How to guide - Installing and adjusting your new Descendant Vibrato
I've just received my fresh batch of the brilliant new Descendant Vibrato Units from Swope Guitars, so I thought I'd put together a 'helping hand' guide which will hopefully help you with installing and adjusting the unit. It's all pretty straight forward, but there are some unique aspects to Chris' design that I wanted to highlight in this guide, to help your install go smoothly and help you get the most out of it straight out of the box.
I've tried my best to cover each aspect of an install and/or unit swap, but is essentially intended as a guiding hand rather than strict gospel of how to install/swap the unit, but I hope it helps nonetheless. I believe Descendant will be releasing their own series of install tips and videos in due course, so for now I hope mine fills the void.
Step 1 -
Here's an easy start! After you've removed your old strings, start things off by removing the original vibrato unit. On this particular example, it's a Fender AVRI reissue USA made vibrato, the theory should be the same for a variety of different models. Simply remove the 6 outer mounting wood screws as shown below...
You will then be able to lift out the old unit from the guitar cavity. With the old unit out, we can do a quick side by side comparison of the new Descendant (right) and a traditional item (left).
Step 2 -
With the old unit out, we can now prepare the Descendant ready for install. Technically, it is ready to fit, but you may want to make the most of it's adjustable depth by changing the shims which set the depth of the pivot/string plate into the body therefore adjusting the break angle over the bridge. How many shims you want to use will be ultimately a mixture of personal preference and/or specs of the guitar. To do this, you need to use the allen key provided with the kit and remove the 4 allen key screws which are situation in the middle of the plate which secure the top plate to the shims and pivot plate.
Then to finish removing the pivot plate from the unit to access the shims, you need to remove the tension spring/cup. This is usually just finger-tight so you should be able to loosen that with your fingers, if not, just hold it and use a screwdriver via the tension adjustment screw visible on the top plate.
With the vibrato apart, you'll see the two shims. You can use either one or two shims, but you can't remove them both. As a general rule, Descendant Vibrato recommend starting with two, and refining from there. Perhaps consider what you hope to acheieve from carrying out this improvement, as well as what neck angle the guitar has or existing bridge break angle. Experiment to find your favourite shim number. For the sake of this example, I'm using 2 shims, the vibrato is situated in the traditional Jazzmaster position on the body (rather than closer to the bridge like on the J Mascis model or the Classic Player model for example), it has a fairly shallow neck angle and a Staytrem bridge.
Additional Notes -
You will notice a number of other allen key screws holding down the arm collet etc, those DO NOT need to be adjusted or loosened. There is also a grub screw on the underside of the arm collet, again this DOES NOT need to be adjusted in any way. This is set to a specific position so that the arm sits correctly.
Step 3 -
Once you have chosen the amount of shims you want to use, you can start re-assembling the unit. Descendant Vibrato recommend adding a little loctite threadlock to the mounting screws, so for this, just add a small dab of loctite to the mounting screw threads and begin re-fitting them to the plate.
With that done, you can now assemble the plates. For the initial part of the process, you don't need to worry too much about aligning these perfectly. Simply assemble it with the mounting screws finger tight to begin with.
To align the plates neatly, a cool little trick is to use your supplied allen key length-ways and slide it between the underside of the top plate and the pivot plate like this...
Applying some pressure downwards, this moves the shims into the perfect place and means you can't see them when looking at the top plate. With this done, you can now tighten the mounting screws up. I would recommend tightening and loosening a few times back and forth just to ensure the loctite has good coverage on the threads.
Step 4 -
You can now attach the rear plate via the tension spring. As with removing it, you should be able to do this with your fingers, if it feels too tight to thread the spring cup onto the screw, then you may be forcing it or cross threading it. So make sure you get a feel for the thread going on easily.
I wouldn't worry about setting the spring tension correctly just yet either. I just set it so it sat flush with the spring cup, and will worry about getting the tension set when it's strung up.
A quick little side on photo to show the two shims in place and how that effects the angle of the pivot plate, further lowering the break angle.
Step 5 -
After all that talk of plates and shims, let's get back to the less geeky stuff and simply get it mounted to the guitar! The kit comes with 6 new wood screws, if you are install this on a fresh build, then these will come in handy rather than having to source some separately. So grab those and set to work mounting it to the guitar.
If you are swapping the unit from a previous model, like I am in this guide for example, but they happen to be a different sized screw to your original vibrato mounting screws, then simply use your originals or whichever you would prefer to use. Use whichever best fit the existing holes in the body. If they're the same size, you may prefer to use the new ones, unfortunately I can't cover all of the potential variances in screw sizes for what different guitar and/or vibrato manufacturers use, but the best recommendation is to compare the new ones to your old ones, if they are different, then use the originals. For me and my install, they were the same sized screw so I opted to use the new ones as the originals had a convex head and I prefer the aesthetic match of the flat screw head on the supplied kit screws, and they worked well for my requirements.
I tend to fit it loosely first, get it aligned with the holes nicely then tighten up afterwards.
Nice and easy!
Step 6 -
With the vibrato mounted up, let's talk about the arm now. The Descendant has a really neat locking collet, that also allows you to have the arm set swinging loosely or have it sit much tighter (but still able to move it around of course).
Using the supplied allen key again, you'll notice a little grub screw visible through the top plate right behind where the arm collet is.
This is the grub screw that you adjust the tightness of the arm swing. The good news is you can't lose this little guy, as with it all the way tight it is stopped by the ball bearing inside, and you can't raise it all the way out as the collet housing hole is smaller than the grub screw. So it's essentially self contained which is a neat touch. I would personally start by loosening the grub screw all the way, and simply fit the arm into the collect. With the grub screw fully loose, you can push the arm in, in any orientation. I'll get onto to more about that in a moment.
With the arm pushed in, spin it to a usual position, and we'll get to setting the tension.
Now grab your allen key, and tighten the grub screw. I would recommend tightening it all the way, so the arm is in it's stiffest position, then slacken it off to your preferred arm swing! Once set, you can realistically leave that alone forever! You don't need to use the allen key to remove the arm, and here's why...
On the arm end that fits into the collet, you'll notice it's notched as well as having a flat side. This is so that even when the arm is fitted to the unit, you can rotate it to a specific position and lift the arm out without having to touch the allen key. Makes it secure, but also easy to quickly remove the arm when you need to.
With the arm in the above position, it will lift straight out of the collet. To re-fit it, simply push it into the collect at this angle, and spin into the normal playing position and you won't be able to lift it out. Easy as that!
Step 7 -
Stringing up! This is a little different to other vibratos on the market of this style, in that the strings don't feed all the way through the tailpiece through the back, but rather slot through the front of it instead. This is essentially because the string mounting point sits really low inside the unit, but the positives of this approach is also that you minimise the risk of scratching the finish of your guitar feeding each string right the way through the vibrato, and also reduce the risk of damaging the strings themselves by pulling them through the tailpiece.
So from the front of the vibrato, you'll nice three slots with each having a larger hole in the middle. This larger hole is for you to feed the ball end of the string through. Then you simply slide it to the relevant side and it's nicely slotted into place through it's string groove and ready to wrap around the tuner to tension.
Repeat the process until you're all strung up!
This is the first real point where you'll notice the vast increase in break angle over the bridge that this unit is helping achieve.
Step 8 -
You can now adjust the arm spring tension, this is the same as with the traditional units really, with the central phillips head screw adjuster to set it to your tastes/requirements.
Now time to dial everything in and enjoy using your new Descendant Vibrato! If you'd rather watch a video on this process than read through the blog, I have made an accompanying video over on YouTube too!
I thought I'd add some additional notes to this post about my personal findings since installing and setting up a Descendant onto my own Jazzmaster (same guitar as the feature above! The existing guitar's set up was a very shallow neck break angle, meaning the staytrem bridge sat quite low in the thimbles, not entirely common with optimal Jazzmaster set-ups, granted but due to the staytrem and 11-50 strings it worked at the time, albeit with little note sustain. So with the install of the Descendant and initial set-up, I actually found 2 shims to be too much for this as it was, and if I would have kept it at the same set-up, I would have personally adjusted to a single shim instead which would have been better suited and allow for string clearance on the vibrato top plate. I decided to experiment for the sake of product knowledge, and increased the neck break angle therefore raising the bridge to a more traditional JM set-up. After doing this, 2 shims in the Descendant was absolutely perfect and worked incredibly well. So I highly recommend experimenting a little and finding the right balance for your exact guitar and it's set-up. I personally have noticed a drastic improvement in the guitar's string tension and sustain.
I am now the UK dealer for Descendant Vibratos and carry stock here ready for dispatch! You can view them on the main website HERE If you're in the USA or anywhere else in the world for that matter, all orders are direct with Chris Swope and his website is HERE
Many thanks for reading, I hope this helped!