If you thought building a better mousetrap was hard, try reinventing
the whammy bar. It’s not a challenge many entrepreneurs have the guts,
brains, and vision to take on, but Canada’s Sheldon Lavineway—who
brought you the split-block dual-trem bridge known as the Double
Whammy—seems obsessed with evolving the wiggle stick. His passion has
paid off, because his latest creation, the Trem King TK-1 ($159
retail/$129 street), is one of the more innovative re-imaginings of the
vibrato system since the introduction of the Floyd Rose locking trem
three decades ago. The beauty of the Trem King is that it delivers the
main advantage of a floating bridge—namely, the ability to encircle a
note with vibrato that moves below and above the center
pitch—without the notorious mechanical headaches that accompany most
floating bridges and other vibrato setups.
For example, as is not the case with fulcrum trems, you can lean or even pound your picking hand on the Trem King bridge, and, because its bridge plate is affixed to the body with screws, the saddles will never tilt, and the strings won’t go sharp. Nice. The genius of the Trem King is that its only moving part is the trem block. (The strings load through it, and wrap around its rounded upper edge as they head to the saddles.) Yank on the TK’s unique Grip Tip vibrato arm, and the block swivels below the plate via sealed bearings. As the tension changes, the strings slide with pedal- steel-like grace over custom low-friction Graph Tech saddle pins. Even dual-tension floating-bridge setups (trems with a Hipshot Tremsetter, Ibanez Zero Point System, or other supplemental spring device in place) can’t come close to this level of bridge stability.
Speaking of the dual-tension approach, it’s through the same physics that the Trem King’s block remains immobile until the bar is engaged. As a downward bar bend is released, two springs pull the block back to center. At all other times—with the exception of upward bar bends—one of those springs has an additional function: It pulls on a crossbar that rests against the block and holds it stationary when the string tension is increased during standard bends. This is great, because it means oblique bends stay in tune. (Yup—like on a Les Paul or a Telecaster, a fretting-hand bend on one string won’t pull a stationary note on another flat.) Similarly, the Trem King lets you tune the low string down a whole-step for dropped-D tuning without having to retune all the other strings. It’s pretty cool to be able do this stuff on a floating system!
Wang bar extremists should know that the Trem King is not particularly suited for huge dive bombs, soaring Vai-style squeals, or Jeff Beck-approved floating-bridge gurgles, as it simply doesn’t have the pitch range and specific mechanical quirks such antics require. In fact, I found that during absurdly violent torture tests, it was possible to actually cause a spring to shake loose on the Trem King (which, for the record, is something that can occur on other block/spring trems, as well). Though the current Trem King is perfectly stable in musical situations, its manufacturers have hinted that a planned higher-end version of the unit will have set screws that lock the springs in place.
Our test model—a larger-plated Telecaster-friendly TK-2 ($179 retail/$139 street) installed on a Tradition Jerry Reed signature guitar—raised or lowered the lowest string a maximum of a perfect fourth in pitch, and the highest string could be raised or lowered about three-quarters of a step. While this somewhat modest range allows the Trem King to remain dive-worthy to an extent, the TK’s specialties are vocal-sounding vibrato, and sweet, steely upward and downward bends. The bar action may feel a little weird at first, because the center position has a detent of sorts that you pass through repeatedly when you’re encircling a note with vibrato, but, thanks to two soft leather buffers within the trem, the soft click isn’t audible through an amp.
Also interesting is the Trem King’s general bending experience—it’s so even. The spring tension and pitch-bend gradient don’t exponentially increase the more you press or pull on the bar, as they would on a typical floating bridge. The more you play the Trem King, the more you welcome this evenness, because it allows for more precise intonation control during bar bends. Add to all these positive traits the fact that breaking a string on the Trem King doesn’t cause the other five strings to drift sharp, and you’ve got a vibrato system so hassle free, it might appeal to even the most virulent tremophobes. When your hand’s not on the bar, it’s like the Trem King is not even there.
Kudos Unites the best aspects of hardtail and vibrato-bridge guitars.
Concerns Not suited for extreme whammy antics.
Contact Trem King, (866) 324-6300; tremking.com