Roller String Trees, is it really worth it?

Another of the El Cheapo guitars is my Tanglewood strat and story behind this one goes back a while; Once upon a time I had a lovely custom shop telecaster, abig ash bodied humbucker loaded custom shop one, the very same that Keef Richards used. I had to sell it in order

Jane

to eat in my last days at university. Even in those dark dog days I wanted to keep something Fenderish in my little stable. A few years later I was lucky enough to pickup a stupidly cheap Tanglewood branded Strat. It really is a junkocaster but it plays well and after a slightly tipsy eBay moment it gained a set of Kent Armstrong “Sky” lipstick tube pickups. From that day it has sounded bloody awesome.

Tuning stability has always been an issue with this guitar. The nut is fine, the vintage / traditional design trem returns to pitch well enough and the tuners suffice. The issue has always been the string trees. They are bloody hideous little bent bits of tin. I have tried the usual lubrication things, graphite, lip balm, a few swipes with a nut file to remove any burring that might be causing strings to catch. None of these easy fixes had ever worked. Eventually I got to thinking about roller trees and a finally got around to adding a few to my next order to Thomann.

Gotoh Silver Roller Trees fitted to Jane last night

In case you don’t know; string trees are used to bring strings over the nut at a more acute angle. The steeper the angle the better the sustain. A good acute angle should also prevent any rattle coming from behind the nut.

Some say string trees are bad idea. They claim that too much angle over the nut in conjunction with the damping effect of the trees themselves can actually suck tone. I disagree with this. A good, well cut nut should be negating just about everything happening on the headstock side of the nut. The “no tree” camp has followers who remove trees and rely on the washer / spacer effect of the strings spare winds around the tuning pegs to keep that all important break angle over the nut. You can also source machine heads with “staggered height” tuning pegs which deal with the break angle in a slightly more refined but mechanically similar way. I don’t agree with all the assertion that string trees loose tone. I only noticed a loss of sustain when I tried removing the trees altogether. I would also have thought that the heavy 10 – 52/54 string gauges I use would have coped with no trees better than the more common lighter gauges.

Going back to what causes lack of tuning stability: String trees definitely add extra points of friction. This means that strings can bind causing pitch to jump both during the tuning process and during playing. I have run into these “pinging” issues on just about every string tree equipped guitar I have owned. Some guitars were actually so bad that strings could actually snap below the tree due to sharp edges. I do tend to press down on strings behind the nut to achieve a pseudo pedal steel single note bend in a chord type of effect. That kind of abuse might have something to do with why trees cause me so much trouble.

The answer?

Roller trees; Less friction than bent tin and the same general effect on string angle. Easy eh?

Oh and fitting them?

Unscrew old trees, screw in new trees and retune. It’s a 30 second job.

Since the replacements the guitars tuning has been rock solid. Even when abusing the trem.

Verdict? Very worthwhile upgrade for the money.

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