I have a long drive to and from work every day and despite having access to audio books, satellite radio and streaming music, I wanted to keep learning everything that I could about building and repairing guitars. I've repaired and assembled my own guitars and have been working on electric guitar bridge design as a hobby/passion for many years.
On to the podcast. I've known about podcasts for a long time but never really got into listening. There must be some good ones out there to feed my guitar obsession, right? So, I did a quick search of the best guitar building/repairing podcasts and The Fret Files kept popping up.
Once I started listening to The Fret Files, I couldn't stop. The amount of expertise, honest opinion (whether you agree or not) and the dynamic between Eric and Melissa is amazingly informative and entertaining. Listening to them answer listener questions and talk about what they are up to is like being with good friends that experience life like most of the rest of us do.
Because of The Fret Files, I actually started looking forward to my long workday commutes. On some shows, you can tell that Eric or Melissa aren't feeling so good or are dealing with the trials of a new family, but they're getting on with things and doing the show anyway. So, if I was feeling worse for wear on my way to work, I didn't feel so bad. If Eric and Melissa can do a podcast with a cold and crying kids in the background, then surely I can get through the day without feeling the greatest.
I'm a big fan of headless guitars and have been fascinated with Steinbergers ever since I found out that they existed in my university days. Although The Fret Files has more of a focus on vintage instruments and traditional guitar building methods, this podcast is incredibly informative and thought provoking, even for those of us that lean more towards modern additions to guitar technology.
I really can't thank Eric and Melissa enough for The Fret Files podcast. If you're into all things guitar, you will most surely enjoy listening to The Fret Files.
While testing the MGR floating bridge as an alternative to the Steinberger R-Trem, I decided that I should test a variety of double ball end guitar strings to make sure that they all work with the new bridge.
I think that you should be able to use your favorite strings and not be forced into using double ball end strings on any guitar but they are very convenient and make string changes a breeze.
Here's a table with the brands, descriptions, part numbers, where I got the strings, where the strings were made and what I paid for them.
Here are the same string sets with more information
For the MGR Bridge, what I was mostly interested in was string length. How good a string sounds is subjective but how good a string will work with a certain piece of hardware, we can measure. The string length of a double ball end string is really important for ease of installation / removal and for tuning range, especially on the 1st string. I wouldn't want anyone to run out of turns on a tuner before a string is in tune! I've heard of people using crazy light strings, so I'll have to test those later too.
To measure string length, I put all of the strings on a nail board with the same starting point and an end point with zero tension to measure the free lengths.
Once all of the strings were mounted, I drew a line to easily compare the length of each string visually. Here are the results!
Although I don't like the excessive packaging and the fact that they are made in China, the Steinberger strings appear to be the best value. There is a nice overwrap on the the plain strings, they come in sealed pouches and an extra 1st string is also provided.
String lengths are more or less the same between the brands of calibrated strings and between the brands of non-calibrated strings. My measurements are not super accurate and this is just one set from each brand. How consistent would the string length be for each set from set to set? I don't know! We would have to get several sets from each brand to look for consistency.
It's interesting to note that ghs mentions that the standard strings (non-calibrated) do not fit TransTrem unit. LaBella, on the other hand, mentions that standard double ball guitar strings may be used for the TransTrem, however, for best results, they recommend the calibrated sets. This might be why the LaBella's are a bit shorter than the rest, just a guess.
My first experience with a Steinberger R-Trem was with as Steinberger Spirit GU-7R from the now defunct MusicYo.com. It is a beautiful guitar but from the first time I played it, there was something wrong with the highly touted R-Trem.
The first problem that I had with the R-Trem was the screw used to tension the main spring. The screw was really hard to turn and felt really rough. It turns out that the threads for the screw were stripped. Tough news for someone who had been looking forward to owning a Steinberger for so long. After getting over the disappointment, the busted threads were drilled out and a keps style lock nut was added to replace the threads. The screw used to tension the main trem spring is now nice and smooth.
After fixing the main spring screw, there was more trouble. Whenever the R-Trem was moved, it made a creaking sound! What next! After having a close look, I discovered that the front of the bridge was rubbing up against the body. Was the trem not installed properly in the cavity? Was the whole thing somehow defective? I didn't know and wanted to play the guitar right away I solved what was in front of me. I took a metal file to the bridge and filed off enough metal so that the bridge didn't rub on the body anymore. Goodbye squeaky noise!
By now, the guitar was playing really beautifully. Unfortunately, with a lot of playing, the bridge started to squeek and creak again. The bridge was being pulled into the body. What the heck! I wasn't going to keep filing the bridge away!
After searching on the internet and taking the R-Trem apart again, it looked like the dreaded and infamous bending post problem had reared its ugly head. How could the posts bend? Well, the posts weren't bending, the cheap metal that the posts were screwed into was bending! Aaargh! That was it! I cut off the part of the metal holding the posts and replace that wimpy stuff with some proper chunks of steel.
Finally, all problems solved! Right? Nope, the soft metal (probably zinc) that most of the R-Trem is made out of is causing another problem. It's not affecting how the trem works too much yet but the tab or bracket that transfers the force of the main trem spring to balance out string tension is starting to bend.
I think that a lot of these problems make a strong case that the material used to make the R-Trem just isn't up to the task of keeping everything in working order in the long term. Either that or the R-Trem just wasn't designed to last.
One of the cool thinks about the R-Trem is the locking mechanism that allows you to play with a floating or fixed bridge. It also allows you to lock the bridge in tune if one of the strings break. Of course, this would be a really cool feature if it actually worked properly! On the R-Trem, there is just too much slop in the pin that holds the locking arm in place and between the locking jaw and locking stud. The lock really doesn't perform as promised since you can still wiggle the bridge when it's locked.
If I can wiggle the bridge, then the strings can easily go out of tune or not be the same tuning when floating as it is when locked. A locking bridge is a good idea but the design on the R-Trem just doesn't deliver.
The GU-7R with R-Trem plays really well and is a beautiful sounding instrument when it is working well. Unfortunately, some of the design is lacking and the whole thing seems to always be tending towards self destruction!
I think that most guitar players understand what the tuning ratio means for tuning machines. If the tuning ratio is 15:1 then you need to turn the tuning key 15 times for the string post to go around once. So, the higher the ratio, the finer the adjustment for each turn.
So what about tuning ratio for Steinberger gearless tuners, LSR tuning machines or other tuning machines that don't use gears or string posts? If there aren't any gears and no gear ratio, than how on earth did Steinberger and others come up with 40:1 tuning ratios? In other words, 40 turns of the tuning key equals one turn of what?
To answer this question, we have to figure out what gearless tuners do to tune the stings and compare that to the usual tuning machines.
Tuning Ratio - What are we Trying to do?
To try and compare tuning machines, let's talk about what these devices are trying to accomplish. To keep it real simple, the job of the tuning machines is to stretch the strings to the right tension so that we get the right pitch when we pluck the string.
To stretch the string, we clamp both ends of the string at the bridge and at the tuning machine by tying or wrapping or locking or trapping the ends of the string somehow. We then move both ends further apart to increase tension. Let's have a look at how tuning machines do this.
For a traditional tuning machine, we move the tuner end of the string away from bridge end by wrapping the string around a post. The amount of distance the moving end of the string moves away from the fixed end with each turn of a tuning key depends on a few things:
Let's assume that we did a really good job of clamping the ends of the string so there is no slippage at the anchor points but the string can slide freely on the post itself as it stretches and wraps around the post.
Let's also assume that the diameter of the string is 0.017 inches (a common diameter for a regular gauge G string).
Finally, let's assume that the diameter of the string post is 3/16 of an inch or 0.1875 inches. This is the diameter of the post on a generic electric guitar tuning machine.
So how far does one end of the string move away from the other end in this situation? In other words, for one turn of the tuning key, how much further away does one end of the string get from the other?
To do the calculation, we just need to make one more assumption and that's the position of the string before the string post starts turning. The following image shows the starting point. You can imagine that if the starting point was further clockwise, then the travel distance will not follow the circumference of the string post and could even be loosening the string!
So, the distance that the string will travel with one turn of the string post is the circumference of the circle made by the center of the string.
The diameter at the center of the string is the diameter of the string post (0.1875 inch) plus the diameter of the string (0.017 inch) for a diameter of 0.2045 inches.
Using the standard formula for circumference of a circle (circumference = diameter X pi) we get a circumference of 0.642 inches.
For a 15:1 tuning machine, one turn of the tuning key will only turn the post 1/15th of a turn so we need to divide the circumference by 15 to get the string movement for one turn of the tuning key. So 0.642 inches divided by 15 is about 0.043 inches or 1.09 millimeters. In fraction inches, that's about 3/64 inches.
So, the string pull of our generic 15:1 tuning machine using a 0.017 inch string is 0.043 inches per turn of the tuning key.
Now, I know that this is a bit more complex than a gear or tuning ration but this can be applied to all tuners so that they can be compared apples to apples. The lower the number, the greater the tuning accuracy. In other words, you can make finer (smaller) adjustments to the amount the string is being pulled for each movement of the tuning key.
How about the string pull of similar 12:1 or 21:1 tuners? That's easy now:
Tuning Ratio - How do Tuners with Gears Compare to Gearless Tuners?
A 40:1 gearless tuner sounds really good right? With the example above, that would give us a string pull of only 0.016 inches per turn of the tuning key! Wow! Let's see how this stacks up to reality.
For example, the R-Trem used on Steinberger guitars such as the GT-PRO moves the string on the bridge end away from a fixed string at the other end of the neck. Instead of using gears, a screw is used to move a claw that grips a ball end string.
The screw used to move the claw is an M3 x 0.5. The "M3" means that this is a metric screw with a diameter of 3 millimeters. The "0.5" means that the pitch of the screw or the distance between each thread on the screw is 0.5 millimeters. This means that for each turn of the screw, a nut on the screw or the string claw in this case will move by 0.5 millimeters.
In this case, string pull is really straight forward, it's 0.5 millimeters or 0.020 inches per turn. That's actually really close to the 40:1 calculation that we did (0.016 inches per turn), so Steinberger's number is very reasonable. The calculation is off by 0.004 inches which is about the thickness of a piece of paper. For that matter, any straight pull tuner that uses a M3 x 0.5 screw to pull the string can safely claim a 40:1 "ratio" even if we know that there is no gear ratio at all! There is no 40 turns to 1 something, there is only a string pull per turn.
Congratulations if you read to the bottom of this post! It's pretty dry stuff but hopefully this explains the 40:1 claim if you ever wanted to know!
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