Wilkinson/Gotoh VSVG Vintage Tremolo
Adding dive-proof stability to my used Fender Standard Stratocaster®
Text, photos and video by Tom Hintz
Posted - 10-22-2012
Before I bought my Fender Standard Stratocaster® I had heard stories of frustration aimed squarely at the standard tremolo. I know that there are lots of folks who like the Fender tremolo and use it happily but many others do not with me apparently in the “do not” group. After fighting the “tune after bending” cycle too many times with this Fender Standard Stratocaster® I decided that it was time to seek an aftermarket update. I immediately started coming across positive mentions about the Wilkinson/Gotoh VSVG Vintage Tremolo. My own experience with Gotoh pieces is small but totally positive and combined with good words I found about the Wilkinson/Gotoh VSVG Vintage Tremolo I decided to get one for my used Fender Standard Stratocaster®.
The Wilkinson/Gotoh VSVG Vintage Tremolo was designed as a replacement for the stock Fender unit but with their own enhancements to augment tuning consistency and perhaps boost sustain a bit at the same time.
One noticeable difference between the Wilkinson/Gotoh VSVG Vintage Tremolo and the factory tremolo is that the mounting holes are elongated Wilkinson version to help eliminate the binding that contributes to the frustrating loss of tune experienced by some factory Fender tremolos. However the slot pattern is not an exact match for the screws on my Made in Mexico Fender Standard Stratocaster® (manufactured in 2010) so I whipped out my old race car expertise (and my Dremel) and made the two end elongated holes a tick longer inwards. There is a round hole on the bass side that keeps the Wilkinson/Gotoh VSVG Vintage Tremolo located so we have to leave that one alone. In my case cheating to two end holes allowed the unit to seat and move normally with no binds.
The Wilkinson/Gotoh VSVG Vintage Tremolo has a 2-1/8" string spread. The string mounting holes are staggered in the block to make the strings path over the adjustable saddles/blocks more consistent. Like the stock version the Wilkinson/Gotoh VSVG Vintage Tremolo uses bent steel saddles but with noticeable changes designed to add improve performance.
The Wilkinson/Gotoh VSVG Vintage Tremolo kit includes the tremolo unit itself, return springs, spring claw, arm with white plastic knob (#3534-B black tremolo shown in this review has black plastic knob), mounting screws, saddle adjustment screw and Allen wrenches.
One of the differences on the Wilkinson/Gotoh VSVG Vintage Tremolo is the use of a temporary screw for adjusting the saddles to correct intonation. The saddles are locked with setscrews and the adjusting screw is used to literally push the saddle where it is needed to correct for intonation. The adjusting screw is meant to make setting intonation easier by one person as the screw holds the saddle in place while you lock the setscrews down. The adjusting screw installs and is operated from behind the Wilkinson/Gotoh VSVG Vintage Tremolo so access is easy as are the adjustments.
Install and Setup
Before beginning the Wilkinson/Gotoh VSVG Vintage Tremolo installation I checked the Neck Relief on the Fender Standard Stratocaster® just to be sure. I like to be certain of things like that before installing a new piece so I know that any problems encountered during setup really are with the new piece and not something else. Then I removed the strings, removed the factory tremolo unit, springs and the spring claw. I also had to unsolder the ground wire at the old spring claw.
I installed the new spring claw with the new screws, all of which look identical to the Fender pieces but I used them anyway. Then I soldered the ground wire to the claw. I also installed the tremolo arm and tweaked the tension screw that is located just under the surface plate. The setscrew applies pressure to a Derlin friction ring inside the bore the arm fits in and controls how stiff the movement of the arm is. Once the Wilkinson/Gotoh VSVG Vintage Tremolo is installed in the body you cannot reach that setscrew.
After modifying the two treble side mounting holes as described earlier I installed the Wilkinson/Gotoh VSVG Vintage Tremolo using the included screws that in addition to being the same size as the old ones are black to match the optional black unit. (I am “blacking out” this Strat) Like the original tremolo I ran the outside two screws down until they contacted the surface and then set the remaining screws between them so that they have approximately 1/16” between the screw heads and the surface of the Wilkinson/Gotoh VSVG Vintage Tremolo. Then I could install the three springs from the claw to the bottom of the Wilkinson/Gotoh VSVG Vintage Tremolo block.
I gave the Super Guitar a new set of strings and tightened them initially so that they were reasonably within tuning range. That let me set the initial string heights before tuning the strings for the first time. Following that I readjusted the spring claw to draw the rear of the Wilkinson/Gotoh VSVG Vintage Tremolo plate to within 1/8” of the body. Retune the strings and then check the gap beneath the Wilkinson/Gotoh VSVG Vintage Tremolo. You wind up going back and forth here to balance the tuned string pressure to the force of the tremolo return springs to get the 1/8” (or slightly less for my taste) under the rear of the Wilkinson/Gotoh VSVG Vintage Tremolo plate. I then rechecked the string height to be sure it had not moved.
Partly because this is a new, un-stretched set of strings and because this is a new install of the Wilkinson/Gotoh VSVG Vintage Tremolo I spent some time working the tremolo (“dive bombing”) to both put a little stress on the strings and to work the Wilkinson/Gotoh VSVG Vintage Tremolo in to check for binds. After several re-tunes I left the guitar sit for a few hours and then went back and checked the tune before giving the tremolo arm several full travel movements. I put the TC Electronic Polytuner on to check the state of the tune and found that it was right on the money! I also checked the gap beneath the rear edge of the Wilkinson/Gotoh VSVG Vintage Tremolo at the body and that was still just under 1/8”. It works!
I took the Fender Standard Stratocaster® up to the office and put it back into my play rotation so I would hopefully play it for 30 or 40 minutes each day, making sure to use the tremolo more than I normally would so I could quantify it’s performance, or lack of it. At this writing I have been playing the Super Guitar for three days, the strings seem to be fully stretched out and the Wilkinson/Gotoh VSVG Vintage Tremolo still returns to tune after major whammy movements. I try to give it at least one really deep dive bomb each time I play just to be sure I am flexing it all the way so I can determine if the Super Guitar is staying in tune, which it is!
The Wilkinson/Gotoh VSVG Vintage Tremolo is a well-made piece that has enhanced my Fender Standard Stratocaster® with consistency in tuning plus it has increased sustain noticeably. I have to say that I am impressed after having to re-tune the guitar after nearly every whammy I did before installing the Wilkinson/Gotoh VSVG Vintage Tremolo. What is most telling to me is that while the Wilkinson/Gotoh VSVG Vintage Tremolo and the factory piece look very similar and are set up the same way, the Wilkinson version works far better. At least I assume that the Wilkinson/Gotoh VSVG Vintage Tremolo is supposed to be set up like the factory version because there were no instructions that came with it nor were there any to be found on the Gotoh web site. But it does work well so this setup has to at least be very close.
At $125.95 (10-04-2012) the Wilkinson/Gotoh VSVG Vintage Tremolo is a relatively cheap modification that seems to be helping my Fender Standard Stratocaster® perform more to my liking. I also like the optional black finish on the Wilkinson/Gotoh VSVG Vintage Tremolo that makes my Strat appear a bit more sinister than I can make it sound yet. I am working on the “me” part of the equation though. But overall, I am happy that I added the Wilkinson/Gotoh VSVG Vintage Tremolo to my Fender Standard Stratocaster® and look forward to learning to use it more as I play.
Visit the Stewart-MacDonald Wilkinson/Gotoh VSVG Vintage Tremolo page – Click Here
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