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How to improve the performance of your Fender Stratocaster’s tremolo system

Necessary Tools:
– Set of automotive feeler gauges (0.002 to 0.025)
– 6″ ruler (with 1/32″ and 1/64″ increments)
– Phillips screwdriver

Stratocasters and “Strat-style” guitars can be found with four distinctive types of bridges. The most well known bridge is the vintage-style “synchronized” tremolo. The other three are the Fender American Standard bridge, which is a modern-day 2-pivot bridge, the non-tremolo hardtail bridge, and the locking tremolo such as the Fender American Deluxe or Floyd Rose locking tremolos.

Let’s start with a vintage-style tremolo bridge. First, remove the tremolo back cover. Check your tuning. Here’s a great tip to enhance the performance of this bridge: Using your tremolo arm, pull the bridge back flush with the body. Loosen all six screws located at the front edge of the bridge plate. Raise them so that all of the screws measure approximately 1/16″ above the top of the bridge plate. Finally, tighten the two outside screws back down until they are just flush with the top of the bridge plate. The bridge will now pivot on the outside screws, leaving the four inside screws in place for bridge stability. For a 2-pivot bridge like the American Standard bridge use your tremolo arm to pull the bridge back flush with the body and adjust the two pivot screws to the point where the tremolo plate sits entirely flush at the body (not lifted at the front or back of the plate).

Allowing the bridge to float freely (no tension on the tremolo arm), use the claw screws in the tremolo cavity to adjust the bridge to the desired angle. (The Fender specification is 1/8″ gap at rear of bridge.) You’ll need to retune after each adjustment to get the right balance between the strings and the springs. If you prefer that the bridge is flush to the guitar body, adjust the spring tension to equal string tension, while the bridge rests on body (you may want to put an extra 1/2 turn to each claw screw to ensure that the bridge remains flush to the body during string bends). Caution: Don’t over-tighten the springs as it can put unnecessary tension on the arm during tremolo use. Finally, you may wish to apply a small dab of Chapstick or Vaseline at the pivot contact points of the bridge for a very smooth operation.

Adjustments for strings and intonation of locking tremolo systems will be covered in an upcoming Tech Tip. Stay Tuned!

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