String Theory: What Is Top Wrapping?
There’s a standard way of stringing a Les Paul or other stop tailpiece-equipped axe, and it works perfectly fine. And so it should! The darn things were designed to work that way! But there’s another method that some players swear by, often called ‘top wrapping.’ This is a simple trick which anyone can do, and it’s totally reversible (although there’s a small risk of scuffing up your tailpiece, so if that’s a concern for you you may want to pick up a spare tailpiece).
All you need to do is lower the tailpiece right down against the body, poke the strings through the ‘wrong’ end of the tailpiece (from the pickup side instead of the tailpiece side), then thread them back towards the bridge and thread them through the tuner posts like you normally would. And that’s it!
There are two main reasons that players might employ this method of stringing: string slinkiness and sustain.
Top-wrapping creates a shallower break angle over the bridge saddle, since the strings pass from the top of the bridge instead of halfway through it, and many players report that their strings feel looser and slinkier as a result. The idea is that with the shallower break angle, the strings are free to move more easily over the bridge when you bend. By the way, as with any setup, it’s a good idea to use some kind of lubricant at the saddles and nut slots.
Secondly, players report an increase in bottom end and sustain when they top-wrap, and they attribute this to the fact that the tailpiece is screwed right down against the body, creating a more efficient transfer of energy from the string into the body, and from the body back into the string.
I tried this with my Gibson Les Paul Traditional and I definitely noticed an improvement in string bendability, low end and sustain, although this will be more apparent on some guitars than others, on a ‘piece-of-wood-by-piece-of-wood’ basis. Next string change, consider giving it a try to see if it works for you!
Joe Bonamassa is a famous top-wrapper. Listen to his Les Paul in action in this video about his signature Seymour Duncan pickup set.