ViVe La Vi­brato!

You want to add a vi­brato to your Gib­son? are you sure? Okay, if you must. Dave bur­rluck con­sid­ers your op­tions…

Guitarist - - Bill Collings -

Back in the day, even pretty big pros had way fewer gui­tars in their col­lec­tions than many of to­day’s week­end warriors. And weren’t things sim­ple, eh? You turned up to your gig with your guitar, amp and maybe a bag of leads and a cou­ple of ef­fects. To­day, we all ob­sess. ‘Hmm, do I need a Strat for this gig, a Tele for that song, or do I need my ES-335, or maybe an ES-175, for those jazz­ier num­bers in the set?’ Be­fore you know it, you’ve got three or more gui­tars on the back seat of the car – all need to be work­ing and prob­a­bly re­strung, too – and you’re off to a gig that pays peanuts and the ‘stage’ is the cor­ner of a pub, bar… or field.

In an ef­fort to re­duce hard­ware, many of us look to in­stru­ments that ‘have it all’. Now, while some of that com­pro­mise is eas­ily achieved with hum­buck­ing gui­tars that have sin­gle-coil sounds and so on, if you’re us­ing a Les Paul or an ES-style semi or hol­low­body and you need a bit of shim­mer from a vi­brato, it’s an­other guitar. Or is it?

For some, of course, adding a vi­brato to one of those hard­tail bench­marks is akin to putting jam, not salt, on your por­ridge (or vice-versa!), but if it can be done in a to­tally re­versible fash­ion, why the heck not?

So what are our choices? Pauls (and semis) need a Bigsby, but that leaves us with a cou­ple of holes from the un­used stud tail­piece, and while Vi­bra­mate’s V7-LP Model Mount­ing Kit (around £76) means you don’t need to drill any holes, it’s only de­signed for a USA Bigsby B7 Orig­i­nal Vi­brato (from around £161), not the cheaper, and per­fectly good, li­censed B70. The Stets­bar Stop Tail style (from £169) is an­other choice; like­wise Schaller’s ‘Tre­molo Les Paul’ (from around £135), which mounts on the tune-o-matic bridge posts. For se­ri­ous whammy fans, Floyd Rose’s FRX Top Mount Tre­molo (£289 in nickel/chrome; £329 in black) is an­other. The cheap­est op­tion is Due­sen­berg’s Les Trem II (cur­rently from €87 on their site, though we’ve seen it cheaper else­where).

The Stets­bar is pop­u­lar and it cer­tainly adds its own look – which may or may not suit. Schaller’s ver­sion is an un­known, but Schaller’s rep­u­ta­tion is built on hard­ware that works, so you should con­sider it. But we’ve tested the Due­sen­berg Les Trem II on the Ri­volta Com­bi­nata Deluxe Trem and it works, looks pretty retro and, we un­der­stand, is easy to fit and com­pletely re­versible. We or­dered one from Due­sen­berg’s on­line store (a cou­ple of months ago for €73) and it ar­rived in two days. The Ri­volta also uses a roller-sad­dle tune-o-matic, not of­fered by Due­sen­berg. No prob­lem, ours – the Roller Nash-4 – came from Axerus (£27).

We’d aimed to fit the new parts to a new Guild Blues­bird, but they ended up on a Guild Ne­wark St Starfire II. The mod is easy. Strings off, mount the new tune-o-matic. Take the stud tail­piece off, mount the new Les Trem II with its sup­plied studs (it in­cludes both met­ric and im­pe­rial). Restring. Check string height and in­to­na­tion. Done.

Aes­thet­ics are a per­sonal choice, but on a large thin­line semi the Les Trem II’s retro vibe suits the style, cer­tainly in lieu of a Bigsby. Un­like that classy be­he­moth, how­ever, the Les Trem seems lighter in weight and doesn’t af­fect the guitar’s bal­ance in any no­tice­able way. Once the new strings were stretched, tun­ing was very sta­ble used in Bigsby style, too. Oh, and re­string­ing is a dod­dle, un­like a Bigsby.

More fun­da­men­tally, does it af­fect the sound? Well, any­thing you mod will af­fect the sound – marginally or more fun­da­men­tally – but the ef­fect is marginal here and the string ‘feel’ isn’t no­tice­ably changed be­cause the string length from the sad­dle to an­chor is the same. Plus, the pivot is still firmly fixed to the body, even though it lies in the tail­piece bar. It’s smooth in ac­tion (if not quite as smooth as a Bigsby), but it has a sim­i­lar min­i­mal shim­mery range. How­ever, we can’t help think­ing our pre­vi­ously jazzy hol­low­body now sounds more Grestch-y. It does raise the height of the com­bined bridge as­sem­bly, how­ever, and the arm has to be se­cured with an Allen key. No big­gie, but make sure you carry one in its case (and maybe an­other in your leads bag). It does mean that you can quite pre­cisely set the arm’s po­si­tion, though.

All in all, the Les Trem II is a firm Mod Squad rec­om­men­da­tion.

Les Trem II: easy to fit and re­versible, too

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