Spring Awakening

The following is a moment of reflection from Ian Schneller, founder and primary instructor at the Chicago School of Guitar Making.

Topics such as these and much more are covered in the Guitar Technician Program. A comprehensive set of curriculums lay out the function and adjustment of stringed instruments.

Break Angle and Neck Pitch

Ian Schneller

I have long extolled the virtues of understanding “Margins of Adjustability”. That is to say, the extremes of adjustment in mechanisms, in both directions.

All the way up. All the way down. As tight or as loose as one might dare to go. By studying extremes we gain understanding.

Some adjustable parts have wide margins and some have tiny margins.

Bolt on guitar necks allow us to use narrow margin bridge hardware. We can aim the neck at this narrow margin by adjusting its very own margin.

This is the only way Leo Fender got the telecaster and Stratocaster to work. Les Pauls on the other hand have wide Margin hardware and can thus can have glued in necks with a set pitch angle.

Furthermore, strings require break angle over the saddles and nut to create downward tension. Too little break angle and the strings will not behave themselves. They will dance around foolishly and buzz and laugh at you. The strings pop out of place and go sideways.

This is why Jazzmasters and Jaguars are nightmares right out of the box. They require increased neck pitch in order to create break angle (and thus downward tension) over the saddles at the bridge. It is the string  length behind the bridge that contributes to this problem. The angle is simply too shallow to have enough downward tension.

Simply pitching a jazz master neck back and raising it’s wide margin bridge up solves the problem. Then you get to struggle the bridge pickup high enough to be close to the strings for good amplified sound.

Now consider a Tele with a hipshot bridge unit or a bigsby vibrato. There is a dearth of break angle but we usually have narrow margin Fender bridge hardware. This becomes a very real problem and the instrument plays like a toy, even with the saddles adjusted all the way up.

The solution is to insert a riser plate underneath the bridge and bridge pickup.

About an eighth of an inch is adequate to lift up our margin of adjustability at the saddles and kill two birds with one stone. This sub plate allows a geometric remedy to the issue and provides the necessary break angle. It also elevates the bridge pickup to be close enough to the strings.

A happy day getting home, where I want to be, full of appropriate adjustability.