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Fender Mustang Vibrato: Setup Guide

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  • Fender Mustang Vibrato: Setup Guide

    Got through another satisfying (lengthy) Mustang setup... Reminds me I actually really like Mustang Dynamic Vibrato. Why?

    Flutter: It’ll do this as well as a Floyd, if you hit the strings hard enough or hit the bar, you get auto-vibrato
    Range: The range is amazing; greater than a two point modern USA Strat trem. if you set it for down-bend only, you can slack strings. And they stay in tune very well despite this!
    Feel: Very direct and smooth, like butter, and very sensitive

    ...

    But they have a bad reputation, so let me pick on the vibrato’s genuine drawbacks that we must accept, some being not so obvious:

    -No true tension adjustment; you can't add springs, or tighten springs beyond using the alternae post notches, and doing so will cause either your range of float or tailpiece height to be altered. Even this has minimal affect on feel.

    -As mentioned, you can't fine tune the range of the trem without adjusting the tailpiece height. Said different: you can't adjust the tailpiece height without then messing with the float range. (Takeaway: it takes a lot of small adjustments to get both tailpiece height and trem range where you want them, if you're picky. You're off the hook if you only want downward motion... But where's the fun in that?)

    -You have a small window in which the string break over bridge can be adjusted; too much and you contact the back of the bridge (bad for tuning,) too little and you're above the whole assembly. Not intuitive: a lot of people replace Jazzmaster bridge with Mustang units, but I find a Jazzmaster bridge is better on a Mustang; you can raise the saddles for more clearance above the bridgeplate

    -It's like a Floyd: don't turn adjustment screws with tension on the strings, or you risk ruining the pivots

    -Be careful with Japanese or Squier bridges and vibratos; some have no machined pivot on the plate which ruins the motion and makes them unstable, and the cheaper bridges can have incorrectly spaced saddles (with air between them,) weak intonation springs and loose grub screws, etc.... Just buy US.


    Oh yeah: the tailpiece “cigar" might get in the way of your picking hand. Or it might not. For me it's ****ing uncomfortable but you get used to it.

    ...

    So how do you get one of these to work? I'm not going to go into much stuff you can just google, like where the post height screws are etc. I'm going to try to get more into the detail about how to make it operate properly once you've figured that out. But here we go...

    1- Take the vibrato unit off the guitar. Disassemble it totally to check the pivots. If they're worn/divoted on the plate, either get a new plate or very carefully try to file them sharp again. If you have a Japanese or Squier unit with no sharpened pivots on the plate, throw it away and get a new trem.

    2- The springs attach in one of two slots on the vibrato posts (or three, if you have a Japanese unit.) In general, use the closer slots to the plate if you want to float the vibrato, use the slots farther from if you want downward-only.

    Edit- I'm reversing this position. The springs should be on the slots closest to the end of the post, for the greatest amount of tension. Some guitars require this additional tension to float properly, depending on the strength of the springs. It is still possible, even with 9s, to float the tailpiece vertical by adjusting post height, but with the springs on the farthest slot you have the benefit of aditional stability through added tension

    3- Re-assemble the trem, you can eyeball the post-height for now. String up the guitar with your desired gauge (I suggest 10s for the best stability without it being a workout.)

    4- Where's your action? I recommend this: get the bridge height fairly close (like, a millimeter or two) above the body; not so low that the bridge won’t rock though, as the rocking is a big part of what keeps the guitar in tune considering the giant range of the trem. The bridge is most stable as low to the body as possible; set it too high and it always wants to topple like a tree to one side or the other. Action too low now? Remove any shim under the neck before you decide to raise the bridge. Action too high? Add a shim.

    5- Look at the height of the strings off the back of the bridge. If they don't contact the plate (only the saddles,) good! If they do touch, this can mess with tuning; you'll need to raise the vibrato post height. Keep in mind that adding height to the posts also = more up-bend. But DO NOT make any vibrato post adjustments with the strings under tension! In general, get the strings right above the bridge baseplate edge for maximum angle without touching.

    Update 06/06/18 - Another note on the posts: On some guitars, they can be quite loose to screw into the cigar. This can result in a bit of 'give' when you use the vibrato. One solution is to lightly coat the threads of the post threads with superglue, that way they screw more solidly into the cigar. More direct connection when you move the bar, and improvement in stability.)

    6- But now... Where’s the vibrato arm? Do you want more up-bend, less? In general, use trial and error, repeat adjusting, loosening and re-tuning the guitar as many times as it takes till the action of the trem is adequate for your use without messing up the break angle (too great contacts the bridge, too little and you may have to raise the action.) This is the tightrope act... For any bigger change than the post height adjustments allow, take the unit off and reposition the springs in one of the other slots.

    7- Almost there! Center your bridge in the cups... Ideally it should be pretty firm in place with the guitar tuned to pitch, and not flop one way or the other. The bridge should move forward and backward with the vibrato motion to allow the strings to not bind; the bridge shouldn't get pushed forward or back and stay there, if it does the bridge is perhaps too high, or you need to move up in string guage, and check your break angle

    8- Oh yeah, the arm. A lot of people have trouble with these staying in place, but here’s my solution: screw it in, hard. Then rotate it until there’s a nice groove in the arm, and tighten further so it stays put. IMPORTANT: If you put the arm ALL the way in, it will impact the plate and the guitar will never stay in tune. Only put the arm in as far as it needs to go, then screw it tight.

    9- Up-bend, down-bend... Try it out. It should stay in tune as well as the best non-locking trems, which is to say pretty damn well so long as the rest of your guitar setup checks out.

    ...

    A few other points about Mustangs while we're at it:

    -They like hotter pickups
    -They have really comfortable high fret access thanks to the slim body
    -If you like the pickups higher, ditch the covers
    -For all that trouble, the Mustang sounds about like a Strat, with a bit of bright jangly "stickiness," near-Gibson scale, and an awesome trem
    Last edited by Silence Kid; 06-06-2018, 11:32 PM.
    Originally posted by King Buzzo
    I love when people come up to me and say “Your guitar sound was better on Stoner Witch, when you used a Les Paul. “...I used a Fender Mustang reissue on that, dumbass!

  • #2
    Re: Fender Mustang Vibrato: Setup Guide

    Thanks for the advice, I downloaded a copy of this post, as I plan on building a Mustang sometime in the near future.
    Do you have any experience with the Mustang bridges Warmoth sells? I'm wanting to use one of their necks and they claim that their modified Mustang bridge works better with their compound radius fingerboards.
    sigpic
    Gibson LP Trad Pro II->Various pedals->MEsa Boogie MkV->Owensby/219 Guitar Works Vertical Slant 2x12 w/WGS ET-65 and Veteran 30.

    Comment


    • #3
      Re: Fender Mustang Vibrato: Setup Guide

      I don't have direct experience. Is that the bridge with the two outer screws adjustable? It's bound to work better with a compound radius, the stock bridge has a tiny radius.
      Last edited by Silence Kid; 06-30-2017, 08:09 AM.
      Originally posted by King Buzzo
      I love when people come up to me and say “Your guitar sound was better on Stoner Witch, when you used a Les Paul. “...I used a Fender Mustang reissue on that, dumbass!

      Comment


      • #4
        Re: Fender Mustang Vibrato: Setup Guide

        It looks like the posts are not height adjustable, but the individual saddles are.
        sigpic
        Gibson LP Trad Pro II->Various pedals->MEsa Boogie MkV->Owensby/219 Guitar Works Vertical Slant 2x12 w/WGS ET-65 and Veteran 30.

        Comment


        • #5
          Re: Fender Mustang Vibrato: Setup Guide

          It looks like a normal Jaguar/Mustang baseplate where the holes give access to height adjustment screws in the posts (either side of the saddles.) The saddles look like two Standard Mustang saddles and four that are tapped for grub screws. I have no clue about quality or quirks of that setup, but you don't really want a fixed radius 7.25" bridge on many guitars... I dislike non-height adjustable saddles anyway.

          Whatever bridge you get, make sure the saddles contact each other without gaps. This is a rattle trap and tone-suck, probably a big part of the reason people say they don't like these bridges is because they have experience with the cheap, loose ones. It's like comparing an original Floyd to a liscenced Floyd
          Originally posted by King Buzzo
          I love when people come up to me and say “Your guitar sound was better on Stoner Witch, when you used a Les Paul. “...I used a Fender Mustang reissue on that, dumbass!

          Comment


          • #6
            Re: Fender Mustang Vibrato: Setup Guide

            This info looks really useful, I've got a CIJ Mustang from the late 90s/early 00s. I've given it to 2 guitar techs before and asked them to sort the vibrato system but neither were able to. I'd basically given up but saw this and decided to give it another go. Do you think that the build quality isn't high enough on these bridges and a replacement is needed or is it all in the setup? I use 11s on mine but would love to get the trem working to a decent level, even just to raise the pitch a little. I may take all your advice to a different luthier and see what they can do but do you think my model is limited by its Japanese parts?

            cheers,

            Comment


            • #7
              Re: Fender Mustang Vibrato: Setup Guide

              Originally posted by daniels102 View Post
              This info looks really useful, I've got a CIJ Mustang from the late 90s/early 00s. I've given it to 2 guitar techs before and asked them to sort the vibrato system but neither were able to. I'd basically given up but saw this and decided to give it another go. Do you think that the build quality isn't high enough on these bridges and a replacement is needed or is it all in the setup? I use 11s on mine but would love to get the trem working to a decent level, even just to raise the pitch a little. I may take all your advice to a different luthier and see what they can do but do you think my model is limited by its Japanese parts?

              cheers,
              The bridge is probably fine. Do the saddles contact each other, or are they spaced farther apart? I'm fine with stock Japanese bridges but vintage US or just about any purported drop-in replacement for Jaguar/Jazzmaster/Mustang will fit your guitar. I recommend not going with a non-rocking or non-roller bridge on a Mustang, because trem range is huge.

              The trem I'm more suspicious of. If it's been messed with, it probably has wear on the knife edges. You can file this sharp. What issue are you experiencing? A sign of worn edges is tuning going out when you move the bar one way, but coming back when you move another. Some Japanese terms have worse knife edges, but they're more adjustable than US.
              Originally posted by King Buzzo
              I love when people come up to me and say “Your guitar sound was better on Stoner Witch, when you used a Les Paul. “...I used a Fender Mustang reissue on that, dumbass!

              Comment


              • #8
                Re: Fender Mustang Vibrato: Setup Guide

                So I edited this guide with an update on my approach, based on my experience with some guitars and individual vibratos; I no longer recommend placing the springs on the closest notch to the plate; you might get away with it, but some guitars don't have enough spring tension at that setting to be stable- and there's no impact to your ability to float the tailpiece if you use the higher tension setting. There's really no reason to use the notch that gives you lesser tension.

                Actually I want to source higher tension springs.

                (...The real update is: **** Mustang vibratos, and why haven't you stopped reading this. I really think only someone who is a fanatic can maintain and enjoy these. They can work, but it removes days from your life.)
                Originally posted by King Buzzo
                I love when people come up to me and say “Your guitar sound was better on Stoner Witch, when you used a Les Paul. “...I used a Fender Mustang reissue on that, dumbass!

                Comment


                • #9
                  Re: Fender Mustang Vibrato: Setup Guide

                  Mustangs are cool. Thanks for the guide. I'll probably get a Duo-Sonic some day, as opposed to a Mustang, but this is still an interesting read and good stuff to know. I am learning the Jag vibrato at the moment.

                  FWIW, I've always thought of the Kahler as a hot-rod modern version of the Mustang vibrato concept...and I love Kahlers.
                  Last edited by ItsaBass; 04-25-2018, 08:56 AM.
                  Originally posted by LesStrat
                  Yogi Berra was correct.
                  Originally posted by JOLLY
                  I do a few chord things, some crappy lead stuff, and then some rhythm stuff.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Re: Fender Mustang Vibrato: Setup Guide

                    I'd love a Bronco myself; it's difficult for me in good faith to recommend a Mustang. Even if they work under ideal scenarios, so many of the old vibratos are worn out and need work/filing, and so many of the Japanese replacement vibratos are poor quality. There are few choices with these guitars.

                    However I'll give credit- if you want downward only motion, even crap/worn ones are generally stable. But for me there's just no point in that.
                    Originally posted by King Buzzo
                    I love when people come up to me and say “Your guitar sound was better on Stoner Witch, when you used a Les Paul. “...I used a Fender Mustang reissue on that, dumbass!

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Re: Fender Mustang Vibrato: Setup Guide

                      Pulling up is my main use of a vibrato unit. Vibrato generally sounds better and less gimmicky to me if the note wavers between sharp and natural, as opposed to wavering between flat and natural. The latter sounds a bit "cartoony" to me, while the former simulates "more natural sounding" left hand vibrato. Also, I use vibrato units not just for general vibrato, but quite often to bend one or two notes up to a specific pitch (as opposed to left hand bending). If a vibrato unit can't bend up, it's 98 percent useless to me.

                      As far as Duo-Sonic/Musicmaster/Mustang guitars go, what I've always got my eye out for is a 22.5" scale Duo-Sonic II. I'll probably be able to swing a vintage Fender of that low a caliber some day. But I do want it to be all original with OHSC, which can prove hard to find, given that so many have been hacked. Also, the 22.5" ones are harder to find in a DSII; most 22.5's are the earlier DS variants (without phase switches).
                      Last edited by ItsaBass; 04-25-2018, 09:28 AM.
                      Originally posted by LesStrat
                      Yogi Berra was correct.
                      Originally posted by JOLLY
                      I do a few chord things, some crappy lead stuff, and then some rhythm stuff.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Re: Fender Mustang Vibrato: Setup Guide

                        I've only just seen this response. No notification given! Ok so I need to check how sharp these edges are. Assuming these are the 2 holes which hold the two posts in and is to stop slippage? My trem is basically - you move it and then have to move it back to pitch. It doesn't return at all on its own. And yes I suppose I would consider using a roller bridge. I've just started a project modding an epi dot and have decided to go with one with the bigsby im attaching. Will see how my results pan out.

                        My usual hesitation with this sortof thing is the same as my hesitation to swap the mustang bridge out for a TOM, I feel as though something instrinsic to the 'mustang sound' is lost once you go down this route. I thought the same about sticking a bigsby on a resonant archtop but decided to go for it as I haven't had the opportunity to own a bigsby equipped guitar yet.

                        Big fan of trems though, my strat works well floating and id love to get the full potential from the mustang set up in a traditional sense.

                        I'm very much aware of sticking from the nut or from the bridge (ie the need for a roller or filed TOM slots) but the mustang currently is something completely apart from this, like I said above - I doesn't seem to return at all on its own at the moment, is this a symptom of dull edges?

                        Very much appreciate the guide though, thanks.
                        Last edited by daniels102; 05-21-2018, 10:38 AM.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Re: Fender Mustang Vibrato: Setup Guide

                          The roller bridge is unlikely to help your specific problem, even if they can't hurt things. At the same time I don't think you'll be making anything better by switching to a standard tune-o-matic, which has a much greater capability for strings to hang up on the bridge than stock or roller- But I think you recognize that in your post above.

                          Your vibrato unit's behavior sounds to me a lot more like your pivots are worn. I would make an effort to sharpen the pivot points with some fairly fine, thin files (a little goes a long way) and smoothing them with progressively finer grit wet-sand paper. Your posts as well may have some wear, and I would very carefully smooth them with fine grain sandpaper (again, do not overdo it.) On re-assembly of the vibrato, I would make a point to not turn the posts under string pressure. In fact, I would measure first where they ought to be, and re-assemble the posts & cigar to where the height ultimately should be, before even reattaching the springs. Then (ideally) you can install the whole thing without ever turning the screws under pressure.

                          I would also use white lithium grease between the pivot points and the posts to minimize friction. As a last mention, I updated the guide above to indicate that some Mustang springs are so weak they cannot pull the guitar back to pitch adequately. I recommend setting the springs on the 'step' closest to the plate for max. tension. These are very frustrating units- Good luck.
                          Originally posted by King Buzzo
                          I love when people come up to me and say “Your guitar sound was better on Stoner Witch, when you used a Les Paul. “...I used a Fender Mustang reissue on that, dumbass!

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Re: Fender Mustang Vibrato: Setup Guide

                            Ok so yesterday I took the plunge and managed to find a cheap countersink drill bit in a local store. I was not confident in doing this but I saw replacement plates were very cheap online and thought whats the harm.

                            I have to say I was sceptical at first but the results are amazing. I simply cannot believe how well the vibrato unit works now. It's miles above any other unit I've used and I think I'm going to put some more care into this guitar now as its possibly my new favourite!

                            Things I have noticed and would like to add:

                            - The range is amazing, but the bar is also incredibly sensitive and the way my cigar tube sits is pointed quite far back, I use the lowest spring or the highest tension and have the posts screwed almost completely in.

                            - A consequence of the cigar tube sitting so far back is that the actual mustang bar sits WAY too high to grab it and play properly, also even when you do stretch to hit the strings you usually are employing a detune just to reach and pick. I will most likely buy a backup bar online and bend it down in a vice to better use it.

                            - I am using 11s which on this short scale guitar are still very comfortable.

                            - The bridge doesn't seem to be an issue at all, the way the vibrato works is that the bridge rocks back and forth and therefore slots are not an issue.

                            - The only string I have had issues with is the low E string, I believe this may be the nut catching, or possibly too many windings on the post... or the fact my strings are six months old (I like dead roundwounds)

                            All in all I am still shocked, I simply cannot understand why Fender has done this to such a great design for seemingly no benefit. When I drilled the bevels I did not measure, I did not sand them and probably did them a lot wider than is necessary but I really did not think it would make much difference and couldn't be arsed with taking the guitar apart again as I've been trying to get this thing to work on and off for 5 years, I had given up.

                            Again, this vibrato unit is fantastic, I find it shocking and unbelievable that Fender have allowed the reputation to get to such a point where most people thing these trems are a complete waste of time and not fit for purpose. Leos original design is fantastic. Also worth adding is, before I did the drilling I emailed an online dealer asking for a picture of the current USA plates. The picture he returned me did not have the bevels so not sure if this is representative of all of them but certainly those supplied to the UK.

                            I've deleted my earlier rambling posts to be more concise and report my findings!

                            Thanks a lot to everyone who has contributed to the thread, next thing ill be doing is finding a replacement bridge pickup and having a decent set up done on the guitar. I had had a humbucker in the bridge for a few years and found that the original has been broken in storage. Considering Lindy Fralins or SD Antiquitys as replacements, though I think the low output pickups are a particularly distinguishing feature of the mustang and both of these, whilst 'vintage', are slightly higher output. My issue at the moment is my neck pickup sounds great, but the replacement strat pickup I stuck in the bridge does not, the highs sound good, but anything played on the low 3 strings is poor and output in general is not great.

                            Does anyone have any recommendations for pickup height to use with mustangs or great pickup replacements in general? I may see if my broken bridge can be repaired or look online for an exact replacement.




                            Oh and one last thing, does anyone know what the proper screw looks like/where to get one to screw the bar in to the cigar tube for the whammy bar? I'll probably find an appropriate sized screw and stick some rubber or a spring in there but id be interested to know what originally came with the guitars!

                            Thanks all,


                            EDIT: Please tell me if I'm hijacking the thread by bringing up pickups here, I'm new to posting and I'm sure I've already broken several rules of etiquette over the past few days.
                            Last edited by daniels102; 05-24-2018, 08:10 AM.

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                            • #15
                              Re: Fender Mustang Vibrato: Setup Guide

                              Glad it worked for you, yes the pivots are troublesome but once you get them sorted it's great. Happy to hear the countersink bit worked, I'd be scared to do that (unless there was already no countersink anyway and it needed to be done.)

                              My one fear with these is that the plates are quite easy to wear, so I will guard myself and say you might have to repeat the operation at some point in the future. These plates are apparently not as hard metal as say a Floyd. Really don't mind if this thread turns into a general Mustang thread, few people bother to use them so it's cool to have things aggregated.

                              So as far as pickup height: in general I like my pickups (single coils especially) pretty low. The Mustang covers and polepiece settings (even with the bobbin) in fact inhibit them from being set very high. If you want to go higher, ditch the covers and switch to a staggered (or at least regular flat Strat) set. I happen to have a fairly hot custom-wound Rose set in mine, which fits under the covers with flush polepieces.

                              I don't know the grub screw size for the bar, mine is vintage/Imperial though.
                              Originally posted by King Buzzo
                              I love when people come up to me and say “Your guitar sound was better on Stoner Witch, when you used a Les Paul. “...I used a Fender Mustang reissue on that, dumbass!

                              Comment

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