guitar headstock types

What are String Trees for Guitar?

Did you know that string trees play a vital role in how well your guitar strings sustain and intonate? In this article, we discuss, what are string trees for guitar!

What are string trees? String trees, string retainers, and string guides are those small metal widgets (shaped like a hook) that are located on the headstock (between the nut and the tuners) and provide downward tension on the strings for more accurate tuning.

Below, I discuss string trees in greater detail… So let us get started! 

1. What are String Trees? 

As discussed, string trees are small metal widgets that attach to the head-stock of the guitar. They are called strings trees as they play a vital role in stabilizing the tension of the guitar neck and secure holding the string onto the Nut (just as a tree would). 

They are only found on straight head-stocks because this particular design lacks downward force that securely holds the strings in place. This leads on to why they are called string trees…

guitar headstock types

Guitars that are not required to have string trees will have a headstock that tilts backward at an angle from the neck. This creates the proper break angle and downward pressure necessary to stabilize the guitar strings.

2. Why are String Trees Important?

String trees are necessary for guitars with straight headstocks. Such as the traditional Fender design.

Fender guitars are commonly found with having a flat headstock and in-line tuners which makes the distance between the nut and the tuning posts longer.

Because of the longer distance, they are required to have this component to increase the pressure of the strings and overall increase tuning stability and accuracy.   

3. How String Trees Work?

The string tree essentially pins the string down to the nut. This is done in the same way you’d press a string against a fret with your finger.

As the strings pass over the nut and thread towards the tuning pegs there may be some slack on the strings. If there is too much slack on the strings they won’t resonate as well and may sound a bit dull and faint.

String trees securely hold the strings in the groves of the nut and remove slack on the strings by creating a proper break angle to securely hold the strings.

This is because the design of straight head-stocks (such as the fender design) is not angled enough from the nut to provide the tension that is required to do this. So, applying downward pressure on the string in question (usually G and B strings) will better hold the strings in the groves and provide the right amount of tension to reduce slack and overall ensure the strings don’t buzz and rattle within their nut slot.

4. Types of string trees

“Butterfly” string tree

Butterfly, disk, and barrel types: Most are metal, and found on Fender guitar structures. The metal trees do improve your tuning. But if you do bending or use the whammy bar regularly, you’re likely to experience tuning problems. It happens every time the string changes tension against the tree. At that time, the contact between the steel strings and the metal trees creates friction and causes the string to hang slightly.

Graphite string tree

There are two other types to reduce friction and thus improve tuning stability. First, use a string tree made from a slippery material such as graphite, or second, install a rolling string tree. Both types of guides accomplish the goal of reducing metal-to-metal friction.

Roller string tree 

String trees with rollers are especially useful to those guitarists who usually bend the strings. It turns with the strings and causes no friction or flattens them. However, many users have pointed out the inconvenience of using this type of string tree: because the rollers are on the same axis, tuning one string will affect another.

5. How the string tree and nut work together

The strings trees work with the Nut as it removes the slack by creating more of an angle to hold the string in place. Where the string tree is positioned on the head-stock changes the angle of where the string threads over the nut. As the angle changes, so do the tension of the strings. The angle has to be precise as not enough angle will mean too much slack on the strings and too much of an angle will mean the string won’t flow over the nut as well as it should and may catch on other components and you may find yourself running into additional tuning problems.

Luckily, some tension is controlled by the position of the string tree (between the nut and the machine head). As the string thread over nut we can move the string tree towards the nut to create more of an angle, or towards the machine, head to straighten the angle out.

Overall, by controlling the angle at which the strings thread over the nut towards the tuners we control the tension of the strings.

Conclusion

Overall, string trees are a vital component for a guitar with a straight headstock design. It is a very simple component but can significantly help with tuning stability.

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