The Challenges of Musicianship, Pain, and Arthritis Pt. 2

Posted: February 11, 2016 in Guitar, Ideas To Be Developed, Modification
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I previously wrote about my trials of playing guitar while dealing with a serious illness.  With my 25.5″ scale length, LTD guitar, I’ve now found a medium point of balance.  When I am able to play, the guitar nearly plays itself.

After more than a decade of doing my own setups, I’d stopped measuring them and would do it mostly by feel.  I did it that way for years.  For the problems I have now, I need to be able to easily adjust anything if the guitar shifts from temperature or humidity changes.

At the time of the previous article, I had been thinking in very abstract terms regarding tension and height; trying to imagine the physics at work.  What I’ve ultimately found is that I’d made the height so low and relief so flat, the neck did begin to backbow and warp.  I corrected the truss rod, increased the tuning, and set the guitar aside to settle in.  When I came back to it, it got a setup similar to the factory specs and then some adjustments were made.

Adjustment #1 was to drop the string gauges to Ernie Ball Super Slinky 9s and tuned down to D-Standard, again.  It hurts too much to use 10s.  I actually became inspired by Jimmy Page using Ernie Ball 8s in D-Standard tuning for the O2 concert.  Tony Iommi would be another inspiration for this type of thing, though he tunes down to C#.  In my case, using 9s with D-Standard tuning is like using 8s in Standard tuning, but with a spongier feel.

For relief, I settled on .01″.  To make it easy to set, I eyeballed the gap and made sure it’s barely larger than the 1st string, but lower than the 2nd.  This relief is a sweet spot where fret buzz disappears on my guitar.  If the buzz comes back, I add a very tiny bit of relief.  When the buzz is gone, I know it’s about right.  When the time comes to do quarterly maintenance, I ensure it’s back to spec.

For the height, I put both sides at 2mm between the 12th fret and the outside strings.  I ended up dropping the treble side to about 1.6mm, but kept the bass side high.  With such light tension, fret buzz can be a serious problem; 2mm was just right.

My hands can’t do what they used to do, but playing is now a little more comfortable.  It requires much less effort to hold down a note or chord and bends are possible with support from other fingers.  There are still times when I can’t control the intonation of notes with my hands due to loss of strength or from pain, but the goal was to improve comfort for the overall experience and to be able to play at all.  I’d say I have made that goal and it can be measured and repeated.  Using a ruler will tell me immediately if I’m too far out of specs and removes a lot of guess work.

The only other note is to set pickup heights in relation to the distance from the bottom of the strings, when fretted at the last fret, to the top of the pickup.  The pickup might end up at a weird angle in relation to the body of the guitar, but it will be balanced for volume.  I set my neck pickup at about half the height of the bridge pickup to have them at just about the same volume.

To recap:

  • .009-.042 strings
  • Neck relief: .01″ (.254 mm)
  • String Height at 12th fret: 2 mm (6th), 1.6 mm (1st)
  • D-Standard tuning (All strings dropped 1 whole tone from Standard)
  • Small gauge + dropped tuning = feels the same as playing 8s in Standard tuning

I hope this helps someone.  Thanks for reading.

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