Some guitar questions from a newbie

With the generous help of a more knowlegeable doper (you know who you are), I bought a guitar this past summer and have been learning to play. (The guitar looks like this.) I took an adult education class to get started a bit, slacked off for a little while, and now I’ve been teaching myself from a book. (This one.) It’s going well, I think, but I do have a few questions and no one around to ask. Oh, if only someone would show some interest in a guitar thread around here.

  1. I’m not quite sure what the book wants me to with the chords. The book kind of alternates between chords and melodies, (Is there another term for playing just one note at a time?) and there’s a CD to play along with. For the chords, the book shows the notes and has some sample rhythms to practice to (no CD tracks for those) and when I play along with the songs on the CD, there are no chords and I’m not sure what rhythm I’m supposed to play. Do I just play the sample rhythm, which seems too boring and easy, or do I follow the same rhythm as the melody?

  2. I made a bit of a pig’s breakfast of my first attempt at re-stringing, but only a bit. I had too much slack in the low E string, so I wound up with too many winds around the post and the string had to overlap itself. I probably over-corrected and don’t have enough turns on the next few strings, but they’re staying put for now. I had to take the back cover off the get the strings out, though; the trem block doesn’t line up with the hole in the cover. (I haven’t been bothering with the tremolo arm, yet; didn’t even have it screwed in. I just tried it, and I can move the block enough to probably get the strings out that way next time.) Is this a problem?

  3. It doesn’t sound quite right. I don’t know if I did something wrong on the restringing, or if my ear is just getting better. I’ve got a tuner, but I never thought to try it on anything but open strings before. When I play a note at the first fret, all six are reading a bit sharp. I know the saddles can be adjusted, but I think I may have got too light a string gauge. I’ve found a lot of cites that the setup needs adjusting when you change gauge, but I can’t find out what strings it came with. (I think I still have the old strings around, if that’s any help.) Would light strings (or something else I may have done) cause this, was it just not set up properly to begin with, and does anyone know what gauge strings come on a standard strat?

  4. Anything else a nearly-newbie needs to know?

First of all - good for you for all the progress.

Now - onto your issues:

  • I don’t know that book, but typically they are just trying to get you comfortable with chords and knowing where different single notes reside on the neck of a guitar in standard tuning.

  • I don’t have their CD to listen to, but books like that are typically not trying to get you to play rhythmically, only to strum the chord once or so underneath the single notes that are happening. Heck, for most beginners, just getting the next chord formed in time to strum it once correctly can be a chore.

  • If you do want to try rhythms, as I have said in a bunch of other threads, work on cool, cyclic rhythms like D G A G (think La Bamba) or G F C F (Bob Seger’s Night Moves) or E A D A (What I Like About You, sorta). Sit in front of your TV playing the guitar unplugged try to get the chords to come facilely - it will take a while, as in weeks or months - but you will get to a point where you can actually work on the rhythm, not struggle to form the chords. THat’s when things get more interesting and fun.

  • I totally appreciate your desire to change your own strings - I have newbies who come to me go through it with me so they learn - but you should NOT be doing it by yourself. You very well might’ve picked a string gauge that was not the same as the original strings and that can effect the in tune-ness (the intonation) of the guitar, since the whole “system” has been set up for that string gauge. Also, there are tricks - especially with a Strat that has a whammy bar, which floats / is not bolted down like a traditional bridge and therefore can make re-stringing and tuning more difficult, especially for a newbie. Take it to a music store, guitar tech or an experienced guitarist that you trust and have them look at it for you and adjust it. Beyond that, it makes no sense to speculate why the guitar doesn’t sound “right” until you get it re-strung correctly - I suspect that will address most of your issues. Most stock Fenders come with 9’s or 10’s on them (meaning: the high E string is a .009 or a .010 gauge, with the rest of the string in proportion - that is common guitarist lingo). I recommend 10’s because they are a little heavier and therefore less likely to be pulled out of tune as your fingers learn to form chords…

Beyond that - play what is fun and make sure you give yourself time to goof off as much as you pressure yourself to learn new stuff. When I was starting out I would play 15 minutes of exercises and 15 minutes rockin’ out playing cool riffs on one string. The point is to do whatever keeps you playing - if it feels like work you won’t stick with it…

Continued luck and stick with it - it can be so rewarding…

What’s the book you’re using? I’m having good luck with Hal Leonard’s Guitar Method w/ CD.

WordMan’s advice is excellent, of course. Get a tech to restring your guitar, and pay him or her a couple extra bucks to show you how to do it for yourself. Once you’ve seen it done correctly, you’ll be able to do it no problem.

For a Strat with a floating trem, there are a couple of ways to change the strings that keep the block aligned with the access hole in the back cover. Simplest way is to change one string at a time. The other five strings will hold enough tension so that the trem stays in place. It’s easier to retune that way too.

If you do need to remove all the strings first (maybe you’re cleaning the neck), get something that just fits the gap between the trem plate and the body. My guitar’s manual specifically mentions the handle of a standard toothbrush as being good for the job. You just want something that won’t mark up the finish. Whatever you use, it will hold the trem in the correct position against spring tension while you’ve got all the strings off.

If you want a nice reference for maintenance tips and tricks, check out Dan Erlewine’s Guitar Player Repair Guide. Tons of great info, including a DVD with a restringing lesson, among other things.

That book is smart - I don’t own it but have flipped through it. An industry standard.

**PR **is right about changing strings individually, but I never do that - I need to wipe down my guitars when I change strings and that is better done string-less…

With the bridge end of the string properly in place, make a nice crisp 90 degree bend in the string 1 1/2" past its tuner peg. Thread it through the hole in the peg and position it so the bend is just through the hole (i.e., gently pull the string back so the leg of the bend touches the peg). Wind it on. This should give the right amount of string wrap (the inch and a half works for all six strings). I make the first wrap go over the protruding leg of the string, then all others go under. This helps pinch the string end securely in place.

This is normal, and it’s because the strings stretch some when fretted. Some strings stretch more than others, which is why we have compensated (angled) bridges. If you hold the string to the top of the fret with your fingernail, you’ll see that there’s less stretch and less sharpness (maybe none) on the string. Of course you can’t play it with your nails like that, but the closer your fretting finger is to the fret, the less note distortion you’ll get.

I have a fender type bridge…but I modified it so the tremolo only goes up a whole note when used, so it also doesn’t miss align when I restring.

I loosen all the strings and cut em in the middle with pliers.
Then clean all the crap off the frets and parts.
I re string one ata time, wind around once for the low string then poke it through the hole, then tighten it till it doesnt rattle with the tuning peg.
I wind more as the strings get thinner, 3 or 4 for the high one.
Then bend the ends at the hole a lil before i snip the extra off to about 1/4 in.
after 30 years, its the quickest way I know, to change a string on stage.
I use one them lil winder thingies too.

D’addario 10’s I use.
Light gauges for lead, med for rhythm, heavy for AC/DC
You’ll have to adjust the saddles for each gauge.

I think on the Gibsons I had to do one ata time, cause the bridge needed the string tension to hold it on. :smack:
Bass is different I cut em about an inch away past the peg, use pliers to put a 1/4 90 on it then stick in the hole (different peg types mind u) then wind away.

I use Blue Steel on Bass mostly, cause I break the A on other brands.

That’s interesting. The guitar store where I got my strat a couple of months back do the first restring for free. I just had mine changed this week and now it sounds - and feels - totally different. It’s much harder to play now.

They put 11s. It didn’t occur to me that the gauge might be different - d’oh! - as I asked them to replace it with the same gauge. I had put it down to 'fresh strings take some getting used to.

When I changed the strings on my previous guitar it also changed the feel and I never enjoyed playing it ever again - hence my new strat.

Yeah, I’m still not able to form the chords quite as quite as quickly or correctly as I’d like, but I’m getting better. The classes that I originally took were almost exclusively chord playing, and I’ve played another instrument before so the tempo and rhythm are no problem. It’s just a case of building up muscle memory in my left hand, and being able to switch from one to another fast enough. Still, while I’m getting that, it would be nice to know what sound the book thinks I should be aiming for.

I didn’t go into it completely blind. I read The Fender Stratocaster Handbook (Someone here recommended it, I think. Was it you?] and found some how-to videos online. I bought new 9’s. I made sure they came through the right hole in the saddles, held some tension while I was winding them down the posts, even lubricated the string tree.

The only question I have is what gauge strings were originally on it. Would a seasoned tech have been able to tell that just by feel? Or is there any way to examine the old strings to find out the gauge?

The guitar is still playable, and if it doesn’t sound like Clapton yet, I think the fault lies more with me than with the instrument. What I’ll probably do is wait until it needs new strings again, take it to a tech and have him show me (or watch me and see if I do anything wrong).

I really like the book, so far. I was trying to find some familiar riffs, at first, and I could get through some of the simple parts and then get absolutely stymied when things got difficult. It’s fascinating to see the progress, though; to flip back a few pages to something I remember struggling to get and now I can pretty much nail it.

That’s the one. We could play the duets.

For practice, I generally go back to something I’m fairly comfortable with, and play from there up to the new stuff I’m working on. So tonight I might play pages 34-42, in a few days I’ll be on 36-44, that sort of thing.

Are you playing the chords for every song, too? And what are you doing for the rhythm, just quarter notes, copying the exercises, or copying the melody?

I did the strings one-at-a-time, but even with all six on and in tune, the holes in the trem block don’t line up with the cover plate. It’s like they put the wrong cover plate on, or made one with the slot in the wrong place. I could take one of the springs out, and maybe the string tension would pull it into alignment, but I don’t want to mess with that. (And I’m not playing with the trem, yet, so I don’t think I want it to be any looser.) I don’t want to take the plate off so often that I damage the screw holes. Unless the tech knows something, I think the easiest way would be to put the trem bar on, and bend down when I need to take a string on or off.

Anything in there that’s not in the Stratocaster Handbook, or an online vid somewhere?

Thanks for all the tips so far.

I doubt the cover plate is wrong. I’m guessing that there’s not a huge opening and that any movement of the bridge moves it out of position. My G&L has longer slots cut into the access plate so no matter the position of the bridge, I can get to the holes in the bridge. You’ll just need to do the toothbrush trick to make things easy.

Nonono! That way lies madness! Balancing the claw length, number of springs, trem height and position is a real pain in the ass. I consider myself to be a moderately competent guitar tech and I don’t like fiddling with a floating bridge. I take it to a pro for that.

There’s tons and tons of stuff in the book. It’s a dense 300+ pager. But lots of it may never be of value to you. It covers everything from simple cleaning and common project like restringing, all the way up to refretting, neck replacement, custom wiring, just about everything for electrics and acoustics. I enjoyed reading it 'cause I like the technical stuff and because Dan tosses in lots of stories from his long career in repair, but I also recognize that I really probably am never going to tackle most of the projects he’s included.

Here is what I see on the back of my guitar. (The neck is toward the top in that picture.) The strings won’t come out as it is. There’s no room for a toothbrush handle, either, and if there was it seems like it would only push the holes farther toward the neck.

Yeah, that’s a little strange. Is the bridge parallel with the top of the guitar while at rest?

Toothbrush (or a stack of business cards in this case) goes on the other side, as in this short clip:

I see what you mean, now. Holding the bridge in place wouldn’t solve my problem, but if I press the trem bar down first, makeing that gap a little larger, then the toothbrush would hold it in place where I need it.

Parallel along which axis? If I look where those business cards go in (hold the guitar at eye level, neck pointing away from me), yeah, it looks parallel.

But look at my picture again. Assuming the slot in the access plate is square with the body, the bridge is not parallel with that. I can see about half the hole for the low E string, less for the others. I don’t know if that’s intentional or not; from the front, everything seems to fit square with one another.

Sorry, I meant parallel along the length of the guitar, that is, when you push or pull on the trem and it returns to its neutral position, is the height the same at the front (toward the neck) and at the back (toward the strap button). If it’s currently set up such that it’s tilted down a bit at rest, the holes in the back would tend toward the neck and out of alignment with the slot on the access plate.

It’s entirely possible that the bridge is adjusted nicely and the hole in the plate is goofy. Solution: enlarge the hole!

But anyway, now that you see where to block the movement of the bridge, well, that’s 90% of the battle. You can stick something smooth in there and hold the bridge at any angle you want.

No idea on why the holes on the bottom of the bridge are angled relative to the cut out. I’m not a Fender guy, so I’m not aware if that’s “regular” or not.

This thread makes me think of a bunch of guys trying to figure out how to talk to a good looking girl. I have a Mexican Standard Strat that I am learning to play/set up. I would go back to the 009 strings as they are factory original. The Fender owners manual is very good.
Get some stings on er then follow the guide. You only need some very basic tools to set up yer guitar. start with the bridge being 1/8th inch off the body with all stings in standard tuning (should be close from factory specs with 009 stings on).
Then follow the manual through the intonation steps making sure to re-tune after each adjustment.
The fact is that your back plate may well have to be removed for string changes and lots of guys just leave it off anyway.
Rock on!

To be honest, I’m not really practicing till spring. I’ve got some time set aside then. I’m just mostly screwing around with the B and E strings. I’m going to get really good at Ode to Joy, I think.
And yeah, I’m just doing quarter notes like it says. When I get to chords, I’m going to restart from the beginning, doing the chords for every song till I get it right.
I should point out that I wound up with a cheap Starcaster, so I’m looking forwards to a lot of pain in the assery in the future. But I figure I’ll give it to my dad when I get something better. Yeah, I got the cheap pack of everything. Eh, the bag’s nice. (I already replaced the tuner.)

Let me know how it goes once you dive into it. it would be interesting to compare notes.

I’m making good progress, but I don’t have absolute mastery of each song before I move on to the next. I still miss that F# on the D string a little too often. One thing I like about this book is how the material is selected to reinforce things after they’re initially presented. Lots of F#'s to practice even after Danny Boy and Shenendoah, but now I can go back to those two songs and sound much better than when I was struggling to hit that note.

There’s something really fascinating about that process. I’ve learned a lot of things intellectually, and there’s always that moment of learning something, remembering it, and being able to explain it. This is different. Clearly, I’m better than I was just a month or two ago. I’m doing something different, but I couldn’t begin to explain exactly what. I find that quite wonderful.

Just jumping in for a sec, 'cause I caught my friend E-Sab’s last post, and I pretty much follow what he posts.

I am a drummer who switched to guitar and I have just this one piece of advice for any newbie:

  1. Do not get discouraged if you cannot make the chords or if your fingers block the strings! I have very FAT fingers on both hands (and now arthritis in my picking hand) and I used to keep blocking the strings to the point where I went to the guitar shop and asked for a wider “classical” neck.

The guy knew right away what my problem was and he wouldn’t sell me the classical, but told me to go home and keep trying. I did, and now I can make most of the chords except for those which ask you to stretch your fingers from the top of the neck to the middle:), so I try to transpose those.

  1. Also learn “barre chords”! They’re fun and take a little time to learn, but they will solve many of your speed problems (IMHO)!:slight_smile:

Okay, so that’s two pieces of advice.

  1. LEARN all the notes on the fretboard! Just do it. There’s a bunch of free stuff on the web which will help you, but you’ll be surprised how many problems that will solve…

THREE, three pieces of advice!!!

And here, I find I must apologize if you don’t know the sketch below. Most of my friends here know I’m a Python fan and know all the dialogues.

But I hope I gave good advice above and wish you all the best with your guitar! It really IS a great instrument, and once you learn to sing along with playing it, you’re gonna LOVE it even more!


“Barre chords” is a scary term for using mostly yer first (index) finger as a capo.
“Bar chords” is correct also. very common in almost all guitar music.

A capo is a thing that goes across the neck of the guitar and holds all the strings down.

And yeah, my fingers block the strings, I’m working on it. It’s just a matter of angle of attack.