The Arms Race Continues

Kahler 2300 tremolo
Photo courtesy Kahler International
In 1981, while the Floyd Rose was maturing, the Kahler tremolo was under development. This was a completely different animal, because it took on almost every issue involved with tremolo technology up to that point. Following the lead of Fender, the bridge and tailpiece are consolidated into a single unit. Unlike its predecessors, the Kahler was not based on the fulcrum-pivot concept. Because of its sheer mass, the Kahler has a desirable sustain and works very well. Its tremolo is cam-oriented: a single cylindrical cam rotates within the housing. It can be best described as a moving tailpiece in which the strings pass through rollers on the saddles that don’t bear any friction. The strings are mounted to the cam, being held in place by slotted blocks that hold the ball end of the each string. The strings rest on the roller saddles, and when thetremolo arm is in use, the strings glide through the rollers. To counterbalance the string tension, there are two return springs underneath the housing that bring the cam back to its proper zero position.

Because the cam is the moving mechanism, the arm is screwed into it, giving direct movement from the hand. There is an adjustment hex screw beside the arm that can tighten or loosen the swing action of the arm.

The thing looks like a Sherman tank in comparison to any other tremolo made. It is bolted to the surface of a guitar, and if it is original to the manufacturing of the guitar, it requires less wood routing than a Strat. A simple, small hole is routed to accommodate the return springs. This is a plus for guitar players who want the most mass they can get from a guitar body. For guitars that already have Strat-like routs, the Kahler requires only a small adjustment as a retrofit. Altogether, no matter how a guitar is pre-routed, the Kahler assembly covers it up completely. Kahler also made a version of this tremolo for Gibson-type guitars, stud-mounted to the body. Because it was intended to fit any kind of electric guitar, each individual saddle of the Kahler tremolo could be adjusted in six directions: up or down, for proper string height to follow the radius of the neck; a front-to-back saddle adjustment, to intonate the strings; and a side-to-side adjustment for spacing each string properly.

The Kahler is fully adjustable in other aspects as well. Designed to be a full-floating tremolo, the Kahler features an adjustment to limit just how much upward pull can be achieved. The user could even adjust it for downward travel only. Like the Floyd Rose, the Kahler also has a locking mechanism that clamps the strings. Located at the headstock, this string lock was placed behind an existing traditional nut, locking the strings at the front of the tuning machine posts. Also like the Floyd Rose, there are six fine-tuning knobs at the bridge assembly, located on the cam stop. The fine-tuning feature works much like the Floyd Rose: the strings can be clamped after initial tuning, and small tuning adjustments can be performed after locking the strings.

A Kahler 2215K comes standard on Gibson’s Shred V (pictured) and Shred X 2008 Guitars of the Month
Photo courtesy Gibson
For some players, the Kahler arm is too sensitive to the touch. The spring tension adjustment can either stiffen or loosen the feel of the arm, but adjusting this can raise or lower the pitch of the arm. Adjustments to the spring tension have to be done at various times, like when changing strings, because of the variable tension that occurs while tuning new strings.

Another problematic aspect of the Kahler is the string tension on the cam, which causes the winding on the string balls to unravel. As the strings are tuned, they twist. Since there isn’t any “give” on the blocks holding the ball ends of the string, the winding of the string that holds the ball end comes undone. The ball pops out, and that’s the end of that. Preventative maintenance can be performed by soldering those windings, which is a quick fix only if you have presoldered entire sets of strings beforehand. String manufacturers like Ernie Ball and D’Addario have offered reinforced ball end strings, but when those aren’t available you are left soldering your own strings.

Again, others have come along and entered the game. The Maestro Lyre was an original design tremolo that enjoyed some success with Gibson, adorning the SG and Firebird models. The Wilkinson, the Bowen Handle, the Rockinger and the Wonderbar (to name a few) all had some share in the limelight and many other brands are preferred by different players today. But they are all derivative of the Bigsby, Fender, Floyd Rose and Kahler tremolos that are still in production today. These rival forces remain at the forefront of wang-bar technology.