Kahler have updated their tremolo systems to include a locking grub screw, allowing the tremolo to be disabled for string changing or playing hardtail styles. This isn't designed to be accessed during performance as it requires an Allen key, but it is a useful and practical update nonetheless. I fitted the latest 2300-series model to a recent Fender Squier Strat, but it will fit most flat-topped solid-body guitars and alternative stud-mount versions are available for carved top guitars. Four variations on the 2300 hybrid model are available (with UK prices yet to be confirmed as we went to press): the 2300 steel-on-steel, which comes closest to retaining the original Strat sound, the 2310 brass with aluminium cam, the 2315 brass cam with steel rollers and the 2320 brass-on-brass model. The locking grub screw passes through the rear edge of the fixed plate and, when tightened, locates into a groove at the rear of the moving cam.
The neat thing about the Kahler design is that the bridge saddles can be adjusted separately for height, intonation and, to a limited degree, spacing. All these adjustments can be made using either the Allen keys provided or, in the case of intonation, a small cross-head screwdriver. Once set, they don't move when the tremolo is operated, as the string tension is controlled by a cam (supported on roller bearings) behind the saddles that pulls the strings over small rollers set into the saddles. This is clearly a good thing, as most tremolos change the guitar action when operated. The cam angle can be adjusted from above using an Allen key, as can the stiffness of the screw-in tremolo arm, so there's no need to mess around with woodscrews to move a spring claw as there is in the traditional tremolo system. Instead, the two relatively short tension springs are integral to the tremolo assembly. Mechanically, this makes a lot of sense but it does mean that the top of the guitar needs some additional routing, so if you're not confident with your DIY woodworking skills, you'll need to get a luthier to install the system for you.
As I was using a relatively expendable Squier, I did the job myself, using the included cardboard template as a guide, and it turned out to be pretty straightforward. However, the need to modify the guitar means that those with vintage models (or models one day likely to be so) may not want to risk devaluing their instrument. Kahler have a design for a more conventional retrofit fulcrum tremolo for these users, but it is not yet clear whether they have decided to put this into production.
In all, the fitting was very easy but there are a couple of points to note. Firstly, if your guitar has screw-in posts for the original tremolo, the post mounts will need to be removed. In my case I did this by drilling a half-inch hole in a piece of scrap wood and placing this over the post socket, then screwing the post back in via a large washer. Tightening the post with a screwdriver was sufficient to draw the socket out of the wood. As it turned out, the front mounting woodscrews coincided with the edge of the post holes, so I had to fill the holes with glued dowel before I could proceed. It's also a good idea to use a straight edge or guitar string to get the tremolo perfectly centred on the neck, as the amount of lateral saddle adjustment isn't sufficient to compensate for a badly fitted tremolo. By the same token, ensure the string saddle rollers are in the right place, with enough adjustment either way for intonation adjustment. With a Strat, butting the tremolo up against the scratchplate is OK, though spacing it away by a couple of millimetres may be better, as it leaves the saddles closer to the mid point of their adjustment range.
With this particular guitar, I had to set the saddle spacings as wide as possible, so you should check that the string spacing adjustment range is enough for your instrument before starting work. There's also no obvious earthing point on the tremolo, so I opted to fix adhesive copper foil beneath the tremolo backplate and soldered the ground wire to this instead of the now-redundant spring claw. You can also jack up the saddle angles to around 30 degrees to get a decent break angle over the bridge, then shim the neck to get the action as close to correct as you can. Once you've done this, you can make final action tweaks using the saddle adjusters in the usual way.
This type of bridge used to be used mainly with locking nuts, hence the fine-tuning screws behind the saddles, but on all my guitars I've used locking machine heads and low-friction Graphtech or Fender roller nuts instead. This gives good tuning stability and string changing is quite easy. With the Kahler system, the ball end of the string fits into a shaped recess behind the saddle and string tension keeps it in place. The tone of the guitar was, if anything, improved over the original Fender tremolo, with better high-end clarity, but if you want a darker tone, the brass version should do the trick. The lock screw works fine, but I'd still prefer something I could activate during a performance to get out of trouble when a string breaks!
I found the pitch change felt more logarithmic than with normal fulcrum units, which is to say there's less pitch change when you move the arm around the centre point, but this gets progressively more as you bend further. This takes only a little getting used to and seems more precise than the usual response. There's plenty of up range and you can go down until the strings hang around your knees! The light action takes a bit of getting used to, but the lack of backlash makes it a far more precise means of control than conventional systems and palm damping is easy. In all, this was a very worthwhile upgrade. Paul White
SUMMARY If you don't mind modifying your guitar, this is the neatest and most precise tremolo system I've tried to date. Warwick Music Equipment Trading. +44 (0) 161 8390 666 email@example.com
USB Guitar Interface With Amp Modelling Software
Call me cynical, but I'm always at least a little wary when someone comes along with a new product that appears to be repackaging existing technologies in a shiny new box. So I wasn't holding my breath when I was asked to take a look at IK Multimedia's Stealthplug. Essentially, the Stealthplug is a single cable with an inbuilt A-D converter: one end is terminated in a quarter-inch jack (like a guitar cable), and the other in a male USB connector, as found on most USB computer peripherals. It is intended as a dedicated computer audio interface for guitarists.
Though my expectations were not high, it nonetheless promised a neat solution for the guitarist wanting to get into computer recording or processing and, given that you don't need a separate audio interface, possibilities for recording 'on the hoof' via a laptop. So I held at least a little hope of proving my bout of prejudgement to be unjustified!
It is worth mentioning, before I move on to the Stealthplug interface itself, that the software which IK have bundled with it is well worth the asking price alone: for £79 you get, in addition to the hardware, cut-down versions of a range of software, including Mackie's Traktion sequencer, IK's Sampletank LE sound module and T-Racks equaliser and, of most interest to the guitarists and bassists reading this, IK's Amplitube 2 Live. This features a range of very good-sounding guitar amp and cabinet models, as well as some great pedal effect simulations (the only notable omission from my usual pedal arsenal being a phaser — you can always upgrade to the full version, though). There is also a very useable selection of well-named presets, which makes it easy to change your rig at short notice — it is, for example, a lot more convenient than stomping on several guitar pedals between your songs. What's more, it can be used as a stand-alone application or as a plug-in, and you aren't limited to using this with the Stealthplug alone. In fact, this would be a very welcome addition to anyone using a sequencer who is looking for a guitar modelling plug-in, and it is certainly superior to Cubase 4 's Amp Simulator. This updated version of the software is not available separately from the bundle, but its predecessor Amplitube Live retailed for pretty much the asking price of the whole bundle, which means you are paying very little (if anything!) extra for the Stealthplug hardware. So it is, in any event, a bargain.
But is the Stealthplug hardware any good? Well, it is certainly convenient. It is no trouble to install — it took me about 10 minutes, including booting up a second PC to connect to the Internet for authorisation, and installing the control panel software and Amplitube 2 Live. There was no need for a separate audio interface for playing or recording, no need for additional cables: you just plug it into your guitar and computer, and plug in your headphones, and you're away.
At this price, though, it comes as no surprise that there are a few limitations and, while they are generally niggles rather than major issues, they deserve mention. My main criticism is that I found the Stealthplug to be a little noisy. This was nothing unmanageable, certainly compared with your average laptop inputs, but comparing the signal with my standard audio interface revealed there to be noticeably more background noise — a very audible hiss, much more than on my soundcard's instrument input. I wasn't surprised as the Stealthplug isn't in the same price range as my soundcard, but on revisiting this issue, the main culprit turned out to be the headphone output. Files recorded via the Stealthplug and played back over my standard system were slightly noisier than those recorded through my soundcard, but not to an objectionable extent. However, when monitoring via the Stealthplug's headphone out the noise was mildly irritating. So, while the Stealthplug is fine for tracking, I'd be reluctant to rely on its output for serious mixing — but that's not really the intention here.
My other main criticism is that the jack and USB leads are moulded to the volume control, headphone out and A-D converter assembly, which means that if you break a cable, you'll need to be good at soldering or replace the whole thing.
The Stealthplug was easy to use and operate: the volume controls were easy to reach, though when grasping for the control, it was easy to catch it and there were times I wondered whether I might inadvertently yank the cable out the of my guitar's jack socket. A cheap-and-cheerful belt clip would be a useful addition.
But, for all my griping, I was actually pleasantly surprised. The software is great, and the hardware more convenient and compact than anything else out there. Used with a laptop, it offers a great portable solution for guitarists or bassists looking to record ideas on the road. It also offers a great entry route into computer recording for the uninitiated guitarist or bassist. All things considered — particularly the comprehensive software bundle — the Stealthplug represents great value for money. Matt Houghton
SUMMARY A very small and convenient guitar-to-computer USB interface with amp, cabinet and effects modelling software. IK Multimedia 0800 0934066 www.ikmultimedia.com