PSA: Stratocaster Trem Arm Tension Spring
Ok, so I'm a Stratocaster newbie: Go easy on me. I've only had a genuine Fender Strat for the last little part of my forty-odd years of playing Gibsons. I found my nice American Standard Strat by playing through the various Strats that I found locally on the walls of guitar shops. Before this Strat I'd only owned a G&L S-500 (a hot Strat made by Leo Fender's last company, G&L), so this was my first genuine article Fender Stratocaster.
When you go into the guitar shop, some of the Strats have a nifty little label over the trem arm hole. "Cute!" sez I, "Trem Hygiene!"
"NOT," as it turns out, is the reply from Fender. That label over the trem arm hole is there for a purpose: Fender puts a little tiny spring in there to place the arm under tension so that you don't have to screw in the arm all the way down to get it to stay in place and feel solid. They put the label over the hole to keep the original spring in place from factory to consumer. Gremlins and sneaky people at guitar shops remove the little sticker to ensure that the guitar arrives without the spring, or, at least so it would seem. Perhaps they just find a Strat on the wall and steal its spring for themselves. Whatever, I spent a couple of years exclaiming to myself that the trem on my Strat was designed kind of stupidly: you had to wind and wind the silly bar down into the socket until it bottomed out or it hung uselessly and clunked in the socket when you went for a little wobble.
It turns out, my guitar didn't have the label when I found it in the shop. Great guitar. No label. As a result, the spring was long gone from the guitar from the first moment I saw it. However, the other day I ran across an article about making your Strat play better and that little spring was one of the first items they discussed. They showed a lovely picture...
...and provided a link to MUSICIAN'S FRIEND to buy a twelve-pack for $5.89. The MF item is called "Fender Tremolo Arm Tension Springs (12)." You can get them at Guitar Center as well. Same price, same quantity.
Um, duh. On me. I had read that factoid in the guitar's instructions when I first bought it but somehow it didn't sink in.
So the other day I bought a pack of springs and popped one in. Much better. You still have to crank in the arm pretty far (and the tab that keeps the case top open gets in the way) but there is actually a point where the arm stops dangling flaccidly and actually feels firm. It isn't at the bottom of travel either so you've actually got a choice of where you want to position the arm and it actually achieves a decent, firm feel when you give it a little wobble. An old dog learned a new trick. Fender suggests you put a bit of tape over the hole when you remove the arm to put the guitar in its case. I think I'm going to look for some kind of plug. Perhaps in my case, since mine is an American Strat, a 10-32 screw would work.
I still say the Fender trem design ain't too smart if there's a spring that gets lost so often that they sell them in twelve-packs. Keep the bag of spares in you case.