Descendant Vibrato install on a nice Vintera Jazzmaster
I had the pleasure of installing a Descendant vibrato unit on a really nice Jazzmaster earlier this week. It had the factory Mexico spec Fender vibrato, and Karl opted to give the Descendant upgrade a go. I have covered installation of these on my YouTube channel and main blog before, so I won't show those steps in specific detail again but will chat through a little about the approach. I've gotten pretty used to installing these and can usually eyeball the guitar as is, to see whether it'll be best with 1 or 2 depth shims installed. If the bridge sits pretty high in the thimbles therefore hinting that the neck break angle is fairly steep, then I find you can use two shims. If the neck break angle is shallow meaning the bridge sits pretty low in the body/thimbles, then two shims may be too steep of an angle so only one shim will be best/optimal. This unit is designed to have either one or two of the shims installed, it won't function correctly with none. This one came to me without strings though and the bridge un-adjusted so to speak low in the body so took the basic approach. To summarise I usually install it as is with the 2 shims fitted, string it up and bring to tension so I can see how it sits. Main thing I'm looking for is on the existing setup, bridge height etc, whether the strings foul the top plate as they pass over. If they're clear, then safe to say the guitars setup will enable 2 shims to be used, which is the maximum 'depth' setting so to speak. If the bridge sits low in the body, then chances are the angle needs reducing slightly and one shim is needed. This is usually pretty obvious as the strings will be touching the top plate.
So with that roughed in, I popped a capo on the 1st, and dropped the tension completely out of the strings so I could remove/un-hook them from the tailpiece. Nice and easy on the Descendant as the strings don't feed through the plate like a normal JM/offset style vibrato, they instead feed into the front edge of the unit making maintenance etc a breeze. This design point is ultimately because the string anchor plate sits below the top plate, so wouldn't accommodate for feeding the strings through the rear edge like a normal/traditional unit. But the benefits of being able to feed the in the front and hook them in place is really helpful doing maintenance and adjustments. Some of the luthiers I have worked with noted they like this as it reduced risk potential damage to the guitars' top/finish dragging the string through the tailpiece, instead placing them into the unit making things a bit safer on their freshly finished builds!
So I removed those from the tailpiece and placed them aside, and set to remove the unit for final prep and install. Here it's just a bit of future proofing really, so the 4 allen key screws that secure the shims and pivot plate in place just need a dab of thread lock to secure those. I then also drop a dab of white lithium grease in the arm locking collet. These are precisely engineered pieces of steel, so a bit of care on the parts contacting one-another is worthwhile. I took the opportunity at this time to pop some thread lock on the bridge height adjustment grub screws too, just to aid setup and stability for the owner. These particular Fender mustang style bridges are prone to 'drifting' under the string pressure with the grub screws easily moving. Over time the action can change as a result of that, so applying some thread lock and stabilising those adjustment screws will help stability over time.
Refitted the bridge and vibrato unit, re-strung and brought back up to tension, left it to settle for a moment and made some minor corrections to the setup just to see how it all plays. I finish off by setting the arm tension, via the central spring tension screw. I like a comfortable 'up' pull on the arm, this helps aid the nice floating feel of these vibratos, and also reduces the potential 'knock' you can get in use as the pivot plate hits the top plate if you have things too tightly adjusted. All keeps things feeling good and working noise free too. And finally finish with adjusting the arm swing tension. There's a neat feature on the Descendant where the arm itself locks into the collet and you can also adjust the tension of which the arm can move within it. So you can have it completely loose and swinging about, or you can have it so it is tight sat in one position, or in between of course! Any of these positions allow you to keep the arm locked in place not falling out, but it is easily removed in one specific position thanks to a small notch in the arm allowing it to pass the bearing inside the collet trouble free. All neat features thanks to Chris' great design!
A pleasure to work on and get up and running with this great vibrato design. Love stocking these, and love fitting them too! If you're interested in this service and/or the Descendants, please do get in touch! firstname.lastname@example.org