Electric Guitar Bridge Adjustment
The adjustment of the electric guitar bridge is the next step in this five part series on guitar setup. If you've been following along your nut is in good shape and your truss rod is adjusted properly. If you have a fixed bridge, like on a Gibson Les Paul or a Fender Telecaster, your job is a little easier. If you've got a tremolo with spring counter tension, your jobs a little more involved, but not that much more.
Any bridge adjustment is for the sole purpose of adjusting the action you have on your guitar. The action is simply how far you must move the string down in order to get it to sound. Now each manufacturer has recommendations, for example Fender suggests that the low E string on the strat be 4/64ths of an inch above the 17th fret wire on a 9.5" radius neck. I've purchased two brand new strats in my life, had them set up by the music store, and have never had a low E string height lower than 6/64ths of an inch. The point here folks is that string height is up to you. If you're playing along with John Tesh, well, I'm going to kill myself if your reading my stuff. But if you are, you can get along with much lower string heights because you're most likely not hammering away at your guitar. If your pounding away like Stevie Ray Vaughan, you're going to want more action, otherwise you'll be rattling like a chainsaw on crack.
For the record I set up my guitars with a string height of 5/64ths to 6/64ths above the 12th fret on the low E string. And 4/64ths to 5/64ths on the high E string. This is what works for me, you're free to try anything you'd like. I just find that I get too much rattle at lower heights. For you guys with Floyd Rose, or Les Paul bridges the job's pretty easy. You've got two screws, put them where you want them.
For strat owners, or those with a Wilkinson two point bridge, you've got a couple of options. You can adjust the two main pivot bolts first, being careful that you don't raise it so high that the tremolo block underneath starts pulling away from the springs. As always, and I should have mentioned this earlier, keep the guitar in tune between adjustments. And for spring tensioned tremolo guitars make sure you've got the gauge string on you'll be playing with the most.
If you go from 46's to 54's, you'll be adjusting spring tension on your electric guitar bridge right away. Once you get the two pivot bolts to the right height you can adjust each saddle for string height. If your bridge is an older style six screw tremolo strat, or a fixed bridge telecaster, your only adjustment is the string saddles
Remember, when adjusting the electric guitar bridge tremolo springs, to constantly tune your guitar while doing so. You want the bridge to float perfectly parallel to the guitar body. Once you get the action where you want it, you're ready to move on to the next section. One last point, if you find that you have to raise the string height excessively to avoid rattle. Even at low to moderate picking, you may have to dress the frets. It's not uncommon to have one fret a little higher than another. I'm not going to get into fret dressing here, but I thought I'd point it out. Peace J. Brennan
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