Top-wrapping a Stop tailpiece, and the results of trying it...

Discussion in 'Musical Instruments' started by Eywadude, Jan 14, 2018.

  1. Eywadude

    Eywadude Lunatic Member

    Messages:
    14,713
    Location:
    Ontario, Canada
    So, I've known about top-wrapping for years now, as well as its supposed benefits, but for whatever reason, I've just never bothered trying it. Many times when changing strings, the thought of top-wrapping my Stop tailpiece had crossed my mind. Well, today was finally the day.

    This morning I restrung my 1968 SG Standard with my favorite .010-.046 Fender Pure Nickel 150R strings (utter sacrilege on a Gibson, I know) and I couldn't believe what a difference it made. Top-wrapping is supposed to offer "better tone", more clarity, better harmonic overtones, as well as rainbows, unicorns and fairy dust, etc. It's also said to give your guitar's strings a "slinkier" feel (i.e. easier to bend notes, finger vibrato, etc.), because of the reduced angle of the strings going over the back of the Tune-O-Matic bridge, due to the top-wrapping of the strings on the Stop tailpiece.

    Before I tried it though, I actually decided to be diligent and took a bit of an objective approach to any supposed benefits it might have. Before I top-wrapped my guitar, I put fresh strings on and restrung it normally (non-top-wrapped) with the same .010-.046 Fender Pure Nickel 150R's and played it a good while to get a good sense of what it sounded like with a fresh set of strings on it. After a good couple hours of playing, I stripped them off and put a new set of strings on (the same kind), but top-wrapped the Stop tailpiece.

    Well, after trying the top-wrap today it most certainly made a difference with this guitar. I have Wolfetone Marshallhead P.A.F.-style pickups in it, and I always found them to be a little on the dark side, but with the top-wrap, it seems to have livened the sound up a bit. I was a little skeptical beforehand, but there seems to be something to it.

    To my ears, surprisingly, it now has slightly more harmonic overtones and note definition, notes seem to be a little more articulate, and the harmonics are more pronounced and complex. I believe this is partly due to the lower tension and reduced string angle going over the back of the bridge that allows some of the strings behind the bridge to vibrate and resonate, adding to the overall tonal complexity.

    However, a few other interesting things have happened as well.

    First, is the amount of sustain the guitar now has. I would say the sustain has actually nearly doubled in comparison to the way it was normally strung. Honestly. Notes just seem to bloom and hold on much longer now, which was an unexpected surprise considering how it always seems to be said that a steeper string angle and added tension over the bridge is supposed to offer more sustain and vibrational transmission into the body.

    Secondly, is the amount of actual physical vibration the guitar now has. The neck now vibrates like a tuning fork, and with certain notes, the body vibrates so much that it vibrates my organs! At one point I actually had to adjust playing my guitar with a different angle against my body, because after a large meal the vibration was making me nauseous! I know that sounds totally insane, but seriously! lol :confused:

    And thirdly, the tonality of the midrange oddly seems to have shifted upward slightly. The Wolfetone pickups I have in this guitar always had more of a darker, lower-mid sound to them, but now they have an almost mid to upper-mid focus to their sound, as well as a slight bit more treble. The shift in the tonality of midrange is the most surprising thing about this experiment, and was quite unexpected. The midrange also has an ever so slightly more "vocal" quality to it now as well, which I actually like, but I am still getting used to the overall shift in its midrange tonality.

    The interesting thing about this experiment is that top-wrapping is also supposed to give the strings a looser, more "slinky" feel to them, but for whatever reason I found it to be the exact opposite! This guitar is actually slightly stiffer and more difficult to play now! It's the oddest thing. One would think that the decreased string angle and lower tension would created a looser feel, but for whatever reason, that just hasn't been the case. Again, yet another odd and unexpected result from top-wrapping the Stop tailpiece on this guitar.

    In addition, as mentioned, the decreased string angle and tension on the bridge has caused some of the strings behind the bridge to ring like a harp. While this seems to add harmonics to notes and chords, the downside is that it has also added an unwanted, sympathetic ringing in certain unplayed strings while playing, which has taken a bit of an adjustment to get used to and compensate for. My dear old 1965 SG Standard (that I regretfully no longer have :() had similar issues due to the lower string angle of its Lyre vibrola, but not quite as much as this guitar after top-wrapping it.

    Also, after top-wrapping this guitar, it seems to have a little less pick attack, which I don't like. Pick attack is quite an overlooked and misunderstood part of the tonal puzzle, and for me, is also a big part of my overall tone.

    Anyway, to sum up, for me, this experiment has been a mixed bag of results...

    Things I like:

    - More sustain
    - Slightly better note definition and articulation
    - Accentuated and more complex harmonic overtones
    - Better transmission of string vibration into the body
    - Slightly more "vocal" (honky) quality of the midrange

    Things I don't like:

    - Sympathetic vibrational ringing of unplayed strings
    - Stiffer string action/slightly harder to play
    - Slightly softened sense of pick attack

    What I am not sure of:

    - The upwards shift in the overall midrange tonality. I am still very much getting used to that aspect of this experiment. It sounds like a bit of a different guitar now and only time will tell if I truly like it or not.


    Anyway, what about you guys? What have been the results of top-wrapping your guitars? Did you see drastic results like I did?

    TBH, I didn't think it was going to make a huge difference at all. Some aspects I like, but some I don't. I like the added sustain and slight rise in clarity, harmonic complexity, and midrange "honk", but I don't like the ringing of strings behind the bridge, stiffer action and softened pick attack. I would still like to perhaps mess around with different strings and string gauges, and whatnot, but only time will tell what they will do to perhaps "enhance" the tone of this guitar.

    Regardless, this has been an interesting experiment, and is one that is still very much something to tinker with. I would encourage any of you reading to try top-wrapping if you haven't tried it already to see what it does to your own guitar, if anything at all. My results may be more on the more extreme end of what can be expected(?), but you should give it a go to see what it does for you. After all, experimentation is the fuel for discovering tone, so give it a shot. ;)
     
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2018

     

    Please register to disable this ad.

  2. Eywadude

    Eywadude Lunatic Member

    Messages:
    14,713
    Location:
    Ontario, Canada
    Here's a few pics. Please excuse the worn out sofa though. :oops: Unfortunately, the bridge and tailpiece are not original to the guitar and I'd like to have them replaced with much better quality aged nickel pieces (nickel hardware wasn't factory installed on '68 SG's, but I prefer the look), but that's what's on there for now.

    IMG_0554.JPG
    IMG_0555.JPG
    IMG_0557.JPG

    I also threaded some old ball ends I had lying around onto the strings where they exit the back of the Stop tailpiece, which helps to keep the strings from biting in and wearing a groove at the back of it over time. I forgot to install one on the D-string though, so please excuse me. It was my first time doing this. ;)

    IMG_0558.JPG
     
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2018
    vonclod and JParry335 like this.
  3. Farmhand

    Farmhand Super Member

    Messages:
    1,265
    Location:
    Maine
    Thanks for the report, Ewaydude. I've been thinking of trying the top-wrap on my Jay Turner Les Paul copy. Like you, I appreciate some midrange "honk" and sustain but I don't want the behind-the-bridge string ring. Plus I like to palm-mute at the bridge and don't want the strings carving my hand like a Sunday roast.
    Good idea about the ball-ends- I've wondered about the wear at the wrap point. Seems like a hard spot and prone to breakage.
    My guitar is a few months away from its annual string change and I'll give the top-wrap a whirl so we can compare notes. ;)
    BTW, I've been pondering whether I should switch to an SG. I always veer toward a very 70s Leslie West/Dickie Betts kind of sound so I stick with the Paul.
     
    JParry335 likes this.
  4. Eywadude

    Eywadude Lunatic Member

    Messages:
    14,713
    Location:
    Ontario, Canada
    You're welcome. Glad to share what my own objective findings were with everyone. :)

    Give it a whirl on your Jay Turser LP. You might not hear all the same effects as I did with your own guitar (after all, every guitar is different), but I say anything is worth a try. You'll never know until you give it a go. ;):)

    As for the behind-the-bridge string ringing, I have thought about weaving some silicone tubing, or some other kind of deadening material between the strings to help keep them from ringing. It might not look the prettiest, but for experimentation sake, it might be worth a shot. The only thing I worry about is it potentially damping the added harmonic complexity that the strings behind the bridge seem to help impart on the overall tone. I believe the decreased string tension plays a part in the complexity as well, but the strings behind the bridge seem to be the main contributor it seems to me. That in itself will be interesting to play around with.

    As far as palm muting, I'd actually say that top-wrapping is actually more comfortable. That's one thing I could have mentioned in my original post. The string angle is decreased compared to the traditional way of stringing a Stop tail, so I find it tends to be less of a break angle at the back of the bridge area, and creates a nice place to put your hand. Although, it could change the "feel" of palm muting the strings though. Not so much comfort-wise, but the decreased string angle may perhaps change they position of your hand slightly so you may (or may not) have to compensate your palming technique a little. I was a little concerned with how top-wrapping might feel, myself as well. I thought it might feel a little more cumbersome, but it's really been a non-issue for me so far.

    I'd say if you like the Dicky Betts sound though, then an SG might be a worthwhile addition. Some people find SG's and Les Pauls to be identical-sounding, but I am not in that camp at all. SG's tend to have a slightly upper-midrange sound to them and can also have a bit more treble output. They generally don't have the same low end girth as Les Pauls, and tend to stand out in the mix a bit more. Personally, I like the sound of both.

    However, classic Leslie West tones are more associated with guitars loaded with P-90's in them. In his classic years with Mountain he used a 1956 (I believe) Les Paul Jr. and a late 60's Flying V with the humbuckers removed, and a single P-90 loaded in the bridge position. So if you like his tones I'd maybe try having a look at a P-90-loaded guitars as well. Although, his amplification had a large part to do with his tone, especially. He is synonymous with using Sunn Coliseum P.A. heads and cabs that created his signature tone. He used Marshalls as well, but his Sunn heads and cabs were the key to the classic Leslie West tone. Because of that, it's a hard tone to nail 100% accurately, especially at lower volumes. But regardless, P-90's are pretty awesome in their own right. I've come to discover recently that some of my all-time favorite guitar tones were recorded with P-90's. Leslie's tone was a damn good one too.

    Cheers.
     
    Last edited: Jan 15, 2018
    JParry335 likes this.
  5. JParry335

    JParry335 AK Subscriber Subscriber

    Messages:
    290
    Location:
    Scottsdale, AZ
    I only have done this with one guitar. A while back I picked up a Gibson Les Paul 60's Tribute with P90's.
    The previous owner had done some things to it that included putting a roller type bridge in place of the stock Tuneamatic.
    They had the tailpiece set up pretty high and on my 335 I slammed the tailpiece all the way down.
    I couldn't get it all the way down on the LP because the strings would hit the back of the bridge so I top-wrapped it.
    Almost all of my electrics are strung up with Skinny Top - Heavy Bottom strings. .010 to .052.
    The top-wrapping definitely made a big difference in the tension of the strings making them feel much more slinky.
    While I didn't notice anywhere near as much sonically as you did, I was happy with the feel.
    That is a sweet looking SG that you have there!
    Any sound clips?
     
  6. turnitdown

    turnitdown Well-worn member Subscriber

    Messages:
    1,845
    Location:
    Tallahassee, FL
    Do you still have the same intonation? It seems that moving the strings to top-wrapping changes their length. But I don't really know.
     
    JParry335 likes this.

     

    Please register to disable this ad.

  7. Farmhand

    Farmhand Super Member

    Messages:
    1,265
    Location:
    Maine
    Top-wrapping only changes the break angle between the tailpiece and the saddles, distance from the saddles to the nut remains the same.
     
  8. JParry335

    JParry335 AK Subscriber Subscriber

    Messages:
    290
    Location:
    Scottsdale, AZ
    See below. This is truth!

    Thanks Farmhand!
     
    turnitdown likes this.
  9. turnitdown

    turnitdown Well-worn member Subscriber

    Messages:
    1,845
    Location:
    Tallahassee, FL
    Thanks, that had me thinking.
     
  10. louisjames

    louisjames The "real" Louis James Subscriber

    Messages:
    1,910
  11. restorer-john

    restorer-john Addicted Member

    Messages:
    5,731
    Location:
    Australia
    I know nothing about guitars, but I found this thread fascinating. :)
     
    spark1 and Eywadude like this.

     

    Please register to disable this ad.

  12. vonclod

    vonclod AK Subscriber Subscriber

    Messages:
    1,429
    Location:
    Vancouverish
    I might have to try this, just changed strings on my new favorite but can try on another that I have in dropped d.
     
    Eywadude likes this.
  13. Mystic

    Mystic We're all born mad

    Messages:
    36,674
    Location:
    Ligne Maginot
    Last edited: Apr 1, 2018
  14. Mystic

    Mystic We're all born mad

    Messages:
    36,674
    Location:
    Ligne Maginot
    As for top-wrapping, I only do it, as one must, on the Gibson electrics which lack the ABR bridge device. no top-wrapping of stop TPs behind a tune-a-matic bridge. At least not as far as I can recall. Mybe I'll give it a whirl, who knows, I might like the effect?
     
  15. Mystic

    Mystic We're all born mad

    Messages:
    36,674
    Location:
    Ligne Maginot
  16. Eywadude

    Eywadude Lunatic Member

    Messages:
    14,713
    Location:
    Ontario, Canada
    Sorry for not replying earlier, everyone. Just recently, I just lost the best friend I've ever had, so I've been grieving lately.

    Yeah, it's funny about the strings being a bit stiffer on mine after the top-wrap. I don't even know what to make of that. Doesn't make sense. For my guitar, it is what it is though. As far as the sonics with mine goes, I was surprised to hear how much changed with top-wrapping it. It wasn't like going from a Danelectro to a '59 Les Paul or anything, but the changes were subtle and even quite noticeable. However, this was just a single case with a single guitar. It might be a bit of a stretch to expect everything that happened with mine, but then again, you might be surprised.

    And thanks! I like the look of it too. I generally like the look of a small guard SG, but the stripped finish looks killer with the larger guard. It's what drew me to the guitar right away. Since it's stripped and doesn't have the original pickups, bridge/tail or tuners, I'd like to do a few things to make it just right, but it's still a great guitar.

    As for the sound clips, I don't really have the equipment to do a proper recording right now. That, and my upload speeds are garbage in my area, so I rarely do any uploading at all, other than a few images at a time. It would have been interesting to record the before and after, but unfortunately, capturing such subtleties isn't always easy.

    Yeah, I tend to use 10-46's on 24 3/4" scale length guitars. I like lighter strings on my guitars anyway though. I just much prefer the tone of them. But that's subjective of course. I generally like 9's on Fender scale length guitars like my Squier '51 and 10's on Gibson scale lengths. I have heard about 9.5's being "the ticket" for Gibson Les Pauls especially (particularly original P.A.F.-loaded ones). I have yet to try them though. I'd really like to find a set in pure nickels though, as that's what I like.

    The more I have read about some of the guitar greats though, the more I have learned that they actually used very light gauge strings, and not heavier ones to get their legendary tones (Jimmy Page and Jimi Hendrix being just a couple of them). And I mean 8's and even 7's (as was the case with Billy Gibbons). I have a set of 7's and 8's (the 7's are a Dunlop Billy Gibbons set) that I have yet to try too, but I will soon enough. I wanted to use a set of them to top-wrap my SG, but I wanted to stick with what I know (and what I know I like) to keep any changes in the tone on a level playing field. Cool site BTW! Thanks for posting.

    Awesome! Glad you enjoyed. Do you play another instrument?

    Yeah, I just prefer lighter gauge strings, and not just because they are easier to play. For me, I just find them to have more tone, more definition, less "wooliness" in the wound strings, and they just tend to cut through and project in a way that I really prefer. Give them a go. I have tried heavier strings on all my guitars, but I've always taken them off within hours. Just don't like 'em. Give lighter strings a shot and see what you think. I'd like to hear your thoughts on them.

    Yep, give it a go! You'll never know if you'll like something until you try. ;)
     
    Last edited: Jan 20, 2018

     

    Please register to disable this ad.

  17. Eywadude

    Eywadude Lunatic Member

    Messages:
    14,713
    Location:
    Ontario, Canada
    With all this talk about strings, I really should make a thread/post about my favorite strings of all-time: the Fender Pure Nickel 150's. I've tried everything. You name 'em, I've tried 'em, and the Fender Pure Nickels just made every guitar I own absolutely sing with tone and harmonics. I might get around to posting that one day. Kinda' not been feeling the best lately.
     
  18. Eywadude

    Eywadude Lunatic Member

    Messages:
    14,713
    Location:
    Ontario, Canada
    So has anyone here tried top-wrapping your guitar(s) since reading this thread? I'd be interested to see if you heard any sound changes after top-wrapping the tailpiece. Cheers! :)
     
  19. philo426

    philo426 Super Member

    Messages:
    2,400
    I have to try that on the next string change. J Parry does this look familia 1522449221964.jpg r?
     
    JParry335 and Eywadude like this.
  20. Celt

    Celt Peanut Head Staff Member Super Mod

    Messages:
    37,609
    Location:
    Paragould, Arkansas
    Excellent thread!
     
    Eywadude likes this.

Share This Page