Have you ever had a guitar which seems like your fighting or wrestling with while playing? The strings are hard to bend and maybe you even play it with a heavier hand than other guitars. Most guitars take some adjustment to get them to your own personal tastes; string height, neck relief, etc. However an often overlooked adjustment or option is available on Gibson like guitars with tune-o-matic bridges and even some Telecasters.
The Gibson tune-o-matic bridge as shown in fig 1, has a bridge and tail piece. The bridge as most people are aware, adjusts the string height and intonation. The tail piece is the anchor point to hold the strings, however it is also adjustable. This is to adjust the “break angle”, the red part of the string in figure 1, just before the string goes over the bridge saddle. Adjusting the break angle can change the feel of the guitar. The guitar actually has two break angles usually. Most guitars have one at the headstock, where the strings pass over the nut and into the tuning pegs. This effects the feel of the strings when bending them and attacking them. Some bridges don't have a break angle. They are simply fixed to the bridge. On Floyd Rose locking bridge systems, the guitar actually has no break angles, because the guitar strings are locked in place.
So lets look at the adjustment options of the break angle at the bridge:
With the tail piece adjusted all the way to the guitars body, you increase the break angle and make it steeper, which increases the downward force on the bridge. Like the string in fig 2 B. A steeper break angle will make strings harder to bend and I've notice a bit more treble in the attack of the string.
- Conversely, adjusting the tail piece higher will decrease the break angel, decease the downward force on the bridge, making it less steep, like in fig 2 A. The strings will be easier to bend, and you might find you can attack the strings a bit softer. I have noticed a slight decrease in treble, with a higher break angle.
The break angle does not adjust tension. Tension for a string to hold a pitch doesn't change. The scale length of a guitar will effect tension. However, that is not adjustable. A short scale guitar will require less tension than the pitch on a long scale guitar. This is why some people prefer certain scales and brands of guitars. Think of the break angle as slack in a rope. The less force on the bridge and less break angle, the easier the strings will slide over the saddles and nut while bending a string.
So that's the tune-o-matic bridge, but an even lesser know adjustment is available on most Telecasters. I had a Tele that I was always fighting with. I would break strings like crazy. I finally decided to stop stringing the strings through the body. I though the holes the strings were coming through might have been breaking the strings anyhow. However after stringing the strings on the top of the bridge like in fig 2A, I realized I changed the feel of the guitar and changed the break angel. Now the guitar is easier to bend strings on, and I even pick it a bit lighter. I did notice a slight loss in treble, but nothing drastic. So it seems Fender gives you a break angle option.
Now, I know there are many people who strongly believe that string-through guitars and tail pieces being all the way down on the body increases sustain. I can't really disprove this, however I will say it's probably like splitting hairs. The difference is minute as best. You many hear a difference in tone. I tend to find the more force there is on the bridge the more treble and attack you get. It should be said that too steep of a break angle can sometimes cause problems with bending bridges over years. The string-through bodies as well, might just be marketing, claiming it increases sustain. I didn't find any proof of this on my Tele. Maybe I'll do a test on that soon. I do like the option to switch stringing like on most Telecasters. Also, I no longer have to worry about losing the small metal ferrules after a string breaks.
Hope this helps some people. Just another option in getting your guitar to feel the way you want it to.