Q: What is “blocking a tremolo” on a guitar? Why would I want this and how is it done?
A: Blocking a tremolo means to set it up so that it can only go down in pitch, not up. Doing so provides a number of advantages:
- It can add sustain to your tone
- It can help keep the guitar in tune after “dive-bombing”
- Strings are easier to replace
- It’s a must if you change among alternate tunings; since the tremolo doesn’t float, the strings are easier to re-tune
- If a string breaks, the guitar tends to stay in tune.
There are those who feel that this technique renders the tremolo useless. However, Eddie Van Halen has his Floyd Rose tremolo bridge set up this way. First a word of warning: If you’re not confident in your ability to make this modification, take your guitar to a qualified repairperson.
Many guitarists mistakenly think that blocking a tremolo means to place a small wood block underneath the rear of the tremolo bridge; the opposite is true. Here’s how it’s done:
- Remove the tremolo bar’s cavity cover on the back of the guitar
- Decide what angle you want the tremolo to tilt; slightly forward, parallel to the body (PRS-style), or tilted back.
- Then, loosen or tighten the strings in order to put the tremolo in the position you want when it’s at rest.
- Once the tremolo is in the desired position, turn the guitar back over and measure the distance between the spring block (the part on the bottom of the tremolo where the springs attach) and the body inside the cavity toward the neck.
- Take a piece of 1″ poplar and cut it to the width of the tremolo’s spring block.
- Taking the previous measurement between spring block and body (closest to the neck), sand or plane the 1″ block to the thickness you measured. Tremolo cavities are routed differently — you may have to shave the width of the block down to allow room for the tremolo springs.
- Loosen the strings and remove the tremolo springs.
- Install the block between the spring block and the body — lightly gluing it will hold it in place in most cases.
- Attach the tremolo springs and tighten the spring claw-screws a couple of turns to add pressure to the block.
- Re-tune and adjust the intonation of the guitar (see Tech Tip of the Day, 09/20/2004)
- Install the tremolo cavity cover.
- Dive-bomb to your heart’s content!
Again, and this is very important: If you’re not confident about your ability to perform this modification, make sure you take your guitar to a qualified guitar technician. Also, keep in mind that there are two schools of thought regarding the efficacy of this modification. If you’re not sure, don’t do it!