Three new aftermarket vibrato systems for common double- and single-cutaway solidbody guitars offer the convenience of “drop in” installation. Each system boasts unique features and improved performance.
SuperVee Tremolo System
Brainchild of designers Jeff Athrop and Marc Caldwell, the SuperVee is a direct-replacement (a.k.a. “drop in”) unit requiring no modifications, no drilling, and no routing. We tested a prototype unit installed by SuperVee on a Fender Strat.
The system consists of a locking nut unit and a replacement bridge, and the first couple of things we noticed were 1) the high-quality, well-machined look and feel of its parts, and 2) the visually unusual locking nut assembly. Unlike most locking nuts, this one requires no modification or routing. Simply pop out the stock nut and install the new nut/clamp assembly, using a drop of glue to hold it in place. The nut/clamp assembly uses a stainless steel pre-slotted 9.5″ (or 7.25″)-radius nut with an attached clamping unit that pinches each string in a zigzag-shaped channel via two Allen-head screws (one for the E, A, and D strings, one for G, B, and E).
The SuperVee’s bridge isn’t significantly larger, bulkier, or taller than a stock Strat bridge, and sports a couple of innovative features like its six-piece bridge-end string clamp/fine tuner assemblies and six separate saddles instead of the standard all-in-one piece. This allows the saddles to be individually adjusted for height and intonation, like standard Strat saddles, with no saddle shims or time-consuming intonation/setup.
The other innovative feature is the bridge pivot point, or in the case of the SuperVee, the lack of one. Instead of a bridge that pivots on two screws or a “knife-edge,” the SuperVee uses a piece of industrial spring steel that bends to connect the bridge plate and mounting plate. This essentially eliminates any metal-on-metal wear and tear, and ensures the tailpiece returns to the same position after each use.
The SuperVee uses the guitar’s stock springs and spring claw to compensate for string tension, and can be set up for floating operation with limited pull-up capability, or with the bridge flat against the guitar’s body.
The SuperVee performs very well, staying in tune even with repeated heavy use, including dive-bombing. Its feel is slightly stiffer than a standard vibrato, but very smooth, and the fine-tuners at the bridge offer enough travel to allow for drop-D tuning without having to loosen the locking nut.
As with most locking vibratos, changing a broken string (especially if you’re in a hurry) can be a bit of an ordeal. It requires two Allen wrenches (one for the nut and one for the string clamp) and also requires cutting the ball off of the string. Being able to simply lay the string into the open zigzag channels in the locking nut (instead of feeding it under a locked-down clamp) does speed things up a bit.
Overall, the SuperVee vibrato is a well-crafted, well-conceived unit that offers solid performance without having to modify your guitar (save for perhaps shimming the neck).
This is our second go-round with a replacement vibrato from Eric Stets’ Stetsbar company. The first happened in September ’02, when we tested their Stop Tail for Gibson-style single-cutaway guitars. The latest addition to their line is the T-Style, for (as you’d guess) single-cut Fender-style guitars.
Stets shipped the T-Style mounted on a Fender Standard Tele. Like the SuperVee (and Stetsbar’s Stop Tail), the T-Style requires no modifications to the guitar beyond a tapered shim in the neck pocket to allow for the added height of the replacement bridge assembly. Also like the Stop Tail, the T-Style uses a true linear-motion floating tune-o-matic-style bridge with micro roller bearings that allow the bridge and strings to move together.
The T-Style has as very smooth, liquid, Bigsby-like feel, and stays perfectly in tune even with heavy use. Its nicely chromed parts fit the look of the Tele and, some would argue, look like something Leo himself might have devised.
Keith Pate’s StepMax dual-action tremolo follows in lock step with the others here in that it does not require modification to the guitar, save for a neck shim.
The StepMax is set apart from other “dual-action”/floating vibratos (which allow the player to pull the unit’s arm up as well as push it down) is that it’s not really floating, which means the bridge can be mounted directly on the guitar’s body, which equates to better sustain. This is accomplished with a dual-action bridge that operates like a standard Fender-type system when the user pushes the arm down, moving the entire bridgeplate and block. But when the arm is pulled up, it activates a separate system that pulls all six saddles back. Step Max also incorporates an adjustable stop for the pull-up feature, which allows the user to set it at any half-step or full-step intervals.
The StepMax is constructed of high-quality milled (not cast) aircraft-grade aluminum except for the steel block, Graph Tech saddles, and stainless-steel arm. It has two arm sockets with a tension adjustment screw for positioning the arm so it feels just right.
Tuning stability is very good with the StepMax, due to the combined efforts of its high-quality parts and the fit of the bridge mechanism.
All three of these vibratos delivered on their promises, and did it well. None require modification to the instrument, though all require neck shims. After a few strums, most players will have no problem adjusting to the slightly altered playing geometry, and then set out to get their groove on, worry-free. – Phil Feser
This article originally appeared in VG’s March 2007 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.