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A thing to watch out for with cheap Strat copy guitars

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This is a very easy thing to miss, and it can drastically change the way the guitar plays.

Cheap guitars are cool, so when you see something like the Grote guitar above that sells for under $100 new, you think hey, I'll get that, set it up myself and it'll play great.

Not so fast. There's something you're missing that you probably didn't even notice.

The string guides.

If you look at any Strat style guitar with a straight (meaning not angled back) headstock, it has one or two string guides to keep the strings from popping out of the nut during play.

A string guide introduces a break angle. If there is a single guide, two strings (high-E and B) have the break angle changed. If there are two guides, four strings (high-E, B, G, D) have the break angle changed.

The steeper the break angle, the tighter the string will feel when tuned to pitch (especially during string bending.)

The Grote seen above, while certainly cheap and totally playable, has guides that are closer to the nut than usual.

Examine the cheap Squier Bullet Stratocaster for an example of traditional guide spacing from the nut. Notice how the guide that holds down the D and G strings is just before the A-string tuning post, and how the guide holding the B and high-E strings is just after the A-string tuning post.

Yes, placement of guides on the headstock does make a differece, and again, this is a very easy thing to miss.

Generally speaking, guides that are closer to the nut will have strings that feel tighter, and not necessarily in a good way.

How do you test whether the string guides are adding too much string tension or not, and what can you do about it?

This test is very easy.

Loosen the strings. Take the strings off the guides, tune the guitar back up to pitch, then play and see if it feels different.

If the strings feel easier to play, then you know the guides are the problem.

Fixing this problem is fortunately cheap. Use nylon spacers. I can't tell you the exact size of spacer to use because it varies from guitar to guitar.

A second option is to take out the guides and install a string retainer bar instead. You will of course have to drill new holes in the headstock to install this, and this isn't much of a bother with cheap off-brand guitars since it was cheap to begin with.

The main advantage of using the retainer bar is that you can adjust the height. If you set it too low (you would know if strings feel too tight during note bends,) you can detune the strings, back out the screws a little bit to raise the bar a little, tune back up, adjust as desired.

Another advantage of the retainer bar is that if you find yourself knocking the low-E or low-A string out of the nut sometimes from hard play, that bar will keep those strings in the nut even if you play like a caveman.

Sometimes all it takes to get a cheap Strat copy guitar truly playing like you want is a good setup, and getting your string break angles set just right on the headstock itself.

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