Low string tension on a JM?

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invisible man
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Low string tension on a JM?

Post by invisible man » Wed Nov 24, 2021 7:19 am

I had surgery in May 2020 on my left elbow and wrist to relieve pressure on my nerves at the ulnar tunnel and carpal tunnel. Earlier, nerve conduction tests were performed, results were too small to measure accurately, showing I required the surgery. The muscles in my left arm below the elbow and hand atrophied extensively while I waited months for a surgery date during the pandemic. It took many months to slowly recover a fraction of my former strength. The strength in my hand is significantly reduced from what it once was and may never be as strong as before.

I have a Road Worn Jazzmaster with Mastery bridge, USA vibrato and Staytrem arm/collet upgrades I got a few years before this medical situation occurred. It has been set up with Daddario 0.11 roundwounds. I just played my first show in 7 years, a very low key gig at a remote venue. I made a lot of mistakes, some of which I attribute to being nervous, and some to string tension being too high relative to my reduced hand strength. Also I practiced mostly sitting down and performed standing up, which changed my ergonomics. I also didn’t help I hauled a 70 pound Fender Pro Reverb (1980) to the show, and white-knuckled the steering wheel going up some winding mountain highways narrowed for construction and full of semi-trucks. Those things took a toll on the nerves and muscles of my hand that day. I think I will sell this amp, look for a Deluxe Reverb.

Given all of the above, I think I need to reduce string tension on my JM. I know the consensus is to use higher tension on the offset bridge/vibrato unit, and to do otherwise is to invite buzz and problems. Are there any tips and tricks for avoiding such problems when moving to lighter string gauges? I am guessing a significant neck shim, raised bridge, maybe a little higher action? I want to try flatwounds on it, haven’t looked to see if lighter gauge flatwounds exist. I know switching to a different guitar style without the offset bridge/vibrato unit is the most obvious move, but I am a citizen of OSG, and will not give those things up so easily.

I also have a VM Bass VI with LaBella flats I played for two songs, don’t think I can change the tension much on this. Some of my material is some intricate fingerpicking, might be better on an acoustic anyway. I want to upgrade my cheap acoustics (steel and nylon) to acoustic electrics, so maybe I can switch up my instruments during shows, have more variety, and more time on a lower tension instrument (especially nylon string). Then I could bring out the electrics for specific songs more appropriate for them sound wise.
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adamrobertt
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Re: Low string tension on a JM?

Post by adamrobertt » Wed Nov 24, 2021 7:45 am

Well, shimming and raising the bridge will increase the feeling of tension (although not literal tension - that's determined by the string material and the length of the string - what we're talking about here is actually called "compliance). Flats generally have higher tension overall, also, so I wouldn't really recommend switching to them in your case.

Since you already have a Mastery, I'd say you should just try switching to lighter strings and see how it goes. There may not be much you'll have to do to tweak your setup, aside from adjusting the truss rod and probably re-calibrating the vibrato spring.

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Re: Low string tension on a JM?

Post by andy_tchp » Wed Nov 24, 2021 8:17 pm

Just put some .010s or .009s on there as is and see how you go.

You may need to adapt your fretting technique to lighten your touch to keep things sounding in tune. A lighter touch will probably be beneficial given the nerve issues you raised in the OP.

Good luck.
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Re: Low string tension on a JM?

Post by MatthewK » Wed Nov 24, 2021 9:44 pm

I don't know if your guitar's had a pro setup, but unless you are experienced at doing that yourself, it could be a good place to start. Things like getting the exact right relief, precisely cut nut, matching saddle radius to neck radius, etc might bring the action right down and make fretting much easier. As Andy says the difference will require you to adjust your technique, but using different picks etc might help - even try finger playing, which is much less likely to unseat strings. You might also file deeper grooves on the saddles so the strings stay seated under less tension, or something like a Staytrem if that's affordable. Good luck as well!

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Re: Low string tension on a JM?

Post by timtam » Wed Nov 24, 2021 10:55 pm

String tension is determined entirely by scale length, tuned frequency, and string mass per unit length (~gauge squared). Playing "feel" is also affected by string stiffness - the string's resistance to length change (the inverse of compliance), eg when fretting and bending. Stiffness is partly due to string tension, but also affected by things like friction at the nut and bridge. So reducing things like string break angle can reduce string-saddle friction and thus stiffness. Mastery saddles are also treated to reduce that friction.

Fortunately your fixed Mastery requires almost the opposite setup to the vintage-style rocking bridge. So low string-saddle friction as we said ... so less shim (lower break angle) and lower string tension (lower gauge). So I would just go down to 10s, see how that goes. And if OK then maybe try 9s.

The lowest possible action should also make fretting feel easier, even though stiffness is unchanged .. because you are not having to push that stiff string down as far to get it onto the fret. If you play on the lower frets a lot, the lowest possible nut slots/first fret action can make fretting there feel substantially easier.

A jag might also be an option for you ? At 24" scale, it will have lower string tension (and stiffness) at any gauge and tuning.

If accessible, a hand therapist experienced with musicians should be able to advise you on exercises/technique changes specific to carpal/ulnar tunnel syndrome rehab.
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Re: Low string tension on a JM?

Post by higgsblossom » Thu Nov 25, 2021 4:41 am

I have problems with the nerves in my left hand and changing to thinner strings was helping a lot with my playing, which overall got slower. I have adapted my style to this new situation, which at first freaked me out but now I'm used to.

I also got a Pro Hands Gripmaster, which helps a bit with finger strength. See https://chalkr.de/prohands-gripmaster-handtrainer.html
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Re: Low string tension on a JM?

Post by CorporateDisguise » Thu Nov 25, 2021 5:38 am

You can also try tuning down a half or full step. Pretty huge difference feel wise. When I had lymes in my mid twenties it caused some arthritic symptoms that made me unable to play for over a year. When I was finally strong enough to start playing again, I tuned to D standard, and it helped immensely. I still play in Eb because I prefer the feel.

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Re: Low string tension on a JM?

Post by garyfanclub » Sat Nov 27, 2021 8:36 am

CorporateDisguise wrote:
Thu Nov 25, 2021 5:38 am
You can also try tuning down a half or full step. Pretty huge difference feel wise. When I had lymes in my mid twenties it caused some arthritic symptoms that made me unable to play for over a year. When I was finally strong enough to start playing again, I tuned to D standard, and it helped immensely. I still play in Eb because I prefer the feel.
This x 100 -- Nylon string, tuned-down should be very manageable! Also a great excuse to experiment with some open tunings, which often sound great on a classical!

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Re: Low string tension on a JM?

Post by invisible man » Sat Nov 27, 2021 9:44 pm

Thanks for everyone’s replies, I will try some of these suggestions. My surgeon was really great, is former head of association of hand surgeons (a rotating position), but I was surprised when he said I would not need physical therapy, that my hand strength would return naturally as I used it. I have a feeling I should have been in physical therapy or using some strength training devices such as you have suggested over the course of this year and a half. I have used a lot of open tunings in the past (shout out sonicyouth.com tuning guide and johnfahey.com tuning guide), but was trying to get back into standard for the last year or so.
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