Monday, December 30, 2013

Quick Guitar Mod: Upgrade Your Strat Tremolo Block

I’m going to digress on my blog and talk about a quick upgrade for any Stratocaster type-tremolo.

I play lots of guitar for work (and bass, and banjo, and mandolin, and ukulele, and whatever), but I’m also an inveterate tinkerer and modder. Usually I mod/upgrade small stuff like tuning keys and knobs or bridge/saddles, but I know how to fix the big stuff (like electronics) too.

I was in the market for a fun and kooky guitar so I bought one of those Fender Modern Player Marauders. They’re 25” scale (like a Stratocaster), have a Strat trem, and a nifty offset body. They’re also cheap and made in China so I wasn’t really sure what to expect quality-wise.

First of all: I really really really like it. It feels good, and better yet, what really makes it a formidable working-musician’s axe is that it has all three major pickup types on tap (P-90, single-coil & humbucker) 

I’ve already put a lot of gigging hours on it and the Marauder delivers the goods.

But, if you’ve ever bought a non-American-made Stratocaster, chances are if you look under the hood you'll find that the tremolo block is not your normal solid chunk of steel.

It probably looks more like the one on the left below: 

Cheap original on left, solid steel replacement (standard size) on right
This is called pinching-pennies. It is a lightweight piece of some sort of crappy alloy.

And you know what? I kind of got angry. I stamped my feet. I crossed my arms. I wasn’t going to take it any more. I was going to fight for my right to party. (er…)

Anyhow, I did a little research and bought a solid steel replacement tremolo block from

I wasn’t sure how much of an actual difference it would make. But, hey, the solid steel block was only $25 bucks, so why not give it a shot? (They also offer solid brass)


I noticed first and foremost how SOLID the guitar felt even when playing it unplugged.
I always set up my trem bridges flush-mounted, so it wasn’t some sort of “play” in the tremolo. It just felt more solid when I played and bent notes all over creation. It was noticeably heavier, less “toy-like” in weight. It now weighs a fraction more than my American Strats (which if I’m not mistaken makes sense, the offset body being a little larger).

When I plugged it in, I perceived a sonic difference in the sustain (the notes decayed less quickly) and in a snappier response. Before I changed the tremolo block, the guitar had strings that were a few weeks old, so I won’t declare “Dude, it totally increased sustain by 50%!” But I perceived a difference… and I’m pretty darn skeptical about these sorts of things.

So, if you’ve got non-American Fender/Squire (or cheap knock-off) with a Synchro Tremolo, why not upgrade?

Before you get started, remember to take pictures of each step BEFORE you remove things so you know how the go back together. And consider numbering or tagging or otherwise separating/organizing each component you remove so you don’t end up with a pile of mystery screws afterwards.

Ok, here’s how you do it:

1) Start by removing the strings and the string saddles
for Pete’s sake find a little dish or jar or something to put all your parts and screws in!

2) Remove the tremolo back plate and the tremolo springs (careful not to make them snap out at you)

3) Unscrew the three flush-mount screws connecting the bridge plate to the tremolo block (not the six screws attaching the bridge plate to the body)

4) Slap in and secure the new tremolo block of super powers. 

5) Check that the hole for the tremolo arm lines up. Feel free to facepalm if it doesn’t, and reorder a different config.
misfit... boo.
6) Reattach the springs. (careful now, and put them back the way you found them. Or rearrange to your heart’s content. You’ll be adjusting the spring tension anyways)

7) Reinstall string saddles. (you’re going to adjust intonation later, right? RIGHT?)

Put on some new strings and tune up.

Adjust tremolo spring tension to taste (I like my tremolos flush mount with no backwards play) and reattach back plate.*

That’s it!

If you do it, report back whether you think it made a difference or not, and with any technical glitches, tricks, or advice from your experience.

*One strange glitch was that the claw of the springs where they attached to the new block were a half millimeter higher than the level of the guitar body, so the backplate couldn’t be mounted flush—and more importantly the end of the springs would rub/press against the tremolo block. (not the block itself, mind you, just the claw of the springs)
UNACCEPTABLE! So I got a file and grooved out the inside of the backplate to accommodate the height discrepancy. One could also, theoretically groove out the tremolo block so that the spring claws sat lower. But I didn’t want to bother filing steel.
The springs are sticking up! Drats!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Chiral Mad 2 Released

Ladies and Gentlefrogs, Chiral Mad 2 is out so get thee to Amazon and order yourself a copy.

Chiral Mad 2 on Amazon

My short story "Another Man's Bones" opens up the collection (a big honor for me)

I know I've mentioned it before, but the people I share the table of contents (TOC) with are AWESOME.
Some serious luminaries and all-around great people.

One aspect of this publication which may be of interest to other hungry writers out there: my story had been rejected by dozens of other markets before being accepted. I had several really positive personal rejections, but all rejections nonetheless.
I knew the story was solid. This isn't just vanity, I can tell when I write a stinker (usually after a few days of perspective). This story I knew was good. And I'd also put it through the wringer of my writer's group (The Illiterati) and it got their stamp of approval.
Point being, if you've got a story you believe in, keep submitting it! Every editor is looking for something different. Eventually you'll find a home for it.

The key word of the day is PERSISTENCE.

For us writers, with our perennial vacillation between soaring ego and crushing self-doubt, it is persistence and plain-old dogged cussedness that drags us through.