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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.