I understand that a baritone guitar is going to give more string tension than a regular 25.5 or 24.75" scale when tuned to the same pitch and with the same gauge. However, any string tension calculators never seem to factor in what's beyond the nut and bridge, ie. the tuners and/or tailpiece (or bigsby/string-through design, that sorta thing).

My common sense tells me that a reverse headstock will give greater tension to the thicker strings than a regular 6 in line headstock, but does this actually work out or is the tension completely based off the distance between the nut and bridge?

Any thought on this? I just feel that if the overall tension of a string factors in beyond the nut and bridge then all these string tension calculators are near useless.
"Air created the greenness. And once you've got something, that leads to otherness." - Karl Pilkington.
Why would the tension be different? The only part that matters when you're tuning up is the distance between the nut and the bridge.

For our purposes, the equation of tuning can be likened to a function of scale length, string tension and string gauge (and string material). These are the things that you can alter as a guitarist to change your pitch. If you're using a fixed brand/gauge/series of strings, on the same scale length, then your tuning is directly proportional to your string tension. If you had more tension in the string you would be tuned higher, simple laws of physics.

Tuning isn't concerned at all with the overall length of the string. The only part that matters is the part that vibrates to create the fundamental frequency of your note, which is the part of the string between the two fixed nodes - the nut and the bridge. If it was the whole length of the string which contributed to your tuning, then yes, the tension would be different for different headstock designs/different bridges. But it's the nut-bridge distance that actually matters.

This isn't to say that different overall string lengths don't make a difference, because they do, even if it is only slight. That's mainly to do with string stretching and such when you play. For example, if you bend a string that is longer overall because its tuning peg is a long way past the nut, then you have a bit more 'give' in the string because of the extra length and that will subtly change the way it reacts to bends and vibrato. It's this extra 'give' (or lack of it) that might make a string feel a bit tighter or looser even though the tension remains the same.
Last edited by Confuse-a-Cat at Aug 29, 2013,
I don't think you're understanding what I'm saying. I understand what it is that makes up the overall tension and how tuning higher gives higher tension and all that. But what I'm adding is the fact that a headstock doesn't allow all 6 strings to be of equal length. A 3x3 headstock means the middle 2 strings have a longer string length than the outer strings, so surely that should mean they have slightly more tension in relation to the outer strings?

If a longer scale length means longer overall string length (which it does) then surely that can relate to how a regular 6 in line headstock will give more tension on the high strings than a reversed 6 in line headstock would.
"Air created the greenness. And once you've got something, that leads to otherness." - Karl Pilkington.
That doesn't affect tension at all. All that matters is the length between nut and bridge.

There's something different, called 'perceived' tension, which relates to bending and stretching the string. If there's not much string after the bridge or nut, there's less of the string available to stretch and bend, so it's perceived as tighter. Whereas if there's a lot more string after the nut without much of a break angle, it'll feel looser when you bend it because there's a lot more string.

It all depends on how much string there is to give when you stretch it. Partially the reason why it's sometimes easier to bend strings on a longer scale (if the tension is the same). On my 27" 8-string, I can bend my middle strings 2, 2.5 tones up very easily. There's just a lot more string behind the nut on those strings.
Ibanez RG2228 w/ EMG808Xs | Line 6 POD HD500 | Mackie HD1221
To reiterate: between nut and bridge is all you need for tension. Perceived tension only relates to how it feels when you stretch the string. So don't make tension choices for your strings based on that.
Ibanez RG2228 w/ EMG808Xs | Line 6 POD HD500 | Mackie HD1221
Quote by Lavatain
I don't think you're understanding what I'm saying. I understand what it is that makes up the overall tension and how tuning higher gives higher tension and all that. But what I'm adding is the fact that a headstock doesn't allow all 6 strings to be of equal length. A 3x3 headstock means the middle 2 strings have a longer string length than the outer strings, so surely that should mean they have slightly more tension in relation to the outer strings?

If a longer scale length means longer overall string length (which it does) then surely that can relate to how a regular 6 in line headstock will give more tension on the high strings than a reversed 6 in line headstock would.

I uderstood what you were saying, but perhaps I could have phrased my point better. Yes, its true that different headstock shapes mean you have different overall string lengths, but the only length that matters the length between the nut and the bridge. This is the length that matters when you're putting tension on the string, and its the one that determines your tuning. The tension is a constant value over the whole length of the string, including past the nut. But that extra distance past the nut makes no difference whatsoever as to how much tension you need to put on. Why would it? It's outside the area that matters.
Quote by Lavatain
I understand that a baritone guitar is going to give more string tension than a regular 25.5 or 24.75" scale when tuned to the same pitch and with the same gauge. However, any string tension calculators never seem to factor in what's beyond the nut and bridge, ie. the tuners and/or tailpiece (or bigsby/string-through design, that sorta thing).

The only thing that matters to produce a note is the mass of the string, the tension and the scale. For a given mass of string at a given scale, the tension will always remain the same. Tailpieces and headstocks don't matter. That's why string tension calculators don't care what's behind nut and bridge.

What you MAY be touching on, however, is the feel of the string (and the bendability of a string) and how playability might be affected by what's beyond the nut and bridge.

For example, a bend is produced by essentially stretching the string or putting more tension on it.

If you're bending on a guitar that has a lot more string length hanging out on either end past the nut/bridge (or something that produces a similar result, such as a trapeze tailpiece, etc.), you may find that you have to bend FURTHER to get the amount of stretch in the string in order to bump that note up. In doing so, you have to go further across the fretboard and you may find yourself pushing other strings along with the fretted one in order to get that higher note. Because you're pushing other strings out of the way, it can make extreme bends tougher on your fingers.

I have guitars that have Kahlers, Floyds and one that has a behind-the-nut string lock with a TP6 (fine tuner) bridge. If you lock down (block) the Floyd, you'll get the same results as the other two; ONLY the string length between the nut and the bridge is tensioned to accurate tuning. Try bending on those as opposed to bending on guitars with a lot of string length (under tension) beyond the bridge and nut.
Last edited by dspellman at Aug 30, 2013,
Okay guys, after a long think and several reads of your posts I think I get it now. I was assuming that the entire length of the string would be affecting the playable tension area, as the non-playable parts are still in the same tension. But they're not 'cause they are higher tension due to a midget length between nut and tuner. I get it now.

My final question would be to do with this "perceived tension". Would a locking nut that's locked down render this point non existent when bending strings, as the string isn't pulling on the part beyond the nut? Not that you really feel it because the bridge springs are pulling where you are bending.
"Air created the greenness. And once you've got something, that leads to otherness." - Karl Pilkington.
Quote by Lavatain
Okay guys, after a long think and several reads of your posts I think I get it now. I was assuming that the entire length of the string would be affecting the playable tension area, as the non-playable parts are still in the same tension. But they're not 'cause they are higher tension due to a midget length between nut and tuner. I get it now.

My final question would be to do with this "perceived tension". Would a locking nut that's locked down render this point non existent when bending strings, as the string isn't pulling on the part beyond the nut? Not that you really feel it because the bridge springs are pulling where you are bending.

No, the non-playable parts are exactly the same tension (not higher tension) as the rest of the string. They play a higher note if you pluck them because the scale is so short <G>.

That is, they're the same tension as long as they're not not locked down behind a locking nut or behind-the-nut string lock.

Final question: If you have a locking nut on the guitar, the tension on the strings between the tuners and the locking nut could theoretically be anything, and if the locking nut is really doing its job, the string length behind the locker has no bearing on playability or anything else, for that matter.

Bridge springs are an entirely different issue, and vary from trem to trem (assuming you even have a trem.

A TP6 bridge has no bridge springs whatsoever (it's a stop tail bridge), but it does have fine tuners. Used with a locking nut, you have only the string between the nut and bridge to consider.

A Kahler doesn't flatten the other strings the way a Floyd Rose or Strat-type trem does when you bend a note.

A Floyd with light springs will definitely tip its butt in the air and flatten the other strings AND will force you to bend further than you would if you had a stop tail bridge.

A Floyd with heavy springs will much reduce the butt-tipping, but will be more difficult to work as a trem.