ROSEWOOD STRAT - GOLD HARDWARE CONVERSION
09/17/16- It's in my nature to lavish attention on foolish things, like replacing perfectly good chrome hardware with gold hardware on a guitar that's too heavy to play. Yep, I did that.
As I said in part 2, this guitar is all about looks. Rosewood is pretty but not a good choice for a player's guitar body because it's so heavy. After seeing Strat 12 on eBay, I believed that this guitar would look really snazzy with gold hardware.
The secondary motive was that it gave me an excuse to buy some hardware that I'd been interested in, while hopefully improving the performance of the tremolo system. Since these would be major components, it made sense to use the excuse of going for gold.
My preference would have been to replace the tremolo system with a double-locking Floyd Rose. However, I wasn't up for the challenge of routing the body-- there seemed to be some critical precision requirements, and that's the sort of risk that's more acceptable for a beater guitar. The safer path was to install a Wudtone CP Holy Grail or Super Zee Bladerunner tremolo, both available in gold, and both priced about the same (expensive!). Both companies made good cases for their improvements over the standard vintage Stratocaster tremolo design.
The Wudtone Tremolo: The Wudtone was actually my first choice because it stayed truest to the vintage design and look, and addressed design problems with the screw-mount pivot points that I was well aware of. However, after ordering it, I learned that it was backordered... Sorry! I don't play that game, especially when there are other options.
The Super Vee Bladerunner: I first became interested in Super Vee's products many years ago, but never bought one (When I originally wanted to buy one, they weren't in stock). Super Vee's design is more innovative and approaches the problem of friction at the pivot point by bridging the separate parts with a length of spring steel.
I don't entirely buy the claim that it eliminates friction-- it does eliminate the friction of parts pressing against each other, but I believe that at a molecular level, the spring steel experiences some degradation from repeated flexing. I suspect that it would take many, many flexings for the material to fail, but reports that the stiff feel softens after months of use indicates that some form of degradation is occurring. Nevertheless, it's a solid and innovative design that eliminates the problem of the alignment of the tremolo plate with the body mounting: This means that the tuning is more likely to return to the correct pitch after whammying.
This time, the Bladerunner was in-stock and was shipped quickly. It was easy to install and I was pleasantly surprised to see that their branding was less obtrusive than I expected. It retains much of the look and vibe of a vintage Strat tremolo. It also performs very well, reliably returning the tremolo to the correct pitch (as long as there aren't other problem with your tremolo installation).
In fairness to the vintage Strat tremolo, I must mention that some installations work very well. It seems to depend on subtle factors of the installation, primarily the condition of the pivot screws and bridge plate pivot points-- an issue that can affect any blade/pivot design, include the 2-point Strat and Floyd Rose tremolos. That's something that can be hard to see, especially when comparing one installation that works well to one that doesn't work quite as well. The Bladerunner eliminates that as a consideration.
Sperzel Staggered Locking Machine Heads (Tuners): The staggered chrome Gotoh tuners would also need to be replaced, so this was an opportunity to try something different: Sperzels. I was more interested in the staggered tuner feature than the locking feature because it eliminated the need for string trees (in theory).
"(In theory)" because while staggered tuners do increase the string's nut-to-tuner angle at the headstock, it's nowhere near as acute as the angle that a string tree can provide. Staggered tuners can give enough downforce angle to keep the treble E string from popping out of the nut when bending, and give the open E string a solid tone at the open nut... but sometimes just barely, and it's not something that you can easily adjust. If you have problems with either of these issues, a string tree may be necessary.
The problem with string trees is that they're one more place for the string to bind in addition to the nut. That's a problem for any kind of string bending and stretching, but whammy bar usage tests the binding more rigorously. Binding means friction. If a string moves when stretched or relaxed and a friction point prevents it from returning to its prior state, the string will be out of tune. That's why locking nuts, low-friction nuts, nut-lubricant, and staggered tuners were invented.
That's also why locking tuners were invented. With non-locking tuners, strings are secured by multiple wraps around the post. When the string is stretched or relaxed, the wraps may move and bind against each other, preventing the string from returning to its prior state. Locking tuners eliminate multiple string wraps around the tuner post by locking the string to the post before the first wrap. Bear in mind that any friction point before the tuner (like the nut or a string tree) undermines what the locking tuner does.
The Sperzel Staggered Locking Tuners are a good solution for this issue, short of installing a locking nut (which would eliminate the need for staggered/locking tuners and string trees). The Sperzels were available in gold, came in three different post heights, and were priced attractively.
The downside to locking tuners is that locking the string compresses/damages it. That could be a problem if you need to loosen strings frequently to work on the neck or bridge (as I did and learned through experience). The lack of string windings around the post means that loosening strings subjects the weakened lock point (pinned/compressed part of the string) to focused flexing; you can't remove a neck more than a few times before metal fatigue breaks the string at the lock point. (That's why a few in the pics have multiple winds-- that keeps 'em from breaking.)
I got this neckplate many years ago and always assumed that it was bogus... I was surprised to learn that it came from an actual Fender Japan limited edition release: The garish sparkly red, white, and blue Buck Owens Telecaster! I couldn't resist putting it on this Rosewood Boguscaster.
Note to self: Wipe cat hairs from guitar before taking photos.