The TremKing is a new design of tremolo, which the TremKing people call a ‘fixed-bridge’ tremolo.
Choosing the TremKing
I considered the locking tremolo options such as Floyd Rose, Kahler and even the Super-Vee, which is a Floyd style design, but a direct retrofit for a strat. But being a classical guitarist, and having had no experience with locking tremolos, I decided to play it safe and go for a non-locking design. Many Floyd users complain of difficulty tuning/changing strings, so for this guitar I thought I should avoid these potential problems (but of course, I still want to get a Floyd-equipped ax in the future – just not yet).
Of the non-locking designs I had the choice of the good ol’ Wilkinson or a standard strat bridge (by Callaham). Unfortunately, the strat bridge has only a little upward range (or non at all if I set it hard against the face of the guitar). The Wilkinson had the advantage of being able to be ‘recessed’ allowing for considerable up and down travel. The only drawback from the Wilkinson is that (IMHO) they’re ugly, and I don’t care for the satin finish either 🙂 … yep, I know…VAIN.
Also, I wanted to do double stop bends, drop tuning, etc without affecting the tuning of the other strings. There are a bunch of devices available which use a ‘pre-stressed’ spring to accomplish this, including the Goeldo BackBox, WD Trem Stabilizer, and of course the Hipshot Tremsetter.
But then I came across the TremKing which appeared to be the best of all worlds.
For starters, it had already incorporated a pre-stressed stabilizing spring into the design. Also, it was capable of significant upward travel, and it didn’t require a locking nut or need fine tuners. I also felt that it had a nice appearance – modern, but retro at the same time.
I took the plunge and ordered one – sight unseen.
As advertised, the TremKing does a wonderful job of keeping in tune. It keeps its tune if I break a string, and bending the strings does not cause other strings to go flat. The stabilising system does exactly what it is supposed to.
Also, the travel of the unit is quite good. I can easily get a tone pulling up, and between two and three tones pushing down on the bar. Obviously it does not have the range of a Floyd, and you can’t completely slacken the strings. But really this is a good thing – without a locking nut fully slack strings would come out of the nut slots.
Because of the way this tremolo is designed, the saddles remain stationary when using the bar. This means that the string is constantly slipping and sliding across the saddle. Normally, this extra friction would cause unnecessary wear, and premature string breakage.
To overcome this problem the TremKing people sensibly chose to use Graphtech saddles. Graphtech saddles are low friction and avoid the problem of unnecessary string breakage.
Unfortunately though, because of the way that the string passes over the top of the tone block, the string is still rubbing against metal. This means that although the saddles will not cause premature string breakage, they will still still break early because the strings rub against the top of the tone block.
Fortunately though, the break angle across the top of the tone block is quite slight, so the issue of string breakage is only really prominent on the lighter strings. For me, this means that I have broken two high ‘E’ strings in a week, though none of the other strings have broken yet. Also, I’ve found that you can overcome this problem by wrapping masking tape around the string about a centimeter or two from the ball end. This causes the tone block to rub against the masking tape, and since the masking tape is behind the saddle it does not affect the vibration of the string.
I’m not the only person who has had a problem with the high ‘E’ string breaking often: review on the seymour duncan forums
Tension Bar Comes Off
The TremKing design requires that there is a pre-stressed spring which acts as a trem stabiliser. This spring is attached to a metal bar, called the tension bar, which keeps the spring under tension. The problem is that the spring does not attach very securely to the tension bar, so over time (or with heavy trem use), the spring can work its way out of the tension bar.
This means that if in the middle of playing the spring pops out, you’ll hear a loud, disconcerting clank, and then your guitar will go completely out of tune.
If, like me, you tend to leave the back plate off your guitar you will have springs shooting across the room (or shooting into your stomach). Of course, you can leave the backplate on, but then everytime it comes off you’ll have to remove the backplate to reset it.
I emailed Rusty (Mr. TremKing) with a suggestion about having the end of the spring threaded so that it could actually screw onto the tension bar. He thanked me for the suggestion, so I hope that means that he will implement it at some stage.
On the plus side Rusty has sent me a replacement spring and tension bar, where the spring has a small crimp in the end. This crimp is enough to hold the spring to the tension bar.
Also, I had good results by gluing the spring to the tension bar. It works well, just make sure that you use a good two-pack metal glue.
This is the last main issue that I had with the TremKing. The TremKing doesn’t always return exactly to zero. In my experience, it needs a slight push (or pull, depending on how I’ve set it up), after using the bar, to get it to return to the zero-point. It’s not a big problem because once you are familiar with the unit you automatically compensate with a small flick of the bar and then you are exactly back to pitch. It is a little bit annoying though, and is far from a perfect design.
I pulled the TremKing apart to see if there was anything that I could modify to get the unit to return on pitch more reliably. After unscrewing everything I found that the TremKing uses a ball-baring type pivot on the high ‘E’ side, but that on the low ‘E’ side it is just using a pin. After hosing the pin with copious amounts of WD-40 the TremKing returned to pitch appreciably more reliably. I personally feel that if the design used a ball-bearing joint on both ends, then the unit would return to zero far better than it does currently.
Again, others on the net have experienced this problem. All of the previous three links I’ve posted (thegearpage board, seymour duncan forum, and Ricks review) mention tuning instability and drift and/or having to tug the bar to get it to return to pitch.
No Pride in their Product
This isn’t really a functional issue but nonetheless, it reflects poorly on the TremKing company. The suede cushion on the TremKing is not properly glued to the tension bar or support arms. So the suede has begun to peel away from the metal. It doesn’t really effect the function of the trem, but it is wierd that the promotional pictures on the actual TremKing website also have the suede peeling off! Why would they display a dodgy unit on their promo shots? They don’t seem to have any pride in their product.
(The image can also be found by going to their installation page and then clicking on ‘Tone Block 2’)
In addition to the problems listed above, my particular TremKing also had a broken delrin sleeve which is what the trem arm is supposed to slip into. This meant that the trem arm would dangle, flop about and even fall out. Also, for some reason, this sleeve seems to serve to electrically isolate the arm from everything else. But since mine was broken, it meant that every time I touched the trem arm it would create a buzz/static noise. After e-mailing Rusty at TremKing he sent me a replacement sleeve. With the new sleeve I now have some control over the tension of the arm, and the static noise problem has gone away.
Why I’m Still Keeping the TremKing
By this stage I’ve replaced the delrin insert, replaced the trem arm, lubed the pivot joints, taped up the strings, and glued the tension bar to the spring. All in all I’ve done a lot of DIY work to make this thing perform well. But now that I have done all of this I feel that this trem is as good or better than any non-locking trem that is available and (finally) does what it is supposed to do.
Although I emailed Rusty about the tension-arm/spring issue, and suggested the screw-in solution, I have not told him about any of my other ideas – essentially because I feel as though I’ve been an unpaid, R&D, guinea pig.
The TremKing is one of the best ideas for an after market trem that I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately though, I feel that it has been made to a price-point without due regard to quality. As a result of poor quality control, and a few minor design flaws, this unit falls very far short of being the tremolo wonder that it easily could have been.
If/when TremKing release Version 2 with these issues addressed I may consider using it.