Having endured for more than half a century—and still going strong—the venerable Stratocaster has delivered great tone to generations of guitarists. One of the instrument’s strengths is how easily it can be adjusted to suit different playing techniques and musical styles.
Here’s a case in point: Recently a client brought me his 1993 Strat (Photo 1) for a setup. His primary concern was that he was having a problem staying in tune, especially when bending one string while holding another. While we were discussing this, he revealed he rarely used the tremolo and kept the bar swung back out of the way when he played. Based on this, I recommended he allow me to lock his tremolo down—or “deck” it against the body. I knew this would resolve many of the tuning issues he was having. He agreed and I proceeded with the relatively simple project described below.
If you’re a Strat player who doesn’t find much utility in the trem system, you might consider doing this too. This tweak isn’t for everyone—many Strat players feel the trem provides much of the guitar’s magic. But there are also those who play a Strat because they love its pickups, scale length, weight, and feel, but prefer the stability of having its bridge locked down tight against the body. Some even swear this increases sustain.
Fortunately, it’s a reversible mod, so you can try it out and see for yourself. If the tuning advantages outweigh losing whammy capability, great. If you find you miss your trem, you can always return to a floating bridge setup. (I explain that process in the DIY video “How to Float a Strat Trem.”)
Evaluating the guitar. This Strat had spent some time on the road, but it was in good shape. It had a vintage-style, six-screw bridge—not the two-post design of modern Strats. I noticed there were only two springs holding the tremolo to the claw, which explained why the bridge was tilting forward so much (Photo 2).
It’s crucial to know the intended tuning and string gauges before you set up a Strat. My client explained he strings up with .010-.046 sets and tunes to standard pitch (unlike some Strat players who tune down a half-step à la Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan).
Getting started. The first step is to remove the cover plate on the back so you can access the claw and trem springs. To provide maximum stability, I added three more springs to the claw (Photo 3) and then used a Phillips screwdriver to move the claw toward the body and tighten the five springs (Photo 4). The goal is to tighten the springs enough so the tremolo doesn’t move when you bend a string. At this point, we’re just roughing in the spring tension—we’ll come back and fine-tune it in a moment.
Tip: Remember to tune the guitar after every adjustment. If you neglect to do this, you may have to redo your work. This holds true for every step of a setup, including adjusting a truss rod, setting saddle height, and intonating the strings.