String height from the body, or why also Steve Vai put a pad on his Green Meanie

It has now been a while since I felt some guitars sort of uncomfortable to play for my right hand. So much that I had to make and install a plastic pad on my seven string Ibanez S7420 (perhaps you can see the pad in some of my stage pictures).

I thought it was just a matter of body shape: since I anchor my right wrist to the body a lot, I believed that the Saber shape was increasing the angle between my picking hand and the strings too much. But today I noticed that, even though my RG 1520A and my LTD GL-256 have both a flat body, I feel much more comfortable with the LTD (which is basically equivalent to a Fender Strat). On the contrary, with the RG I have the same weird S7420 feeling.

Long story short, today I understood that the key factor is the string height from the body: all my Ibbies have a fairly low action, yet the distance string-body ranges from 10mm to 13mm. The LTD instead, having a vintage tremolo and a pickguard, has distance ca 7mm.

Interestingly, I found that already in the 80s Steve Vai used a similar pad on his Green Meanie (a Charvel SoCal) for the exact same reason. This happened because he passed from a Fender Strat to a Floyd Rose guitar. He also anchored his right wrist on the body much more than now.

I hope that these info can be useful to some other people who find that some guitars feel sort of “wrong” to them. Also because the right hand is overlooked very often…remember that “the left hand is the steering wheel, but the right hand is the engine” (unless you play only legatos 😀 ) !

Is it always necessary to replace the stock pickups in a guitar?

I am writing this first post to share some thoughts about a rather hot topic for guitar players.

I own an ESP LTD GL-256 (one of the George Lynch signature models), and I am really happy with it. It feels great, and it is a very resonant instrument when played unplugged.

When plugged into just a pedal board, or into a 100W tube amp, it sounds *amazing*. I really mean it: tons of sustain, good definition and clarity. Both with the bridge humbucker and the neck single coil (the bridge single coil still sounds a bit meh). And now comes the funny part: this is a Vietnamese instrument, with no SD Pearly Gates as the ESP GL-56 but mounting the stock pickups LH-150 and LS-120.

Usually people bash these poor tools claiming that they are “lifeless, useless pickups with no personality” etc etc. Now, I played my axe side by side with my Ibanez RG with SD Full Shred, through my Laney VH100R…and guess what? No substantial differences. Just some nuances (like the almost “vocal” sound of the Full Shred on the high notes), but nothing so important to justify a pickup replacement.

Though I changed plenty of pickups in my instruments during the years, I still believe that the tone is made by your fingers and by your amp. And that replacing an unbranded stock pickup with a Duncan or a Dimarzio or a Bare Knuckle is mostly a matter of personal taste, not of necessity.

I believe that in general, the stock pickups in decently made guitars like my GL-256 are totally honest and useful pieces of equipment. Those who replace them with 80 euros pickups without even testing the instrument as it comes stock, should really work more on their chops and on equalizing correctly their amps.

It is not the pickups ot have personality, it is not the guitar, it is the musician. My bridge humbucker has a metal cover, and I’m pretty sure that these people would tell me “ah, sounds so good…did you put an SD Custom here?” 😀

EDIT: the other evening, after our weekly Dokken practice, my friend asked me if my bridge pick up was an SD Pearly Gates. QED 🙂