Mostly making conversation on a slow day at work while I wind down my lunch break…
My main guitar is probably still a '97 American Standard Strat I bought brand new in 1998. It’s not the fanciest or most expensive guitar I own, but I’ve played it the longest, almost every plateau I’ve broken through happened on that guitar, the way it feels and sounds is very comfortable to me, and it was my first “good” guitar and has really shaped a lot about how I approach the instrument.
I’ve also modded the hell out of it over the years. At present, I think the only parts of it that are stock is the wood it’s made out of and the finish on that wood, the string trees, and the output jack. It’s gone through a long series of iterations in its life, different pickups, different pickguards, and, pertinent to the story here, different bridges.
For maybe most of the last ten or fifteen years, it’s had a Gotoh Wilkinson in it. Great bridge, I forgot why I originally took out the stock Fender trem but I remember having a reason for it, but it probably would have been around… Jeez, maybe 2005? The trem arm holder, which screwed in but then had a bushing and allen key to adjust arm tension, was at the time I bought it, I thought, the coolest thing I’d ever seen. When I first made the swap, the trem studs werent threaded the same as thr stock Fender ones, so I brought it to a shop up the street from me (Mouraidian Guitar, if anyone knows the MA area luthier scene) to have the studs swapped, and Jim just told me to use the Fender ones as he thought they were a little more robust than the Wilkinson ones. So, for 20 years, barring a brief experiment with a Hipshot Contour that I really liked but ultimately felt wrong for this guitar so is in another Strat now, that’s what I was using - a Wilkinson on Fender studs. At some point along the way I also replaced the stock block with a heavier brass one, maybe within the past 5 years which I mostly mention in case this was a factor, to save a little face ere.
So, at some point in the last couple years, I noticed the low E intonation was off. Like, off enough that I could audibly, clearly hear it. Play a 3rd fret G, 15th fret G, the 15t fret would sound perceptibly flat. I adjusted the intonation as much as I could, but finally had the saddle as far out as it could go and it still sounded sliiightly flat on the 15th, and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why. I tried a fresh set of strings, backed off the pickups, tried some other stuff I’m probably forgetting, but I couldn’t QUITE get the guitar to play in tune on the lower strings in the higher registers.
Eventually, I figured since I really liked the Hipshot 510 on my Suhr Modern 6, I might as well just grab one of those to try to see if it was something up with the bridge. Not cheap, exactly, but short money to get a guitar I really love back into top playing shape.
I installed it last night, swapped the studs too since the inserts were the same diameter as the Fender ones (the Wilkinson ones for some reason weren’t) and it took no more than a few twists of the screwdriver to get it intonated perfectly. Open/12th, 3rd/15th, 5th/17th, I generally check all three and try to find as close compromise as possible.
I blame a childhood spent playing Nirvana, but it’s, like, luxurious how much sweeter-sounding the upper registers of this guitar are now, and I can do things like drone open strings against chord clusters higher up on the net an they ring out sweetly. It RULES.
I have no idea, still, what the problem was. Wear to the knife edges shifting the bridge juuuuust enough on the bass side? Different stud diameters? something wrong with that particular saddle? Something wrong with the brass block (though how that could be I have no idea)? I’m at a total loss. But, the guitar sounds awesome, and I’m stoked to not have to just try to play everything with a wide vibrato on the lower strings to get them to ring out well.
Might sound a little better too - maybe a little more open and bell-like, possibly as a result of some of the other design changes but very likely the block, which is a heavy steel block vs the equally large brass one I’d been using in the Wilkinson for the last five or so years.