You Set ’em Up Part 1

This is how I usually configure the saddles but there is no "right" way. Turning the G saddles is often necessary to get it far enough back to intonate properly.

This is how I usually configure the saddles but there is no “right” way. Turning the G saddles is often necessary to get it far enough back to intonate properly.


I always appreciate readers suggestions for posts. There’s only so much to be written about any given subject and when your subject is as narrow as mine and you’ve been writing about it for seven years, you will run out of subject matter. You will note that I’m posting less frequently than I used to. It’s not simply laziness or being too busy with other things, it’s just that I’ve covered almost everything. Going forward, going into greater detail on subjects already covered is a logical next step, so instead of writing about a PAF, I could do a post about magnets. Or tuner bushings. But this week a writer made a suggestion for a post that somehow slipped through the cracks. It should have been done years ago. How do you set up a 335? Or, more to the point, how do I set up a 335?

I set up a lot of 335’s (345’s/355’s) and the good news is that they are pretty easy to get right and relatively consistent. I’m going to assume that you don’t need to recut or replace the nut or level the frets. These are really important elements for a good setup and it may be necessary to do one, the other, or both. But we will save that for later.

First, play the guitar and decide what you don’t like or what is wrong with the setup. Consider the action, the intonation and the sustain. The action pretty easy. Raise or lower the bridge until you like the action. Then the real work can begin. If any of the open strings are buzzing, then you have a problem which we will address later. It can be the nut, it can be a fret or frets or it can be the relief (truss adjustment). Or maybe you simply have the action too low. Factory spec. is 5/64″ for the low E at the 15th fret and 3/64″ at the high E. I like mine slightly higher at the high E.

After getting the action where I like it, I look at the relief (the amount of bow in the neck). Sight down the neck. If it’s dead flat and there is no buzz, you can leave it alone. I like a little bit off relief-a small amount of bowing away from the strings- so I would loosen the truss rod a quarter turn to a half turn until I see a slight bow. You may have to leave it for a while. Truss adjustments aren’t instantaneous. If there is buzzing and you see the neck is bowed toward the strings, do the same-loosen the truss a quarter to  a half turn. Leave it for a bit and go back and look. If the neck has flattened out or bowed slightly away from the strings and the buzz is gone, then you’re done with the truss rod. If it is still back bowed or buzzing, loosen the truss some more. If you run out of adjustment-the truss nut is all the way loose-then you will have to see your luthier. Back bows are rare in 335’s with big necks but not uncommon in thin 60-63 necks.

Once I have the truss adjusted, I adjust the stop tail. This is more art than science. Raising or lowering the stop (skip this step if you have a Bigsby or trapeze) can make a small difference in sustain or no difference at all. Some 335’s have a sweet spot usually a few turns up from being screwed all the way down. It’s trial and error and the likelihood is that it won’t much, if any, difference. You’re changing the string break angle which affects the downward pressure on the bridge. Some argue that the break angle changes the ease of bending notes. I’ve never perceived it. The theory is that  less break angle means easier bending. You decide.

Once I have the truss adjusted, I set the intonation. Using a good clip on tuner is the easiest way to do it, although I use harmonics  as well. I assume you know how to intonate a guitar with an ABR-1. Be aware that 335’s were made to be played with a wrapped G string, so intonating a plain G can be tricky. Usually, you have to turn the saddle around so the flat side faces back rather than forward. That allows more adjustment back toward the tailpiece. Most vintage 335s with 10’s require the G saddle to be as far back as it will go. Otherwise it will be sharp at the upper frets. 9’s generally won’t intonate well. I usually turn the top three strings flat side back but it’s usually only necessary to do the G that way. Once you’ve done the intonation and there is no buzzing and you are happy with the action, it’s time to plug it in.

Next post will cover pickup height adjustments and what to do if you have buzzing or bad sustain.


Adjusting the stop tail height changes the break angle of the strings. It may make a difference, it may not. There is not correct break angle, so try a few settings until you like it. If you don't perceive a difference, a couple turns up from all the way down looks good to me.

Adjusting the stop tail height changes the break angle of the strings. It may make a difference, it may not. There is no correct break angle, so try a few settings until you like it. If you don’t perceive a difference, a couple turns up from all the way down looks good to me.


21 Responses to “You Set ’em Up Part 1”

  1. RAB says:

    A worthy topic for sure! Adjusting the height of the stop tailpiece also affects the string tension and “bendability”. Players back in the day thought it looked cool or was essential for sustain to crank the stop TP all the way down. Don’t worry about looking cool. Sustain? I agree with Charlie. Haven’t noticed TP height or string break angle to affect sustain. That being said, too little break angle can cause the strings to pop out of the saddle slot on those big Albert King bends! Set the TP where it feels best. When changing string gauges it is a good idea to adjust the tension. Heavier strings? Consider raising the tailpiece to achieve the desired tension. And also recognize each string brand and type has an inherent different string tension. I use Pyramid Maximum Performance (I am not a paid endorser!) and gauge for gauge they have less tension than many other string brands. Very comfortable, sound great and last a long time!

  2. John says:

    An extremely highly regarded luthier on this side of the pond told me that the best way to set up a stoptail is to endure that the string angle from bridge to tailpiece is the same as the string angle from nut to tuners. He’s the “go to” guy for all the old school English rock-stars (Knopfler etc.), so I listen when he shares.

  3. RAB says:

    John, I will give this a try! Thanks, RAB

  4. cgelber says:

    I wonder what the science of that concept is. I think that the amount of downward pressure on the bridge (and the nut for that matter) is a minor factor for sustain. A larger factor is the depth of the nut slots and saddle slots-which I’ll cover in the next post. The idea is for the string to be able to vibrate as freely as it can with as little damping from the nut and saddles as possible.

  5. RAB says:

    The sustain is secondary to me. I love the flexibility of the stop tailpiece in adjusting string tension and the “spongy” or taut feel of the string. Wish my ’62 Epiphone Riviera had a stop TP instead of the stock Frequensator trapeze but I won’t be drilling for a stop TP anytime soon! ;>}

  6. Dave K says:

    Charlie – just picking up the points in your first paragraph about future posts. Your website is already the authoritative world resource for all matters vintage 3xx. I, and I’m sure the other 3xx obsessives around here, would love to see even more detailed examinations of particular subjects from your encyclopaedic knowledge and experience. One day a book maybe…………

  7. RAB says:

    Hear, hear!

  8. Rod says:

    Charlie, I wonder if you have any details of early 335 prototypes? I know I have seen at least one picture of a prototype with wide binding in the cutaways (like a 70s Les Paul), which probably means the top and back were pressed in existing (non cutaway) moulds. Gibson must have documented their early efforts in this connection? I have been quietly marvelling about how you keep coming up with new information. I would have thought you would have run out of topics long ago! But you never cease to amaze.

  9. RAB says:

    And I, in my early 70’s guitar hunting trips found a very early, sunburst dotneck 335 in a Southwest pawn shop. It had an extremely shallow neck angle. It may have had the fat binding Rod refers to above, I can’t recall. It wasn’t drilled for a stop tailpiece. Even weirder, it wasn’t drilled for a tuneomatic bridge. I assumed the guitar was meant to be setup with a Bigsby and floating Bigsby bridge ala a full hollowbody like an ES-175. Unfortunately I sold the guitar before photographically documenting this weird beast!

  10. Jonathan Krogh says:

    May I suggest an article on the presence or lack thereof of lefties?

  11. Rod says:

    Rab, maybe it was built to take a 225/295 bridge/tailpiece which was still in use at the time?

  12. RAB says:

    Rod, yes, the early style Les Paul, ES 225/295 bridge/trapeze tailpiece was a real possibility!

  13. RAB says:

    No holes in the top, shoulda checked the butt end rim but didn’t.

  14. RAB says:

    Let’s hypothesize the 335 I was describing was a late 1957/early 1958 prototype. I coyld easily see the Gibson engineers grabbing an ES 225 type tailpiece out of a bin and using that!

  15. Steve Newman says:

    RAB, by coincidence, I know of a sunburst Epi Riviera (’62 or ’63 vintage) in the Memphis, TN area that has a factory installed nickel stop tail….it has been carefully examined and has the factory lacquer finish over the stud bushings and correct ground wire….no holes at all on the end of the guitar body where a Frequesator/Bigsby would have been installed. The original owner still has it. Another one of those Gibson oddities. BTW. it is a great sounding and playing guitar, with the stickered PAF mini buckers. and no, it is NOT for sale.

  16. RAB says:

    Steve, wow, that’s cool…if the owner was amenable it would be interesting to submit the serial number to Gibson to have them check the shipping ledgers. See if the ledger indicated “special order” concerning the stop tailpiece selection. Might not. The ’63 stop tail mono 355 I had had no special notation in the ledger. Conversely a couple stoptail 355s Charlie identified in the ledgers had a notation regarding the special tailpiece treatment…Gibson was consistently inconsistent!

  17. Dino Trifunović says:

    Thank you, I’ve put the string height as you said. First I tought it was very low but that’s how I like to play. It feels better and plays great.

  18. Dino Trifunović says:

    When you say « Factory spec. is 5/64″ for the low E at the 15th fret and 3/64″ at the high E » is it whith a capo on 1st fret ?

  19. okguitars says:

    No. Open strings.

  20. Victor says:

    Thank you for that lot of advices.I have set mine following your specs and it sounds great. one question… what about the pick-ups setting please?
    Merry christmas

  21. okguitars says:

    I generally set the pickups as close to the strings as possible. Trial and error is the only way approach pickup height because each pickup is different.

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