Thursday, April 28, 2011

Super-Vee BladeRunner - Product Review

Super-Vee tremolo on the left,Fender tremolo on the right
  When one of my customers brought in a Super-Vee BladeRunner tremolo to install on his Fender Stratocaster,I THOUGHT I was going to tell you how easy it was to install and share some impressions of the piece. What I got was a good example of how sometimes,even something "easy" to install, is better off left to your local guitar tech...

  The BladeRunner is the non-locking tremolo from the makers of the Super-Vee double-locking tremolo that players like Eric Johnson are getting excited about. I was very interested to hear one of these guys in person. Our guitar is a Fender Kenny Wayne Shepherd signature model,a guitar that comes with a vintage style trem with GraphTech saddles. The GraphTech saddles offer what I would consider a significant upgrade in most cases,so the BladeRunner was replacing an already good quality bridge. First impressions of the BladeRunner were very good. It has the look and feel of a quality part. The tremolo block is definitely not your run of the mill cheap stuff. It's also pretty easy to see the tremolo bar has a unique design as well. It's design  allows more control over how the bar behaves.The biggest difference is the steel blade the trem uses in place of screws or posts on which to move.Once you determine that the E to E string spacing is the same (it should fit most Fender guitars) and whether you need a standard six hole or a modern two post mount,this should be as simple as dropping it in and setting it up. It comes with simple,well written instructions and assuming you can also set it up when you're done,you should be able to handle it.
   So,what happened when I installed this one? Out of the box,the Super-Vee comes roughed in to the radius and intonation that is close to where most guitars will end up. That's a nice touch that shows this company actually has given some thought to what will happen to their product AFTER it leaves them. In my case,this guitar owner,one of my regulars,is a real basher. We're talking five springs on the trem,a custom string set of .011,.014,.018P,.028,.038,.050 and several refrets with the biggest railroad tie frets you can imagine. The roughed in factory specs,although welcome, wouldn't help here. Bridge height screws,in guitar usage,basically come in what you can think of as "small","medium" and "large". The screws provided with the Super-Vee will work on almost any Stratocaster...except this one. I ended up pulling out the shorter "E" screws,moving some from the middle over and replacing the "D" and "G" with screws that were taller.
Alternate string angle - first try.
   The tremolo "installation" was as simple as taking the old one out and putting the new one in. After dialing in the setup with our custom strings,I ran into our next issue. One of the Super-Vee's claims to fame is it's tuning stability. Everything was sounding great with the exception of the low "E"; it just would not stay in tune. Super-Vee's well written instructions came to the rescue. I knew the trick they recommended,but in all honesty,it's stuck WAY in the back of my memory and I probably wouldn't have thought of it without a bit of help. They recommended stringing the low "E" and perhaps the "A" so that the strings wound UP the post. This definitely looks "wrong" but works in most cases...except this one.
Problem solved...right?
   Our Stratocaster came with the old style safety posts and the new stringing style made the angle too flat. A quick look in my parts drawer came up with a tuning post with a slightly lower string hole that looked just right. The only problem was our new tuner was for a 3 on a side headstock,not a 6 in line,so there was longer tab for the screws. A short trip over to the grinder made short work of this issue and we were in business in no time.
   These problems were in no way the fault of Super-Vee but I could see how this would really ruin even a skilled hobbyist guitar tech's Saturday. Will all these things happen to your Strat? Pretty unlikely,but if you had tried to install this part on THIS guitar,you would have had to have a) alternate bridge height screws around, b) a spare tuner parts bin and c) a grinder to modify the tuner.
That's better!
  In summation, I can say that I recommend the Super-Vee tremolo. It is well made,does what it says it's going to do and is clearly made by some thoughtful, professional people. The well written instructions should allow many people to install it themselves. Please give yourself an honest assessment of your DIY skills and if you are lucky enough to have a qualified guitar tech nearby,consider giving him your business. Sometimes,even something "easy" to install can ruin your weekend!


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