The other main source of frustration when it comes to string longevity is due to the E strings not having enough clearance over the outermost screws that secure the pivot plate. On vintage trems, these screws have a flattened dome and aren’t an issue, but for some reason the American Vintage reissue vibratos have taller, fully domed screws, which causes big problems for the low E string (Photo 10). As the player uses the vibrato, the string rubs against the Phillips head of the screw, which eventually saws through the finish wrap of the string, causing it to unwind.
The two best ways I’ve found to address this are as follows. First, soldering the finish wraps of the strings reinforces them more than enough to withstand even heavy vibrato use. Or, if you’re handy, flip the screws over. Simply remove the vibrato from the body, unscrew the spring and claw assembly, and set aside the anchor plate. Remove the offending outermost screws, re-insert them upside down, tighten them down, and then reassemble the entire unit as standard. With the heads hidden, the threaded ends of the screws will barely poke out of the body plate (Photo 11), leaving more than enough space for strings.
A Call to Arms
Issues with the arm itself seem to be universal, no matter which model you own. Often it swings freely and is prone to falling out of the guitar—a symptom of poor contact between the arm and its collet. Sure, you could order a Staytrem arm and replacement collet (which is amazing) or install a Mastery Vibrato with its adjustable arm tension (also amazing), but this article is all about that DIY lifestyle, so let’s get our hands dirty, yes?
Put the arm in a vice and clamp it down with about 1" of the insert end sticking out (Photo 12). One good tap on that end with a hammer will put a nearly imperceptible bend in the end of the arm, and that’s just enough to create some positive contact. Repeat a few more times if it’s still not quite right or you want your arm to stay in place when you let go. This is legitimately one of my favorite and most-used tricks.
I’m often asked why my vibrato arms have such a graceful curve when they don’t come like that from the factory. A lot of folks don’t realize you can do that yourself! The first thing I do when I acquire a new instrument is bend the arm so it snakes around the bridge and the tip sits in my palm (Photo 13). Just hold the arm in your hands and use your thumbs to bend it. If you’re worried about potential damage, use a heat gun to soften the metal first, but be careful not to burn yourself.
Look, I could go on. I really could. While there are countless other, more nuanced intricacies to discuss, it’s my hope that this at least gives you a starting point for wrangling the obtuse beast that is the Jazzmaster. Good luck!