$10 fix for Fender Stratocaster tight string tension problem
The 101 on break angle for Stratocaster and Les Paul guitars
Break angle affects string tension. A lot.
In order to have the least amount of string tension when tuned to pitch, the strings have to be as straight as possible from end to end when installed on the guitar.
Installed strings on electric guitars do not travel exactly straight from end to end because of break angles. Decrease the break angle (where possible) wherever one is found, and the overall string tension is decreased.
On the Stratocaster guitar:
From back to front, break angle 1 is tremolo block to string saddle, break angle 2 is saddle to nut, break angle 3 is nut to string guide, break angle 4 is guide to tuning post.
Break angle 1 can be lessened slightly by only using 2 tremolo springs instead of 3, and allowing the bridge to float.
Break angle 2 can be lessened slightly by saddle height and neck relief adjustment.
Break angle 3 and 4 can be lessened significantly by raising the string guide with a spacer for strings that use them.
On the Les Paul guitar:
From back to front, break angle 1 is tailpiece to bridge, break angle 2 is bridge to nut, break angle 3 is nut to tuner post.
Break angle 1 can be lessened significantly by raising the tailpiece.
Break angle 2 can be lessened by adjusting bridge height and neck relief.
Break angle 3 can only be adjusted very slightly by using locking tuners since there are no string guides.
It's ordinarily the tailpiece more than anything else that makes a big difference with Les Paul string tension.
This is, by the way, why some players will wrap the plain strings (G, B and high-E) around the tailpiece. By doing this, the height of the string when leaving the tailpiece is closer to that of the string saddle itself. Some Les Paul players swear by this method and say it makes a big difference. Bear in mind that over time that strings will leave marks on the tailpiece. Also know that the break angle will be different from plain to wound strings. String buzzing may happen, and you may need to reintonate and adjust neck relief. You also have the option of top wrapping all the strings, but again, know that those strings will mar the tailpiece. You may want to buy a separate tailpiece (very affordable) to top-wrap with if you want to keep your original in good condition.
Where does less string tension matter most?
Answer: "Full" chords and bending notes.
If you like where your string height is but just wish you could hold chords easier and/or bend strings a little easier, that's where less tension is the answer - especially if you've tried lighter gauge string but that didn't work out.
There are thin core guitar strings by GHS (for both electric and acoustic) which absolutely do help for easier chording, but not for note bending.
Where the note bends are concerned, examine every break angle and adjust the ones you can. If your nut slots are cut correctly and everything else checks out, do your best to decrease break angles where possible, and this may make your guitar much easier to play. It certainly worked for my Fender.