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Old April 17th, 2017, 08:52 PM   #1 (permalink)
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ES 345 not easy to play

Hello all,

I purchased a beautiful 2000 ES345 about a couple of years ago. It came with what I thought at the time, was low action, Gibson recommended 10's, proper radius setup, etc. It played OK, but not as easy as I thought it would for such an instrument.

My fingers are not all that strong and I play a soft Atkins fingerstyle, so I can take the low action and do fine.

Some time after it came in, I installed a Vibramate adapter and a Bigsby B7. This setup made the strings about 4-1/2" longer than original, without the Bigsby. With the added string length because of the Bigsby, the instrument should generally be a little more difficult to play and it was. I'm running Chrome flats, 10 - 48.

After a long hiatus, I recently picked it up again and played a few tunes, only to discover that despite a straight neck (paper thin at 7th fret) and what I believe to be the proper action setup, the guitar still seemed somewhat difficult to play in terms of finger pressure required. Not only that, but the strings actually dig into my skin like a knife and cause significant pain. This does not happen with any other guitar that I use.

I figured that fret height and string action might be a couple of the reasons why this guitar is more difficult to play than most of my others, do I did a quick check by comparing the 345 to a Gretsch Super Chet I have that plays with almost no effort. Here's what I came up with:

Fret Height Low E - Inches Gretsch vs. ES345
1st fret Gretsch .0445 ES345 .0570
5th fret .0320 .0620
12th fret .0415 .0515
20th fret .0435 .0580
Average Gretsch .0403 ES345 .0571
This represents a 42% increase in fret height on the ES345 vs the Gretsch.

Top of fret to top of string (not bottom) - inches
Low E 1st fret Gretsch .040 ES345 .040
Low E 5th fret .060 .070
Low E 12th fret .080 .090
Low E 20th fret .100 .100
Hi E 1st fret .010 .030
Hi E 5th fret .025 .040
Hi E 12th fret .040 .040
Hi E 20th fret .050 .040
Average Gretsch .0506 ES345 .0563
This represents about an 11% increase string height above frets with the ES 345 vs the Gretsch.

Seems that both the fret height and the string height above the frets are higher on the ES 345 than the Super Chet, which explains a lot. Combined, the overall additional fret-string height on the ES 345 vs the Super Chet is about 25%. Since I purchased the 345 used, I don't know if the 345 came set up this way from the factory or was modified by the original buyer.

So, I have two questions: Can anyone tell me if the setup specs on my 345 seem correct for a factory instrument? I own a 1964 ES330 and it plays wonderfully, with perfect action. The frets are lower than the 345.

And second, would it be possible to have a luthier refret the 345 with lower frets so that I could bring down the action to my liking? Has anyone done this and if so, with what success? Was there any detrimental impact on the instrument by installing lower frets such as intonation, nut/saddle adjustments, etc?

Sorry for the long winded post, but I spent a lot of money on this pristine guitar and I'd like it to play as I want it to.

I've attached a picture of the guitar with this post. You can see the Vibramate adapter and the Bigsby.



Thanks for your help.

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Old April 17th, 2017, 09:20 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Hi Gene! I would certainly not regret that beauty. It sounds like it just needs a good setup by a qualified tech. Having a bit longer string length due to the Bigsby setup will not increase the string tension. That tension is only a function of the distance between the nut and the bridge, which did not change with that installation. Even with the Bigsby, when you tune it up to standard pitch, the tension on the playable length of the string will be the same as before.

The frets on your 1964 are probably lower due to many years of playing. The action is the string height measured from the bottom of the string to the top of the fret, and not to the fretboard if that is what you were thinking.

Now if you have a light touch, you could play with lower action, and that will make it feel softer, or play with a lighter gauge of strings. If you don't do your own setups, I would seek out a very talented tech and have them work some magic on it. Setups are quite an art and should not be left to those with minimal skills.
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Old April 18th, 2017, 02:07 AM   #3 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SAguitar View Post
Hi Gene! I would certainly not regret that beauty. It sounds like it just needs a good setup by a qualified tech. Having a bit longer string length due to the Bigsby setup will not increase the string tension. That tension is only a function of the distance between the nut and the bridge, which did not change with that installation. Even with the Bigsby, when you tune it up to standard pitch, the tension on the playable length of the string will be the same as before.

The frets on your 1964 are probably lower due to many years of playing. The action is the string height measured from the bottom of the string to the top of the fret, and not to the fretboard if that is what you were thinking.

Now if you have a light touch, you could play with lower action, and that will make it feel softer, or play with a lighter gauge of strings. If you don't do your own setups, I would seek out a very talented tech and have them work some magic on it. Setups are quite an art and should not be left to those with minimal skills.
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Thank you for your comments, SAguitar. Very much appreciated.
I've been doing most of my own setups for inside of half a century, but that doesn't mean I know what I'm doing. I was lucky in that I learned a few things from two very good luthiers long ago and I've probably forgotten most of them.

Like you, I used to think that the tension on the strings is dependent upon the distance between the nut and the bridge, but both luthiers told me otherwise. Their position is that despite the strings resting on the bridge in it's original position, the added string length extending to the end of the Bigsby and its angle, result in greater tension....at least according to these two.

The way one of them described it was by visualizing an image of a ES335 with a normal distance between its nut and bridge, but then extending to a Bigsby 500 feet away and 200 feet below the surface of the Earth. He indicated that there would be a significant increase in string tension because the tension doesn't end at the bridge. Only the tuning does....at least according to him.

Philly Luthier Supply isn't too far from where I live and perhaps I'll stop in and see if they can clarify this.

Regarding my '64 ES 330, its fret height is much lower than the ES 345 (by 34%) and no doubt and as you said, a result from years of playing and dressing. But there's a lot of stuff on the Internet indicating that Gibson used smaller frets both in height and width during the 50's and 60's and gradually increased size. I'm not confirming this....it's only what I've read. And I'm not certain that my years of playing the 330 could have lessened the height of the frets by one-third.

The problem I have with my 345 is that it's more difficult to press its strings down to the fretboard when playing because the frets are so much higher than my other instruments. The action is fine. The fret height isn't. Take the Super Chet I mentioned in my original post. The frets on the 345 are a whopping 42% higher than the Gretsch....which plays without any effort. That's a long way to push down! And I'm not a "bender", so I can get by with smaller frets.

After my original post, I checked Gibson's setup specs for the 335 - 345. My setup is very close to what they recommend. But again, it's the height of the frets that concern me.

As far as using a professional to do my setups, in those instances where I've gone that route, I've never been pleased with the results that I can recall. The only thing that they usually get close to being right is intonation. Everything else, from nut work (I've ruined a few), truss rod, bridge adjustments, string spacing, action, radius adjustments, pickup distance, whatever, have never met my expectations. So I've taken on those chores myself. I let one tech install a Bigsby and he ruined the instrument. I've been doing my own ever since. They add so much to a guitar and I love them.

The one thing I haven't done is install new frets. This is why I asked the question in my original post about how different frets could impact an instrument. I hate to change the originality of the 345, but if lower frets will make it more playable in my soft style of playing, perhaps I'll go for it.
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Old April 18th, 2017, 02:27 AM   #4 (permalink)
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By the way, here are the '64 ES330 and the '74 Super Chet that I discussed in my original post. Both are mint. The Bigsbys were installed by yours turly with no new holes drilled in the guitars.




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Old April 18th, 2017, 06:57 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Have to agree

I bought a lovely 345 in 2014 and expected it to play perfectly but yes, the frets were higher than I'd like and worse, though they had been levelled accurately - they had been left square! I've had the frets lowered and re-profiled and its much better but still feels too new.
Quite heavy too and that varitone cuts a lot of output. Angle from the vibrola isn't the best but it does sound, "the business!"
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Old April 18th, 2017, 08:43 PM   #6 (permalink)
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You sure have some beauties there, Gene! And Mick, yours isn't half bad either! Beauty.
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Old April 18th, 2017, 09:51 PM   #7 (permalink)
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Mickey, how did the fret work turn out?

Are you pleased with the lowered frets?

Do you know what the new fret height is?

Can I assume the nut and bridge were also lowered to match the frets?

Is the action considerably better and is the instrument significantly easier to play?

Would you do it again with a similar instrument?

Thanks for your help.....
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Old April 19th, 2017, 05:53 AM   #8 (permalink)
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Lovely guitars guys!!

Sent from my SM-T530NU using Tapatalk
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Old April 20th, 2017, 12:01 AM   #9 (permalink)
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If the neck of the ES-345 is almost straight, the action (height of bottom string to top of fret) would be higher than a neck with more relief. You can try adding more relief, allowing you to lower your action. Perhaps this would help if you are a soft touch player.

Tension on a string is the same tension throughout. Otherwise, tuning will not be stable. With longer string (from tuning machine to Bigsby pins) and additional Bigsby spring tension, bending string will perceived to be softer.

Yeah, older Gibson are considered fretless...lower fret height.

...my 2cents

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I was also wondering if the neck profile is similar for Gretsch vs ES-345?
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Old April 20th, 2017, 06:06 AM   #10 (permalink)
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After playing a '75 Telecaster with vintage frets for 20 years, my first Gibson took some getting used to. All my chords sounded out of tune and it took me a while to realize that I was using too much pressure to press the strings. It was a hard adjustment but I seem to have found the happy medium.

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