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Mandatory Modifications

Break-in / Spring Tension

These guitars take a while to break in. My friend has a new JEM7VWH, and it feels much stiffer than mine. When he picks up one of my old '88 JEMs, he says "wow, I love this neck". This is because it's soooo broken in... takes time!

Would it make sense to remove 1 of the 3 tremolo springs and readjust the trem system in order to achieve lighter string tension?

No. In my experience this can actually this can make the tremolo stiffer because the sTring tension remains constant, so you're putting more strain on the two sPrings. If anything, find 3 broken-in springs and replace the factory ones with those. New springs are often stiff until broken in for a few months. To speed the process there is a few easy ways:

  1. One way to stretch the tremolo springs is to block the trem on the neck side of the tremolo cavity (use wooden block, several coins or several thick plastic picks covered with foam or soft electrical tape, to protect the body) and tighten down the tremolo claw screws a few turns to stretch the springs manually for a day or so!!!!! Loosen them back up to play and tune the guitar again.
  2. Another easier way to stretch the trem strings is to remove one spring overnight. Just take it off the claw. You can slip it back on the next day and not change the bridge height and setup. Alternate between springs to stretch them all. In a week you can stretch each spring twice! Two springs working in place of 3 puts more demand on the ones being used and will stretch them MUCH quicker.

The Springs are a bit mysterious, because if you buy a dozen of them, some are stiffer and some are springier. You can sand or grind down the outer edge of the coils to decrease the springs elasticity (this is a physics thing not my invention!) but I have never needed to do this.


String Tension

Bending about the 20th fret is difficult especially when bending the high E, B and G strings. Is there anything that can be done to achieve a lighter string tension?

What gauge strings do you use? I use .009 to .042s that ship with the JEMs. Realistically it's tougher to get any less tension, given the 25.5' scale neck which is higher tension than a shorter scale. The only way to significantly reduce tension is to detune a half step or use thinner gauge strings. This will lower string tension dramatically but alter sound.

I have looked at the tremolo springs at the back of my JEM10 and there are 3 of them in an 'arrow' configuration (like the picture in the instruction leaflet). Is this correct as I have seen pictures of Ibanez guitars with all 3 springs in a straight line configuration.?



Correct parallel spring alignment



Alternate arrow alignment


IMHO the parallel spring alignment is the usual and customary setup method. Start with the parallel setup and keep it that way unless you have good reason to change. This works the best from my experience and puts an even pull on each spring. On the tremolo claw, use the two outer claws and middle claw. Ironically Ibanez ships new JEM/UVs with the straight pull whereas their instruction booklet show the angled springs to add confusion. On the tremolo block use the two outer holes and middle hole.

One reason to use the alternate method would be to generate more spring pull, if your springs are worn or alternate gauge (thicker) strings are in use and you need more tremolo tension to get the guitar back in tune (correct floating/neutral position). This will prestretch the spring a bit, since the outer springs have a longer distance (from claw to block) and thus are pre-stretched and will require more tension to fully stretch (ie. dive the whammy bar).


Neck Back Sanding

Most JEM necks come glazed with a light coat of Tsung Oil from Ibanez. While this is not a plasticy as many other manufacturer's neck backsides, it is not smooth enough for me. Only the JEM10 ships with an unfinished neck.

The only and best way to permanently fix your JEM/UV neck is to sand off the glazed coating on the back of the neck. This can done with the neck attached to the body with masking, but is best done with the neck removed. Your call however I highly recommend this modification. Once sanded smooth you can occasionally clean the neck with 600 grade sandpaper and 0000 grade steel wool.



Step By Step:



Tools Needed

  • Sandpaper - 250 grade, 400 grade, 600 grade
  • Steel Wool - 0000 grade
  • Sanding with Neck Attached:
    • Electrical tape - for masking & easy removal
  • Sanding with Neck Removed:
    • 3 mm Allen wrench - for locking nut
    • Medium Phillips-head screwdriver - for tremolo cover screws
    • Med/Large Phillips-head screwdriver - for tremolo claw springs
    • Small Phillips-head head screwdriver - for truss rod & tremolo lock down screw
    • Needle nose pliers - to remove the tremolo claw springs
  • Cotton rag

Procedure

  • Sanding with Neck Attached
    1. Mask off all areas of the fretboard, nut and body that are adjacent to the neck
    2. Any exposed areas are subject to scratches via the sandpaper
  • Sanding with Neck Removed
    1. Lock the nut and proceed with the instructions with removing the tremolo from "Nut Height Setup". Note the nut should be locked.
    2. Remove the Neck after the tremolo is off the posts by loosen each of the four neck attachments bolts slightly
      • Once all four bolts are loose remove them one after another.
      • Ensure you remember which bolt came out of which hole in case they are different lengths
    3. Remove the neck plate and plastic neck plate guard. Remember the orientation of the neck plate (JEM/UV logo closer to the headstock)
    4. Take the neck and attached tremolo to the sanding area
  • Sanding the Neck
    1. Start sanding lightly with 250 grade sandpaper up and down the length of the neck. Note - do not sand across the grain
    2. Once the glaze is roughed up and lightly sanded switch to a 400 grade paper to remove the glaze more thoroughly and evenly using the same sanding technique
    3. As the neck gets smoother and the coating is fully removed switch to a 600 grade sandpaper to smooth the neck out
    4. Finish off the neck with 0000 grade steel wool
    5. Wipe the neck free of sawdust
  • Reassemble the guitar or remove the protective tape
    1. When reattaching the neck, snugly place the neck in the pocket, line up the heel plate and plastic cover and start each bolt.
    2. Screw down each bolt gently. Use a crisscross pattern to tighten them.
    3. Pop the tremolo back in and reattach the bridge.
    4. Snug the neck attachment bolts again using a crisscross manner

Reference

  • The wood grain of the neck will get lighter as the glaze coat comes off. Careful not to scratch the body or take too much off the neck

Summary
Sanding the clear coat off the JEM/UV neck can really improve playability of the guitars. I highly recommend this modification. Once you play a JEM with this done you will not like the way your neck feels.


Neck Angle - shims

I've included discussion on Neck Angle for reference purposes. In all honesty most older JEM/UVs should not need to have their neck angle adjusted. Newer Ibanez guitars will. I know first hand that it is possible to buy used JEM/UV guitars where the previous owner has against common sense modified the neck angle. One of my best playing JEMs came incorrectly setup & equipped with two plastic shims (about the size of a credit card!!!) on the headstock side of the neck.

Ibanez shims most of their necks with a thin piece cardboard (about the thickness of a business card, 1/2 inch long, almost as wide as the fretboard) inserted on the body side of the neck joint, however month to month and year to year their setup changes. If you have setup your JEM/UV as shown above and it still plays poorly, you need to check the neck angle and modify the neck angle slowly as necessary.



Step By Step: Neck Angle Adjustment



Picture


Tools Needed

  • 3 mm Allen wrench - for locking nut
  • Medium Phillips-head screwdriver - for tremolo cover screws
  • Med/Large Phillips-head screwdriver - for tremolo claw springs and neck attachment bolts
  • Needle nose pliers - to remove the tremolo claw springs
  • Scissors - to cut a thin shim

Procedure

  1. As described in sanding the back of the neck above, remove the tremolo and neck of the guitar.
  2. Adjust the neck angle with a thin shim (business card cut 10mm x 57mm) orientated in the direction of the frets
    • Bridge sits too high off the body when trying to eliminate buzzing - decrease the neck angle by shimming the body side of the neck joint. This allows you to lower the bridge yet also get lower action. Reattach the neck and lower the bridge to test
    • Bridge sits too low into the body when trying to get good action - increase the neck angle by shimming the headstock side of the neck joint. This allows you to raise the bridge and lower the action simultaneously. Reattach the neck and raise the bridge to test
  3. When the angle is set, reinstall the neck and tremolo.
  4. Adjust the bridge and test the action. It may take a few tries so be patient.

Reference

  • Depending on the production year, the Ibanez default is a thin shim on the neck side of the neck joint. Disregard what Ibanez does and use the shims accordingly to get the proper neck angle with the bridge at the correct height to allow full range of tremolo motion.


Summary

Not for the novice, this mod is best left to experts or those with experience. The neck angle rarely needs to be adjusted and the good news is once it is set up, it should never have to be changed. If your guitar is new or recently purchased, return the guitar to the dealer for proper setup. If your JEM/UV is old or bought used, change the neck angle only after proper setup has not been achieved.
 
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