String trees. Have you ever wondered about what’s the role of these? Nailed and screwed on a guitar headstock, string trees often go unnoticed by many guitar players. Especially beginners.
Are string trees really necessary?
Well, it depends on the geometry of your guitar headstock. They are necessary for flat-style headstocks, as they provide a downward pressure needed to secure strings to stay in their nut slots.
However, for staggered tuners or tilted headstocks they are not necessary. Geometry of these creates an angle between nut and locking tuners that’s steep enough for strings to sit in their nut slots.
What Is The Purpose Of A String Tree?
The purpose of a string tree (on a flat headstock) is to create a downward pressure on a string. Why is that necessary? It is necessary for a string to sit still in its nut slot. String tree is placed on a headstock.
Behind the nut, the string travels to its tuner. It is important to ensure that the string itself will sit tight in its nut slot. Otherwise, the string may buzz. Also, when it’s played open, the string may not sound as loud as it should be.
Buzzing problem is perhaps one of the most common sound problem guitar players experience. Make sure you put necessary strings under the string tree. (If your guitar have flat headstock).
Why is string tree necessary to prevent buzzing? As it’s been said, it makes sure the string will sit in its nut slot. But let’s get a bit deeper in here.
A string tree ensures that the nut serves as a boundary point for a string wave. What does that mean? First of all, when you pluck a string, it acts like a wave. A wave is traveling along a string. You can look at the wave as an energy in motion.
When a wave travels along a string and reaches a boundary point (nut, when you play open string), there is potential for this energy to be reflected back, transferred through, or transmitted beyond.
If a string has suitable downward pressure and the rest point is broad enough, most of the energy will be reflected back. Of course, some energy will be transmitted through the neck, but it’s negligible. When the pressure is right, the energy transmitted beyond the nut will also be negligible.
On the other hand, if there’s not enough downward pressure to create a firm boundary point on the upper strings, the energy transmission beyond the nut will be significant.
What does that mean? When the boundary point of the wave is fixed and firm, there won’t be energy loss. Also, the phase of the wave will be inverted.
When the boundary point is loose (that happens with too low pressure), the energy loss will be significant. Also, the phase of the wave reflected back won’t be inverted.
If you want to know more about it, check out this anaylisis of strings, waves and harmonics, here. It’s from the University Of New South Wales in Sidney.
Also, check out the animation to get the sense of how boundaries work, here.
The bottom line is this. When there’s not enough pressure to keep the strings in their nut slots, the energy is dissipating. When the energy dissipates, the sound won’t be loud enough.
String trees prevent that energy loss by ensuring there’s enough downward pressure on strings. That way, strings will sit tight in their slots, making the nut firm enough to serve as a boundary point for a string wave.
Tuning Problems Caused By String Tree
You may experience tuning problems if you use a whammy bar, or do a lot of bending, very often. Why is that so? It may be because of the string tree. How?
It’s simple. When you use whammy bar, or when you bend a string, the tension between the string and the string tree changes. That change can cause the string to wear off faster. You may end up with the string slightly detuned after a certain times of bending, or tremolo dives.
Luckily, there is a solution to this problem.
There are different string trees available for a guitar. The most common ones are metal string trees in a butterfly or a disk shape. Metal string trees are also the ones with the lowest quality.
For a tuning problem, there are special types of string trees you can put on your guitar headstock. For example, roller type string trees. These have built-in rollers that are activated when bending or a tremolo dive is performed.
Those rollers ensure the friction between string and the string tree is low.
Also, there are string trees made out of graphite. Graphite is a material that’s smooth enough to prevent high friction between the string and the string tree.
You can choose whatever you want. Both of these types will do the work just fine.
Do You Need String Trees With Locking Tuners?
No. Usually, locking tuners are made with staggered posts. That means that the post for each string has different height.
Higher strings posts have their string holes lower in the tuner itself. Since the posts move further away from the nut with each string (from lower to higher), lower string holes provide steeper angle for each string.
The tuner geometry itself is sufficient to create enough pressure for higher strings. That way there’s enough pressure for strings to sit in their nut slots.
How To Create A Steeper Angle On A Flat Headstock?
Let’s say you have a flat style headstock with non-staggered tuners. Obviously, string tree is necessary for this setup. There has to be a downward pressure applied on a high E and B strings. That’s needed to make a steep angle. Otherwise they’ll buzz. Also, they won’t sustain much, and their sound will be too weak.
But is it possible to apply enough pressure on those strings without a string tree?
In fact, it is – to some extent. Here’s what you can do.
You can manipulate the angle if you wind the string around the tuner in a certain way. Wind the string downwards toward the headstock. That way, the angle relative to the fretboard will be as steep as possible.
You can do that if you don’t have any string tree at the moment. However, this trick may not be as efficient as it should be. Still, you can do it and see how it works for you.
String Trees – Final Thoughts
As you can see, string trees are necessary for a flat styled headstock guitars. If your guitar headstock is tilted, or if you have staggered tuners, then they may not be that necessary.
It all depends on a guitar geometry. If you notice the buzzing from your strings – then you probably need to install a string tree. It’s same with sound issues. If you experience your high E and B strings produce too weak sound, string tree is necessary.
It’s usually those small things that can make a significant difference.
Anyway, if you enjoyed reading this article, I’m more than happy about it.
Don’t forget to check out some other interesting articles I wrote on this site!
Cheers, and rock on!