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Upgrade tremolo kits: Fender, Gotoh or Callaham?

Discussion in 'Stratocaster Discussion Forum' started by rbspql, Feb 15, 2017.

  1. rbspql

    rbspql Strat-Talker

    I have a Classic Series 50s Stratocaster, a Mexican Fender that in my humble opinion has almost nothing to envy to American models.
    Except maybe for the tremolo assembly and the tuners (made by Ping in Japan). I want to point out that I'm convinced the sound and tone are not really affected by this upgrade, which is actually a matter of materials, reliability and durability.

    Usually, the typical upgrade kits are Gotoh or Callaham, although some could argue about what's the point of spending 150 US or EU bucks on a MIM guitar just for a tremolo: the upgrade could be limited to the zinc tremolo block to be replaced with a steel one (but a Callaham goes around 90 euros!).

    Prices around here for a tremolo kit are:
    Fender Original Vintage: 148 euros + shipping
    Gotoh GE101 (steel block): 92 + shipping
    Callaham Vintage: 169 euros + shipping

    At first sight a Gotoh seems a no-brainer.

    I've read AVRIs use the Gotoh bridge (and tuners). Why not Fender Originals (or are they made by Gotoh?). Does the Fender brand cost 60 euros more than Gotoh?
    I know many regard the Gotoh bridges as excellent. Most favor the Callaham. What are the real differences? And what about the Fenders?

    One could consider the option of upgrading just the block and maybe the saddles. Someone would also suggest to spend a few dollars for 6 Callaham screws... But a Callaham block + saddles + screws almost totals the whole kit (unless you find some used stuff).

    What is your experience about this? Is the Mexican Classic Series tremolo really rubbish?
  2. TangerineDog

    TangerineDog Senior Stratmaster

    Sep 5, 2015
    The EU
    I'm happy with my Squier trem, which isn't even full size, but I don't use it. Saddles are fine, too. MIM is certainly no rubbish!
    It's a matter of feeling for you, I guess. Would be for me. So replace the whole assembly, not just parts. I've heard good things about all your suggestions, but I'd go with Gotoh or Callaham. They're aftermarket parts through and through, and I'd see them as more of an improvement than something that comes with stock AM Fenders...
    rbspql and alainvey like this.
  3. alainvey

    alainvey Senior Stratmaster

    Jan 31, 2015
    London, UK
    I think the bridge is one of the most important components on an electric guitar, so spend as much as you can afford.

    The Gotoh is a fine unit, and is cheaper than the identical Fender-branded version ^_^

    The Callaham or Wud-Tone trems are also very good if you have the money.
    rbspql likes this.
  4. bettsaj

    bettsaj Senior Stratmaster

    Feb 10, 2010
    Suffolk, UK
    I replaced just the block on my strat. I had a strat plus deluxe which I retro fitted a HW1 6 point bridge to (due to the string spacing being the same as the plus deluxe) and I just changed the block over to a steel block. The difference was very noticable. I had mine custom made for me by Celtrocka from this forum. It is a zinc and lead free block... And cost me around £30. If you want my advice i'd save yourself some dough and just change the block first..... You'll be pleasantly surprised.
    lexx9 and rbspql like this.
  5. spikypaddy

    spikypaddy Senior Stratmaster

    Jan 7, 2011
    Devon, UK
    It might also be worth looking at Wilkinson - they've got some very nice, but reasonably priced tremolo kits that include a full sized steel block.
    alainvey likes this.
  6. alainvey

    alainvey Senior Stratmaster

    Jan 31, 2015
    London, UK
    I have had great experiences with them, but it is worth pointing out that all of them have 54mm string spacing, which is narrower than the CS50 strat has by default. It's the same spacing as a telecaster bridge (not as narrow as a mim or american standard).
  7. Yogi

    Yogi Most Honored Senior Member Strat-Talk Supporter

    Jan 21, 2009
    Tuscaloosa, AL
    Just to note ping tuners are not made in Japan, Gotoh vintage tuners are and that's what usa and custom shop models use
    gwjensen and Ash-Man like this.
  8. rbspql

    rbspql Strat-Talker

    Ah yes! How dumb! Taiwan or elswehere in China!
    But since USA and Custom Shop models use Gotoh assemblies, it should be an automatic decision. Yet many do believe Callaham is superior...?
    Would a Callaham tremolo be an upgrade for a Custom Shop or AVRI model?
  9. CGHguitars

    CGHguitars Strat-O-Master

    Sep 8, 2015
    Eden Prairie
    I personally think yes, the Callaham trem is an upgrade to all I've tried, although I've not tried the Wudtone. The Callaham block and saddles are really beautifully made. If cost is a concern, you might look at just replacing the trem block with the Callaham version. The block has the most impact on tone by far IMHO.

    Good luck!
  10. Yogi

    Yogi Most Honored Senior Member Strat-Talk Supporter

    Jan 21, 2009
    Tuscaloosa, AL
    Well I'm not sure they use the Gotoh bridge. I know the tuners are Gotoh, but I was under the impression that the bridge was made in house.
  11. RangerJay

    RangerJay Strat-Talk Member

    Nov 16, 2016
    The Fender American Vintage trem assembly is a direct-fit replacement, and is quite good. Good bargains online.
    rbspql likes this.
  12. snowdog650

    snowdog650 Strat-Talk Member

    Apr 10, 2015
    I replaced my stock trem (1998 MIM Standard) with a Callaham a year ago ... worth every penny. Wish I had done it 15 years ago.
  13. AlexJCRandall

    AlexJCRandall Senior Stratmaster

    Sep 11, 2012
    Yep....bridge and tuners are very important tonal items on the guitar. They are the bits that the string terminates to , and part of the scale length in the case of the bridge.

    The individual guitar will determine the precise amount of change......but I don't think I've come across many guitars where a bridge/block swap has had no aural change.
  14. nadzab

    nadzab Peace & Love, my Brothers & Sisters... Strat-Talk Supporter

    May 15, 2009
    The Great State of Maine
    Callaham. I have a Callaham on my Classic '50s Lacquer and it's fantastic. You can get them with the Vintage/Narrow configuration too, if you want to bring your E strings in a bit from the fretboard edge.
    rbspql likes this.
  15. Moopha

    Moopha Strat-O-Master

    Jan 29, 2011
    Northern Caucasus
    I also changed tremolos at my both Strats, even '77 received vintage narrow one
  16. ToneRanger

    ToneRanger Most Honored Senior Member Strat-Talk Supporter

    Jun 8, 2009
    Area 51
    If money is no object, first choice would be Callaham - having said that, don't go in with enormously high expectations for tonal changes.
    You MAY hear an improvement - but then again you may not - it depends what you are replacing.
    I replaced an AVRI trem and honestly the tonal difference was not dramatic - I put that same AVRI on my mid 80's MIJ Squier (that had the stock die cast pot metal trem block,) and the difference was HUGE.

    What makes the Callaham worth it is the quality of materials and the functionality - it's rock solid and just works better. I have 3 guitars with Callaham saddles and I haven't had a single saddle shift on me or had one of the allen screws strip out, which is a regular occurrence on cheaper trems.

    NOW - all that said - I don't think the MIM trems are junk - in fact, they are a fantastic value. Full sized block, vintage look - I have 3 on some of my parts guitars and they do a fine job and I have no complaints about the tone - at least not enough to justify the upgrade.

    Honestly, 80%+ come down to setup - a well set up MIM will be equal to if not better than a poorly set up Callaham - the greatest materials in the world aren't worth much if you don't know what to do with them.
    nadzab and rbspql like this.
  17. rocknrollrich

    rocknrollrich Senior Stratmaster

    Jan 8, 2016
    None of the above.
    Super vee blade runner!
    The block is made from super duper unobtainium or something lol.
    Twang Banger and alainvey like this.
  18. Strat_Cat_7

    Strat_Cat_7 Strat-Talk Member

    Jan 18, 2017
    FWIW, I have a 94' MIM Strat that I've been upgrading over the years. First, installing vintage tuners, switching out pickguard & electronics, pups for Alnico V's. Had a fret level done about a year ago, and I was very familiar with how it played and sounded prior to upgrading the bridge/trem assembly.

    I'm a heavy trem user and eventually wore out the tread in the OEM block about 6 months ago. I had read about Callaham for years, but couldn't justify replacing "what ain't broke" up to that point.

    The main thing that sold me on the Callaham was the way the stress is distributed from the arm to the block. I could have just replaced the block , but figured that I might as well go all in as my OEM bridge was pretty pitted.

    Without any further expectations than "feel", I was blown away by the tonal/sustain improvement the larger mass block made. The guitar seems to sing now, and I don't have any issues with tuning stability, even with heavy use of the arm. I have it pretty much decked with 5 springs, but with the ability to pull up slightly to bring any flat notes back to pitch.

    As someone above mentioned, the difference will be relative to the part(s) that you are replacing, and in my case, every part of the Callaham assembly was vastly superior to the stock bridge/trem. It's since felt like a brand new guitar!
    rbspql likes this.
  19. alainvey

    alainvey Senior Stratmaster

    Jan 31, 2015
    London, UK
    I think it's the same cheap carbon / sintered steel that a lot of other companies use. It's technically a 'step down' from the cold-rolled stuff Callaham and others use :D
  20. alainvey

    alainvey Senior Stratmaster

    Jan 31, 2015
    London, UK
    Nope, Gotoh it is.
    rbspql likes this.