Stretching Strings

There's a good reason this is the first section in Tech, and that's because this is the most common user error when it comes to floating trem systems. Strings of course stretch when you play them, everybody should be familiar with the concept. With a hardtail or fixed bridge, if you don't stretch the strings and do some bending you just have to retune the stretched strings back to pitch. The strings that stretched also didn't affect the pitch of the other strings. This is not the case with a floating system. Floating trems are simply, a pain in the ass! You really have to *want* to enjoy the benefits of a great double locking system to put up with all the technicalities and *rules* you must follow to get the most out of it, while causing you the least amount of distress. If you've never had one before you will have a steep learning curve before you will feel confident with the system, but that's why this Tech section exists. There is alot to know, so get started reading, but don't just *read*, *comprehend*. ;o}

In a double locking system where the strings are locked at the nut and bridge, what affects one string will affect them all. If your low E stretches just a little and goes flat the rest of the bridge will compensate and the other strings will go sharp. You've decreased the overall tension of the strings without decreasing the overall tension the springs are applying to the bridge [the springs are still pulling just as hard so they will pull the rest of the strings sharp]. There's a reason when a suspension bridge is built the cables are pre-stretched before they are ever hung, otherwise when you finished the bridge you might be driving on water. Steel [or any other wire] will stretch when put under tension, and will stretch ALOT. This will be amplified because a floating system can be pulled up to raise the pitch, which is pulling harder than a typical string bend will. I cannot stress enough how important it is to fully stretch new strings until they will not stretch any more, before you ever lock the nut the first time. There's also a funny thing about stretched wire. You can put new strings on your guitar today, fully stretch the strings until it's perfect. Put that guitar away for 2 weeks and pull it out. Give the low E a good pull and watch how far it drops in pitch. The metal will realign at the molecular level and will need to be stretched again after it does. This *re-stretch* is very quick as it will only take one good stretch to fully stretch this string again, unlike a new string which you might stretch for 5 minutes straight to get all the stretch out of it. [I absolutely HATE 7 strings because the low B just takes forever to stretch in fully]

How To Stretch Your Strings

Of course you will need a tuner and the full guitar should be tuned to pitch, or pretty close, before you begin [perfect pitch of the whole bridge will be lost in the stretching anyway, but you want it close]. I always start with the high E because I save the hardest work for last. The smaller the string diameter the less it will stretch, and the easier it is to break! Care should be taken when stretching the high E [sometimes the B] and the D string as the inner core of a D is actually about a .010 gauge string.

Grab the string mid scale and pull it back and forth simulating the hardest bend and vibrato you would ever put on a high E string. As I'm stretching I'll slide up and down the string to about the 1/3 to 2/3 point to get a more even stretch along it's length than just pulling in one spot. Stop, check the pitch and retune. Stretch again. Repeat until you can stretch it twice in a row with no drop in pitch. Move to the next string and repeat. The bigger the gauge the harder you should be pulling it to get all the stretch out of it. When I'm stretching wound strings I'm more worried about pulling a saddle forward than anything else, I pull them that hard when stretching them out. It will take me 10 minutes to fully stretch in a 6 string, and I do this for a living. Expect it to take you longer as you might not feel comfortable exerting the forces on the strings that I do, after all I have 30 or 40 spare packs of strings and singles lying around, it's no biggie if I break one, and I do break them fairly often. The whole point is that if your strings are not **fully** stretched you can expect them to go out of tune after you start playing the guitar, or especially, start wanking around on the whammy. When the strings are **fully** stretched you can be as violent as you want with the whammy bar and always expect it to return to perfect pitch [given that there are no other bugs keeping your system from a correct return, covered in other sections here]


Copyright 2000 Ibanez Rules!! All rights reserved.
Revised: June 24, 2009.