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Spectrum ST sound, setup, ... questions

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Post by FhomasP Sun Jan 10, 2021 4:21 am

Hello all

I own a red Westone Spectrum ST 6-string guitar.  I've had it since 2002 when I bought it off a classmate, then it had been gathering dust for 15 years or so.  I bought it because I had some ambition to learn to play.  That ambition had to make room for other more pressing issues, but anyway.  I brought the guitar to a guitar specialist several years ago.  He cleaned it, replaced the strings and tested it.  He told me that this is a good guitar.  Then about a year later I've had it in my hands pretty much every day.  I've never been very happy with the sound it's been giving me.  And okay, admittedly, I'm still a really poor guitarist.  However some real easy chords just don't sound right, among other things.  So now I'm here :-)

Gear I have:

  • Line 6 POD 2.0 combined with a regular CD player amp.  I used this for a year and a half or so.  I originally thought the sound issues were due to this really poor setup.
  • Marshall Code 25: I've been using this for 8 months.  The sound issues I've been having are still similar.
  • Westone Spectrum ST, I think completely original (nothing replaced except for strings)


I'll describe the issues I have, and please bear in mind that I'm a 40 year old guitar nitwit.  I've replaced the strings several times already.  My current strings are 2 months old.

Low notes I try sound like really bad audio quality.  Somewhat like a radio with poor reception.  It gets worse when using the neck pickup.  It's also gets worse when I turn up the bass knob on my amp and when using amp models with distortion.

When I turn down the bass knob it gets better, certainly on individual notes.  But when attempting a 3-string chord on the lower scale, suddenly it's there again.  For instance an Em chord (ex. Zombie - Cranberries) sounds horrible.  But upon hitting the strings in question individually while muting all the others it sounds OK.

I'm also having trouble properly intonating the guitar.  Notes sound too sharp after the 8th fret or so, and I can't pull back the low E string far enough to fix it.

Using the tremelo rod throws the guitar completely out of tune.

What I tried:

Lower the pickups.  As a side question, how low - high should the pickups be on this type of guitar?
Adjust the truss rod to get a bend in the neck.  It seems OK now, but what do I know :-)
Higher action.  No real improvement, while it's not comfortable to play.  So now the action is back to what it was.
Attempt to intonate the guitar.  But now even with the adjusted truss rod, i still can't seem to get it right.


So...  any input is welcome.

Thanks!
FhomasP
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Post by ExFender Sun Jan 10, 2021 9:38 am

I have a near mint '86 ST that has probably less than 2 hours time on it that I got from the original purchaser.  I believe it has the factory set-up.

I've not noticed any sound issues or problems with intonation, but one thing you haven't mentioned is... the trem.

Is the plate flat on the deck (this type of trem was intended for dives only)?  If the tail end is raised too much (acceptable, within limits, if you want pulls) you'll have intonation problems, and it raises the action which might NOT be compensated enough by lowering the saddles.

Have you tried running good quality headphones in your POD?  I rather doubt that you'll ever get a decent sound from a CD amp.

The pickups are UBC's (unbalanced coil)...some like them, some don't as they are kinda wimpy.  Depends on the type of music you're into.  I'm OK with mine (I'm not into heavy metal), but I have a bunch of other axes to cover just about all genres.  Pickups can be swapped out easily enough.

Pickup height is a personal taste thing, but there IS a sweet spot where one will have the best output and just requires a bit of fiddling.
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Post by Barry Sun Jan 10, 2021 11:36 am

Hello FhomasP and welcome.

Your "guitar specialist" was right about one thing, the ST is a good guitar, even if it doesn't seem to be right now!

ExFender has mentioned a few of these things already so my comments may overlap. The UBC pickups he referenced are known to be under-powered and many of us have replaced them, however, they are still quite serviceable and not prone to distortion unless they've been exposed to dampness somehow, so I do not think that's the cause of your sound problems.

FhomasP wrote:. . . I brought the guitar to a guitar specialist several years ago.  He cleaned it. . .and tested it.
What exactly was cleaned? The playing surfaces only?
Your problem sounds like electronic noise caused by corrosion in the pots (volume, tone & switch controls). Easily corrected with contact cleaner

. . .I've never been very happy with the sound it's been giving me. . .some real easy chords just don't sound right. . .
Incorrect setup and intonation.

Line 6 POD 2.0 combined with a regular CD player amp. . . I originally thought the sound issues were due to this really poor setup
This likely did not help.

Marshall Code 25: I've been using this for 8 months.  The sound issues I've been having are still similar.
You should not have any of the issues you describe using this amp.

Low notes sound like really bad audio quality.  Somewhat like a radio with poor reception.  It gets worse when using the neck pickup.  It's also gets worse when I turn up the bass knob on my amp and when using amp models with distortion.
Typical of corroded contact points, dropouts and distortion. Running the amp on distortion would only amplify the noise!

I'm also having trouble properly intonating the guitar.  Notes sound too sharp after the 8th fret or so, and I can't pull back the low E string far enough to fix it. . .Using the tremelo rod throws the guitar completely out of tune.
Your tremolo bridge and saddles are obviously not set up correctly. It's not difficult to do it yourself, but it sounds like you could use the help of a guitar tech at this point.

Adjust the truss rod to get a bend in the neck. . .Higher action.  No real improvement
NO!! The truss rod's purpose is to straightened the neck. That's all.
NEVER to set the action. That is set via the bridge/saddle height.

Attempt to intonate the guitar.  But now even with the adjusted truss rod, i still can't seem to get it right.
The truss rod has nothing to do with intonation.

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Post by FhomasP Sun Jan 10, 2021 2:44 pm

Barry wrote:Hello FhomasP and welcome.

Your "guitar specialist" was right about one thing, the ST is a good guitar, even if it doesn't seem to be right now!

ExFender has mentioned a few of these things already so my comments may overlap. The UBC pickups he referenced are known to be under-powered and many of us have replaced them, however, they are still quite serviceable and not prone to distortion unless they've been exposed to dampness somehow, so I do not think that's the cause of your sound problems.


Thanks for the welcome  Cool

So, to be clear... I'm not using the line 6 pod with cd amplifier anymore.  When I started using the Marshall code it's been this amp with the guitar and nothing else.  
As a novice I don't think I'll be investing my time and energy in replacing the pickups.  I'm still puzzeled that the bad output quality is worse when using the neck pickup.



Barry wrote:
What exactly was cleaned? The playing surfaces only?
Your problem sounds like electronic noise caused by corrosion in the pots (volume, tone & switch controls). Easily corrected with contact cleaner

The playing surfaces were cleaned, yes.  So how would I go about cleaning the pots?  I've opened up the guitar at the back before.  I don't have any soldering gear so I'll need to be careful.


Barry wrote:
Your tremolo bridge and saddles are obviously not set up correctly. It's not difficult to do it yourself, but it sounds like you could use the help of a guitar tech at this point.

Well, I don't have two left hands (I'm right handed :-p ).  Any tips on how to start doing that?  I'm learning to play, but I would also like to learn how to do maintenance properly.  



Barry wrote:
NO!! The truss rod's purpose is to straightened the neck. That's all.
NEVER to set the action. That is set via the bridge/saddle height.

The truss rod has nothing to do with intonation.

Someone told me that when one wasn't able to pull back some strings far enough to adjust the intonation, that one should look at how the neck is bent.  I know that the neck of my instrument was completely straight.  There is at least a small bend in the neck required, right?  The intonation is since then already better, but far from perfect.
And I'm currently not looking for perfection.  Just OK will do fine for now.


Thanks already for the help.  And btw, I learned already that I can pull up the tone knob to switch between humbucker mode and single pickup mode by reading around here.  I didn't know this until yesterday and I've had the instrument for so many years  Shocked  Very Happy


Another question I seem to have forgotten.

When I replace the strings, I would like to keep the bridge and saddles on the guitar surface. However I can't seem to be able to do that. I get one string in tune and pull others out of tune by doing that. I then need to tighten other strings and hence after a while, the bridge pulls up. There's likely a method for that, right?
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Post by Barry Sun Jan 10, 2021 4:27 pm

FhomasP wrote:. . As a novice I don't think I'll be investing my time and energy in replacing the pickups.
Agreed. There should be no need to do so.
I'm still puzzeled that the bad output quality is worse when using the neck pickup.
As I have explained, it's likely caused by corrosion in the pots and/or pickup switch. If it isn't then the pickup may be bad.

The playing surfaces were cleaned, yes.
That would not affect the electronics in any way. The problem lies in the electronics.

So how would I go about cleaning the pots?  I've opened up the guitar at the back before.  I don't have any soldering gear so I'll need to be careful.
No soldering is needed, although some problems can arise from "cold solder" joints or connections which have come loose, so check for that as well.
De-oxidizing the pots is a simple procedure and involves squirting contact cleaner into the pots to wet the wiper and then working the knob vigorously to spread it thoroughly.

Rather than describe it in detail here, Google is your friend!
Any tips on how to start (setting up tremolo bridge and saddles)?  I'm learning to play, but I would also like to learn how to do maintenance properly
Good for you. A player should be able to do basic maintenance.
But again, Google is your friend, too much to start giving step by step instructions here.

Someone told me that when one wasn't able to pull back some strings far enough to adjust the intonation, that one should look at how the neck is bent. . . There is at least a small bend in the neck required, right?
That "someone" was wrong.  I repeat:
The truss rod has nothing to do with intonation. It adjusts the straightness of the neck only.
In so doing sometimes it may help lower the action if there is too much "relief" (up bow) to begin with.
Yes, a slight amount of "up-bow" (relief) is desirable, but that's only a few thousandths of an inch (about 1/8th to 1/4 turn)

. . . I would like to keep the bridge and saddles on the guitar surface.  However I can't seem to be able to do that.  I get one string in tune and pull others out of tune by doing that.  I then need to tighten other strings and hence after a while, the bridge pulls up.  There's likely a method for that, right?
Yes there is. Google!

One last thing to check:

Your machine heads (tuners) should be snugly fitted to the head stock. Check that the nuts are secure only, DO NOT over tighten.
Also snug up the screws at the end of the buttons. Again, do not over tighten.
This will help stabilize the strings and maintain the tuning.

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Post by junkmale Sat Jan 16, 2021 2:50 pm

Hi. I repair guitars for a living (stringkingworks.co.uk) so I may be able to advise. The sound issues you are having may be the pots, which may work better when cleaned but if it has been kept anywhere damp for a period of time they may be corroded and require replacements. Alternatively, it may be that the pickups themselves are corroded - this can happen if they are not wax potted and I had a '72 Gibson in the workshop recently this had been an issue with. The intonation problems are probably because the frets are worn. It is quite hard to get intonation accurate without good rounded frets. Given this is a forty year old guitar it may need a fret level. Hope this helps
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Post by Barry Sat Jan 16, 2021 3:40 pm

junkmale I hear ya about the worn frets, but if you read the OP's first declaration this guitar has not been played in any significant way so that seems very unlikely.

I've mentioned dampness/humidity issues already but this sounds more like guitar needing a good de-oxidizing and a proper setup.

Hell, even mine need a squirt or two after being in a bag for a few months (I hasten to add that I have 37 guitars so rotation periods can be lengthy)

These things are doable by our friend FhomasP.

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"A little song. A little dance. A little seltzer down your pants." -Chuckles the Clown
spectrum - Spectrum ST sound, setup, ... questions Guitar10
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Post by Drizzit Sat Jan 16, 2021 4:13 pm

Basic guitar maintenance is really quite easy to do, and for someone new to it, I would recommend getting this guitar toolkit (link below) it will be the best $58 bucks you spend. It has step by step instructions for truss rod, action, intonation, and pickup height, etc. to get everything going. Personally I like to start with factory specs, but those are not always available, and then adjust to my preference.

https://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B00134O0IK?psc=1&ref=ppx_pop_mob_b_asin_title

Hope this helps, learning how to maintain your own instrument has really helped me over the years, and made me enjoy playing all that much more.

As far as cleaning the pots, I like using these, along with DeOxit spray cleaner.....just make sure you protect the guitars finish. Contact cleaner will do nasty things to the finish.

https://www.ebay.com/itm/2-Guitar-Pot-Cleaning-Caps-Brass-Luthier-Works-For-Amps-Too-Threaded-Screws-On/192253548892

Cheers - Drizzit
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Post by Barry Sat Jan 16, 2021 5:15 pm

Not a bad assortment of tools in that first link. I think it may be cheaper to buy individual items but it's a good starter "kit".

I've never used cleaning caps but they seem like a good idea. I tend to "open the hood" and squirt directly into the gap in the pot itself. No worries about hit and miss that way.

And don't worry about marring the finish on our beloved Westies, it would take more than contact cleaner to make a dent in that catalyzed poly finish!  Roll on Floor Laff

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Post by Drizzit Sat Jan 16, 2021 6:49 pm

I agree that you could buy the tools cheaper, and most people may actually have many of them already on hand.

My wife bought me that exact same kit shortly after we were married, so it would have been about 25-26 years ago, and I still use it, lol! It's really convenient to have it all organized and just toss it in one of my cases before heading out, it's saved my ass a few times!

Cheers - Drizzit
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Post by FhomasP Sat Jan 16, 2021 7:32 pm

Barry wrote:junkmale I hear ya about the worn frets, but if you read the OP's first declaration this guitar has not been played in any significant way so that seems very unlikely.

I've mentioned dampness/humidity issues already but this sounds more like guitar needing a good de-oxidizing and a proper setup.

Hell, even mine need a squirt or two after being in a bag for a few months (I hasten to add that I have 37 guitars so rotation periods can be lengthy)

These things are doable by our friend FhomasP.

Thank you all for the advice and the vote of confidence as well Very Happy

The guitar, purchased by myself around 2002, is in fact 2nd hand.  To know how heavily it has been played, well, I'd have to contact my classmate I haven't seen or heard from in almost 20 years. Thinking

So it would seem I'll extend my reading / viewing list somewhat Smile

The guitar has not been in any damp or humid environments, or at least not that I know of.  


Drizzit wrote:Basic guitar maintenance is really quite easy to do, and for someone new to it, I would recommend getting this guitar toolkit (link below) it will be the best $58 bucks you spend. It has step by step instructions for truss rod, action, intonation, and pickup height, etc. to get everything going. Personally I like to start with factory specs, but those are not always available, and then adjust to my preference.


I got myself a guitar maintenance kit some time ago.  My kit looks like the one in the link, if you look at it from a good bit of distance.
I kept the hex keys and the string winder.  All the rest was pretty much ready to throw away after 2 uses..  There is quite a bit of difference in quality of these kits.


Anyway.  I do have some additional questions.

I've seen and read some info on floating bridges, mostly on Fender stratocaster types.  I'm assuming my Westone Spectrum ST has a floating bridge, right?
The ideal gap between the guitar body and the floating part of the bridge seems to be a matter of debate.  But most seem to agree that there at least should be a gap.  I was looking to get the bridge as close to the guitar body as I can, so I'm guessing that's not what I should be doing.  Or is there a difference in how I should handle my bridge?
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Post by Barry Sat Jan 16, 2021 9:24 pm

Drizzit wrote:. . . It's really convenient to have it all organized and just toss it in one of my cases before heading out, it's saved my ass a few times!
I'm all in favour of a good arse saving! Razz

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Post by Barry Sat Jan 16, 2021 9:51 pm

FhomasP wrote:The guitar has not been in any damp or humid environments, or at least not that I know of.  
That's good. Still, it doesn't need to be exposed to anything extreme in order for the pots or switch contacts to oxidize over time There's always humidity and dirt in the air.

The ideal gap between the guitar body and the floating part of the bridge seems to be a matter of debate.  But most seem to agree that there at least should be a gap.
"Floating" the bridge simply means not touching the body. That can damage the finish on most Strat style tremolo guitars.

The bridge should be parallel to the guitar surface. That will automatically create a gap, and the gap will be a function of how you have set up the action. Usually it is small which allows for downward bends (loosens the tension) but not upwards which increases the tension.

Some players want more range and will set the bridge higher to allow up bends as well but that involves a bit more work on the action setup in order to be playable.

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