FROM PAUL BIGSBY’S GROUNDBREAKING
designs in the ’40s to Fender’s Synchronized
Stratocaster trem to Floyd Rose and Gary
Kahler’s earth-shaking creations, vibrato
systems have changed the way electric guitar
is played. But what about players who
want a vibrato bar on a guitar that wasn’t
originally designed to have one? Well, for the
most part, your choices have included extensive
modification of your instrument or . . .
well, that’s about it. Eric Stets built his first
Stetsbar in the late ’80s for his ’71 Les Paul
Custom. He patented his design in 1994
and began production in 2000. The nut
of Stetsbar’s design is a replacement trem
that can fasten to your guitar without any
drilling or routing of your instrument.
The Stetsbar Pro II ($229 retail/street
N/A) is the same basic design as the original
Stetsbar, but with the ability to set the
system for a “down only” bar, forgoing the
Stetsbar’s normal floating design and providing
tuning stability if you break a string. It also
allows you to bend strings without affecting
the non-bent strings—for faux pedal-steel licks,
for example—or drop your low-E to D without
weirding out the guitar’s tuning.
Our review unit came mounted on a Fender
Telecaster with what Stetsbar calls a T-Style
mount, which allows the unit to affix to the
Tele without drilling any holes. Most excellent,
however, a formidable neck pocket shim is provided
and it must be installed to get the correct
neck pitch and string height. Setting up
the Stetsbar’s feel to your liking isn’t difficult.
For a supple-moving up and down bar, I simply
adjusted the two stop screws to yield a wide
up trem—damn near a major 3rd on the low
E—and more than an octave drop. The silky
smooth mechanics are a wonder to behold as
the Tune-o-matic-style bridge glides effortlessly
over the bridge plate, yielding a feathery, yet
sturdy feeling trem. In fact, it’s hard to dial out
the Stetsbar’s easy feel. Think of a smooth feeling
Bigsby, or even Jazzmaster trem—but with
way more stability—and you’ll get the picture.
For the Pro II setup, you simply tighten the
two “tension adjustment screws” to block the
upward movement. This worked extremely
well, as I bent notes as far as I could and all of
the other strings stayed in tune.
The Stetsbar’s construction is impeccable,
and aesthetically, the unit does yield a bit of
refined hillbilly charm, especially on a Telecaster.
The Stetsbar does its part to return your guitar
to pitch, but as any vibrato bar geek will tell you,
you need to make sure that the nut isn’t binding,
your strings are stretched and installed properly,
and your tuners are up to the task. Props
to Eric Stets for building a wonderful piece of
finely tuned machinery that delivers on its promise
KUDOS Probably the best
after-market trem for non-trem
(716) 675-0009; stetsbar.com
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