Flatwound strings destroyed my guitar?
October 13, 2007 6:30 PM   Subscribe

What happened to my Strat?

I put flatwound strings on my Fender Stratocaster for the first time today, and now the bridge has done something very weird. Instead of lying flush with the body, the part closest to the butt of the guitar angles upward, as if the entire assembly is being pulled more by the strings than it can handle. The springs under the back plate seem to allow a bit of travel, so is this normal? Will these new strings destroy my bridge, or my neck?
posted by invitapriore to Grab Bag (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The flatwound strings are a thicker gage and therefore create more tension. It's not abnormal for the bridge to lift in the back - that's exactly what happens if you pushed on the wammy bar. I wouldn't worry about it causing any damage, but different gauge strings require a different setup. Your intonation is going to be different. If you're committed to the flatwounds, you might consider adding another spring to get the bridge to sit flush again.
posted by eperker at 7:15 PM on October 13, 2007

What eperker said. The "floating bridge" of your Strat is behaving as designed, which isn't to say you don't need a completely new setup if those flatwound strings are going to play in tune. Particularly as you fret notes further up the neck.

If you're going to make a major change to the kind of strings you use, and you aren't a reasonably experienced guitar-maintenance geek, go to a good music store and pay them to do a new setup for you. It'll be worth it.
posted by pnh at 7:25 PM on October 13, 2007

Agree with pnh, the bridge is designed to do this. I personally set up my Strat so that the springs pull the bridge flat against the backstop, the way your guitar used to be, but this is not the default configuration.

The difference between a floating bridge and a back-against-the-body one is not too great. Your intonation may go off, but not by much and the Strat bridge makes that easy to fix. More apparent are the following differences:

1. You can use the whammy bar ("vibrato arm") to pull a note up in pitch as well as push down. Sounds like you don't even use the bar so that's probably irrelevant.

2. It becomes harder to bend notes, because as you bend the bridge tilts forward. I find this annoying but you can get used to it. If you're using flatwounds you're probably not bending much.

3. It's harder to vibrato individual notes because the bridge wobbles and cancels out what you're doing.

4. The pick attack on the strings sets the bridge to wobbling slightly, producing a built-in microvibrato that some folks call the Strat "shimmer." It's a matter of taste as to whether you like it or not; it took me years to develop my ear to the point of being able to hear it.

If you want to learn more about your guitar, Dan Erlewine's How To Make Your Electric Guitar Play Great tells you about a number of ways to tweak the setup of your Strat bridge, including tips for stabler setups in both floating and back-against-the-body configurations.

Hope that wasn't too much information.
posted by ikkyu2 at 7:52 PM on October 13, 2007

On all the Strats we've got we blocked the bridges underneath so they are essentially fixed bridges and cannot float. Pieces of drumsticks turned out to be about the right diameter to do this and it's non-permanent should the urge to use the whammy ever strike you. But I think the whammy is a pretty lame thing to include, particularly on beginner guitars, unused by most guitarists, and makes tuning a PIA. If you actually like using the whammy disregard this.
posted by 6550 at 11:43 PM on October 13, 2007

What string gauge were you using and what gauge are these flatwound strings?
If the bridge raises too much you may want to tighten a little the tremolo springs screws (on the back), or to replace the current tremolo springs with harder ones, or to add additional springs altogether. Intonation may go off a bit as a result of the bridge adjusting to the greater string tension, but it can usually be compensated by adjusting the bridge (there's a lot of guides on the Internets explaining how to do that, so I won't go into detail).

Also, greater string - and bridge springs - tension = greater strain placed on the neck, so routinely check for the next couple of weeks if the neck is straight, especially if you live in an area with a warm climate and/or a large thermal excursion. If the neck is bending too much towards the front, you need to have it adjusted.

I suggest that you have a professional check your guitar and set it up correctly to get the best in tone, intonation and playability from the new strings.
posted by _dario at 3:38 AM on October 14, 2007

Why on earth would anyone use flatwound strings on a strat? Serious question . . .
posted by spitbull at 6:44 AM on October 14, 2007

Just saying because a strat is basically designed (pickups, action, frets, etc) for light-guage roundwound strings. In over 15 years as a pro guitarist, I never once met anyone who strung a strat with flats except in an outright emergency.

I'm sure some will disagree here. But flatwound strings are for basses and jazz guitars. You are going to give up a lot of the tonal qualities of a strat by using them, without gaining much back unless you've done some custom electronic and action work on the thing.
posted by spitbull at 6:48 AM on October 14, 2007

I'm with spitbull. With flatwounds you are going to lose the trademark sound (think Clapton and Knopfler) of the Strat.
posted by wsg at 9:00 AM on October 14, 2007

Hello everyone, thanks for the informative responses. I'm using light gauge flatwounds, and the reason I'm using them is because I'm a jazz guitarist. Normally I play on a classical, but I've had my Strat since my early teens (when I wasn't a jazz player) and felt a little guilty letting it sit there. I'd get an electric more suited for jazz, but that's just not an option right now. I'm not terribly concerned about keeping the famous Strat tone, but it's still ultimately a poor compromise over all. It's just an experiment, and I'll probably end up returning to the round-wounds and just start playing a little more rock (something I've been meaning to do anyway :) ), but in the meantime I'd just like it to play right.

Thanks again!
posted by invitapriore at 1:19 AM on October 15, 2007

And for what it's worth, 6550, I haven't been able to find my whammy bar in years. Tangentially, I love the damage reduction strategy you employed in your last sentence should I have turned out to be a whammy bar lover. :)
posted by invitapriore at 1:23 AM on October 15, 2007

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