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Question / thought experiment regarding Strat trem blocks

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  • Question / thought experiment regarding Strat trem blocks

    I was doing a test with some various trem blocks, trying to figure out if steel sustained better than zinc, or if larger blocks sustain larger than smaller ones in a Strat. For the most part my results are inconclusive, and I'm not 100% sure why.

    The first complication is that when a Strat trem is activated, it's only touching the body of the guitar along the two or six screws that are suspending it in place, but when the bridge plate is at rest, the whole thing is making contact. The second complication is how tight the springs are, because if they are tighter, the bridge plate will have a more firm connection with the body at rest. I've observed that a firmer connection sustains better than a loose connection by simply pulling up on the trem arm to manually and temporarily increase the plate-to-body pressure. So how much impact a certain type of trem block exerts could be mitigated or totally drown out by these other factors.

    So the question / thought experiment is, if any trem block is better than no trem block, then a bigger trem block must be better than a small trem up to a point, but what would that point be? If a bigger trem block could be fit into a Strat, there would still have to come a point where the trem block mass would overpower the rest of the wood bodied guitar, in terms of tone, resonance or sustain.

    There seems to be two common shapes of trem block; the larger rectangular block and the smaller door wedge block. What I'm ultimately wondering is might the smaller door wedge block might actually be a better block by virtue of not being as imposing, by not adding so much substance so close to the saddles.

    What are your thoughts?

  • #2
    Steel is harder (absorbs less vibration) and denser (more mass per volume) than wood. If the whole guitar were made of zinc or steel it would sustain incredibly well, though it may not sound very good or be comfortable to play But, my vote is that bigger is better, for sustain. How big would depend on many subjective things like how tone is affected. And this would be different for every guitar making it impossible to say something definitive like 'X block size made of Y material is always best.' Sustain is a tricky game. Some guitars sustain because they don't absorb much vibration from the string. But some guitars sustain because they do! Most are mix of both things. It also depends on how you play. Loud, quiet, high gain, low gain, Notch EQ or mid bumped, etc. Contrasting OR working analogous with the properties of density and vibration transfer are feedback, phase and acoustic resonance.
    "Take two placebos, works twice as well." Enzo

    "Now get off my lawn with your silicooties and boom-chucka speakers and computers masquerading as amplifiers" Justin Thomas

    "Being born on third base and thinking that you must have hit a triple is pure delusion!" Steve A

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    • #3
      Originally posted by Antigua View Post
      I was doing a test with some various trem blocks, trying to figure out if steel sustained better than zinc, or if larger blocks sustain larger than smaller ones in a Strat. For the most part my results are inconclusive, and I'm not 100% sure why.

      The first complication is that when a Strat trem is activated, it's only touching the body of the guitar along the two or six screws that are suspending it in place, but when the bridge plate is at rest, the whole thing is making contact. The second complication is how tight the springs are, because if they are tighter, the bridge plate will have a more firm connection with the body at rest. I've observed that a firmer connection sustains better than a loose...
      Strat tremolo's are supposed to float.

      What are your thoughts?
      I like aluminum.

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      • #4
        I think that the block size/material really mostly maters on a floating bridge. When it is laying on the body then the body has more effect than the block. I think that the more solid, and stable the strings are held, the more sustain you'll get, though not necessarily a more pleasing tone.
        Vote like your future depends on it.

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        • #5
          I've written this up before but can't find it, but a few years ago I was comparing mine and a friend's 80s Jap Strats; mine's a Springy Sound Tokai from the early 80s, his a Squire from the mid to late 80s, bth set for a similar degree of 'float'.
          The Squire had a really thin and weedy tone, the Tokai (grey U pickups) had a significantly thicker fuller tone.
          I swapped scratchplate assemblies, and it stayed pretty much the same.
          Swapped bridge assemblies and the thick tone had moved to the Squire.
          Checked the blocks, the Tokai made block was magnetic and heavy, presumably steel, and the Squire made block was lighter, non-magnetic, with a rough non-machined finish, presumably that mazac cast zinc stuff; ah ha, that's obviously it.
          However, the strings had stayed with bridge assemblies, and just to eliminate them, I swapped the strings over; the thick tone followed the strings back to the Tokai and the Squire, even with the Tokai bridge/block, was back with its thin tone.
          So, my lesson from that is strings are way more significant to the overall tone of a guitar than the kind of details that people tend to obsess over.
          I think the Tokai had EB 10s, the Squire GHS 9s, both played in but not played out.
          My band:- http://www.youtube.com/user/RedwingBand

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          • #6
            Has there been much talk about how much variation exists in various strings, not just between gauges, but between brands, and between sets of the same brand? Are their differences in the alloys and does this effect how they disrupt the magnetic field around the pickup?

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            • #7
              Originally posted by Chuck H View Post
              Steel is harder (absorbs less vibration) and denser (more mass per volume) than wood. If the whole guitar were made of zinc or steel it would sustain incredibly well
              So you have small steel blocks and larger ones, but is the larger size really better, or is it more the rigidity of the thing versus the overall mass? Which do you suppose sustains longer: a steel bodied Strat or a steel bodied Steinberger?
              Last edited by Antigua; 06-03-2015, 10:56 PM.

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              • #8
                I always thought trem blocks were pretty much equivalent, and all the talk comparing different ones was much ado about nothing. Then I got an Asian strat with one of those skinny little potmetal blocks, and oh boy was it ever cheesy!! Replaced it with a brass one from GFS. This helped the sustain quite a bit, and fattened the tone very little. The difference in sound might've been perhaps more significant with more sensitive pickups. But when I eventually upgrade those, I'm not going to put the cheesy block back in just so I can have a basis for comparison.

                Rigidity vs mass is an interesting consideration, I wonder if a skinny steel block would still work better than a zinc one? And how a thin aluminum one would act? I'd imagine so but it would be good to know.

                I generally believe that when it comes to hardware, more mass can be helpful. Plus it makes things sturdier. As far as overall guitar mass goes, I'm in the other camp- I'm old enough to have been gigging back in the 70s when the prevailing wisdom was that heavier is better. There were some massively heavy Strats, those weighty Norlin Les Pauls, the plexiglass Dan Armstrongs, and people that were making guitars out of metal and even stone. Some of these instruments had really impressive natural sustain.

                But the downside of all that mass is that it takes a huge amount of energy to move it. The vibration of one thin guitar string is not particularly energetic. Even loud ambient sound from a guitar amp will be hard-pressed to shake a dense ten pound guitar. A steel bodied Strat would probably weigh twenty five pounds. I've found that it's often the very light ones that really sing, and I believe this is primarily because it simply takes less sound to make them resonate.

                Back when I was often buying guitars brand new, I used to go to stores with a large stock (several times I drove from North Jersey to Maryland, to Veneman Music) where I'd flash a wad of cash and tell the staff, "I'm buying today- I want to try every Les Paul you've got." (Or every Strat, SG, etc.) I'd play twenty or thirty of them and find five or six that had the magic, then make my choice from those. It was nearly always the guitars which sounded loudest acoustically that really lit up dramatically when amplified, and they generally tended to be the lighter ones. The few really good ones that weren't light just happened to be exceptionally resonant. A happy serendipity of wood.

                I've become more knowledgeable and more discriminating during the intervening decades, and I can often tell the ones I'm going to fall in love with just by tapping the back of a headstock. The good ones always shiver like they want to fly. I'll never forget trying my first (and still favorite) PRS back in the 80s. It just came alive in my hands. Instant goosebumps. An exception to my usual preference, too- it isn't particularly light, but it's made of extraordinarily musical mahogany. Paul used to select his wood by hand, tapping it with a rubber mallet to find the pieces that rang out. This one resonates like nothing I've ever felt.

                About the string issue, I prefer .010s and can definitely hear a big improvement over .009s in both volume and tone. Can't say whether the tone difference is caused simply by more mass in the string or stronger magnetic field letting the pickups do their thing that much better. As with anything concerning tone, it's probably both of those plus a couple of other factors I'm not even considering. Tone is a complicated thing.

                It would be fascinating to see a comparison study of various major string brands. If anybody has attempted this please post your findings, even though they'd naturally be quite subjective. I'd be very interested even to hear from those who have found noticeable differences between two or three different brands. Or formulations within one brand- I've been considering a switch to nickel after using the same two kinds of strings for forty years.
                Last edited by eclecticsynergy; 06-07-2015, 10:59 PM.
                "If it sounds good, it IS good."

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                • #9
                  That's a nice write up and a good account of personal experiences that I'm sure a lot of players (including me) concur with. I tried to squeeze the info into a couple of sentences with:

                  "Some guitars sustain because they don't absorb much vibration from the string. But some guitars sustain because they do! Most are mix of both things."

                  I followed with some blab about resonance. I've had both heavy guitars and light ones that I loved. Usually for different reasons or even different styles. Maybe there's just too many ways to make a good sounding guitar, and too many variables in player preferences for any pigeon holed ideals.

                  Someone mentioned rigidity vs. mass. It's possible to have both or course. That was what my steel strat analogy was for. Yes it would sustain, but I thought it would illustrate that that the properties of mass, rigidity and resonance (at frequency) need to meet up for good tone. And sometimes also sustain, if it's to be the acoustic feedback type. It's quite overwhelming to me. All these things that have to marry so that one guitar can find one player that falls in love. And just as in human relationships, only a few in a hundred couplings are really what they should be. That's why the advice to play before you buy abounds. And narrowing the choices to five among thirty guitars, and then to one. The unavoidable proof of this is in the fact that we all probably once sold a guitar that we wish we still had! AND I'll bet some of us have made mail order purchases we regret. A good guitar has a good marriage of the properties. It still needs a player to love it. Depending on technique and style there are a lot of ways to get sustain.

                  If you love a particular strat guitar try every type of trem block you like (or can afford to). Pick the one that does what YOU do best.
                  "Take two placebos, works twice as well." Enzo

                  "Now get off my lawn with your silicooties and boom-chucka speakers and computers masquerading as amplifiers" Justin Thomas

                  "Being born on third base and thinking that you must have hit a triple is pure delusion!" Steve A

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                  • #10
                    I'm late to this party so let me add my 2 cents. I have a 1981 MIJ Squire strat with the large zinc block. I also have a 2004 MIM strat with a GFS full size steel block. The guitar with the steel
                    block has a sound that I call harmonically rich. You can hear it acoustically and as well electrically. Worth the upgrade? Yes.

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by pdf64 View Post
                      So, my lesson from that is strings are way more significant to the overall tone of a guitar than the kind of details that people tend to obsess over.
                      .
                      well that is where +90% of the actual vibration is happening...

                      Didn't people sell titanium blocks for OFR's a few years back? +$400 LOL

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by ronh View Post
                        I'm late to this party so let me add my 2 cents. I have a 1981 MIJ Squire strat with the large zinc block. I also have a 2004 MIM strat with a GFS full size steel block. The guitar with the steel
                        block has a sound that I call harmonically rich. You can hear it acoustically and as well electrically. Worth the upgrade? Yes.
                        I'm not trying to call you out or bash you unnecessarily. That said...

                        There's nothing in your related experience to indicate that there is any advantage for either block type. They are on two different guitars. Now, if you would swap the trem blocks on the two guitars and report back that would help your position, but still be very subjective. For whatever you've said there's the possibility that the "harmonically rich" strat could be even better with the zink block. And perhaps the less rich strat would improve with the steel block. Maybe you have the wrong blocks on the wrong guitars!!! Unless you've swapped them, you don't know.
                        "Take two placebos, works twice as well." Enzo

                        "Now get off my lawn with your silicooties and boom-chucka speakers and computers masquerading as amplifiers" Justin Thomas

                        "Being born on third base and thinking that you must have hit a triple is pure delusion!" Steve A

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                        • #13
                          "Steel" is a general term.
                          There are various different grades/compositions of steel and those variations make a difference.

                          I swapped an alloy block for a cold rolled, non-leaded steel block (1018, I think?) and found it changed the dynamic response of that guitar, improved the sustain a little. I'm inclined to think that has more to do with the material density/resonant frequency than the overall mass of the unit. The 'heavier is better' argument falls apart when you consider Gibson have always used lightweight aluminium alloy bridges. I own a couple of Strat-a-likes with alloy blocks (ESPs) that have excellent sustain etc...
                          When it comes to steels/alloys/brasses, the material spec is important, not just whether it's 'alloy/steel/brass'.

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by somebodyelseuk View Post
                            I swapped an alloy block for a cold rolled, non-leaded steel block (1018, I think?) and found it changed the dynamic response of that guitar, improved the sustain a little.
                            Can you be sure that it wasn't just down to old dead strings used on the old bridge and you took the opportunity to fit a new set when replacing the block? I acknowledge that it's very tempting to do so!
                            My experience (see previously) indicates that for such a comparison to be useful, the exact same strings need to be used on both, ie so as to avoid old string cf new string, or even worse, old strings of one spec cf new strings of a different spec.

                            Originally posted by somebodyelseuk View Post
                            The 'heavier is better' argument falls apart when you consider Gibson have always used lightweight aluminium alloy bridges
                            That seems way too general to have a chance of being correct?
                            Gibson have used a variety of systems; often with 2 points of contact at the body end between strings and body, bridge and tailpiece. So difficult to make a valid comparison to a strat.
                            Of the bridges, eg Wraparound, Tone-o-matic, Nashville, I suspect that the material specs have varied over the years and may vary across the model range.
                            I can't remember aluminium bridges, it's more commonly associated with LP type tailpieces.
                            My band:- http://www.youtube.com/user/RedwingBand

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Chuck H View Post
                              I'm not trying to call you out or bash you unnecessarily. That said...

                              There's nothing in your related experience to indicate that there is any advantage for either block type. They are on two different guitars. Now, if you would swap the trem blocks on the two guitars and report back that would help your position, but still be very subjective...
                              I believe that ronh was comparing the Guitar Fetish block to the stock trem block in his 2004 MIM Fender. I just checked and they are selling for $21.95... (Perhaps ronh can clear up the confusion on this since his post could be taken both ways.)

                              Steve A.

                              EDIT: Here is link to GFS trem block with detailed notes to determine if it will fit your import strat (if it doesn't you need to order block and bridge plate.) A big thanks to ronh for the heads up on this upgraded block! (If your trem block goes THUNK! instead of PING! when you tap it with a screwdriver you are a good candidate for an upgrade!)

                              http://www.guitarfetish.com/Solid-St...los_p_688.html
                              Last edited by Steve A.; 08-07-2015, 06:34 PM.
                              The Blue Guitar
                              www.blueguitar.org
                              Some recordings:
                              https://soundcloud.com/sssteeve/sets...e-blue-guitar/
                              .

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