Callaham Vintage Bridge And Tremolo Upgrades Review
Original author: Jdriver
Weapon: Bridge And Tremolo
Model: Vintage Bridge And Tremolo Upgrades
Price: The price for the block is $80 including the new arm, and the saddles are $40.
Bill Callaham of Callaham Guitars has for some time been offering upgraded parts for Stratocasters and Telecasters, mostly involving the bridge and tremolo parts. His mission is to provide Vintage spec parts, as in "Pre-CBS" Fender models, those from '71 and earlier. Cost cutting is a reality in all businesses, and guitar building is no exception, and over the years parts have changed, usually to cheaper versions. There is a reason people seek out vintage instruments: they sound better! So in that spirit, I took the plunge and ordered the full vintage tremolo upgrade kit for my 2007 American Deluxe Strat.
Callaham offers complete replacement bridges for all models except the Deluxe, which uses the existing bridge and replaces the tremolo block and the saddles. They also have kits for MIM Strats, CIJ Strats, and Telecasters.
The Tremolo Block
With the tremolo blocks Fender is using lately, there is a large opportunity for enhancement. The stock Fender (U.S) block is a cast or hot rolled steel alloy containing lead. Import versions are typically made of zinc pot metal. Both lead and zinc are detrimental to clarity and good sustain. Callaham delivers a solid cold rolled steel block that is truly impressive. A comparison of the blocks is shown here.
As you can see, Fender has tapered the block to cut material cost. Also, on the Fender, the strings are anchored half way into the block, versus on the Callaham, the strings anchor all the way through the full thickness of the block. More mass + more contact = better sustain.
Installation was a breeze on my American Deluxe. Remove the strings, remove the tremolo springs, lift out the bridge assembly. Remove the saddles, making note of their positions to make re-intonation easier. Unscrew 3 screws. Reverse the process with the vintage block.
The Vintage string saddles
I was a little dubious about replacing the saddles, but since I would have to take it apart anyway, I went ahead and got the Vintage saddles. The stock Fender saddles, are a bit of a mystery to me. Fender calls them "polished stainless steel" and Callaham insists they are chrome plated brass. In any case, they appear to be a cast material. The Callaham vintage saddles are exact original spec (Pre-CBS) saddles made of nickle plated steel, stamped CG on each one. Here are comparison photos of the stock and the vintage as mounted on my bridge.
You will probably not be installing these unless you are installing the new block also, so the procedure is the same as for the block.
The Callaham block also incorporates some other good features. They have the trem arm threads at the bottom of the block, not at the top like the stock block does. This means the tremolo arm is contained the full length of the block, making it virtually unbreakable. The block has a Delrin insert, so he describes his replacement arms as "virtual pop-in" because the threads are only needed to keep you from pulling out the arm. The arms come in 3 lengths: Original, "64" - a slightly shorter arm, and a super-short "Gilmour style arm," which is what I chose.
Here is the finished installation with the Gilmour length arm.
I will pass on making any judgements regarding the saddles, since I replaced them along with the block, so I consider it a two part upgrade. You can read Callaham's claims and also several websites have sound files of before and after so you can judge for yourself.
The vintage block is a different matter. It makes a BIG difference. I did some informal test recordings of before and after, mainly to determine any obvious increase in absolute open string sustain time. I didn't notice any. However, the ears tell the story, and the difference in the harmonics was astounding. The guitar seem to ring out all over. It was much more sensitive to hammer-on movements. Fretted notes seem to sustain much better, even if open strings do not. Tremolo control was also much better compared to the stock trem. It is much easier to make subtle bends, in my opinion. I very much like the Gilmour length arm because it seem much easier to use it when you need it. It is effectively under your palm if you want it there.
I can highly recommend this upgrade. The price for the block is $80 including the new arm, and the saddles are $40. Prices for other models or complete bridge kits are available on their website. I emailed Mr. Callaham with a question and he answered right away, and he shipped the same day I ordered, so I have to say customer service is excellent.