Over the years, I have noticed trends in guitar features and build that lend themselves to a more comfortable feel. Of course everyone is different so this will deal in generalities, but here are a few areas to think about.
It’s nice to have a smooth bridge to rest your hand on. Anything that gets in the way of that—like sharp saddle edges, screws sticking out, or tall mounting screws—is a drag. Even some vintage Telecaster- style bridge plates can feel sharp. Most of these things can easily be remedied, so don’t feel like you have to put up with them.
There is a term in boat building called “tumblehome.” If you think about the top of many boats, the very top edge rounds in a little. The same is true with many necks that are described as comfortable. No matter the size, radius, frets, or carve, if the top edge of the fingerboard rolls over a bit it will have that feel. It is most often associated with vintage Tele necks but you’ll also find it on different years of Gibsons and others. Early Charvel necks, even though they were wide, had the tumblehome.
I have observed that many players are most comfortable with frets that resemble the ones they grew up playing. If you cut your teeth on old Gibsons, you may have an affinity for wide oval frets. If your first guitar was a Fender, maybe thinner frets are your thing. Or not… Just remember that it’s not only the size, but also how the edges are filed and rounded that makes a big difference in comfort.
Tuners that do not want to turn can lead to wrist problems since turning a tuning key is about the worst position you can come up with to stress a wrist. Either fix the problem or get yourself an automated string winder. Or both!
Not as big of a problem for most, but for some reason or another we have been asked to move top-mounted jacks to the side or side-mounted jacks to the top. It all has to do with your style of play and how you work with your guitar. The big news here is to know it can be changed.
The main culprit here is usually the Strat-style volume knob. If you’re like me, your small finger sits right on top of the volume control, especially when palm muting the strings. The easy fix is to plug the first hole and go for a master volume and master tone in the last two spots, getting rid of the second tone control. It is also simple to do away with any control you never use to clear up some strumming space.
POTS AND SWITCHES
This Vintage Tele neck feels so good.
There is no reason to keep a pot or switch that is too loose or too tight. If you want your knobs loose for easy swells, some lube and/or cleaner will most often do the trick. You can also disassemble the pot, polish the parts that make contact, and use some nice lube to reduce friction. For the opposite effect, a cool part is on the market that goes between the bottom of the knob and top of the guitar to add friction. It works great.
If you have a loose 3- or 5-way blade switch, try adding a small spring over the existing spring. For the opposite effect, stretch out the existing spring and the switch will glide.
Hopefully this list will help you notice things you like and do not like on your current guitar and give you a better eye for guitar comforts in the future.
Gary Brawer is bald, he’s bad, and he gives a sh*t about your guitar. His many clients include Joe Satriani, Metallica, and Neal Schon.