NOTES ON GUITAR SPECIFICATIONS
Stephen's Stringed Instruments is your exclusive source for Extended Cutaway guitars of exceptional American hand-made quality. We attempt at all times to make instruments of uncompromising quality, built to exacting specifications and tailored specifically to players wishes. Stephen's builds a few models of guitars which are available in a wide variety of configurations. Similar models may actually vary to a great extent in terms of individual specifications. The following contains explanations of the different specifications which are available for our instruments.
Use this information to better understand the configurations on existing model spec sheets, or to build your own version of an instrument!
Pickguard and Control Cover Plate
When many people consider what the perfect instrument for them is, the first thing that comes to mind is a guitar model. People tend to say they prefer strat style guitars or teles or Les Pauls. However, when the luthiers at Stephen's consider the critical elements that make up the perfect guitar for a particular player, we tend to think instead of a set of specific measurements which relate to the critical dimensions of the instrument. At Stephen's we believe the guitar neck is truly the heart of the guitar. When a player develops a feel for a particular guitar, while the looks of that guitar and even the sound of that guitar are certainly important to the player, the truly important details relate to how the guitar feels under the player's fingers. The looks and the sound of a guitar may be easily varied; however, the way the guitar feels in the hands of the player is what will ultimately determine whether that person feels comfortable on the instrument. If you have a neck that feels good to you, the other aspects of the guitar can be relatively easily changed. However, if a neck does not feel good to a player, if the action does not feel right, and if the instrument seems at all difficult to play, nothing you do to the other aspects of the instrument will lend any improvement.
What determines the way a guitar feels to a player can be summed up in a few critical measurements of the instruments' geometry. First and foremost among these measurements is scale length. Most electric guitars today are built in one of two common scale lengths, 24 3/4" and 25 1/2". Twenty- five and a half inch scales are typically found on bolt-on instruments, such as Fender, and 24 3/4" are found on many Gibson instruments, such as Les Pauls.
Of prime importance to the feel of the guitar, in addition to scale length, is the geometry of the string spacing and neck width and depth. String spacing is very critical to the feel of a guitar and is determined by two measurements; the width of the bridge or saddles on the guitar body and the width of the neck at the nut. Modern electric guitars tend to have overall string spacing at the bridge of between 2.062" and 2.187". A neck must have a set of dimensions to accomodate that string spacing. If a neck is too narrow for a given string spacing, players have difficulty playing the outside strings of the instrument without pulling the strings off the side of the neck. If a neck is too wide for a given string spacing, fretboard space is wasted and the neck will feel unduly large for the guitar. Modern electric necks tend to range between 1.625" and 1.7" width at the nut. The Gibson Les Paul usually has a neck width between 1.68" and 1.7" at the nut. The Fender telecaster has a neck width of 1.625" to 1.65", and the strat has a width of 1.65" to 1.7".
Another critical element in the feel of the neck is the overall thickness of the neck, as well as the neck shape. Neck shape is a critical element in the feel of the guitar. At Stephen's we spend a significant amount of time achieving a precise neck shape.
The shape of a Stephen's neck is a cross between a round and and a V shape. To be precise, our necks are shaped to the profile of a 45 degree elipse. Neck shape is a very critical element in the feel of a guitar and the most important area of the neck is on the sides of the neck directly below the fretboard. We refer to this as a "shoulder" of the neck. If the shoulders of the neck tend to come straight down from the fretboard, as is common on rounded neck shapes, the neck tends to feel larger than it is. Having a neck taper inward immediately from the fretboard, as is common on the older "V- shaped" necks, tends to make the neck feel a little bit smaller. However, many players do not like the feel of the center of the back of the neck if it comes to too sharp of a "V". The Stephen's standard neck shape has tapered shoulders similar to the "V" neck but is more rounded in the center of the neck. This gives the neck an excellent feel and makes it feel small and compact and very comfortable.
We also offer an optional "V-shaped" neck similar to what was found on older instruments from the forties and fifties. Stephen's also offers entirely custom neck shapes on a special order basis. It is not uncommon for players to send us a favorite neck for us to duplicate on a new instrument.
Final elements of the neck specifications relate to the fretboard radius and the fretwire which is used on the instrument. Most guitar fretboards are curved from side to side. Common radius range is from 7 1/4", which was common on old Fender guitars, to 12", to some very flat fretboards which range up to about an 18" radius. The Gibson Les Paul has a 12" radius and most modern guitars, including Fender instruments, use a 12" radius. That radius offers the best compromise for ease of playing and string bending. Some modern guitars, particularly hard rock style guitars, have gone to a flatter fretboard radius.
A final critical element which determines the feel of the guitar is the fretwire itself. Fretwire is available in many different sizes but can be roughly grouped into two widths, medium and a jumbo. Medium fretwire tends to run approximately .080" wide and is commonly found on bolt-on style instruments such as the strat and the tele. Jumbo fretwire tends to run from .100" to .110" wide and is found on Les Pauls as well as many strats today. A second critical fretwire dimension is the height of the wire. In the past most wire tended to be .035" to .040" high. Over the last few decades guitar players have tended to move toward taller fretwire. Today, heights between .040" and .055" are most common. Many players feel the taller fretwire is much easier to bend strings on. It is easy to "get under" a string to bend it. Also hand vibrato, the shaking of a string or chord, is much easier to accomplish on a taller fretwire as there is less finger contact between the hand and the fretboard in such instances. Many players feel taller fretwire feels "faster", however, feel is a very subjective element and what holds true for one player may not for another.
All the above dimensions are critical to the way an instrument feels to a player. Matching an instrument to a player is best accomplished if you pay attention to accomodating specifications that a player has become accustomed to. From a player's perspective, it is far better to find an instrument whose neck dimensions fit what they are comfortable with and then to change other aspects of the instrument, such as pickups or finish, than it is for a player to adapt to an instrument that has pickups and finish as desired but a radically different neck geometry. For this reason, Stephen's makes all its models available in a number of different neck specifications.
Available options on the guitar specifications are as follows:
Stephen's makes two peghead styles. Our model T peghead is a variation on the classic tele design. It is available on both model T and model S guitars. The model S peghead design is a 14 degree tilted peghead which is a graceful curve, sometimes called a ballerina peghead for its resemblance to a ballerina's foot.
Maple is the most common material available for Stephen's necks. Other available materials include mahogany, as well as various composite laminates.
Maple, Indian rosewood, and ebony are all available as well as some exotics such as cocobolo.
Standard inlay includes plastic white and black dots on maple and rosewood fretboards and mother-of-pearl dots on ebony fretboards. Custom inlays are available on request.
Model T necks are available in both 24.75" and 25.5" scale lengths. Model S necks are only available in 25.5" scale lengths. Model T necks come with a standard 1.65" width at the nut. Any other width may be ordered. Model S necks come standard at 1.7". Also, any other width is available.
The thickness of the neck at the first fret is a standard .75" on both model T and model S necks. Any other thickness is available as an option. However, there are three most commonly ordered thicknesses. On the model T necks, a thickness of .82" most nearly approximates the common dimension of most Fender necks. An additional neck which we call the "big boy" has a thickness of approximately .92" at the first fret. This is a very large neck and recreates the feel of some of the earliest tele guitars from the fifties.
Stephen's uses a standard 12" radius on all its necks. A vintage 7 1/4" radius is available as well as any other radius on request.
Standard fretwire used on our model T necks is Dunlop 6220. This is a medium width fretwire and has dimensions of .082" wide by .043" high. Standard fretwire on model S necks is Dunlop 6100 which is jumbo fretwire .100" wide by .055" high. Either the medium or jumbo fretwire may be used on both model T and model S guitars. In addition, we offer other fretwire sizes upon special request.
At Stephen's we offer several different finish materials on our instruments. Standard finish on both model T and model S is a nitro-cellulose lacquer in a satin finish. We also offer a buffed finish available at an additional charge. The nitro lacquer finishes were the traditional finish on most musical instruments until the past few decades when there has been a shift towards catalyzed finishes. We prefer the feel of the nitro finish which is a little bit softer and does not feel as sticky as the catalyzed materials. Many players today, especially rock players, like necks with no finish on them as raw wood has a very good feel. However, in many cases, an unfinished neck has a tendency to shift in response to weather changes and this can require constant readjustment of an instrument to maintain optimal playing conditions. The satin lacquer finishes mimic the feel of a raw neck but provide more protection of the wood from the elements. Eventually a player will polish a satin neck simply by rubbing the hand repeatedly up and down it's surface. Many players prefer to remove the polished surface with a little fine sand paper, such as 220 grit, lightly sanded up and down the neck to break up the smooth polished surface of the neck. If a player perspires, a film of liquid will form between the player's hand and the neck surface and, if the neck surface is exceedingly smooth, this hydraulic film can feel a little sticky. A slightly rougher surface eliminates this problem.
Stephen's Model S guitar is a strat style body which is downsized somewhat from the original. It is characterized by an extra deep hip relief and arm relief and is quite a confortable instrument. The model T is styled after the telecaster guitar and is very faithful to the original in shape and dimension except that the cutaway in the upper treble bout is deepened and widened slightly to allow for improved access to the upper end of the neck. Of course both styles eliminate the four-bolt neck plate, replacing it with our five-bolt half-moon shape which is characteristic of the Extended Cutaway design.
The model T bodies are available in both solid and hollow styles. The hollow body has three internal sound chambers which remove most of the material from the instrument except for a solid section which lies underneath the strings, pickup, and bridge. Hollow bodies are available with or without an F-hole. The Stephen's F-hole design is named the eighth note F-hole for its resemblance to the written musical eighth note. The hollow bodies tend to have a little softer, warmer tone.
All Stephen's guitar bodies are available in many different materials. The traditional material for the model S guitar is alder which is a common wood in the Pacific northwest of the United States. The traditional material for the model T body is ash which is common throughout the US, but is best suited when grown in southern swampy areas, hence the name "swamp ash".
A choice of body materials is critical in determining the tone of an instrument as well as the overall weight of the instrument. In the most general sense, body woods which are lighter and less dense tend to produce more bottom end or bass and fewer trebles or highs. Woods which are denser and heavier tend to emphasize the highs and have less bottom end. At the softest, lightest end of the range one finds basswood and poplar which are both inexpensive common woods in instrument manufacturing today. Alder is slightly more dense than those two and, in our opinion, gives the best combination of high end and bottom end tone. It is soft enough to reproduce a smooth fat bass yet is hard enough to produce clear trebles. The bright trebly quality of the traditional tele guitar is largely the result of using very hard, very dense ash for the body material. A model T guitar made with alder or mahogany, which is similar to alder in tonal quality, will have a little softer, rounder tone and not as much of that bright attack that characterizes a tele. Another common combination of body materials on guitars today is a figured maple cap on top of a body made of another material such as alder or mahogany, or even ash. Maple is a hard dense wood and tends to increase the high end of a guitar's tonal output. On the model S guitars we tend to cap them with .750" thick caps on top of a body of alder or mahogany. Figured maple lends a striking appearance to an instrument and most manufacturers tend to apply a very thin veneer of maple on top of a standard body material. However, we prefer to use a thicker piece because a more substantial piece is more effective in modifying the tone of the instrument. A thick maple cap on an alder or mahogany body has enough density to increase the high end and make the mid range more punchy while still maintaining the smooth bottom end of the alder or mahogany body. On the model T guitars, figured maple caps are normally only .250" thick. As most teles are built of a harder, denser material, the purpose of the maple cap on the tele is primarily for appearance since the body material already has the high end response of a dense wood. Figured maple caps make very beautiful instruments and are typically finished in a transluscent finish to allow the complex grain to be visible. Highly figured wood, such as maple, tends to be expensive and the body making and finishing procedures are more complex, so capped pieces tend to be the most expensive instruments in the Stephen's line.
Model T instruments are available with or without body binding on the top perimeter only. Commonly used bindings are a simple white or a white, black, white layered binding. In addition, wood bindings are available.
Both model T and model S guitars are available in any combination of common pickups used today, including single coil pickups, humbucking pickups and soap bar pickups. In the most general terms, single coil pickups tend to have a bright high end response. Humbucking or double coil pickups tend to have a stronger bottom end and not as bright a high end. Soap bar pickups tend to have a substantial bottom end like a humbucker, yet have a bright high end characteristic of a single coil pickup. Single coil pickups are subject to noise interference and have a constant background hum. This hum is eliminated in the humbucking design. Single coil pickups, however, are favored by the vintage instrument players and other traditionalists who are looking for the classic tones of rock and rhythm and blues found in the fifties and sixties. The humbucking style pickup typically has a higher output and is more suited to hard rock and other types of current music which may tend to incorporate more distortion and overdrive.
Without going into a detailed discussion in the relationship between pickup qualities and body tonal qualities, let us simply list some of the more common pickup formats used on Stephen's guitars.
At Stephen's, Seymour Duncan pickups are our standard pickup. Duncan makes a wide range of high quality pickups in the U.S. and offers models which imitate vintage pickups as well as specific models suited to the needs of any of today's players. We also offer pickups by most other manufacturers, call for details.
For the model T there are several common setups:
* Our traditional tele setup includes a Duncan Broadcaster pickup in the bridge position which offers the bright high end characteristic of the tele guitar yet has a little bit fatter bottom end than the common pickup. In the neck position the model T uses a Duncan Quarter Pounder rhythm pickup which has a larger magnet structure which beefs up the traditionally weak output of the neck pickup. The Quarter Pounder has a very smooth fat bottom end yet maintains the high end with the Broadcaster for a traditional tele sound.
* Another common format is to use stacked humbuckers in one or both positions in the traditional tele model. A stacked humbucker is comprised of two coils which are not placed side by side, but are stacked on top of one another to maintain the appearance and tonal quality of a single coil pickup.
* Another configuration uses a traditional full size humbucker in the neck position combined with a traditional single coil in the bridge position. This provides for an extremely fat tonal quality in the rhythm position which is ammenable to blues and rock, including overdriven and distorted types of output.
* A new & popular combination is of a soap bar and a traditional tele pickup. This combination is similar to using a humbucker in the neck position, however, maintains that classic single coil tone of the instrument. This is a unique configuration on a model T instrument and offers a very wide range of tonal possibilities to the instrument. Used in conjunction with a hollow body, a soap bar pickup with the treble control on the instrument turned mostly down does a very good job of imitating the tone of an arch-top jazz guitar. Yet with the bright high end of a traditional tele bridge pickup, this instrument can offer an incredible range of tonal possibilities.
Model S guitars commonly come in several configurations:
* Three single coil pickups. This is the traditional sound of the strat style guitar. The Seymour Duncan vintage SSL-1 is an excellent mimic of traditional pickups from the fifties and sixties.
* Another common combination is two single coil pickups in the neck and middle positions with a humbucker in the bridge position. This configuration is very common on rock guitars today and offers a lot of flexibility. From the clear sweet tones of the rhythm pickups it is possible to switch to a high output tone of the humbucker at the bridge for leads or distortion. A favorite pickup for the bridge position is the Seymour Duncan Jeff Beck model which is characterized by a very rich harmonic content having enough high end to produce excellent definition when overdriven.
* Another favorite combination is using two stacked humbucking single coils in the neck and middle positions and a Duncan Jeff Beck at the bridge. This is well suited for high output situations where the noise of a single coil might be a distraction. This combination of pickups is frequently ordered in the Quietsplit mode which is a special Stephen's circuit which achieves the tonal characteristics of a single coil pickup yet maintains the humbucking effect in the noisiest range of a pickups output. Further information on the Quietsplit circuitry may be obtained from our Technical Notes series.
* A final common combination of pickups is two humbucker pickups at the neck and bridge. This combination is similar to what is found on a Les Paul guitar and is characterized by a fat bottom end and higher output. Standard combination of pickups here is a Duncan Classic 59 at the neck with a Jeff Beck at the bridge.
Both model T and model S guitars are available in several control cavity configurations. Model S guitars have a control cavity which is designed to accomodate two to four separate controls and switches. Additionally, custom switch locations on either of the upper bouts may be specified. The model T comes with a standard tele style control plate. It may be wired for switch in front or switch in back. Optionally, the Model T may be ordered with back mounted controls and alternative switch locations.
The finish on a guitar obviously has a great deal to do with the final appearance of the instrument but an often overlooked fact is that the finish frequently affects the tone of an instrument. The beautiful paint job on your guitar does absolutely nothing good for the tone of the instrument. The best sounding instruments, whether acoustic or electric, have absolutely no finish on them. Throwing a heavy coat of finish on top of a musical instrument has the same affect as throwing a wet blanket over a stereo speaker.
It is our opinion at Stephen's, an opinion that we find shared by better guitar players everywhere, that most manufacturers greatly over-finish their instruments. If truth be told many instruments, even most instruments, are sold on appearance. Without exception, that instrument which has a perfectly flat, mirror-like deep luscious looking finish has been achieved at the expense of the best tonal qualities of that instrument.
At Stephen's we offer several different types of finishes. First and foremost, we offer all our models available with a hand-rubbed tung oil finish and a thin, lightly applied nitro cellulose satin lacquer. Both of these finishes are found on our least expensive models which, in my opinion, are our best sounding models.
Stephen's tung oil finish is a very soft delicate finish which beautifully shows the natural grain characteristics of the instrument. A body finished in oil has a very soft silky feel that is not at all sticky like some highly finished bodies can feel. A natural tung oil finish will absorb dirt and perspiration and the acids in your skin and eventually leave the body marked with a characteristic appearance that will be your own. On the other hand, with a yearly or twice- yearly cleanup and re-oiling of your body, it will look new forever. The choice is yours. Tung oil has the additional feature of being simple to repair. If you happen to scratch or dent your instrument, it is very easy to touch up and re- oil the damaged area and it will look like new again. For more information on these procedures, please see our Technical Notes relating to tung oil finishes.
The satin lacquer finishes we use on our instruments consist of a very few coats of nitro cellulose lacquer. Nitro lacquer used to be the standard musical instrument finish for decades but now has been replaced by catalyzed finishes for the most part. The advantages of nitro lacquer are that it can be applied very thinly, it has a very soft patina, and it is repairable. Additionally, we like the sound of instruments finished in nitro lacquer. The disadvantages of nitro lacquer are it is not as durable as the catalyzed finishes and that it is subject to cold checking. Cold checking occurs when an instrument shrinks and swells in response to temperature and humidity changes. Because the finish of an instrument is much more brittle and inelastic than the wood itself, minute cracks often form in the finish due to expansion and contraction. These checks tend to increase with age. Many prefer the appearance of a checked nitro finish. It gives an instrument that vintage look like you see on so many of the great guitars from the fifties and sixties which have checked and become worn and show the character of their age.
The last finish that we use at Stephen's is a catalyzed polyurethane. This finish has the advantage of being durable and very resistant to checking. These types of finishs have a high solids content and, if applied heavily to your instrument, can have quite a dampening affect on the tone of the guitar. For this reason, we are very careful when applying this finish to keep an absolute minimal film build.
The natural characteristics of wood include grain, figures and imperfections such that the surface of a wooden instrument is not naturally mirror flat. In order to achieve that mirror-flat, high gloss deep wet look as seen on many guitars, it is necessary to apply a fairly thick film of finish over the instrument in order to hide the natural imperfections of the wood and produce a perfectly flat surface. We believe that a finish film build thicker than ten one-thousandths of an inch (.010") will degrade the tone of an instrument. At Stephen's we spend a great deal of time assuring that our finish film build is the absolute minimum. For this reason, as your instrument ages and the finish settles, you will, in many cases, begin to see the natural grain characteristics of the wood telegraphing themselves through the finish. Please be assured that this is a good sign that your instrument has not been muted by an extremely heavy finish.
Stephen's standard gloss finish available on all its instruments is a three-part composite. The base coats of this consist of linear polyurethane, known for its hardness and stability. The base coats are followed by the color coats which, on our transluscent finishes, consist of custom mixed nitro cellulose colors. We feel the transluscent nitro colors offer the richest colors available. Opaque finishes come in standard polyurethane colors and on gloss finishes are top coated with clear polyurethane which is hand buffed to a high gloss.
As additional options, we also offer complete nitro cellulose finishes as well as custom colors including some of the finest sparkle finishes available today.
All Stephen's instruments are available in standard chrome, gold, and black finishes. For many of the various screws used with the hardware on our guitars we use stainless steel. We prefer stainless steel screws because of their non- corrosive characteristics and their extended wearability. We have noticed on instruments that have aged that the various screws seem to take a lot of abuse and are more subject to rust and corrosion than the rest of the hardware. Many older instruments have screw heads which are very worn and damaged from many assemblies and disassemblies over the years. Stainless steel screws will stand up better to the wear and tear your instrument will undergo in its lifetime.
Standard tuning keys on the model T guitars are the traditional kluson style split-top tuner manufactured by Gotoh. As an option other tuners may be specified including cast housing tuners and locking tuners such as those manufactured by Sperzel.
The model S guitars come with the standard small bottom cast housing tuner by Gotoh. Locking tuners may also be specified.
The standard bridge on our model T guitars is a traditional tele style bridge manufactured by Gotoh or Wilkinson. The Gotoh bridge has a heavy plate without side rails and six high-mass milled saddles. This bridge is available with both traditional single coil and humbucking pickup holes. The model T guitar is also available with a thru-body bridge.
The model S guitars come standard with several bridges depending on the model. Non-tremelo versions are available with either a thru body traditional six saddle bridge or a Gibson style stop tail piece and tunematic assembly. The vintage trem style guitars come with a vintage style trem bridge by Gotoh. The locking trem instruments come with Floyd Rose locking trems manufactured by Schaller in Germany. The Floyd Rose bridges are recessed into the face of the instrument to allow for an overall lower profile and allow up-bending and down-bending of strings.
Bone nuts are standard on all Stephen's instruments. Our nuts are installed after the neck is finished so that they may be easily replaced when worn or broken. Graphite nuts may be specified and, of course, locking nuts are supplied on the Floyd Rose instruments.
All Stephen's guitars come with a standard machined barrel knob. Additional knobs are available on request.
Conventional strap buttons are standard. Locking strap buttons available on request.
Pickguard and Control Cover Plate:
Model T guitars may be ordered with a traditional style pickguard, with our Stephen's cutaway pickguard, or with no pickguard at all. The traditional tele style pickguard is usually ordered with a vintage styled model such as the 3111. One of our thin line or hollow instruments with an F-hole typically comes with our updated cutaway style pickguard. The flame maple capped bodies may be ordered with or without a pickguard.
Model S guitars similarly may be ordered with or without a pickguard. The most common format is to have solid color instruments include our updated S-style pickguard enclosing only the neck and middle pickups of the model S guitar. The transluscent maple topped instruments may be ordered with or without a pickguard.
All pickguards are, of course, available in any pickguard configuration we offer in the instruments and are available in different materials. The vintage style pickguard is available in a black bakelite with the five screw pattern. We also offer black-white-black and white-black-white, white, mother-of-pearl, and tortoise shell materials. The cover plates on the model S will typically be either black or white depending on body finish.
As mentioned earlier, all of Stephen's instruments are available in many different pickup configurations. The standard pickups offered on Stephen's instruments are by Seymour Duncan, however, other pickups are available on request. Standard pickup options which are available will be found on our model description sheet.
Stephen's offers several control configurations on its instruments. The traditional tele style configuration is standard on our model T instruments. The model S instruments come with a standard single volume and single tone control and three-way or five-way knife switch positioned in the position below the volume control. Other configurations are available upon request.
All Stephen's volume controls come standard with a treble pass shelving network that maintains the constant tone of the instrument when the volume is turned down. This simple network solves a problem which is found on most other guitars, which is that if the volume control is turned down from the wide open position, the tone of the instrument changes and the high end of the output rolls off faster than the low end. This can make effective use of the volume control a real problem. Stephen's solves this problem with ten cents worth of parts and, to this day, we cannot understand why other manufacturers do not offer this solution.
With many of the pickup options offered on our guitars, there exist many possibilities of combinations of split and humbucking pickups. As a general philosophy, we attempt to minimize the number of switches on our instruments and have most of the truly useful options contained within the single pickup selection switch. While we offer push-pull pots and many switches as an option, it is our feeling that too many switches on a guitar make it too difficult to select the different tonal possibilities available in a real playing situation. We also find that guitars built with a multitude of pickups which may be wired in a multitude of options such as series humbucker, parallel humbucker, split coil and half- split coil, can offer far more options than are actually useful in a musical sense. While we have seen guitars built that have as many as eighteen different pickup selection options, we feel it is rare for a guitar to have more than three to five truly different and useful tonal selections.
For specific wiring schemes on our instruments, please see our Technical Notes relating to each.
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Copyright 1996 Stephens Stringed Instruments, Inc.
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