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Add String Trees
Once the guitar is strung and the nut is slotted, it’s time to install the string trees.
- Suspend the string tree over its corresponding pair of strings to determine where you want to position it (Photo 30). Typically, it’s midway between the tuner post and the nut.
- With a sharp-tipped tool, mark a pilot hole, countersink it, and drill the screw hole. Follow the procedures you used for drilling holes for the tuner mounting screws. Remember to measure screw depth and mark your drill bit so you don’t go too far into the headstock.
- Set string tree height. String trees only need to apply enough downward pressure to keep the high strings firmly in their slots as they stretch back toward the tuners. Stand-offs—washer-like cylinders that fit between the tree and the headstock—of different heights allow you to precisely adjust a tree’s downward pressure. To get the height I wanted, I clipped a brass ball-end from a bass string in half and use this as a stand-off (Photo 31).
Tip: Some necks require a pair of string trees—one on strings 1 and 2, and a second on strings 3 and 4—to keep the strings from buzzing in their slots. Other necks only need a tree on the top two strings. A sitar-like buzz or lack of sustain when you play an open string can indicate the need for a string tree.
With the neck, tuners, nut, and string trees installed, it’s time to make the final adjustments and fine-tune the guitar’s playability. Here’s the correct order for a setup:
- Tune to pitch. In this case, the owner’s preferred baritone tuning is B–E–A– D–F#–B, low to high.
- Adjust the truss rod, if necessary. After the strings have been tuned to pitch for a while, a truss rod may require one more adjustment.
- Adjust the height of the bridge saddles. Set the action based on the guitar’s original measurements, while taking into account the new, heavier baritone strings. The saddles should curve in an arc that mirrors the fretboard radius.
- Adjust the action at the string nut. You may have gotten it just right when you cut the nut slots, but it’s worth checking again. Sometimes a stroke or two with the nut file can settle a string in a perfect arc with its neighbors.
- Adjust pickup height (Photo 32). It’s imperative that the pickups are set to the correct height. Well-adjusted pickups deliver a consistent volume as you switch between pickup positions.
- Adjust intonation (Photo 33). This final part of the setup process involves moving the saddles either toward or away from the neck. With an electronic tuner, bring each string to pitch. Starting with the 1st string, play the 12th-fret harmonic and then fret the same note. If the fretted note is sharp, move the saddle away from the neck. Conversely, if the fretted note is flat, move the saddle toward the neck. Make small adjustments and retune each time you do. Repeat this process until the 12th-fret harmonics and fretted notes match on all six strings.
Tip: When you raise pickups too close to the strings—especially Fender-style single-coils with barrel-magnet pole pieces—the magnetic pull can interfere with a string’s vibrations and cause tuning problems. For vintage-style Tele pickups, Fender recommends a 6/64" space between the 6th string and its pole piece, and a 5/64" gap for the 1st string. Use this as a starting point, and then finetune the distance by ear.
Tip: Many Tele fanatics insist that, although a vintage 3-saddle bridge doesn’t intonate as well as a fully adjustable 6-saddle version, the vintage design offers more volume and sonic girth. To intonate a 3-saddle bridge, the trick is to find the saddle location that offers the best compromise for each pair of strings. For even better results, you can buy pre-compensated brass saddles that make it much easier to intonate a 3-saddle Tele bridge.
Out the Door
Compared to other baritone conversions I’ve done in the past, this one was hassle-free. Kudos to Warmoth—they built an excellent neck for this conversion and made my job easy. I was able to avoid any dreaded irreversible modifications, and the owner was thrilled with his new, deep-twanging baritone Tele.