Many guitarists don’t use the tremolo that comes fitted with their instrument. Although the stock design delivers an average result, they don’t always produce the correct tone or sustain while playing.
When the maintenance on the tremolo blocks falls by the wayside, a guitar’s tuning can become unreliable. That’s why some musicians choose to block it off entirely instead of upgrading it to a different choice.
If you want to upgrade the tremolo for your guitar, the best option is to choose a product made from steel or brass.
Upgrade Steel and Brass Tremolo Blocks
One of the most affordable upgrades you can use for your guitar is to upgrade your tremolo blocks to steel and brass. This option improves the instrument’s sustain and response while bringing the tone closer to the desired style. The best choices are made from solid metals instead of plated materials.
Tremolo is an effect that creates changes in volume when playing the guitar. When you engage the tremolo arm, you’re developing vibrato as the pitch varies.
Both choices are used to create a rhythmic effect, but how the audio gets produced comes from very different circumstances.
When using tremolo, the modulation changes the volume of the signal. An LFO is typically used to create waveforms that turn it up and down.
The classic example involves using triangle or sine waves that offer a linear or rounded result, respectively.
Although this effect was once only found as a circuit with a tube amplifier, it’s now found on multiple units and stompboxes. It’s also included as an ability to use unusual waveforms, such as a square shape.
These options create alternating signals that generate a dramatic effect for the musician.
How to Install a Tremolo Block
When you want to install a tremolo block on your guitar, you’ll want to follow specific steps according to your brand and model to ensure a positive result occurs.
For the purposes of this guide, I’m working with a Strat-style guitar while using the fun Tremol-No product. It’s made for those that float in both directions, working with my Strat design.
- You’ll need to gain access to the area first. That starts by taking off the back cover and storing the screws in a place where they won’t get lost. Next, you’ll measure the gap between the claw and the timber since you’re putting the new one in the same location. If the tremolo is already balanced, the strings can stay on, and the guitar remains in tune.
- Your kit comes with its own claw, but the old one needs to come out. That means the three springs need to get removed. You’ll want to take a picture of the orientation to help replace them in the same way they were installed on the guitar.
- It’s time to get rid of the old tremolo claw. Since the springs are out of the way, it should just be dangling on the instrument. Use an appropriate screwdriver to remove the screws that are drilled diagonally into the body. It might take some force them, so proceed carefully to avoid stripping out the head.
- There is a wired soldered onto the claw for some guitars. Chop it off there to get replaced later since the wire connects to the ground circuit and the springs to the strings. Without it, the circuit will hum more than you want.
- Remove the tremolo block from its package, and screw it into place. For my Strat-style guitar, it’s a direct replacement for the old product. You just install the new one with its included hardware.
- Attach the ground wire back onto the new tremolo claw to the instrument’s body once it is secured. It needs to get bolted on since the Tremol-No has an aluminum construction.
- Add the springs back to the claw. It helps to keep everything loose with the wooden screws. You can always re-tension things later once you’re confident in how the setup is secure.
- Assuming that the tremolo was already balanced at the start of this project, you can tighten the screws and re-balance the system. Use the measurements taken at the beginning, or pull your strings until they’re back in tune for you. Although a little bit of slippage is expected, the results will be closer than you expect.
- Review how the floating tremolo looks when you have it balanced. The product should be parallel with the string line when measured at the bottom plane. On some guitars, it should be in line with the paint or finish. If things are different after your work is over, you’ll need to re-balance the hardware. You’ll find that adjusting yet is a combination of spring vs. string tension.
- After achieving the appropriate balance, it’s time to tighten the clamp on the string block to ensure it isn’t misaligned. If you overtighten it, the results can be less than favorable for your tone and sustain.
- Lock the block into place with the appropriate bolts. You might need to anchor the claw with extra screws to ensure that you don’t have any movement while playing. Be very careful during this step because it can damage the guitar’s body or the internal electronics if you overtighten something.
- You’ve made it to the final step! The thumb bolt lets you lock the entire tremolo down into a fixed bridge mode. You can also work with a dropping pitch if you like to use muting techniques with your palm while playing.
You’ll follow a similar process for upgrading a tremolo block with a steel or brass piece. The manufacturer will give you specific instructions based on the instrument for which the product is designed.
Please remember that aftermarket upgrades or changes to an instrument typically void its warranty.
If you just purchased a guitar, you might look at buying a pedal to create the desired modifications instead of making a semi-permanent change to your hardware.
What If I Want to Add Tremolo to My Pedalboard Setup?
You need to be careful when adding tremolo effects to your pedalboard setup with most guitars. The precautions you take should focus on where it fits the best.
The actual placement varies based on your particular setup and the number of pedals you have equipped to the board.
In most circumstances, the tremolo works better near the end of the chain because it needs to vary the volume levels of the entire signal.
I’ve found that a few different combinations can endanger the impact that a high-quality tremolo pedal offers your setup.
- When trying to achieve a subtle tremolo approach, the sound can get destroyed entirely before it reaches the compressor because of how volume changes become diminished.
- If you’re operating with a higher depth setting that turns the signal all the way down to the delay, you can end up losing the volume change created by the pedal (although it delivers a unique rhythmic effect).
- The pedal tremolo works with the amp at different depth settings and rates, but they can also cancel each other out when using this combination.
When you have a guitar pedal tremolo, you can access many waveforms that required a specific LFO in the past. If you can imagine it, then you can do it with today’s technology.
Since they also use the same optical circuit in most amps, you can replicate almost any type of classic sound while using advanced techniques to create stuttering effects and other signature sounds.
■ Why Install a Tremolo Block?
The goal of a tremolo block is to alter the sound and sustain a guitar makes when played. For many brands, including Callaham, Gibson, and Fender, you can achieve something close to the pre-CBS original specs without spending a small fortune on aftermarket parts.
When a steel or brass block is successfully installed, you can improve the tone and sustain of almost any guitar.
You don’t need to buy name-brand items in this category to achieve the results you want. Even second-hand products can produce crazy-good outcomes. It all depends on how much consistency you need for your instrument.
That’s why I opted for the Tremol-No for a semi-permanent solution. It was simple to install, makes the guitar sound impressive, and contributes to my overall signature sound.
You can choose brass, steel, or something else to do the same, but I’d still recommend using a solid metal design instead of a hollow or wood piece.
A Final Thought on Using Steel and Brass Tremolos
The dramatic tension and subtle response that a tremolo provides can create musical complexity in ways a simple volume change cannot reproduce. This effect is an excellent tool to use in almost any composition because of the emotions and moods it conveys. It speaks of immediacy, producing an ambient soundscape that still demands the listener’s attention.
I’ve always been a fan of the tremolo effect. Although I tend to use more reverb or distortion when playing the guitar, there’s nothing better to use when playing an anthemic piece.
Whether you use a block on the guitar to create this effect or a pedal, the outcomes are relatively similar using today’s technology.
When I want to add more vintage sound to my guitar, I typically use the Boss TR-2 tremolo pedal.
It gives me the dedicated wave needed for precise effects while offering rate controls that other designs don’t deliver.
You can achieve faster adjustments and more waveform alterations with the triple knobs for customization.
It even lets you alter the LFO waveform from a triangle to a square. That means you can produce a vintage sound with your guitar or progress toward something more modern and fuzzy.
Since it has an input and an output option, you can add this pedal to your suitcase or set it up independently with little difficulty.
BOSS offers a five-year warranty with the product, ensuring that you get everything you want out of this investment.
When a pedal isn’t the right choice, upgrading to steel or brass tremolos could be a better solution. It’s still simple and affordable, but you’ll need to put in a little extra work on the hardware.
Whether you need a tremolo or not depends on the music style and genre you intend to play. It helps to look at the guitars used by your favorite musicians to find a model with the same bridge style.
If you play lots of rhythm or chords, it might be better to grab a fixed-bridge instrument.
When you play with scoops, divebombs, and other more unusual techniques, it’s better to grab a trem-style guitar and use blocks as you see fit.