This issue: Pickup power, odd action and a guitar fit for battle
GOING UP A DEAD END
I recently bought a new Les Paul Standard. I’m generally pretty happy with it – it plays nicely and sounds great (and looks fantastic) but there’s one thing that’s bugging me. Now, I don’t venture up the ‘dusty end’ too much – I’m mostly a rhythm player, but I’ve noticed (mainly on the G string) that above the 12th fret and becoming more noticeable the higher you go, there is a distinct lack of sustain and some odd overtones creeping in. Any ideas what could be causing it and how I can cure the problem? I would be grateful for any advice. Paul Green, via email If the guitar is new you might want to have your dealer check it over. If you want to do it yourself, the first thing you need to determine is if this problem is caused by dead spots or something else. A dead spot is an area on the fingerboard where a note has way less or no sustain compared to its neighbours. You want funk, but you get thunk…
It actually affects bassists more than guitarists. Dead spots are hard to shift but look on the bright side, your action could be too low or you might just have dud strings. When you’re ready, swap them out for a decent set and see if the problem is reduced or goes away. By the way, going up a gauge in strings has helped some poor folk in the fight against dead spots. You could try that.
You may have a high fret that’s choking the notes. Try peering down the fingerboard from the headstock end to see if there are any obvious bumps in the frets nearest the body. Try raising the action a little and see if that increases sustain. If you’re not sure what to look for or do, take the guitar to a qualified luthier or repair bod.
Your pickups might be too close to the strings. Unless they’re active, pickups can exert a magnetic pull on strings if they’re set too high. Pull the neck pup down a bit and check if that works.
Also, ensure that all hardware is secure, as you might be getting an unsympathetic rattle from a loose machinehead or bridge saddle, and make sure the truss rod isn’t rattling around in its slot, which can cause unwelcome vibrations.
Finally, if all else fails and you’re just glad that the problem is confined to the part of the neck that you visit the least, consider this. Fender manufacture a thing called the Fat Finger, a hunk of metal that clamps onto your guitar’s headstock. The idea is the extra mass increases sustain and can improve dead spots. Some bassists swear by the Fat Finger. Others say it moves the problem to another fret. You’ll get one for less than £20, so it’s always worth a punt.
A PLANK FOR ALL SEASONS
I’m just about to start playing in a covers band, and I have a couple of nice custom guitars. However, I don’t really want to use them while defending myself against rowdy wedding guests.
Pickup height can affect sustain