”....its about expressing yourself, if at the end of the day you can get what you FEEL across to others than you’ve accomplished your goal. and finally 3 - Maintain your “relationship” with your instrument, I’ve gone through some periods of life where I hadn’t touched any of my guitars for upwards of 8 to 12 months. Ignoring the string changes, not polishing them, not even making sure they’re back in their cases / gig bags, just leaving them lying around collecting dust….. And believe me, after periods of “separation” THAT long, it’s sometimes hard to remember how to do some of the most basic things again. even if you’re not feeling inspired, or you’re bored with it….just play….you’d be surprised how much great songs came from someone just sitting around being “bored” with their instrument, not really looking for a hit song, but stumbling upon that chord, string of notes, or bass line that turns their mind toward a different direction entirely….ok I’ve ranted on long enough!..

    EGO II

    posted on January 8, 2013 at 4:25 am
  49. Ryan Caldarone says:

    Thankyou for this in-depth look at the strat—I love mine, and have customized it to hell and is a direct reflection on my own musical styes…. I too, use heavy gauge strings, that combined with lots of playing make a re-fretting due every 3 years or so—I thought my tremendous playing amount and the higher than average tension might have lead to this but I am still not sure if it’s a bad thing or something to worry about ( as I have seen this with vintage strats and no one really minds it )...

    but where the neck bolts onto the body the top right screw area (looking at the guitar upright but facing the back ) a crack has formed in the paint from the neck joint and has been slowly spidering longer the past couple of years. I am unsure if it is just the paint, or a crack which goes straight through to the bolt. Is this a common thing for heavily loved strats?

    posted on January 8, 2013 at 7:35 am
  50. PicoHill says:

    Tonewoods, set-up,amps,cables and patches, etc. .... It’s all important. All I’m saying is that, everything else being equal, heavier strings sound better to me. Obviously, opinions are going to vary.
    I don’t think heavy strings make me a better player.
    I’m 48 and I’ve been playing live and in the studio for twice as many years as Hendrix had been playing when he died!.... And yet I’m not Hendrix or anything close.
    The player is clearly the most important factor.
    You could have handed Jimi an out of tune Ukelele with a broken g- string and he would have played circles around all of us…..the best are the best and rest are, well, the rest.
    Long live the Strat .... It creates as many arguments as it does classic hits.

    posted on January 8, 2013 at 8:34 am
  51. Eddie G. says:

    @ Ryan Caldarone: I’m pretty sure the cracks you’re seeing are just the natural progression of the finish and the tension it usually encounters when a Strat is played religiously. I doubt those cracks mean there’s damage to either the neck or the body of the guitar, and yor’re correct a LOT of “vintage” Strats have those checks and cracks on them, it’s just a natural aging thing, and although there ARE ways to remedy this, my advice?.....leave ‘em on there, they represent your “battle” with taming that axe, and can be considered “scars” from the years of “war” you’ve both been through!

    @ PicoHill: I agree with you 100%! (on the Hendrix thing as well!...LoL!) I cannot imagime what you might consider a good tone, but I’m almost certain that when YOU hear it….you’ll KNOW it, and it won’t matter if it’s you playing it on a Strat….a jazz-box…...a Tele…..a Les Paul…it will sound EXACTLY how you want it to sound! I wish I had been playing as long as YOU have! I would love to have a sit down with you someday…and just LEARN from ya!...LoL!


    EGO II

    posted on January 8, 2013 at 9:25 am
  52. kiana says:

    “therefore any screws would Allen screws”??? I think you meant to say,therefore any screws would be Allen screws. Nice comment though.

    posted on January 8, 2013 at 9:46 am
  53. Phillip Jones says:

    Thanks for the info. I am particularly interested in
    the harmonic intonation. You can also hold the bottom of a tuning fork to the metal parts of your guitar to see how it resonates. Personally I have always felt steel strings were more harsh on the frets and prefer pure nickel. Titanium and cobalt strings are out of the question with me because the fret material is just not that good. The frets will last longer if you use small gauge nickel, preferably Fender strings. I have a Strat I bought back in ‘74 which I frequently violated. I think it would be in better condition today if I had just left it alone. I won’t violate my newer strats the same way.













    posted on January 8, 2013 at 10:35 am
  54. Josiah Dunham says:

    PGS - great article!!! @Blaine, I LMAO at your comments. Can you recommend me to what “crapload of pedals to get any sound out” of my “harmony, Kay, and danelectro”? I’m obviously only playing it for the cool factor but need to figure out how to get the pickups to work. You say I need “a crapload of pedals” huh? Interesting. What pedals do I use to “get sound out” of my guitar?!

    Seriously? And what the hell did Harmony, Kay, and Danelectro have to do with this article on setting up your Strat anyways?! Those are great guitars. Be careful because Jimmy Page might read this and think you’re an idiot as he plays “Whole Lotta Love” (one of the most iconic guitar riffs and guitar tones of all time) on his double cutaway Danelectro. I’m sure he’s using “a crapload of pedals” so that he can “get any sound”.

    posted on January 8, 2013 at 11:07 am
  55. Migs says:


    posted on January 8, 2013 at 12:19 pm
  56. blaine says:

    @PicoHill - you are right the greats have the magic.  Doesn’t matter what is placed in the hands of the gifted ones. Me I only play fender custom shop strats and the more relic the better - they have the sound - and like you I am getting up in years and don’t have time to relic one the hard way.  I have gibsons - but, my tele’s and strats rule.  A strat talks to me more than any other guitar on the planet and yes, they are a little beast to get setup right.  I use one of the best guitar techs on the planet and he tames them until they are perfection. Perfection from someting that by its own nature isn’t perfect. What more can be said! Make no mistake, this is an art in and of itself.

    Well one more thing - @Josiah -  if you are feeling some love from masonite and basswood - its cool.  Personally I’m just not much for guitars that were sold along side table saws, towels and bed sheets one aisle over I’m glad Dan and Jack use them - but you can’t deny they heavily amplify them and load them up with geran-fuzz, and I too can get into that sound when done well. But, didn’t I just see Jack playing a tele on Austin City Limits?  and a nice tele it was - bisgby and arm protecter.  I can give you a list of the best pedals - if you need. I like pedals a little myself.  I do draw the line on Jimmy Page -  come on! You’re joking right?  A good riff writer - but, that’s where we stop.  There are so many great players past and present - please not Page. Sorry but my stairway to heaven doesn’t include Page.
    Bottom line - Strats rule - Leo was a genuis.  Not all strats sound great no matter how much tweaking. Leave the tweaking to a pro. There are magical strats and very few techs who can set them up correctly. When you get it right its magic in your hands.  My words of wisdom - are simple; I like to drive my car and don’t work on it.  Likewise I like to play my strats and I don’t want to work on them.  You are either a player or a mechanic. Hate to say this - but, there’s no in between - time is not infinite.

    posted on January 8, 2013 at 12:57 pm
  57. Rob LaPointe says:

    Great article overall.  Reading the comments makes reminds me that there are so many myths about guitars, setup, resonance, etc..  I find if funny how believe trumps physics so many times.  Since I’m also into physics, I feel some prompting to point out one misconception in the article (Sorry if another comment already did this, I didn’t read them all)

    The number of springs on the vibrato (not tremolo) does NOT affect the stiffness of it’s action.  The springs exactly balance the tension of the strings and that’s all.  If you have three springs or five, they’re still only balancing the same force.  The difference is that if you have more springs, you can stretch them less distance to get the same total force.  Fewer springs have to be stretched more to achieve the same force.  F = kx (Hooke’s Law).  F = (3 or 5 or x springs)kx.  k is the springs stiffness and x is the amount of stretch.  So for a given “fixed” force (depending on tuning and string gauge)  the x (amount of stretch) goes down as the number of springs goes up.

    When you rock the vibrato handle back and forth you either take some of the load off the springs and stretch the strings more or you add load to the springs and reduce tension of the strings.  With any number of springs the force you do this with is the same because you’re simply offsetting a designated “fixed” balance between the strings and springs.

    posted on January 8, 2013 at 3:38 pm
  58. laurens says:

    The whole debate about the effects of string thickness on your tone is rediculous. Opinions aside bigger strings give more sustain and volume, PERIOD. Whether you hear the difference or not.

    If you don’t hear the difference, you don’t hear it, consider yourself lucky ;-)

    Getting to the whole Billy Gibbons discussion. With all due respect to him and his playing: His sound comes from a really big, expensive equalizer and a lot of compression. All his guitars are programmed to have the same sound (his ‘Pearly Gates’ set up with .11’s).

    My top tip for set-ups is an old jazz-trick: Raise your action! All my guitars have .11 strings, and are set-up quite high. The sustain and power coming from the strings into vintage style pickups is the most responsive and soulfull sound I’ve found so far. It takes some getting used to but I assure you will be surprised

    posted on January 8, 2013 at 8:48 pm
  59. vee sonnets says:

    @blaine don’t slag on
    Harmony and Kay and other brands.
    Yes some strats were great…but some were not.
    Just like all guitars…no two are alike.
    I happen to play Fender products but also
    prefer my Harmony to any Gibson.
    Doesnt mean i think Gibson are crap..
    just not for me. i go straight into small wattage amps
    Ask Keith Richards. Dave Davies. Jimmy Page. etc.

    posted on January 9, 2013 at 1:58 am
  60. blaine says:

    After all my silly verbosity - I forgot to mention what a great article Mr. Brooks presented.  Thank you Daniel it was rich with information and I look forward to Part 2.

    To the Kay, Harmony and Danelectro players - I was once as you are - and have owned many, many. My first guitar at 12 was a Kay and I loved that guitar - it taught me discipline with 1/2” action at the 12th fret.  But, when I played my first Strat at 16 (they didn’t call them vintage back then - it was called used) - it became instantly apparent there’s a serious difference and it changed everything from that point forward!  I ate slept and dreamed strats - there’s nothing that compares.  A strat and Buddy Guy would form my playing forever, long before anyone heard of Clapton. Thank you Muddy for giving us Buddy.

    posted on January 9, 2013 at 12:23 pm
  61. Gerry says:

    This are the topics that merit a Video, it’s so easy to shoot and edit a video nowadays….thanks for the effort though

    posted on January 10, 2013 at 8:46 am
  62. KC says:

    @PicoHill, you said that Santana uses 13s.
    If you check out
    It states quite clearly Santana uses 9s.
    Frank Zappa used 8s.

    I agree with Eddie G: get your guitar professionally set up by a luthier. My Strat now plays better than ever (albeit with the help of new jumbo stainless steel frets, a stainless steel bridge and a bone nut as well).

    Recenlty, I changed the strings on a 12 stringer Washburn to 008 - 038 and then got fret buzz. I decided to adjust the neck myself. Bad move. Now I have to take it to a luthier to get it done properly.

    posted on January 12, 2013 at 1:43 pm
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    Great article, Dan. These are the lessons that should be taught to us noobies right out the gate.

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  77. Bill Lester says:

    The author make unproven and biased claims about the guage of the strings making a difference.

    First, in the scope of this article, the amount of air a string can move is not relevant. The Strat is an electric guitar, not and acoustic, so that point is bogus.

    Second, the mass of metal moving through a magnetic field does make a differnce in physics. However, the difference in mass between the various guage strings is not a significant amount. There might, and I stress might, a subtle difference, but the power of the magnetic field from the different pickups available make the authors’ claim silly.

    I’ve played D’Addarios 8’s for 20+ years and get just as powerful a sound as guys playing 11’s.

    Rev. Gibbons plays 8’s and sometimes 7’s according to his guitar tech and his sound is pretty freakin’ powerful.

    Whatever the guage you play, the guitar does need to be setup to match.

    Please stop writing from a biased point of view and present the facts. To do less cheapens PGS and distroys your credibility as an author and guitar authority.

    posted on January 19, 2013 at 12:11 am
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