I HAVE NOTICED AN increase in the interest for and use of non-locking tremolos from customers at my shop. It used to only be when Jeff Beck came to town that everyone would come in and re-float their trem. Now it’s happening all the time. Of course the age-old problem of staying in tune has not gone away. I have seen some new advances in tackling that problem as well as some old ideas that are still relevant. What is definitely true is that by spending time with your trem and experimenting, you can come up with a workable situation. Here are a few items I have come across that are worth a shot, starting with things you can try with a vintage Fender-style trem.
The newest item I have seen is the Tremolo Pad from Kottontop. It’s a thin Teflon pad that sticks to the top of the guitar under the six-screw trem. Since the setup of this kind of trem is about minimizing any friction in the system, this will keep the bridge knife edge from sticking on the top of the guitar. While you are at it, make sure the bottom of the bridge is smooth and the plating is even. If it’s not, you can sand the bottom plate smooth and be sure to use some thick lube on any friction points. You also may want to try replacing your tremolo block with one that has better material and a more precise arm thread. You can buy them in various materials from many manufacturers, but look into Callaham. They offer a unique and well thought out arm insert that really holds the trem arm solidly.
Another thing to check out is the Staytrem Jaguar/Jazzmaster trem arm upgrade. They make a new collet that holds the trem arm. It attaches very simply to the existing trem and the arm that it comes with screws into the new adapter. It requires no permanent mod to your guitar. Then there’s the Mastery bridge. The adjustability, stability, and tone make it worth the price they sell it for. If you are looking for a less-pricey bridge, try substituting a Mustang bridge. Fewer moving parts make it more stable but the string arc is preset and may not be right for your guitar. One DIY trick is to cut out some thin sheet steel (you can usually cut it with a good scissor) and use it to shim the E strings to flatten the radius a little. Staytrem also make a killer Mustang bridge and you can choose from a few different radii.
The Bigsby is a famous trem with a few equally famous problems. A stock Bigsby is a nightmare to change strings on, but that issue can be helped with a couple of tricks and products. First, the Vibramate String Spoiler: It clips to the Bigsby’s string pins and allows you to hook the ball end directly to it without bending the string around. (I have been known to drill holes directly through the Bigsby main string shaft to make re-stringing easier.) Callaham has recently come out with a replacement shaft that is predrilled and ready to go. One other thing is to be sure the arm does not rub against the bearing it is mounted next to as some systems do. Loosen the set screw, take the arm off, and sand down the face that fits against the bearing to create enough room for it not to rub.
As always, be sure to have all friction points lubed, have your nut cut correctly, and see to it that your tuners are working well and strung properly.
Gary Brawer is bald, he’s bad, and he gives a sh*t about your guitar. His many clients include Joe Satriani, Metallica, and Neal Schon.