Stratocaster Rosewood neck


09/05/12- With partscasters it can be awfully difficult to pin down the identity of a particular guitar. Say you buy a stock Stratocaster and lovingly name it Cletus (yeah, some guitarists do that dorky stuff... but I don't!). In time, you replace the stock tuners with some super high performance Steinbergers, then the pickups with some special boo-teeky ones that are the sweetheart of all the guitar forums. Is the guitar still good ol' Cletus? What if you further upgrade with a solid skunkwood quartersawn titanium truss rodded neck? Then switch the body for a super-lightweight iridium-infused super tonemetal (with cybernetic implants)? Is it still Cletus, or has it evolved so much that it should be renamed to something reflecting its awesome transformation, like Gigatron-Cletus? On the other hand, maybe it's the original, 5-year old strings that harbor the soul of the Stratocaster formerly known as Cletus?

Yeah, it's pretty stupid stuff but for this article, it's relevant stupidity. See, a previous article was named "Strat 9" to document another partscaster project. Shortly thereafter, that partscaster stopped existing when I got a new body, moved Strat 9's maple neck to a sunburst Highway 1 (for aesthetic reasons), and the rosewood Highway 1 neck to the new body. Then I saw a solid rosewood neck that I had to have, screwed it to the new body, and ended up with a spare neck. How convenient... a spare neck and a spare body? Strat 9's yellow Malmsteen body was once again revived and mated with the Highway 1 neck. So Strat 9 as shown in the previous article didn't really exist anymore... until I ended up re-swapping the neck with the Highway 1. See? With humans who don't have removeable necks, it makes perfect sense to give them names and Social Security Numbers. With guitars, not so much...

Well, at least for now, the guitar currently known as Strat 10 is made up from mostly new parts. The main reason for Strat 10 is the body; it's a transparent brown-black burst from Warmoth, which happens to be one of my favorite guitar colors. (I like that look so much that I've got an Ibanez and Les Paul with a similar scheme.) It was originally intended to be a replacement for Strat 9's Malmsteen body, since I have a love/hate relationship with the color of the let's-call-it-white-even-though-it's-yellow body. It seems so... metrosexual. (Not that there's anything wrong with that!)

Back to the new partscaster... Warmoth offered several options, and I decided to get the "universal" (a.k.a. "swimming pool") pickup routing. Although "swimming pool" pickup routing seems to be despised and looked down upon by most tone-chasing guitarists, my Strat Plus Deluxe is routed that way and I don't think the extra bit of missing wood makes a whit's worth of difference to the cherished tone. It just seems more practical to me, gives more options, and might even make the guitar slightly lighter. For me, the lighter, the better. I'm also convinced from my experience with different guitar bodies (including a hollow aluminum one) that the body material doesn't have that much of a difference on what comes out of the amplifier. In my opinion, there are other things that matter a lot more, like the amplifier and electronic guitar toys in the signal chain.

I also requested single battery box routing since I like the way onboard active electronics can extend the voice of an electric guitar. I didn't have anything specific in mind, but it would be there if I thought of something. Again, I don't think the missing bit of wood makes a whit's worth of discernable difference to the tone.

The battery box routing was probably a mistake: I should have done it myself. In my opinion, Warmoth puts their battery boxes in a strange place, at the lower front of the guitar (instead of at the back as I usually do). I didn't think of the implications of this until I started thinking about electronics that I might install in the guitar. With their battery box routing in the backside, you can't route from the frontside under the largest area of the pickguard-- which happens to be the best place to install a circuitboard that won't fit in the controls cavity routing. Doh! That really limits what you can install in the guitar.


Stratocaster Rosewood neck


Initially, the "new" guitar used the scratchplate from Strat 9: D. Allen Dover pickups with Phostenix's Nashville X wiring for an S-1 switchpot and Superswitch. As great as the D. Allen pickups sounded, I came to accept that I was not really a single-coil pickup devotee. I tried, but couldn't ignore the noise when playing with high gain. It came down to a choice between great low-gain tone with high-gain noise versus acceptable low-gain tone with relatively quiet high gain tone.

I'd gone through the same issue with another Strat (Strat 7) right before this, having replaced some cool and great-sounding Reed James wooden single-coil pickups (yep, bobbins made of rosewood for which I'd waited over a month) with some DiMarzio Area noiseless pickups. I'd read good things about the DiMarzio Areas and I was willing to give them a try... I was surprised at how spunky yet quiet they sounded. In my opinion, they sound close enough to the quirky and characteristic single coil Strat sound, with a biting bridge pickup sound and great "quack" in selector positions 2 & 4. They're relatively high output without excessive magnetic string pull (unlike the Dimarzio YJM set that was originally in the guitar). Another plus is that they were half the price of Kinman pickups.

Buoyed by that success, I decided to try another noiseless pickup in the new partscaster, for variety: This time, a set of Fender Hot Noiseless pickups. Unfortunately, I didn't like 'em very much. I'm not terribly fussy, and I didn't hate their sound, but they sounded kinda bland in comparison to the Areas-- less quack, and not as much bite in the bridge pickup. I guess you could call 'em "smooth and balanced", which isn't a bad thing. It's just not my preference, so more dollars down the drain. For whatever it's worth, the Hot Noiseless pickups have a mix of the 52 and 50mm spaced pole pieces so while the covers are removeable, you can't just slip on your favorite old set of pickup covers. As I discovered with the D. Allen pickups, trying to find 50mm pickup covers in the right matching shade or dyeable isn't easy. Another issue is that the pickups are very tall and may not fit a guitar body with shallow vintage pickup routing, like the Malmsteen body. I didn't explore that fully since I wasn't fond of the pickups so I stopped trying when it looked like they weren't going to fit.

Since I wanted to lavish attention on this newest partscaster, I took another chance on pickups: EMG SAVX active pickups. Although I probably should have just bought another set of Areas, I was motivated to try active pickups since they'd justify having the battery box installed. It's dumb to have a battery box installed if you don't use it for something! The SAVX pickups were unique for EMGs in that they have actual pole pieces and look like traditional Strat pickups-- That's one of the shallow, neurotic preferences that I've acquired through the years. I don't like the look of Lace Sensors, pickups with rails, or any other peculiar variation thereof, although I've had Laces and rails in my guitars in the past. (I bought the body purely for looks so I didn't want pickups that I thought looked ugly.)

An even more important feature would be their sound (huh???), but I couldn't find any good samples or videos showcasing them. There were a few (very few) out there, but none did a passable job of selling them. EMG's own videos were marred by a guitar that sounded out-of-tune. (It's hard to ignore that when trying to evaluate the pickup's actual sound!) Furthermore, it was hard to find any discussions about the pickups-- the only sparse bit of info that I got from the forums was that EMG's X-series pickups were less compressed, lower output and more natural-sounding than their older models. One opinion noted that they had decent quack. What I wanted was a noiseless pickup that captured some of the high frequency sparkle of the passive single-coil. My theory was that most passive noiseless pickups gave up some of the high frequency by virtue of the extra wire in the noise-cancelling coil. I reasoned that an active pickup could restore those high frequencies via the built-in preamp. Therefore, I held some hope that the SAVX pickups could come even closer to the single coil sound than the DiMarzio Areas.

I should mention that (obviously) all single coils do not sound alike. For example, the D.Allen Dovers sound more mellow (less treble) than the Reed James pickups. I'm almost ashamed to admit this, but I actually really like the brash, high-output sound of some funky ceramic single coils that came in a cheap Cort Lucite-bodied Strat clone that I recently acquired. It's all very subjective. If nothing else, it indicates to me that more expensive doesn't necessarily mean better sounding. (Neverthess, throwing money at problems is kind of gratifying since it makes you feel like you're doing something positive to effect change.) Heck, if they made the sound of those ceramic pickups in a noiseless design, I'd have put 'em in this partscaster.

Stratocaster Fender Hot Noiseless pickups S1 switching
With Hot Noiseless pickus & Nashville wiring, before removal.

Stratocaster EMG SAVX pickups
With EMG SAVX pickups, first wiring mod (w/redundant battery cut switch)

[First impressions, from my post in a forum thread about the EMG SAVX pickups]

My verdict: They're clean, clean, clean. Very hi-fi, and can sound almost like piezo pickups, or an active EQ with a slight bass & treble emphasis, but not shrill. Output-wise, they're on par with the Area pickups-- they don't boost the output, and you can't adjust them to do that without adding a booster circuit. Tonally, they don't have quite the quack, and while they do have a distinctive voice, like I said, it's extremely clean and hi-fi. The eveness of frequency response takes away some of that distinctly Strat tone. The bridge pickup is less shrill and peaky than the Area bridge pickup, but that's one of the things that makes the Strat sound like a Strat, IMO. While they're an interesting and different tone, I was a bit disappointed-- probably because I wanted them to sound like the Areas, but more single-coil Stratty. I wrongly thought that the active technology could compensate for some of the limitations of noiseless passive pickups. Tonally, they're really not that much different from what you get from adding an onboard bass & treble boost board (but with better signal-to-noise ratio).

The modular plug-in concept may appeal to some folks. Great instructions definitely make assembly simple, like a coloring book. However, if you know how to solder and understand basic guitar wiring, it adds an obstructive layer of black box technology to troubleshooting and modification efforts. For example, the volume and tone controls all have active components on a small PC board, and the tone controls have send and return plugs. While the effect is the same as a simple parallel capacitor shunt to ground, the active tone control is wired in series-- connections from the selector switch have send and return pins for each pickup, and a bypass shunt for the pickup without a tone control. To do a master tone control, you have to wire the tone control in series from the volume control, with the output connected to the tone control. I wanted to say that it was so easy that a guitarist could do it (ha ha), but my first attempt to wire it by the book produced zero output while tapping on the pickups. That's when I realized that it was harder to troubleshoot than conventional wiring. I went over the plugs and started from scratch and finally got it working. Once it's working, it's simple to add some of EMG's optional accessories, like the Afterburner pot (for boost), or their special function EQ pots.

Because this is such a closed system, it's more challenging to modify and add things like S-1 switching. I replaced one of the tone pots with a 25K push-pull switch pot, but it required transplanting the circuitboard. I'm not exactly sure how the volume pot circuitboard works, but they don't make 25K S-1 switches, so that would be a lot more involved transplantation job. For mods, the plugs are a bit harder to work with than soldering since the plugs are rigid and much longer than a tiny blob of solder and flexible wire. That limits component placement since you have to worry about sharp bends in the wiring and the plugs and pins clearing the cavity walls.

Another bit of alien-ness is that everything is internally shielded, so you don't need to worry about that-- in fact, the instructions tell you not to connect the ground wire to the claw.

There are benefits to active electronics: Turning down the volume knob doesn't affect the tone, and you can have long cables runs without affecting the tone. Battery life isn't much of an issue since you'll change strings far more often than batteries, and it only takes a few seconds to change a battery if you've got a battery box. However, I have mixed feelings about this as you can probably tell. I'm weighing the novelty of a really clean sounding Strat with noiseless high gain performance... versus passive single coil and noiseless pickups, which have their own distinctive tonal pluses and minuses, but are easy to modify with aftermarket active electronics. I was thinking that maybe I should have just bought another set of Area pickups and used the battery power for a CrackPotz or some other onboard effect?

[End of forum post]

Stratocaster EMG SAVX pickups
Sorry, no pics of the final version of the wiring which has 3 push-pull pots (volume/battery cut, SRV Exciter Tone, & Crackpotz OD). Signal path-wise, it's volume->Crackpotz->Exciter Tone.

Since that first impression, I've done some more work on the guitar's electronics, and am actually pretty happy with my choice of the EMG SAVX pickups.

I cannibalized the original controls for the connectors for plug-in compatibility with the new active circuits; Since the majority of the install uses connectors, it seemed cleaner to go this route than mixing soldered and plug connections. Also, there's one advantage of the plug connections that I didn't mention: You can easily separate the entire pickguard from the body without having to desolder anything (although I didn't bother since it's faster just to flip it over and work on it in place).

The EMG SAVX pickups offer extended frequency range, which contributes to the impression of an extremely clean sound; some might call it "sterile". The important thing to note is that cutting the extended treble makes them sound more lo-fi, like the passive guitar pickups that you're used to hearing. It's actually a good reason to use your tone pot, instead of leaving it dimed all the time. So the big picture view sees this as making the guitar more versatile, since you can make the guitar sound like a regular single coil Strat, or stray into super clean, treble territory. A more limited assessment hears only the extremes and says that it sounds sterile and un-Strat-like.

I replaced the EMG tone pot with the Guitarfetish SRV Exciter Circuit, which works like a super tone control. I must admit that I was not initially very impressed with it. The hyperbolic sales literature promised "...a nice fat bottom boost that turn a FenderŽ into a GibsonŽ, then as you turn the dial you begin to get the classic "Tube Drive" gain and mid boost- as you turn the knob up you get even more boost and a nice 3 dimensional expansion of highs and lows. Play this through a 4-10 Bassman with a Strat and it's just this ten foot deep- walking on clouds- Stevie Ray sound."

Yeah, right. The circuit doesn't give much boost, and the "Tube Drive gain" is a bit overstated (gives the signal a slight bit of "hair" if your amp is sitting right on the line between clean and overdriven), as is the 3 dimensional expansion. The SRV thing is pure marketing name-dropping BS in my opinion (and I didn't buy it for that). It's less life-changing dramatic than the over-the-top sales pitch might make you believe. However, it does give an expanded treble end, slightly boosted mids, and a deeper bass than a stock treble cut tone pot, and it's far more useful than I initially thought. The full-open, treble end of the pot moves the EMG SAVX into unbelievably, almost unusably clean treble territory, whereas at the other end the treble is cut with a small but noticeable bass boost. In between is the more familiar Strat pickup EQ. So the circuit really does expand the tonal palette of the EMG pickups, with a slight boost. This comes in handy for both clean and overdriven sounds and I found it works well in conjunction with the Crackpotz high-gain circuit. Naturally, the treble boost does come with increased hiss, but that's not unexpected. It's basically a single-pot alternative to a circuit with separate bass, mid, and treble boost/cut pots, with a reasonable compromise of functionality. That said, I don't think it's a good alternative if you want a mid-boosted lead tone-- it doesn't have enough boost in that range.

Stratocaster Guitarfetish SRV Exciter circuit Crackpotz Stack in a Jack
This is more for my benefit for when I want to figure out what's up with this guitar in a couple of years, I won't have to go looking for the papers. Believe me, you do forget this stuff. That's kind of why I write this stuff, and it's come in handy before.

I ordered Lee Jackson's "Stack in a Jack" circuit based on my "I wanna believe" mentality. I was slightly suspicious that the website offered few specifics and no sound samples. There weren't any on youtube either, or discussions praising its coolness and utility. (That's not too surprising since onboard electronics are a niche interest.) I wanted to believe that a single pot & circuitboard overdrive solution could work as well as a full-sized stompbox circuit, and was willing to make allowances for the fewer adjustable parameters. It seemed reasonable to me that tiny surface mount components could replicate the basic sound of traditional full-sized components mounted on less densely-packed circuitboards. The fact that it was made by a small Austin-based enterprise also helped make the sale.

My first impression was utter disappointment, that I'd wasted more money... again! I wired the circuit out of guitar, like a barebones stompbox and ran it through my VG-99/mixer setup (basically, used as a convenient headphone/low volume setup). It sounded like shit, super-buzzy and with the pot turned full tilt it sounded like an obscenely clipped and ugly fuzz. Another disappointment was that under the heavy heat shrink-tubing was a huge glob of epoxy resin. I don't begrudge designers for doing this to protect their designs from theft, but I wish they realized that it prevented the user/tinkerer from making simple changes to the way it works. For example, I wanted to separate the switch from the circuitboard, but that would be really risky with no access to the solder pads. Push-pull pots suck for controls that you want to quickly switch in and out (which is why Fender developed the S-1 switch). Furthermore, their push-pull pot is wired so that you pull the knob out to activate the effect... which means that it's relatively easy to accidently turn it off, since knob down is the natural default state of a push-pull pot. Because they "gooped" the circuit, you can't easily make this simple operational modification. It seems that they're awfully proud of their little circuit design! Besides that, with the effect switched out and the pot turned up, the hiss increases, which tells me that it doesn't switch out the circuit's output when it's bypassed.

I was really regretting that I'd opted for Warmoth's battery box routing that prevented me from installing a proven, full-sized circuitboard overdrive. I didn't want to waste any more money on unproven "I wanna believe" single-pot solutions, so I went ahead and installed it anyway, wiring it between the volume pot and the GFS SRV circuit. The GFS circuit helps to dial out a lot of the buzziness. I've since discovered that it sounds much better through my Mesa Boogie Express Plus amp, where the preamp tube compression and EQ give some decent overdriven tones that balance well with the clean sounds. It doesn't sound quite as nice through my Fender Twin Reverb though, unless it's run through other pedals to tame the buzziness. It's really not as bad as I've described and it's really just a matter of preferences. I think the circuit was designed for a more metal-oriented player; that's just not my thing. For what it's worth, with the trimpots maxxed out, the circuit puts out an obscene amount of screechy gain, especially at the far end of its travel.

I must say that I'm actually okay with it now after trying it through the Mesa Boogie with the GFS tone circuit. It does give me something different from my other guitars with noiseless pickups and active electronics, which was one of my goals... but I have to admit that I still prefer mid-boosted overdriven sounds.

Interestingly, with the battery switched off and the active circuits bypassed, the pickups do output a low-volume signal that's usable if you turn the amp up. This was surprising since usually when you run a signal through a preamp, cutting the power cuts the signal through the circuit; hence the value of having a true bypass option. I don't know how EMG does this since you can't manually bypass the pickups' preamps-- perhaps the circuit mixes the passive signal with the preamp signal? At any rate, it's a useful feature since you're not left entirely "high & dry" if the battery fails at a bad time.



Stratocaster solid rosewood neck

I think the neck is probably the most unique thing about this partscaster. It's from eBay, advertised as being made from solid Brazilian Rosewood by the seller in Malaysia. I can't say for sure what it's actually made of, or whether the wood was legally sourced (heck, I didn't put the "Fender" logo on the headstock!), but it sure is pretty! Again, I'm not entirely sold on the sonic contributions of tonewoods to the amplified output of electric guitars -- they may make a difference, but it's pretty subtle compared to the stuff that massages the actual signal electrons. I say this based on owning guitars with aluminum and lucite bodies, and a graphite neck. Run 'em through high gain and they all sound about the same, Les Pauls or Strats. Like I said though, it's a damned pretty piece of wood and that's the reason I bought it. It doesn't bother me that headstock isn't true to the Fender dimensions, or that the double dot position markers are spread wide (wider than the EJ neck)-- it's clearly not Fender, but I do like that it says "Fender" (with the "R-in-circle" symbol) on the headstock. Yep, I'm really that shallow.

Coming from an unknown and most likely homebrew source, buying something like this is always risky. Unfortunately, good looks do not guarantee good performance, and performance is actually a more important quality for a guitar neck (Imagine that!). That's something you don't know until you've installed it, strung it up and adjusted it. Although it looked mostly ready-to-go, it really wasn't: I knew that the neck mounting screwholes weren't drilled and was wondering why the truss rod end seemed to protrude awfully far from the pocket end. Among other things...

Stratocaster Gotoh staggered tuners

Mounting the Tuners: This was a quite a bit more challenging than I expected. The peghead was drilled for tuners, but the diameter of the holes was too small to fit a vintage tuner ferrule. None of my drill bits were exactly the correct size, so I had to get them closer with a drill and finish the job with a Dremel. The wood was surprisingly dense, so this took much longer and was harder than I expected. I also had a couple of stupid accidents which marred the finish, kind of defeating the purpose of having such a pretty neck! Oh well...

That seemed to set the tone: My first hole drilled for a mounting screw was fairly close to the screw size, and I assumed that the wood would compress around the screw threads. Nope, or not nearly enough-- it's very dense wood. The very first screw broke off when trying to screw it in... not a very auspicious start! If this has ever happened to you, you'll know what a pickle this is. There's no way to remove the broken off screw by unscrewing it/backing it out, and you can't put a new screw into the metal remnant, or put the screwhole in wood elsewhere. Quite a pickle! I considered installing "F" tuners which have a different mounting hole layout, but decided to try to fix the screw-up. I used a very tiny Dremel engraving bit to drill into the remant of the embedded screw to create a divot to center a larger drill bit so it wouldn't drift into the wood. Fortunately or not, the screw was relatively soft (which is probably why it broke in the first place) so I was able to drill through the screw. It came out in the form of metal dust. Fortunately, the drilled-through hole was just the right size for a second screw; I used that bit to drill the rest of the tuner screw holes.

I bought Gotoh's staggered vintage style tuners for this partscaster, which are supposedly the same ones used on the Eric Johnson Strat. I had been skeptical that staggered tuners could truly eliminate the need for a string tree since I'd installed staggered locking tuners before, and they turned out needing a string tree. However, the EJ Strat's neck proved to me that it was possible, and installing those tuners on this partscaster turned me into a believer. I wish I'd known this before. (I've also come to believe that the benefits of locking tuners are greatly overstated and that traditional tuners work just fine if they're strung properly.)

The Truss Rod Adjuster: The next challenge was dealing with the protruding truss rod end. I thought it was simply unscrewed, but nope-- it really did protrude that far. Attempting to screw it in more fully started the truss rod action of changing the neck shape. Whoa! The only solution was to cut a channel in the neck pocket end through to the pickup cavity. Not an ideal development, but not really a big deal. I vaguely recall once owning a guitar (a Teisco?) with the adjustment end beyond the fretboard and accessible from a cutout in the pickguard, so it's not unheard of. It's definitely unlike the way it's done in any Stratocaster I've ever seen though, but fortunately you can't tell with the pickguard attached. Trussrod adjustment at the heel end is a pain-in-the-ass anyway, and fortunately it's not an adjustment that you need to do very often.

Attaching the Neck: The last thing to do was to drill holes to attach the neck. For this, you want to attach the two outer strings to determine proper alignment (strings roughly the same distance from the edges and parallel, which is why the tuners need to be installed first) before drilling the holes. For this neck, I couldn't rely on the way the neck naturally rested in the pocket-- if I had, the strings wouldn't be parallel to the neck and the bass string would have veered close to the neck edge. The neck was slightly thinner than the pocket cut so the string guides told me exactly how to position the neck for drilling the screw holes. Luckily, this part went without a hitch.

Leveling the Frets: Once the neck was mounted and strung, I then spent days doing the setup, getting the action low and taking care of buzzing. The truss rod needed almost no tightening-- at first I'd tightened it a bit and had a slight back bow. Once I got it fairly straight, there were a few frets that seemed to cause excessive buzzing mid-neck. I ended up doing some pretty aggressive fret leveling, and the buzzing began to go away. I did quite a bit of tinkering figuring out how to achieve a good balance of low action and minimal buzzing (if you pick hard on low action, some degree of fret buzzing is something you live with). I crowned a few frets, but got lazy-- I really couldn't hear any appreciable difference and my tuner couldn't either (despite having read how important it was). I avoided adding a shim, and did most of the adjusting by the saddles and floating tremolo setup.

The Nut: I still wasn't satisfied with the feel-- something didn't feel quite right and I felt like the action was still a bit high. I was having to use too much pressure to fret barre chords. Then I decided to check the nut, which turned out to be just a tiny bit too high compared to my other guitars. It seemed like a negligible difference, but I was wrong. Since grinding the nut was a no-turning-back/one shot operation, I decided to try the brass nut I'd removed from my Yngwie Malmsteen neck. It was slightly lower and an easy thing to try with no risk. Low and behold, it was exactly what the neck needed! Not only did it make playing the lower frets much easier, but it lowered the action throughout the neck, while not adding any additional tendency to buzz. I was surprised that the nut made such a difference, maybe because I'd never had a neck that needed anything done to the nut. Lesson learned.

Stratocaster solid rosewood neck



Stratocaster solid rosewood neck

Super Vee Mag-Lok: Also known as a "Tremolo Anti-Deflection Device" (and Transdimensional Inductor). As we all know, life is filled with compromises (and clichés), so there are no free lunches and you can't always get what you want. Since the beginning of time, Man has sought a solution for this vexing problem: In a free-floating system, when a string is pushed or pulled, its neighbors squat. Solutions have been offered, such as the Hipshot Tremsetter, but such solutions have unintended and nefarious side effects-- while the neighbors don't squat, the stick stiffens, doesn't wag as freely, and returns to rest with a "thonk" sound. It also prevents gargling. The Tremsetter introduces such inconveniences by way of a complex series of spring interactions which must be properly set up and balanced along a centered at-rest missionary position.

One of the latest innovative designs accomplishes some of these inconveniences by way of ingenious magnetic technology (hence, "Mag-Lok"), using the basic principle that a magnet will stick to magnetic stuff until a bigger force comes along and dislodges it (The Principle of Magnetic Doggies). The primary advantage of this system is that once the bond is broken (the moment of breakage can't be felt), the stick doesn't stiffen, which feels very natural. At return to rest, the thonk sound is subdued. It's also a very easy system to install and requires virtually no set up adjustment. Unfortunately though, like the Tremsetter, the stick doesn't wag as freely due to the centered at-rest doggie-style position. It too, prevents gargling.

So long as the Law of Compromises remains in effect there will be no complete gratification, but in my estimation this device succeeds as the best Tremolo Anti-Deflection Device to date. As is usually the case with such performance enhancements, the cost, payable in money, is swollen as well (The Law of No Free Lunches).


Sorry for the stupidity (but the "Tremolo Anti-Deflection Device" tag made me do it!). Okay, now in English: The main purpose of Tremolo Stabilizers is to prevent double-stopped or open strings from going flat when one is bent in a floating tremolo, a technique that's pretty common in country-style licks. Super Vee's system does this with a magnet: The normal force used to bend a string isn't enough to break the magnetic bond, but pressing the tremolo arm downward is. Basically, it's just a piston with a magnet on the end, and the entire assembly has rails to let it slide back for upward pulls on the tremolo arm. Pulling upwards doesn't involve the magnetic lock.

Unlike the Hipshot Tremsetter, this system doesn't involve springs for the tension balance so you can install it and remove it without having to retune or adjust anything else. All it takes is one screw and an empty space on the tremolo block. On the other hand, the Tremsetter acts like an additional spring, so it's more of an integral part of the tremolo tensioning setup. Installation requires drilling a hole at the back of the cavity and swapping out the stock claw. You can't install and remove it without adjusting everything else.

The Mag Lok does what Tremolo Stabilizers are supposed to do, and it does it very well with an easy installation and setup. You really can't feel when the magnetic force is broken, and after that, dives feel exactly like they do with the floating tremolo. However, if you're a trem floater who likes to do gentle shimmers, this kind of device is not for you. The principle of a well-defined and stable centerpoint is antithetical to the principle of a gentle and smooth shimmer above and below that centerpoint. You can do downwards or upwards shimmer-style whangs, but they don't sound the same and have a totally different feel. If you try to do downwards and upwards motions in a shimmer, you get the "thonk" in between at the centerpoint.

Which is pretty much what I said above... it's The Law of No Free Lunches!


PART 2: STRAT 10.5    PART 3: STRAT 10.5.1     PART 4: STRAT 10.6