Guitar String Trees Explained – Are They Necessary?

Do you have a Fender Style guitar where the open strings sound dead or wimpy? Chances are, you have a problem or fault in the headstock. Some guitars have a headstock that is designed to be straight with the fretboard and require string trees. 

You might be wondering, what are guitar string trees, and are they really necessary? Find everything you need to know about String Trees in this article.

Guitar String Trees

What is a String Tree?

Have you ever seen a little piece of alloy fastened to the headstock like in the image above? It is called a String Tree.

A string Tree is a small but very important part and is integral to that of a  Fender-style guitar or bass. It’s used to apply force to the string and keep it firmly seated in the nut by providing the right break angle. 

If it’s not firmly seated, it will not vibrate as it should, this can affect the sound it makes. String trees often go unnoticed by many guitarists, especially beginners.

How is the Role of String Trees Important?

The primary function of this part is to apply the perfect amount of downward pressure on strings to prevent them from producing a buzzing sound in their respective nut slots.

They are also crucial when it comes to keeping a string in the nut slot, which then helps with proper intonation. Without the use of string trees on flat headstock style guitars, some common issues would be:

  • Dead sounds
  • String Buzz
  • Strings coming out of nut slots when bending
  • Intonation and tuning issues

Any guitar headstock that is flat will need these parts installed, as they play a vital role in the performance and tuning stability.

Are Guitar String Trees Necessary?

The necessity of a string tree depends directly on the geometry or shape of the headstock.

For instance, Gibson headstocks tilt back slightly at an angle, enough to keep the strings seated firmly in the nut. This is called the break angle and is crucial to proper intonation and vibration.

Guitars that have six tuners in a row, like Strats and Teles, have flat headstocks running parallel to the fretboard. The longest-running strings require this part to produce the desired downward pressure.

This makes them necessary for flat-style headstocks to induce the downward pressure that is needed to keep the strings in their nut slot.

String Trees are not required for tilted headstocks. This is because they bear a shape that forms a good angle between the nut and the tuners, resulting in enough steepness for the strings to stay in their slots.

If the strings are not properly seated in their nut slots, this can affect the intonation and can lead to buzz sounds. String Trees prevent any of these issues and create the right conditions for optimal performance and sound.

Usually, they are used to secure the first two strings between the nut and the tuners. Sometimes you may see the 4 first four strings supported when a manufacturer feels they are necessary.

A few other terms used to refer to the String Trees are retainers and guides.

How Do They Work?

For a guitar to work properly, the strings need to be held tight at each end. This creates endpoints that allow for proper intonation and tuning. They also need to be held in place so that they do not pop out of the nut or bridge when bending or strumming aggressively.

A flat headstock design doesn’t provide this extra force needed to keep a string held tightly in place at the nut end. This means that the angle is not sufficient to prevent things like dead string sounds or, worse, having it come out of the nut.

A string tree pulls them closer to the headstock, essentially creating a better break angle at the nut. This adds the extra force required to keep it in the nut and also allows it to resonate as it should.

What Are String Trees Made From?

Most String Trees are made of a metal material. Some guitar players who use excessive tremolo for doing bar tricks or do a lot of bending consider using string trees that are made of graphite. This prevents wear on the strings from rubbing against them.

Also, when a string scrapes against metal, a lot of friction is created that reduces its ability to return to the right pitch. Graphite provides a smoother point of contact for the strings that minimizes the friction and the chances of them going out of tune.

Different Types of String Trees

The three most common string tree styles are as follows:

  • Butterfly 
  • Roller 
  • Barrel
  • Disc or Round

The butterfly string tree is simply a clip with a spacer that gets screwed to the headstock. It’s shaped like a butterfly and has grooves that hold a guitar string on each side. This allows you to use one tree for two strings.

A disadvantage of the butterfly style is that there are no moving parts and strings drag on them wearing out or becoming flat in spots.

The roller-style string tree has two moveable parts on each side. These parts or rollers move with the string, preventing wear. This can be incredibly helpful if you bend a great deal.

Roller String trees

The barrel-style string tree is similar to the butterfly in that there are no moving parts. The barrel tree has two small points that make contact with the strings, preventing as much wear when compared to the butterfly. 

A disadvantage of the barrel style is that it is an arm design that may not last under high tension.

The Disc or round style is made for bass guitars primarily. They are made to deal with higher tension typically found on bass strings.

Is There A Need For String Trees With Locking Tuners?

Locking tuners are usually made with staggered posts, which means each string post is situated at a different height. This can be helpful in creating a better break angle on flat headstocks.

However, it is still recommended to use string trees, as the machine head poles themselves are still a decent distance away from the nut. For optimal results, string trees should be used even with locking tuners.

string tree with locking tuners

Maintain Your String Trees

If you are experiencing any noise or have issues with the strings coming out of the nut, check these parts. Over time, string trees can wear out or bend, causing them to lose their ability to create a good break angle.

The fasteners that hold them in place can also loosen and create issues that affect the performance of the guitar. It is always a good idea to check them and make sure they are tight.

If you find you are dealing with many of the issues we have mentioned in this article, you may want to consider replacing them.

Conclusion

The shape or geometry of guitar headstocks defines the need for string trees.

String Trees are necessary if you have guitars with a flat-style headstock. Those with tilted headstocks don’t require them, as the break angle is already set.

If you are facing issues like weak or buzzing sounds, then using a string tree is recommended. 

FAQs

What is the point of string trees?

String trees play a very important role with guitars that have a flat or parallel running headstock. They create a break angle that is important when it comes to applying the right amount of downward force on a string in a nut slot.

Without this force, the string would not sound right, nor would it stay in the nut slot when bending or using the tremolo.

Should I remove string trees?

No, string trees should not be removed from a guitar that came with them from the factory. If you are having issues with yours, replace them or have a technician look at them. 

If you remove them, the guitar will no longer perform as it should. The string angle from nut to tuner will not be correct.

Do string trees affect tone?

No, string trees do not affect tone. They are installed on a guitar primarily to create a better angle from nut to the tuner. This will affect how a string performs, but not the tone of the guitar overall.

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Don East

My name is Don East, I'm the editor for Killer Rig. I've been playing guitar for over 20 years and have designed and manufactured products like guitar amps, effects pedals, and more. Over the years I have played in many bands and have a deep love for quality gear.I am an electrical engineer and have a passion for music gear, and now want to share what I know with the community!