String Trees Demystified

Hello there, in this article, I would like to talk about string trees! Contrary to some people who have a sense of humour on the internet, string trees are not trees that your strings grow on 🙂

What is a String Tree?

String trees (a.k.a string retainers, string guides) are usually found on Stratocaster or Telecaster type of guitars and they are located on the headstock area.

Depending on the guitar, you may see a single, double or as a string retainer bar as you would come across on Ibanez guitars that are equipped with Floyd Rose tremolo systems.

What do string trees do on your guitar?

The main function of string trees is to increase the strings’ break angle which is the angle of an individual string going over the nut. This increased angle ensures that those strings don’t break out from the nut as well as they have increased tension so they are more evenly tense along with other strings.

So in short, it prevents string slippage from the nut by increasing the break angle and even out the tension of the affected strings.

Some people also claim that it improves the tone and sustain. Please keep reading as I will be sharing a video that I have made for this experiment, then you will be able to decide for yourself if they really improve tone and sustain.

Do all guitars need string trees?

Obviously no! It all comes down to how a particular headstock has been designed along with the type of tuners being staggered or inline in the first place.

Guitars that don’t feature string tree(s) have usually a headstock that is tilted backwards at a specific angle from the neck which naturally provides the break angle we are talking about.

However, for Fender’s Stratocaster and Telecaster designs which feature a flat headstock with inline tuners (sometimes staggered tuners), you can easily observe that high strings have a longer distance to travel from the tuner post to the nut which lowers the break angle down to an almost flat angle.

Do string trees affect the intonation?

No! String trees have nothing to do with guitar intonation.

Your guitar’s intonation is purely based on the string length between the nut and the bridge. By adjusting the length of the strings from your bridge, you are actually trying to divide an individual string in half and match the exact halves with respected octaves so all the notes are in different octaves have the same pitch!

In this equation, string trees are not in the game, however, an awful string tree may create a hassle while adjusting the intonation if they don’t allow strings to move freely.

String tree or not?

They definitely have a function! 🙂 However, my personal experience with them was almost always bad!

For cheaper, entry-level Strat clones, it was almost always the first part that caused tuning problems. When I had my SX SST62 Stratocaster clone, the first thing I did was to remove the string trees of D and G strings and upgrade the nut to a Graph Tech one.

The break angle was lowered dramatically, however, since Graph Tech nut just fit to this guitar and (way higher than the factory one) it also increased the angle a bit and helped me to play this very entry-level instrument for a while without a serious problem.

You may say “Well, this is a cheap clone, what do you expect?”

The comparison video that I have prepared for you actually features my Fender American Standard Stratocaster.

I have been recently having a problem with the string tree also on a US-made Strat!

My Stratocaster which was made in 2013 features a single string tree with E and B strings.

I use this guitar with a floating tremolo set up and use Big Bends Nut Sauce (a kind of lubricant for guitar nuts), but even with that, the string tree sometimes generates really annoying, tickling noises when I use the bar.

It sometimes goes away, sometimes comes back again which is really annoying! That actually shows that there’s still friction or a type of string snapping happening there.

My Stratocaster also features a set of staggered tuners.

For those who don’t know what a staggered tuner is, they are actually a set of tuners featuring different heights for each post.

That means the tuner for the furthest string from the nut which is the high E string has the shortest height so it naturally creates an angle from the post.

But still, without a string tree, E and B strings seem to need a little bit of push down to increase the angle.

So basically, I see them as an extra friction point, and I would prefer playing the guitar which doesn’t feature them. But for Strats and Teles, they have to be there somehow…

Can I remove string trees on my guitar and still be safe?

Depending on the angle added by the height of the nut (which would be very minimal), you can actually remove your string trees and have a go!

As I did with my SX SST62 Stratocaster, I was able to play it with a single string tree and even sometimes removed all string trees just to try. Like I have mentioned above, Graph Tech nut was really high so I believe it helped with the angle.

But with my US Strat, it actually failed. I can not say the tone was completely terrible or the sustain did not exist as soon as I removed the string tree. But I can easily say that I was able to snap the high E string! That’s why I strongly believe they have a function! 🙂

Do string trees improve guitar tone?

Many people suggest that they have an effect on the tone as they are in touch with at least E and B strings. I also BELIEVED that they would have a dramatic effect on the overall sound, however before believing in something, it’s always better to try and hear the difference!

They may improve and degrade the tone depending on what you are after, but how many per cent? 15%, 37% or 0.005%?

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The String Tree Experiment

In order to avoid that tickling noise that happened sometimes with my Fender Strat, I decided to get a string tree with wheels, a.k.a. roller string tree by Göldo company.

To be honest, I didn’t really go mental with choice, just picked up the one at Thomann and wanted to experiment with it.

For those who never heard of Göldo, they are a German company manufacturing many guitar parts and accessories such as pickups, electronics, switches, pots, pickguard, fret wires, bridges and many more. Their products are always affordable and guarantee high value/money purchases.

For the test, I played a clean arpeggio on the 4th pickup position and theme of “All Your Love” with on the 2nd pickup position on my Strat.

There are 3 main parts that cover no string tree, Fender factory string tree and Göldo roller string tree.

I tried to play “All Your Love” theme featuring all strings, not just E and B strings only, but I also edited both clean and dirty parts of samples and added them to the end of the video, so you can actually hear E, B strings which have to deal with a string tree.

By playing all strings, I also tried to point that if any string tree or no string tree would affect the overall tone of the instrument.

No String Tree

Here are some close-up photos of no string tree headstock. Notice that E and B strings have a lower break angle than the rest that becomes visible on the sideways angle.

No String Trees?
No String Trees?

As I have mentioned, I was able to move the E string out of the nut slot by playing hard, so this phase was the least secure feeling one. I also noticed a slight difference in tension, but like said, I believe it’s very minimal still.

Fender String Tree

Next, we have the Fender factory string tree (the default one that caused me some problems).

No String Trees?
Fender String Tree

You can easily see how it pushes down the E and B string and increasing the break angle.

Göldo Roller String Tree

Lastly, we have the Göldo roller string tree which features dual wheels for E and B strings.

Göldo Roller String Tree
Göldo Roller String Tree

As you can see Göldo is higher than the stock Fender string tree which means we have a slightly smaller break angle.

Another note about the installation of Göldo: It comes with a 15mm long screw. Even though there are many positive user reviews about installing this on various Fender Strats/Teles, I did hesitate to put a screw on my guitar that is way longer than the factory one (almost half-length). It almost felt like I could even start a crack on the headstock, so I went for the short screw.

Also, the Fender string tree has a guide (my headstock has 2 holes for a single string tree) which fixes the string tree so when you tighten the screw, it doesn’t rotate.

But with Göldo, there was no guide so I had to push it sideways while I was tightening the screw.

Conclusion

As we have briefly had a look in the beginning, string trees increase the break angle thus the tension of strings that are under the influence of them, plus they are believed to improve sustain and tone.

To be honest, apart from their ability to help to keep the string in the respected nut slot, I wasn’t really able to hear a big difference.

I still agree with the fact that they affect the tension and the feel on the string, however, in my opinion, string trees only influence the guitar tone below 1% or so.

In my case, that tickling noise has gone, probably wheels on Göldo helped, but I don’t really feel like I have upgraded my Fender string tree to a better one with an audible outcome. There are slight audible differences between the 3 cases still.

But I think many people like to exaggerate the outcomes of changes they make to their guitars. Recently, I have switched to a different mindset which is really comforting and I recommend you to try this as well:

There are dozens of parameters on a single electric guitar along with your connection to the amplifying devices, it would be very accurate to say that every parameter will affect the overall tone, sensation and feeling of the instrument.

However, always ask “How many per cent improvement or change?” Changin a string tree may help with tuning issues but doesn’t necessarily mean it will also IMPROVE the tone drastically.

Or upgrading your capacitors on the electronics will probably help you dial better tones with your pots, but still “How many per cent improvement or change?”.

For cheaper components such as string trees, in this case, it is always going to be easier to experiment on your own. Don’t just buy a single one, buy different models, brands and try them on your guitar. It’s not going to damage the wallet a lot, but at the end of the day, you will be able to define what goes great with your instrument.

Hope this article has been beneficial for you! I spend a lot of time putting out content like this in here, so I would really appreciate it if you subscribe to my mailing list and keep in touch with me 🙂

Many thanks and see you in the next content!

Osman