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ES-335, Trap Tailpiece....vs. Stop Tailpiece, A Functional Analysis

marshall1987

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My aim here is to objectively assess the characteristics and performance of Gibson's trapeze tailpiece installed on ES-335/345s manufactured from 1965 onward. I break down the subject by delving into practical applications of classical mechanics. Many will be familiar with the basic concepts discussed here, others perhaps not so much. Mercifully, the Readers Digest editorial model is followed as much as possible. Sorry, trick question......

1965 and later Gibson ES- 335s with a trapeze tailpiece can perform and sound just as good as examples with stop tailpieces. To many, they are suitable for a wide variety of musical genres, and when compared side-by-side to the pre-1965 stop-tailpiece models, there are no appreciable differences.

Consider.... the total net force or loading, resulting from the string's tension on a trap-tail 335....using the common set of .010" to .046" electric guitar strings....exerts roughly 96 lb. of force on an ES-335 when tuned to standard. That's nearly 100 pounds. One-hundred pounds of weight is like a Little League baseball pitcher standing on the bottom rim of your guitar.



1. The key concept or "takeaway" here is that guitar strings under tension exert a compression load at the attachment point(s).

2. Newtons Third Law of Motion
states: "When one body exerts a force on a second body, the second body simultaneously exerts a force equal in magnitude and opposite in direction on the first body".

3. There is a net force of 96 lbs. which is applied to both the headstock and the guitar's rim where the trapeze is attached. Continuing, the force is transferred into: (1) the mahogany end-block & the maple center block; and, (2) at the headstock ....down the length of the guitar's neck.

4. CONTRAST THIS WITH THE STOP-TAILPIECE VERSION; wherein string loading is concentrated, and evenly distributed between the tailpiece bushings & the headstock. With this configuration, a significant length of the maple center-block behind the stop-tailpiece (~8 1/2 inches), IS NOT subjected to loading from the string's tension. Put another way, nearly ONE-HALF of the maple center-block’s entire length; i.e., from just behind the stop tailpiece - to the strap button, has no significant load bearing function. Unlike the trapeze version wherein the entire length (~ 18 inches) has a load bearing function. **Note..for simplicity, I have ignored the effect of the strings' down force at the guitar's nut and bridge, and any opposing forces from the truss rod.

5. String loading forces are what drive a guitar's acoustic (& amplified) response, allowing the guitar to produce sound. Even a layman can appreciate this concept. This is why medium and heavy gauge strings produce a more robust, louder acoustic (& amplified) sound, compared to light gauge strings.

6. A trapeze tailpiece does NOT compromise or hinder the performance, tone, or sustain of an ES-3x5 semi-hollowbody guitar. Just the opposite. I would argue the trapeze tailpiece design heightens and bolsters overall performance of an ES-3x5 guitar in many cases.

7. The key difference between the two types is the manner in which string loading forces are applied to the maple center-block. Both tailpiece versions involve compression loading of the center-block. But first.... a quick primer on compression: from Wikipedia.... "In mechanics, compression is the application of balanced inward ("pushing") forces to different points on a material or structure, that is, forces with no net sum or torque directed so as to reduce its size in one or more directions. It is contrasted with tension or traction, the application of balanced outward ("pulling") forces; and with shearing forces, directed so as to displace layers of the material parallel to each other. " Let's take a deeper look:

a. In the case of the trapeze tailpiece version, loading forces are directed into the end-grain of the center-block via uniaxial compression. In uniaxial compression, the forces are directed along one direction only, so that they act towards decreasing the object's length along that direction. In this case the "object" being compressed is the entire length of the center-block.

b. In the case of the stop-tailpiece, compression loading is directed into the center-block via two embedded anchors comprised of one-inch threaded steel studs mated to individual female bushings inserted perpendicular to the center block, and about 8 1/2" from the guitar's bottom rim. In addition, there is a rotational force applied to the anchors and center-block from the pull of the strings, which introduces a rotational moment defined as as torque. Torque can be thought of as a twist to an object around a specific axis.

8. These factors, & the additional string length behind a trap-tail bridge, presumably account for the perceived difference(s) in performance between a trapeze tailpiece & a stop tailpiece. But to categorically state the stop-tailpiece design is superior in every case is a debunked myth. I think attitudes regarding value & desirability have more to do with the end of Gibson's "Golden Era" (1952-1964/65) which coincided with the transition.

9. It is a misconception & myth that vintage '60s stop-tail 335s are superior (in performance, tone, sustain, touch, etc.) to vintage '65 trap-tail 335s with the wide, 1-11/16" nut. For those who like the narrow 1-9/16" nut, the post 1965 models are more affordable and are very good values. An early '65 big neck, nickel hardware, trapeze 335 is every bit the equal of a similar 1964 stop-tail 335, at nearly one-half the price! Since 2020-21, the price gap is narrowing considerably. I'm told some vintage guitar dealers predict that in 2021 we could see prices on tidy, all-original examples of '65 ES-335s (w/ trapeze, nickel parts, & wide nut) ..... approaching $14k - 15k! But make sure you get one with all-nickel hardware & pickups. It's reported the chrome pickups are wound with poly-insulated wire, not PAF-spec enamel wire. In general chrome hardware will bring down the price somewhat. So you can probably say "goodbye" to the days when you could pick one up for a little as $7.5k - 8.5k.

10. In the final analysis, each guitar must be evaluated on an individual basis for it's strengths and weaknesses. And each guitar player must identify what it is he/she desires and expects from an electric guitar.
 
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fakejake

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Interesting post. While I can't comment on the physics you are discussion, I learned over the years that personally I prefer trapeze-style (as in post 64 3x5s, but also Rivieras or Sheratons ) over stop tailpieces.
But then, I play jazz not blues or rock like probably most others, so maybe that setup lends itself better for that style. Interestingly, some other manufacturers like D'Angelico or Schottmüller also use trap-style tailpieces on some of their semi-hollow guitars.
 

EdmundGTP

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Short version: With a trapeze bridge, ~96% of the wood structure (by length) is reacting to and supporting the forces of string tension. With a stoptail, only 76% of the wood structure (by length) is doing the same job.


How that mechanical difference manifests in terms of sound and feel is quite the difficult question to pin down, but interesting to think about. :hmm:salude
 

deytookerjaabs

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Eh, there's so much going on there. Your body/neck/bridge angle/height, the guitar itself, the strings you use, the music you play and how you play it.

In the guitar world lots of people want the instrument to basically act/feel like a Strat,Tele or a Les Paul regardless of what the guitar is. As in, they just want big bends that sound crunchy through tube amps with an extra side of sustain. That's evidenced before the modern era in all the humbucker conversions, stop tail conversions and the like regardless of the merits of the specific instrument.

I mean, IMO the entire beauty of the guitar is all 1 million variations you have out there.
 

rob livesey

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Ok, I’m coming in here too.

I have two vintage trapeze 335’s and I have mulled over the moral dilemma of converting them in the past. As both are stellar examples I have decided to leave them stock, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want a stoptail 335 in the future.

For me, and it’s just my opinion of my guitars, the trapeze makes the guitar feel stiffer. When compared with a stoptail guitar, bent notes need to traverse the fingerboard/fret for a slightly further distance to achieve the desired note. I get around this easily by dropping the string gauge by 0.5.

When I have had discussions on here in the past about this I get told I’m wrong, but I know I feel it, and I see it. Can you give me a scientific explanation of this?

Rob
 

zacknorton

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Trapeze guitars setups (and guitars with more space between string anchor point and bridge break) have a wider intonation range.

They also require more string bend to alter the pitch of the note. But the strings should be easier to bend.

Maybe that's the "stiffness" you were referring to?

I have a couple trapeze setup guitars and haven't ever had a problem with string feel or bending....different but not bad. But with the end mount bigsby's the change in feel is obvious, and I don't like it.
 

EdmundGTP

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Ok, I’m coming in here too.

I have two vintage trapeze 335’s and I have mulled over the moral dilemma of converting them in the past. As both are stellar examples I have decided to leave them stock, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want a stoptail 335 in the future.

For me, and it’s just my opinion of my guitars, the trapeze makes the guitar feel stiffer. When compared with a stoptail guitar, bent notes need to traverse the fingerboard/fret for a slightly further distance to achieve the desired note. I get around this easily by dropping the string gauge by 0.5.

When I have had discussions on here in the past about this I get told I’m wrong, but I know I feel it, and I see it. Can you give me a scientific explanation of this?

Rob

Pitch of a string is a function of it's tension. Even though the length of string between the nut and the bridge (the scale length) is what effectively creates the sound, the string isn't locked in place at those two points, and to bend the string up in pitch, means you need to increase tension along the entire length of the string, all the way from tuner peg to the body anchor. If you're bending the high E on a stop tail ES, you only have to increase the tension on about 28.25" of string length. On a trapeze ES, you have to increase the tension on about 31.75" of string. Because the tension is distributed along MORE wire with the trapeze (more length for give and stretch when a load, like your bending finger, is applied), you have to push the string laterally a little bit further to reach the desired bend pitch.

Think of it this way. If you have two lengths of rope horizontally suspended from each end. One rope is 4 inches long, and the other is 4 feet. If you hang a gallon of milk from the center of each suspended rope length, which one will sag further? (hint: it isn't the short one)

This "stiffness" thing is kind of subjective. At rest, the string tension is the same between both ES versions. Tension = Tension. In reality, bending the the high E string of the trapeze bridge by 1/8" will take less effort than it takes to bend the same string the same distance on the stop tail ES. However, you haven't reached the same bend pitch. The "stiffness" is likely what you're perceiving as the slight bit of extra work it's taking you to push the trapeze strings a little bit further for every bend to get the same pitch.
 

Minibucker

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Trapeze tailpiece 335's can sound absolutely killer. If I found one and liked the way it played, I wouldn't even entertain the idea of converting it to a stop tailpiece. I think they have their own bouncy, more 'hollow-body-ish' thing going on.


Not specifically a trap tailpiece, but similar:


 

rob livesey

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Pitch of a string is a function of it's tension. Even though the length of string between the nut and the bridge (the scale length) is what effectively creates the sound, the string isn't locked in place at those two points, and to bend the string up in pitch, means you need to increase tension along the entire length of the string, all the way from tuner peg to the body anchor. If you're bending the high E on a stop tail ES, you only have to increase the tension on about 28.25" of string length. On a trapeze ES, you have to increase the tension on about 31.75" of string. Because the tension is distributed along MORE wire with the trapeze (more length for give and stretch when a load, like your bending finger, is applied), you have to push the string laterally a little bit further to reach the desired bend pitch.

Think of it this way. If you have two lengths of rope horizontally suspended from each end. One rope is 4 inches long, and the other is 4 feet. If you hang a gallon of milk from the center of each suspended rope length, which one will sag further? (hint: it isn't the short one)

This "stiffness" thing is kind of subjective. At rest, the string tension is the same between both ES versions. Tension = Tension. In reality, bending the the high E string of the trapeze bridge by 1/8" will take less effort than it takes to bend the same string the same distance on the stop tail ES. However, you haven't reached the same bend pitch. The "stiffness" is likely what you're perceiving as the slight bit of extra work it's taking you to push the trapeze strings a little bit further for every bend to get the same pitch.

Thanks for that! A most excellent and clear explanation, and it’s exactly what I experience.
 

reddeluxe

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As a former owner of two different early 60's original Epiphone Sheratons with factory Frequensator trap style tailpieces installed, I can absolutely concur on the description given by EdmundGTP posted above. For those who don't know, the Frequensator has two seperate length "mini" trap attachments; one length for the 3 bass side strings, another for the 3 trebles. This is a perfect platform to test short VS. long string lengths, because nothing else changes as far as action /bridge height, neck angle, string gauge, etc. , and reversing the two lengths gives a noticeable, immediate difference in feel. Just as stated, the longer the string length, the less tension there seems to be felt, but the actual distance the string has to be moved to achieve the same pitch when bending at the fret is actually greater (the bend has to be "wider"). The tension difference becomes more noticeable as the string set gauge gets bigger and stiffer....say a typical .010 set VS a typical .012 set. But not only string length behind the bridge, but string break angle also affects the note bending feel. Having said that, I think part of the stop tail's versatility is that you can adjust the height of the stop bar/string break angle behind the bridge or even do the top wrap thing to mimick the feel of having the trapeze style response and feel if you like. One more thing I've noticed is that quite a few of the earlier 3x5 family (pre '65) seem to have shallower neck to body angles in their construction which affects the feel and response of the strings in a subtle way, too. Out of 8 different 3x5 golden era guitars I've owned, my favorite for sound and playability was an extremely early '62 sunburst block marker 335, essentially the same as the last version of the dot neck, with a very shallow neck angle ( ABR-1 bridge about 1/16" off the top of the guitar) with the stoptail lowered all the way down onto the top of the guitar and using .010 gauge string set. Very close second was a '61 stop tailed cherry 345, again with a shallow neck angle and very low bridge height, same string gauge. Interestingly, neither of these guitars had the super thin "blade" shape neck profile that many ES guitars from that time frame are known for.
 
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bern1

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One missing element in 1987’s elegant treatise is the fact that most early stoptail 335’s specifically have a centerblock that goes all the way from the tailpiece to the neck. This brings the guitar a little closer to a solid body Les Paul in sound and feel, which is a happy place that a lot of us like and results in those guitars being particularly coveted. Trapeze 335’s and stop tail 345 or 355 guitars do not generally have this feature.

I am not debating the inarguable fact that trapeze guitars and similar guitars have a cool sound.
 

EdmundGTP

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As a former owner of two different early 60's original Epiphone Sheratons with factory Frequensator trap style tailpieces installed, I can absolutely concur on the description given by EdmundGTP posted above. For those who don't know, the Frequensator has two seperate length "mini" trap attachments; one length for the 3 bass side strings, another for the 3 trebles. This is a perfect platform to test short VS. long string lengths, because nothing else changes as far as action /bridge height, neck angle, string gauge, etc. , and reversing the two lengths gives a noticeable, immediate difference in feel. Just as stated, the longer the string length, the less tension there seems to be felt, but the actual distance the string has to be moved to achieve the same pitch when bending at the fret is actually greater (the bend has to be "wider"). The tension difference becomes more noticeable as the string set gauge gets bigger and stiffer....say a typical .010 set VS a typical .012 set. But not only string length behind the bridge, but string break angle also affects the note bending feel. Having said that, I think part of the stop tail's versatility is that you can adjust the height of the stop bar/string break angle behind the bridge or even do the top wrap thing to mimick the feel of having the trapeze style response and feel if you like. One more thing I've noticed is that quite a few of the earlier 3x5 family (pre '65) seem to have shallower neck to body angles in their construction which affects the feel and response of the strings in a subtle way, too. Out of 8 different 3x5 golden era guitars I've owned, my favorite for sound and playability was an extremely early '62 sunburst block marker 335, essentially the same as the last version of the dot neck, with a very shallow neck angle ( ABR-1 bridge about 1/16" off the top of the guitar) with the stoptail lowered all the way down onto the top of the guitar and using .010 gauge string set. Very close second was a '61 stop tailed cherry 345, again with a shallow neck angle and very low bridge height, same string gauge. Interestingly, neither of these guitars had the super thin "blade" shape neck profile that many ES guitars from that time frame are known for.


For sure another factor is that bridge break angle over the saddles! When you increase the tension of the string by bending, you're pulling the string against both the bridge saddle and the nut, so part of the resistance to bending that your finger feels is the friction between the string and those 2 points. Friction force is the product of Normal force and friction coefficient. In the case of the bridge, the Normal Force would be the reaction load of the string tension being drawn across the saddle at its respective angle (i.e. break angle). The easiest similar relationship to understand would be that of a single pulley. Graphic below shows the relationship between the angle of the rope legs (substitute this for the guitar string) and the resulting load on the pulley (substitute the pulley for a bridge saddle). With a "steep" break angle, you reduce the angle between the two legs of the tension element (the guitar string), and thus increase the load on the saddle. Increased load on the saddle equates to an increased Normal Force at the string/saddle interface, which means there's a higher friction force to be overcome. This is why a top-wrap configuration feels "slinkier". The break angle is much "shallower" (increase of the angle between the two legs of the tension element). Reaction load is reduced, and with it Normal Force is also reduced. And there's less friction at the saddle, which makes the bends feel a bit easier.

Nt5yKlw.jpg


zfYsmfW.jpg


So the closer the angle gets to 180 degrees, or a 0 degree break angle, the closer the bridge reaction gets to zero.

I think there are some schools of thought that a steeper break angle helps with the transmission of string vibration into the body through the bridge. I suppose that is possible. It's up to the individual to decide where the optimum balance is between play-ability (i.e. ease of bending in this case) and the effect that the break angle might have on tone, and/or its effect on the physical resonance of the guitar as a system.

How important even is it that the body of a guitar resonate sympathetically with the vibration of its strings? And what is it important with regard to? Tone? Sustain? Something else entirely? I'm not even really interested in trying to answer those questions myself, but they're interesting to think about. I would hypothesize though, that sympathetic resonance of the body is more of a factor in the end result of a hollow or semi-hollow bodied instrument versus a solid body.

Perhaps a bit less thinking and just more playing/practicing is in order. :hank
 

marshall1987

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One missing element in 1987’s elegant treatise is the fact that most early stoptail 335’s specifically have a centerblock that goes all the way from the tailpiece to the neck. This brings the guitar a little closer to a solid body Les Paul in sound and feel, which is a happy place that a lot of us like and results in those guitars being particularly coveted. Trapeze 335’s and stop tail 345 or 355 guitars do not generally have this feature.

I am not debating the inarguable fact that trapeze guitars and similar guitars have a cool sound.

You are absolutely right. :dude:

Regarding the enlarged route (cut-out) at the bridge pickup cavity.....when drafting the first version of this review, I considered addressing this feature which is present on most post-1963/64 ES-335s. But decided against it because it's not entirely clear how this impacts the load bearing properties of the center-block. The cut-out removes a considerable amount of wood from the center-block; however, a significant section of wood is retained at the top or upper section of the block. Apparently Gibson found that the cut-out did not diminish structural integrity of the ES-3x5s. Either way, structural continuity is maintained along the full length of the center-block.

Based on reports from owners, the group consensus is, that,....there is no consensus with regard to any perceived differences in performance, tone, sustain, etc. between these two versions.
 
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J.D.

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As someone who has converted a circa 1970 ES-335 trapeze to Bigsby (no other changes) I can most certainly say there was an audible difference in tone and sustain.
 

bern1

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You are absolutely right. :dude:

Regarding the enlarged route (cut-out) at the bridge pickup cavity.....when drafting the first version of this review, I considered addressing this feature which is present on most pre-1963/64 ES-335s. But decided against it because it's not entirely clear how this impacts the load bearing properties of the center-block. The cut-out removes a considerable amount of wood from the center-block; however, a significant section of wood is retained at the top or upper section of the block. Apparently Gibson found that the cut-out did not diminish structural integrity of the ES-3x5s. Either way, structural continuity is maintained along the full length of the center-block.

Based on reports from owners, the group consensus is, that,....there is no consensus with regard to any perceived differences in performance, tone, sustain, etc. between these two versions.

Got it. Agree the cutout would have little impact on the load bearing.
 

reddeluxe

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EdmundGTP, very nice explanation and graphics on how the string break angle over the bridge also affects the perceived tension of the strings while bending. As per my post about the shallower neck set angles on early 3x5 stop tail guitars, you can compare your LP picture to how much closer to 180 degrees the string/saddle angle woud be if the ABR-1 was set down only 1/16" off the face of the guitar. I think that is one detail that makes the difference in a "great" 3x5 VS a "good" one. Playing with the height of the stoptail can enable the player to get the balance of tension/playability he wants. Great post, sir.
 

EdmundGTP

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EdmundGTP, very nice explanation and graphics on how the string break angle over the bridge also affects the perceived tension of the strings while bending. As per my post about the shallower neck set angles on early 3x5 stop tail guitars, you can compare your LP picture to how much closer to 180 degrees the string/saddle angle woud be if the ABR-1 was set down only 1/16" off the face of the guitar. I think that is one detail that makes the difference in a "great" 3x5 VS a "good" one. Playing with the height of the stoptail can enable the player to get the balance of tension/playability he wants. Great post, sir.


It's all in the angle of the dangle. :salude
 

Minibucker

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For any of the Les Paul or 335's I've owned, I've just tried to match the angle in front and rear of the bridge. Sometimes that means top wrapping if the bridge is higher, other times just some thin shims/washers underneath the tailpiece studs (from Faber). One R7 had a very low bridge that I could comfortably get the tailpiece all the way down, but it was a bit steep so a few turns backed out was fine. I even made a cardboard cutout with a 17˚/163˚ angle as a quick reference.

One time on a Yamaha semi-hollow that I borrowed for a while which had a Bigsby, the length of string behind the bridge would sometimes cause a few weird harmonics. I actually weaved a thin piece of foam through the strings which helped it but didn't dampen things when playing normally. But that had a very shallow angle of string behind the bridge, and the Bigsby was a B3 model, but probably should have been a B7 with the extra tension bar. With the original roller bridge the strings would sometimes pop out if I bent a string. I eventually got one of the same model which came with a stop tailpiece and I put on a Bigsby B7. Much better with more angle and downward force on bridge.
 
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