Dive Bomber Tremolo Upgrade
An air raider arrayed by Dave Burrluck
Wang bar, whammy, waggle unit, or just plain trem, the vibrato unit has certainly undergone some changes in the past few years. In the olden days before such names as Kahlers, Floyd Rose and numerous others were born the trem was a distinctly simple affair. Basically there were two types: the Stratocaster, fitted internally in the guitar requiring a lot of routing, and the Bigsby, common on numerous guitars, notably Gibsons and Gretsche's, which was easier to fit and sat on the front face of the guitar. Of course there were thousands of other makes too, and they've been around for long long time — it was even used before Mr Van Halen!
Of course the advent of the locknut meant that the main problem of tuning was solved; combine this with lighter strings and springs and the whammy comes of age. In the mean time, of course, the good ol' Strat trem was forgotten while ironically its actual shape has never been more popular. Certainly the Strat-style system remains a rather prehistoric affair compared to a Kahler, the main problem being that elusive return to pitch of all the strings after a good waggle. However, there are ways round this and one of them is the Dive Bomber system — a trem upgrade for the standard Strat-type unit and costing under £40.
The Strat trem works on a system of balanced tension — the pull of the strings against the pull of the springs — it is as simple as that. What the Dive Bomber kit does for you is help alleviate all the areas that can cause friction on a standard system. For example the kit comprises six black steel saddles with brass rollers, graphite nut and string trees plus special tension springs. All this is rather over-packaged in a (vomit) pink box, but does come with a very handy installation and maintenance booklet.
A main gripe with the Dive Bomber people is the locking nut — they prefer to offer an upgrade system which, when properly installed, will do away with the locking nut and thus make tuning and string breakage problems caused by the nut a thing of the past. Above all, no modification is required to your fave guitar.
So armed with just a couple of screwdrivers and the all-important manual you're ready to go. Whip off the strings, take out your old springs and install the new black ones. Off with those rusty saddles and fit in the fancy black jobs. Unscrew the old string tree(s) and replace with the new graphite units; smart — you bet. Haven't I forgotten something? Well, yes, it's the graphite nut thing. Anyone could install the Dive Bomber kit with the exception of the new nut which not only requires a fair bit of know-how but also various small bladed saws and files. Strangely no help is given in the manual apart from 'Install in customary fashion'. On the other hand the book advises you that setting intonation is best done by a repairman unless you're experienced. It would seem, however, that nut installation is best left to the repairman while, so long as you have access to an electronic tuner, setting intonation is by comparison a doddle.
The main problem centred around the old nut which obviously was determined to remain in employment. Graphite is a comparatively soft material to work compared to brass, and while this makes shaping and slot cutting easier it's also easier to cut a string slot too low! The blank nut provided was already well shaped and fitted into the nut groove with only a minimum of re-thickening. But be warned if you've never fitted a nut before — don't attempt to lose your virginity on this one. Take it to a repairman, it shouldn't cost a lot.
The installation booklet provides plenty of info on reducing friction further — pencil lead in the nut slots and the use of the included Superlube teflon lubricant at the point where the strings pass through the baseplate of the bridge.
I re-strung my guitar with 'Stay-in-tune' strings especially designed for Kahler-type trems which have a piece of plastic wound around the string windings at the ball end of the string. Advertised as a 'no-break' set, once they settled in the overall performance of my Strat trem was certainly improved. During a one-hour set I only experienced minor tuning problems and the feel of the trem was slightly lighter with more travel. The mainly steel saddles also retained the original sound of the guitar and there was no apparent change between open string sustain of the graphite nut and the previous plastic one.
The key to the Dive Bomber and any trem system is the setting up and certainly this kit should enable you to improve the performance of a Strat drastically. But it's quite a labour of love; strings should be changed regularly — after 10 to 15 hours playing — and constant lubrication is necessary to continually get the best out of the system.
A Kahler it isn't, but the advantages are clear to see in terms of finance, no woodworking and for some, no locking-nut. It's certainly an excellent low-tech option that does actually work!
For further Information contact DIXIES MUSIC, (Contact Details).
Review by Dave Burrluck
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