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.

String Slinkiness

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.

Sustain

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.

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  • Jared

    Fantastic.

  • http://thevirtuouscircle.blogspot.com/ Kelvin Reynolds

    I had forgotten about this, I sold my stop tailpiece equipped guitar (my current has a trapeze) but it is a good thing to try out

  • Andrew

    Cool!

  • Mickey Sigrist

    That’s such an interesting thing to try on my next string change! Tks for the advices ;)

  • crazysg

    thanks… does it will work on a SG guitar as well, doens’t it? thanks again

    • Pooeatingherman

      Nope, just Les Pauls. Specifically, vintage, pre-Norlin Les Pauls. And don’t even THINK of trying it on a Firebird. They’ve been known to explode when this technique is attempted. Good luck!

      • Jacob Swigert

        I could not stop laughing after I read this. You, sir, made my day.

      • Maynar

        Yer a scamp, Herman! :D

      • cam

        works fine on my flying v

  • kramerassult220

    i fine when doing this that sme of the srings tend to fall out of the saddle when playing

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/IFF52L7O7DQJ6SYE5KDC6UTNA4 Rip

    So 10′s could still be the same gauge but almost bend like 9′s?

  • Rodney King

    The strings would slip easier from the slots on the bridge this way, I guess.

  • http://www.facebook.com/aaronlaurawilsonwilliams Uttara Ashada

    Us Tp-6 users are out of luck. ;-(

  • TMaxxUK

    used to have a Duncan Convertible 100 back around 1990… wish i still had it! :(

  • http://www.facebook.com/max.mobley.56 Max Mobley

    I do it on my SG and all my other Stop TP guitars. I started because I didn’t like the strings hitting the back of the tuneomatic on the way to the saddles. I swear I broke more strings cuz of that. Now with the top wrap I rarely break strings and yep, sustain is better. Also helps the bottom on an SG. And yeah, feels “bendier!”

  • Matt

    I top-wrap both of my ’67 Flying V reissues, and I haven’t broke a string on either guitar since I started doing this 3 years ago. With these guitars, I’m not sure it improves bottom end but it does somehow smooth out the sustain… it makes for a richer sound without actually increasing low end.
    You know what DOESN’T work for flying Vs? Aluminum tailpieces. They actually make the guitar’s low-end sound harsher! It’s really obvious when playing a distorted root-5 power chord on the 5th and 6th string. I know they really improve a Les Paul’s tone, but I would recommend anyone playing a Gibson V to leave the stock tailpiece as is!

    • Glenn Kennedy

      Did you break strings much before? I mean, do you find it is an improvement in this area?

  • Chris G

    My ES135 has a trapeze tail and also the headstock angle is maybe 14 degrees, so not the typical Gibson 17 degrees. I don’t find the strings to be any more bendable than any other of the other 33 Gibsons I’ve owned. I think that the break angle over the bridge saddles being less, means that the tension from top to bottom of the crossection of the string is more consistent. When I have stop tail guitar I always raise up the stop tail to reduce the break angle over the saddles. I like the sound better like that. I’m not sure that having the stop tail screwed down to the body would make any difference at all. I’m pretty sure people are dreaming about that. As I’ve said the real difference is in how the string is less stressed on top compared to bottom with less break angle.

  • jimmi6007

    I just finished top wrapping my LP and I can feel a difference. The strings are easier to bend and the sound, it seems to ring out a little more. Can’t wait to plug it into my amp.

  • http://slrman.wordpress.com/ James Smith

    All knowledge is good, even if it doesn’t seem to apply to your particular situation. We never know when it might lead you to something else.

    Thanks for this bit.

  • mapm

    i’ll try this the next time i change strings on my LP

  • Darksoul22

    Nothing wrong with wrapping the strings. Les Paul himself wrapped the strings on his early ’50s Gibsons, albeit from the top under the tailpiece.

  • David

    My ES-335 doesn’t love this. Strings fall out of the saddle easily and i think the break angle becomes too shallow because there is not enough oomph in the sound. Easier to bend, but Gibsons have short scale anyways so it’s not exactly hard to bend. (F’Chrissake, SRV played Fenders with .013s and he didn’t exactly have trouble bending. JB: man up.)

    • Jeremy

      SRV also had fingers like tree trunks….

      • GB

        Don’t make excuses for the fact you’re wussy. I played 13s in standard for a while and after about a month playing a guitar with 10s felt like playing spaghetti.

        • Alexander Everhart

          I’d like to see you tell Billy Gibbons he’s a wussy for playing 7s since the mid 70′s. You do realize that large majority of famous guitarists play/played 10′s or smaller right? Sounds as though you’re overcompensating for a tiny penis. My condolences, now play your damn guitar and let it speak for you because you’re mouth is making you sound like a little twit.

          • Alexander sucks dick

            Tiny penis, mouth, twit? Interesting choice of words. Lol

    • Maurice Gentile

      Didn’t he also tune down a whole or half step?

      • LesPaul77

        Yes, SRV tuned half-step flat.

  • Andy Falstad

    funny you offer this as an alternative method. It’s the only way I ever string my Paul & never paid attention to any other. I just never learned another way so I guess I’ve always top wrapped.

  • Ole Kaarvaag

    God damn it. Changed strings on my LP for the first time in a bit over a year just a couple of weeks ago. If I had read this article before that I would’ve tried it out. Oh well, there’s always another stringchange scheduled in the future.

  • Chris

    Zakk Wylde does this too! I might try it out sometime

    • Anon

      It’s the only way of playing that twinkly bit in BLS’ Superterrorizer. If that weren’t enough, I break far fewer strings this way, so it seems objectively better for that reason alone.

  • ZombieHunter12

    I tried this once. This does LITERALLY nothing but mare your tailpiece on Mockingbirds.

  • Park Kingery

    Ive done this on a few guitars and had ok results, took some adjustments on the bridge to keep the strings from slipping off the saddles, I really think it depends on your specific guitar if it works or not, worth giving it a try.

  • B. Scott Farthingsworth

    Just play the dang thing. Use good strings, and go as heavy as you can handle. If your break angle is insane, then this ‘wrap’ will help. This top wrapping is not gonna change much for me so I ain’t even gonna try it, but if it does for you? Yipee.

  • Tilt

    My 53 LP that was how they were no bridge just the tail piece! My Carvin the bridge and tail piece are down on the body Joe Walsh said that he loves that about C
    Carvin He said he asked Gibson and Fender to do that and they would not. My bridge on SH550 ir routed into the body the sustain is amazing! More should look at Carvin they really are top of the top guitars. Trust me I have an SG and owned for 30 years a 53 LP and Carvin blows Gibson away!

  • Rocks2

    Even though Joe Bonamassa is noted here, Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top) is famously known pre Joe for the same…on his “Pearly Gates”…as much as it is tempting to test fate I will remain true to the tradition way…my Les Paul ( STP ) plays just fine the way it is thank you!

    • Dell Davis

      Hear, Hear, If it’s not broke don’t fix it, My Gibson LP Studio plays and sounds just fine the way it is , so does my 335 Dot (Epiphone) but it’s up you how you want to set it up, what works for me may not work for you !

  • wmalder

    I’ve done this on my ’13 LP Studio Deluxe. I like the tailpiece all the way down and when it’s like that the strings actually contact the body of the bridge in a wicked break angle so I top wrap and the break angle is much more reasonable.

  • TURTLE DA MANNN

    This does work on these guitars but I noticed this many many years ago , with my first Gibson guitar , a ’62 SG/LP Jr..
    It had the grooved harmonic stepped stop tailpiece / bridge combo on it . It was an easy bender and sustained for a life time through my ’71 Marshall Super Lead full stack , which I still have but I don’t have that lil’ Jr. any more . A greatly missed guitar . I made up for that guitar tho with 7 different models of SGs in my fleet … including a double ” trouble ” neck .
    All you guys into LPs , try a ’52 LP with the same stop tailpiece / bridge combo setup .

  • Shane Pack

    Any reports of this technique on an ibanez Art with a Gibralter II tailpiece??

  • Muad’dib

    Dunno. I have a Bigsby on my Lester.

    • Chapter C Cavanaugh

      I too have a Bigsby and it’s set up more like the method here. You have to hook the ring on the peg, go back around that bar, under the next, and then over the bridge. Pretty close.

  • Leo

    I did it long ago & never went back…you just feel the difference right away,better sustain,easy bending,even the tone…works fine for me & my Les Paul studio(& the strings never came off the saddles)…thumbs up for the Top Wrapping…cheers.

  • Troglodyte

    Sorry, but it is a myth, you should have the tailpiece ‘bottomed out’ anyway and your sustain comes from the extra down pressure on the bridge. Three and a half years as a tech for Gretsch, and an apprenticeship, at the Terada factory in Nagoya, Japan, I may know just a little bit about guitars.

    • Rockthe50

      Just like on an Acoustic guitar. The more down pressure on the saddle, the more sound transfer you get. I even slot the bridges on my Acustic guitars to increase the down pressure. The wrap around deal works if you can get good down pressure on the saddle only.

  • Michael Osborn

    I want mine under, more bite, more sustain!

  • Lou Cifer

    All you have to do is raise the tailpiece if you want slinkier action, and you will never screw the tailpiece down until it is flat against the body because the mounting studs are flared at the bottom and the tailpiece sits on the flares, there will always be a gap between the body and the tailpiece.

  • Christian Raschiero

    Would it be a good idea to try on an “Orville by Gibson” Les Pauls standard made in Japan in 1990 ?
    In order to replace originals HB’s !