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This article was originally published in issue #4
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A trem system that will retro-fit on just about any guitar - even your vintage Gibson? Without damaging it? And it's as good as any modern trem? No, we didn't believe it either. Neither did Michael Casswell. And then he tried one...
I'm lucky enough to own a few guitars, the majority of which are equipped with some kind of tremolo system. I think tasteful use of a whammy bar can add a lot to the colours and textures the guitar can create and knowing my way around the techniques that can be utilised on a good trem has certainly put some money my way over the years. And even though I own a few Gibsons and a couple of Fender Teles, I will usually grab one of my Strats or vintage Valley Arts guitars when I'm leaving the house for a gig or session, purely because they sound great and have a trem that can do everything I need it to. So imagine if I could create the same whammy bar trickery on my 335, Les Paul, or Telecaster. Well, the good news is, now I can!
In the dark ages prior to the Stetsbar, the best you could hope for on a Gibson, or even a Tele, was a pathetic, polite, out of tune waggle from something like a Bigsby, which has ruined many a beautiful Les Paul or 335. To fit a Bigsby, and most trem systems up until now, has usually involved major surgery to a guitar, usually devaluing it, creating more holes or chiselling away precious wood for a trem that usually ends up being rubbish anyway. And the thought of anything like that happening to my triple AAA grade flame top amber Les Paul is enough to make me lose control of all my bodily functions (not a good look)!
The whole idea behind the Stetsbar tremolo is that it can be fitted to any mainstream, non-trem guitar, with no modification or butchery whatsoever. You simply unscrew whatever bridge or tailpiece you have at the moment, and the Stetsbar bolts straight on to your existing factory holes, with no drama and minimal expertise needed. What a fantastic concept..........but does it work? Is it any good?
Do you want the good news, or the bad news first? The good news is......... there is no bad news! Yes it works, and yes, it is really good! It's not even very expensive!
The demonstration guitar we were loaned was a UK-built Gordon Smith - a venerable UK handmade brand that has been around for decades and a pretty good test-bed for a Stetsbar Pro 2, which would be the one that would fit directly on your Gibson style guitar. To say I was sceptical is an understatement! Usually, with most trems there will tuning problems straight away, or the feel of it is just hideous, or there will be knocking or clanking from somewhere, but straight away I knew we had something special here. The feel was silky smooth, with no effort involved to move the arm. Less effort means more control and more control means you sound better (in theory!).
The main part of the trem rolls on top of micro roller bearings, so there is hardly any friction to hold you back. It also delivers a wide pitch range. I pulled the G string up to nearly a C, which is the same as my Floyd Rose. It won't do the push down to slack thing that a Floyd does (but we have all grown out of that, haven't we!), but it does give you beyond a full octave down, which is more than enough. It also doesn't trill and chirp like a good Fender or Floyd trem, but the advantages with the Stetsbar outweigh any small compromises. For instance, with a Floyd or and Fender trem, your strings are under attack from metal fatigue every time you use the bar, but with the Stetsbar, the strings move with the whole system, so no metal fatigue, which means far less string breakage.
Even if you were to break a string, the Stetsbar will keep your remaining strings in tune enough for you to get to the end of the song, unlike regular floating trems, when string breakage means disaster and a guitar change straight away. Also with the Stetsbar, you can use drop tunings without resetting or retuning the guitar. So it's all adding up to a great product. If you going to get problems, it will be your headstock end. A poorly cut nut will make your strings stick and worn or cheap tuning pegs will become a nightmare. The Gordon Smith demo guitar that you can see on our video has a brass nut that has been lubricated with some kind of silicon, which is what Stetsbar suggest you do, but if your guitar has no intrinsic high value, you could always fit a graphite nut, and even some locking Sperzel tuners.
The Stetsbar comes in chrome, black, gold and nickel and there is a version for stop tail, hard tail, Tele and Strat style guitars, so most popular mainstream instruments are catered for, but I get the impression from the stetsbar.com website that they do not like to be defeated, and if they have to make a tremolo for your strange hybrid, bitsa this, bitsa that, guitar, then they will try!
I may at some point fit one to my 335, safe in the knowledge that all my bodily functions will remain intact. This is a fantastic product that will be the answer to many a dream.
Danelectro is fighting a hard battle in releasing yet another Strat style guitar onto the market, but the addition of those excellent lipstick pickups and 2-point floating trem at a very attractive price point may help sway a decent number of people over to their offering.
Excellent tones from the lipstick pickups
Wilkinson trem is superb
Visually appealing to SRV fans
Range of finishes available
No gigbag/case included
Headstock design may put some off
Danelectro is always a firm favorite amongst Guitar Interactive's review team. This issue Tom Quayle takes an in-depth look at the impressive '84.
Stevie Ray Vaughan is one of the most iconic guitar players of all time and best known for his use of the classic Strat. But, for a time, he could be seen playing a Strat-style guitar made by Charley Wirz of Charley’s Guitar Shop, Dallas, featuring three Danelectro lipstick pickups and a two-point floating trem, finished in white with a single volume and tone control. The guitar has become somewhat iconic in its own right and, for 2017, Danelectro has released a copy of ‘Charley’s guitar’ called the Danelectro ’84.
The ’84 features the same three single-coil lipstick pickups and 2-point floating bridge design of the original guitar and can be kitted out with four different finishes, Pearl White, a pair of sunbursts and Black. The guitars all feature classic S-style construction with Alder bodies, 22- fret Maple necks and Rosewood boards with simple dot inlays. A modern Graphite nut aids tuning stability in combination with the excellent Wilkinson bridge and you also get the same master volume and tone control and 5-way selector switch layout from the original design.
The only real change is the headstock design that must be altered for obvious reasons. Danelectro has slightly exaggerated the curves and angles from the Fender original, and it will be the most controversial element of the design. The S-style body shape is so well matched in our minds by the original headstock design than anything else looks out of place and Danelectro’s design, although not ugly as such, certainly sticks out. Otherwise, this is a very effective recreation of an iconic guitar from a visual perspective, and real Stevie fans will simply have to go for the white finish for the most authenticity. The guitar actually looks best in this finish thanks to the matching headstock paint job, that can look a little out of place on the sunburst models and a little heavy on the black one.
Build quality is very good indeed with no issues to write home about from a construction point of view. Fretwork is excellent and very even and the factory setup was extremely playable out of the box. Playability is without a doubt a strong point of the Danelectro ’84, as the satin finished neck and comfortable, un-intimidating neck profile make for a lovely combination that feels silky smooth in your hand. Being a Strat body shape, the upper fret access and balance are both as you’d expect and will feel very familiar to anyone used to S-style guitars.
The Wilkinson trem feels wonderful too, as expected for a Wilkinson product. From the factory, it is setup to float and has a very smooth upward and downward travel without any ‘pings’ or ‘clunks’ to speak of. The strings return to pitch flawlessly, even with frantic trem usage and, due to the floating nature, all the whammy bar tricks and noises are open to you should you require them.
Tone is the real focus of the Danelectro ’84 and the lipstick pickups do a great job of delivering quality sounds. As you’d expect, there is plenty of chime and pick attack on offer from all three pickups and an excellent dynamic range. These single coils have a different sound to the standard strat vibe, with a little more air and less bottom end, especially in the neck and bridge positions, but they react wonderfully to clean, edge of breakup and dirty sounds. You can certainly achieve the iconic SRV sound with ease if you have the right amp and pedal here. The five-way switch gives you access to all the classic ‘Strat’ pickup combinations that are so familiar, but the tonal palette is different enough to justify why people love to swap out their single coils for lipstick pickups. They look great too of course!
Danelectro is fighting a hard battle in releasing yet another Strat style guitar onto the market, but the addition of those excellent lipstick pickups and 2-point floating trem at a very attractive price point may help sway a decent number of people over to their offering. Certainly, the hardcore SRV fans will be very well served by the white model that comes very close visually to the ‘Charley’ original – albeit with that different headstock design. For those just looking for an alternate S-type guitar from another brand, it could be a slightly harder sell as the marketplace is so crowded. The Danelectro ’84 is certainly worth considering though, thanks to the combination of good hardware, playability, and affordable cost.