The thrilling second instalment in the terrific tremolo tuning troubleshooting series. If you’re having trouble keeping your vibrato bridge in tune when you wiggle that whammy, check it out. It might just help…
So, you might have heard along the way that the tremolo bridge should really be called a vibrato bridge. And you might have heard that it's Leo Fender's fault that we have to live with this heinous misnomer. Oh, the pedantic angst of it all!
Well, I wanted to confirm this and found some interesting stuff…
If your trem is giving you trouble, there are a number of things that can be done to try make it better behaved.
Sometimes, however, the issue is hiding a little more deeply that others.
The tremolo (let's not get into the vibrato/tremolo argument—we all know it should be vibrato but the nomenclature and popular opinion has won the day) on this guitar wasn't the most reliable. It's a copy, based on the vintage Strat-style bridge.
After a little investigation, the main culprit seemed to be some 'swarf'—a rough curl of wood left from the machining process—had been nicely lacquered over and was actually rubbing against the large trem-block.
A little clean-up with some sandpaper and the bulk of the tuning problems were sorted. Nice.
As a young man, I was largely immune to the charms of the Bigsby. All I saw was a cumbersome hunk of metal nailed to the front of an otherwise beautiful guitar.
So much wasted time. Now, I love 'em. Perhaps this is a change that only maturity can bring. Like the pleasures of a lovely old whiskey, realising that facial and body-hair isn't all that great, or believing that all teenagers are up to no good.
Either way, I now understand that Bigsbys look great and sound brilliant.
They can be a pain to string up though. One little mini-trick, however, can make an annoying job just a bit less fiddly.
What you'll want to do is to bend the string's ball end around something like a screwdriver. The string end takes on that rounded shape and it's easier to fish it around to hook onto the axle pin.
Once hooked on, it's generally not too difficult to keep some pressure on the string as you get the tuner end sorted out but you can jam a piece of foam or something under the Bigsby axle to stop it flopping off in you have trouble. I've never found it necessary, though.
Bigsby's own installation instructions mention bending the ball end to a 45º angle but I prefer this method—I don't like placing any hard kinks in a string as it could weaken it.
If you don't use the trem on your Strat, you might not want to leave it sitting there, all wobbly; worrying you about tuning and flutter and whatnot. You could shove in all five springs and snug the trem-claw up as tightly as possible to hold the bridge hard back against the body. That'll do the trick.
Or you could do a Clapton on it and 'block' the trem.
This just means shoving in one or more blocks of wood to fill the cavity around the sustain-block on the bottom of the bridge. Sometimes, you can get away with one piece, where the bridge sustain-block already butts up against the front cavity wall (like here). Other times, you'll need a block in front and behind.
It's important that these blocks are a snug fit, and preferably of a nice hard wood. The holes on this block are (I think) an old, Dan Erlewine (the king of guitar repair knowledge) trick—since the block's good and tight, if you need to remove it, you can insert a screw to give you a grip. Clever.