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Guitar Tone vs Floating Tremolos

Does Stallings USA use the Locking Tremolo system, and can I get this on my custom guitar?

In answer to your request about the fitted Locking Tremolo system, yes we can do this for you as well. And we would have no problem accommodating you with this request. But let me explain to you why we don't recommend the use of the double locking tremolo systems on our stock guitars.


I used to personally use the Floyd on all of my store bought guitars simply because it was the standard feature included and because of the whammy effect I could get from the guitar. And then I purchased a Gibson Les Paul which only came with a stop tailpiece. At first I hated that they didn't use a floating trem like a Floyd. But after awhile it forced me to get the same trem effect using my fingers instead, which gave me better technique as a guitar player! And then of coarse the guitar stayed in tune more consistently than one with a Floyd. And I always wondered how come I could always get more beefy tone from the Gibson, but the guitars with the Floyd always sounded thin in tone when I compared them. So I started to block the Floyd with a wooden block and it helped the tone on those guitars. And eventually I ripped the Floyd out, installed a wooden block in the hole, and set it up with a stop tailpiece. The tone was unbelievable in comparison! So it hit me that when you float the bridge like with a Floyd, you lose the natural tone of the wood in your guitar.


Later down the road I started making my own guitars. And I never used a Floyd in them because of the fact of what it does to the tone of all that exotic wood. I have never played a beefier sounding guitar than one with the stop tailpiece. And I discovered that the feature I wanted most from the fine tuners of the Floyd was available in a Schaller stop tailpiece design.

Also let me explain about the locking nut design found in the Floyd and Kahler trem setup. Although some people don't understand this, your headstock is very important in the overall design of your guitar. The headstock will vibrate when you hit a note and this added to a real bone nut design is essential to the tone of your guitar. If you notice most guitars being made on the market today, you will see that the nut is either a piece of cheap plastic, or is a piece of metal that locks the strings down. For years I knew nothing about this area of the guitar design. But one day I decided to replace the locking nut with a piece of real bone like you see on a Stratavarious Violin. This improved the guitar tone so much that I was blown away.

You see, when you lock the strings down, you are cutting out the vibration of the headstock and the tone you could have received from a piece of bone, and dampening it further with a thick piece of cast metal. In addition to this, it is a very common thing to place shims under this cast piece of metal to get the action close to specs. These further dampen whatever tone you had left.

So, the string locks theoretically do this to your guitar. It is like as if you tuned your guitar, locked the strings down, and then cut off the headstock and tuners with a band saw expecting to tune everything from the fine tuners. With such a design you are theoretically doing this very thing to the tone of your guitar. Now, with that explained, it is my opinion that Kahler has a string locking mechanism that is a notch above the Floyd in design. It is basically designed to be placed behind the nut rather that replacing it. In this way you can get the precision action and tonal transfer of a piece of bone. But this system still cuts off much of your headstock vibration, and is really not necessary if you want your tone to be optimized.

Moving parts and Springs

And add to this the fact that when you have moving parts on a trem, the parts that support the force of the strings will wear out. So it is common for a Floyd design to wear the supporting posts down so that the guitar no longer stays in tune like it did when it was new. Also keep in mind how hard they are to tune when you put on a fresh set of strings. And that when one string breaks, the whole bridge shifts and once again it is hard to stay in tune even after the string is replaced.


I have been asked about the theory of the Strat tailpiece design and why a good Strat has the tone that it does. Apart from the wood used in a real nice Strat, I think the reason for the tonal difference referred to: It is in the tailpiece itself. Some guitars have big beefy brass, or even cast iron tailpieces, which are simply chromed. What this massive amount of metal does is to dampen the sound coming off from the strings to body vibration. And if you notice a Strat uses a simple piece of thin gauged bent steel that is chrome plated. Since the vibration only has to pass through a thin piece of steel straight to the body, you get a great transfer of tone through the body. In essence, whatever the body wood delivers, is what you hear in the end result. And your pickups are simply high tech microphones that pick up on all of this.

Rock Stars who sell big ideas

Keep in mind that even though such noted players like Eddie Van Halen use the Floyd Rose system on their guitars, they have also had to deal with thin tone. Simply said, there wasn't enough beef coming out of the guitars that had it installed. So, as is the case with such devices, you open up a "Pandora's box" of problems that need to be resolved. In the case of Eddie, he had his pickups mounted directly to the wood of the guitar so that he could get more beef out of them. And unless you are Eddie Van Halen, if you do this, you just ruined the resale value of your guitar. In addition, as I mentioned earlier, the floating trem needed to be blocked so that it only goes in one direction. This is the main fix in order to get some of that beef back into your guitar. Notice the operative word "some" of that beef. But, it is our theory, that these are all treatments which only address the symptoms of a bad design, and not the actual cause!

The Original Innovators

So it is our conclusion that Stratavarious had it right, and even though the fine tuners were an ingenious addition, the original Floyd Rose systems have inherent issues. With that said, Kahler has improved their systems by working on the inherent issues. They have now introduced several new systems which attempt to bridge the gap of tone loss. Yet I have yet to find a floating trem system that still doesn't have tuning issues. So, yes we do include Floyd and Kahler trems in our guitar orders. I have looked these systems over, and despite their inherent issues, and because of overwhelming requests, we have decided to include these in our custom orders. The Kahlor systems will now accommodate our neck to body angle, which has been a major issue which stopped us in the past. So we are now able to accommodate you crazy metal heads that insist on going nuts on a floating trem system.

I have also seen some designs of semi floating trems that were better in design, but they don't include the fine tuners which to me is a must. Wilkinson makes a floating trem for the Strat, and Fender has one of their own. And there is the Bixby system that is a rather large and weighty addition to the tail of your guitar. These are much better in design in that you don't have the tuning problems of the Floyd or Kahler, but I still think they thin up your tone compared to the Stop Tailpiece, or even the strings through the body designs, and personally I don't use them.

We aim to please!

So with this completely explained to you, if you still want us to, we will still do your guitar like you want because here at Stallings USA we aim to please the customer always. And it is your guitar, and you are the one paying for all that killer exotic wood. So if you want to have a guitar like that, we will make it for you exactly how you request it. It is just such a shame to not maximize the full potential of such a lovely guitar design. But of coarse that is why we offer different things for those who want something extra.


Guitar Tone vs Guitar Wood

What woods should I choose for my guitar design?

There are many woods that can be used in a guitar! Some woods are denser than others, and each has a distinct tone of its own. The trick is to get a wood that has the tone you prefer, yet is light enough to play hanging from a guitar strap. The denser woods tend to be a bit heavier, yet deliver the bite that many prefer. Many studio guitars are made from denser woods, are very heavy, and are only used for recording purposes.

As we have discussed before, cheap store bought guitars can be built with the cheaper alder with a thin veneer for looks, or even plywood which sounds like $#!+ . Check your components cavity to see what your guitar is made out of. If it is a solid wood, even alder, then you are off to a better start than the plywood.

When shopping for that perfect guitar, I would say that you need to decide a few things. Are you going to record with this guitar? Or, even take it on the road in live shows? Or, are you going to use it on your solo projects? Are you going to play in a two guitarist band? Are you a superstar doing the solo thing, and then the band decides that a second guitarist is joining up? Do you have the right guitar for a two guitar band? And what happened to your killer sound when the second guy showed up? Are you in endless arguments about the other guy being too loud, and now you can't hear yourself? Are you playing volume wars now instead of actually working on your music? Are the other band members asking you to turn it down? And what happened to that killer sound that you worked on for weeks in your room, but disappeared after you got to rehearsal?

Your problem may not be in your amp, your Metalzone pedal, your EQ, or your preamp...but rather in your choice of guitars and/or pickups which have failed you in the tone department! What you thought was great tone wasn't so great after all, was it? Now you are starting to learn all about real TONE and how to get it into your music.

In your guitar of choice, if you want your tone to stand out for lead guitar, you will want to use a wood that allows for a tone that cuts through the mix. The harder woods like Maple & Ash, always come to the front of the tone mix, sustain longer, and are great for lead guitar. But as we have said, these woods are a bit more dense, are heavier, are really hard to work with, and are very labor intensive! Softer woods like Mahogany have great tone and lots of bottom end, so they work great for solo projects or more rhythm sounds. The bite can be EQ enhanced in the preamp! And with a hollow guitar, the weight of the softer wood is so much nicer to have hanging around your neck.

For instance, a Les Paul is usually made of a Mahogany set neck & body with or without a Maple top. These are always good wood combinations if you want that extra tonal quality. I have personally mixed the Maple neckthrough with the Mahogany body and received great results in sustain as well as tone that cuts through the mix. In a hollow body, I think it is an insane combination that gives you those killer sub-harmonics, sustain, Mahogany bottom end, and tone that cuts through the mix all in one.

But you will be hard pressed to find a guitar like that just sitting on the rack at a guitar center. Most of these sort of guitars are Custom Shop exclusives. That way we at the custom shops can make so many different guitars with so many different tonal combinations that you just can't get out there in the mass production manufacturing world.

Although we rarely use them, Alder and Basswood are ok woods for a guitar. These are woods that many guitar manufacturers use because they are a cheap hardwoods, and it has good enough tone for your guitar. For instance, it has been my experience that many woods used for stringers in surfboard blanks are; Redwood, Basswood, and Spruce. These are the most popular due to their hardness and their ability to withstand the force of the waves. This doesn't mean that they are necessarily good for sound transfer, but if you notice the woods used in acoustic guitars, they tend to use Spruce tops on a lot of their guitars. This must mean that they are good for something! So in guitar manufacturing, since it is cheaper for the manufacturer, it results in a cut in cost for them which results in higher profits from a business perspective. So if you have a guitar that you like and it is made from this wood it is an acceptable start.


Guitar Tone vs Pickups

What are the best pickups for me to choose?

There are so many different choices, and all my friends are telling me to order the ___ pickups!

Now onto the subject of your choice of pickups. There are lots of pickup manufacturers, and this can be such a hard choice with all the labels out there. And it can be deceiving with the names of the endorsed musicians, and such descriptive titles like "screamin", "metal" and you get my drift....right. And just because so and so is endorsed by a particular brand, is that really the right pickup choice for me?

Basically, on passives you have different windings, on either alnico or ceramic magnets. And apart from the magnets, they are pretty much close to one another in the materials used. The windings may be a bit different from pickup to pickup, but they are basically the same in concept. There are cheap offshore pickups and there are domestics. And there are bench test ratings on them. All you really need to know is that if it's a Custom Shop pickup it is probably "the cream of the crop" and if it is from a guitar store that sells hundreds over the counter, it is probably "the cream of the crap".

In the Seymour Duncan world, if you are wanting to stay away from the active electronics, I would not go with the Live Wire or the Basslines Active since it is Seymour's active electronic answer to an EMG. Contrary to some thinking out there, high output is really NOT the problem that needs addressing here. It seems like it is tone that most people are looking for! And many guys don't even know what tone is. But put two of these guys together on guitar in the same room as the rest of the band, and when that sound you thought was so hot when you were setting it up in your bedroom, disappears, you find out all about tone and sound cancellations real fast!

Now please don't get me wrong! If you are a fan of active pickups like EMG's, the intent here is NOT to put them down. But rather to explain the technical functionality. Yes, they have their place in the guitar world, and there are many out there who really like them. They do a thing that other pickups don't, and there are those who request them in our guitars. And since we are here to serve YOU, we will put whatever pickups in that you request.

We do use special active electronics in our stock basses, but in this case it is in the EQ section, and not the pickups themselves. The pickups we use in our stock basses have killer 3/8 inch magnets, which is a different configuration than an EMG, or in the Bassline active style pickup configuration. And yes, we do install active Basslines for those who wish for them in their bass.

But we are talking about guitar here! The reality is, that active electronics CANNOT give you tone! They can only work with what is presented at the source. And if a guitar doesn't have good tone in the first place, you won't get the tone you are looking for from your pickups or even your amp, EQ, or preamp. It's just not going to happen!

On the subject of active pickups like EMG's, Active Basslines, and Live Wires. My understanding is that if you got a good result from installing them in a cheap guitar, and it improved the sound, it may be because the pickup isn't really transferring the bad tone of the cheap wood like a passive pickup would. Thus, no crappy wood sound, only string resonance and notes. And there are technical reasons for this.

Most active pickups convert the notes and string resonance into the form of a digital electronic signal, which in technical terms looks like a spike going up and down. Like in the case of EMG's, this is done through a computer chip like on a motherboard of a PC. And you can adjust this oscillating"frequency" with more electronics (such as an EQ), but it is always going to be a digital signal no matter what you do to it. That is why in the world of amplifiers and distortion pedals, a digital amplifier and a distortion pedal, will always have a certain fuzzy crunch to it. It is simply built on the same principle. This type of signal always sounds harsher than analog.

Passive pickups simply transfer the sound generated from the guitar itself. If you have crappy wood in the guitar, then that is the sound you will hear in the end. They do not convert anything into a digital signal, but rather move it along as an analog signal the way it is presented at the source. Analog signals are not spikes, but instead look like waves with round tops and bottoms. This is a softer, warmer sound, and the tone of the guitar wood is passed along perfectly! So good tone wood produces good tone in the end result. And when this is presented through a real tube amp, you get that fat sound that blows doors. Tubes are analog, and they warm up the tone and bump it to the volume you want. That's power with Tone that cannot be beat.

Some guys think that they can fix their digital sound with a tube amp. This can help, but it doesn't solve the problem. All this does is bump up the harshness to a louder volume. It may warm up the sound a bit with the tubes, but it cannot give you the tone you are looking for. Once again, the search for real tone continues as the unsuspecting victim replaces each piece of electronic gear in his arsenal, including the amps. And in the end, one may find that it was his guitar that was the offender all along.

So since most active pickups don't really transfer tone like passives, the rule of thumb is that some active pickups will make a $#!+ guitar sound good, and a good guitar sound like $#!+ . So if you use them in your guitar, you will have to rely on your amp, and your pre-amp for your tone, EQ, and sound. And you really cannot produce good tone out of thin air if you don't have it delivered from the source...your guitar! Another fantastic reason to save up for your Custom Shop guitar today!

In the bridge position, I have had great results from the Seymour Duncan Dimebucker SH13. That pickup was made to give a guitar that Pantera sound. My all time favorite pickup for that deep grinding Metal sound is the Distortion SH6, but if you prefer resonance from the high end frequency you might try the Jeff Beck SH4. You may lose a bit of bottom end and distortion from this latter pickup, but you can get a great cut through the mix, feedback for screams, and your clean sound will be much crisper.


For Guitar

You can look at the different pickups we recommend for the neck position in our guitars here:

and the bridge position here:


For Bass

You can look at the different pickups we recommend for our basses here:


For the Tone Chart

If you would prefer to get a better idea of all the different tonal qualities from Seymour Duncans you can check out their tone chart and listen for yourself at this address:


I hope this answers all your questions & helps you out in setting up your guitar correctly so that it plays at it's highest possible potential.

Now, go out there & Rock Someone's World!


For the ultimate Low Tuning Guitar please feel free to check out

Netherworld Series Guitar