TremKing Review

The TremKing is a new design of tremolo, which the TremKing people call a ‘fixed-bridge’ tremolo.


Choosing the TremKing

I considered the locking tremolo options such as Floyd Rose, Kahler and even the Super-Vee, which is a Floyd style design, but a direct retrofit for a strat. But being a classical guitarist, and having had no experience with locking tremolos, I decided to play it safe and go for a non-locking design. Many Floyd users complain of difficulty tuning/changing strings, so for this guitar I thought I should avoid these potential problems (but of course, I still want to get a Floyd-equipped ax in the future – just not yet).

Of the non-locking designs I had the choice of the good ol’ Wilkinson or a standard strat bridge (by Callaham). Unfortunately, the strat bridge has only a little upward range (or non at all if I set it hard against the face of the guitar). The Wilkinson had the advantage of being able to be ‘recessed’ allowing for considerable up and down travel. The only drawback from the Wilkinson is that (IMHO) they’re ugly, and I don’t care for the satin finish either :) … yep, I know…VAIN.

Also, I wanted to do double stop bends, drop tuning, etc without affecting the tuning of the other strings. There are a bunch of devices available which use a ‘pre-stressed’ spring to accomplish this, including the Goeldo BackBox, WD Trem Stabilizer, and of course the Hipshot Tremsetter.

But then I came across the TremKing which appeared to be the best of all worlds.

For starters, it had already incorporated a pre-stressed stabilizing spring into the design. Also, it was capable of significant upward travel, and it didn’t require a locking nut or need fine tuners. I also felt that it had a nice appearance – modern, but retro at the same time.

I took the plunge and ordered one – sight unseen.

The Good

As advertised, the TremKing does a wonderful job of keeping in tune. It keeps its tune if I break a string, and bending the strings does not cause other strings to go flat. The stabilising system does exactly what it is supposed to.

Also, the travel of the unit is quite good. I can easily get a tone pulling up, and between two and three tones pushing down on the bar. Obviously it does not have the range of a Floyd, and you can’t completely slacken the strings. But really this is a good thing – without a locking nut fully slack strings would come out of the nut slots.

The Bad

Here goes….

String Breakage

Because of the way this tremolo is designed, the saddles remain stationary when using the bar. This means that the string is constantly slipping and sliding across the saddle. Normally, this extra friction would cause unnecessary wear, and premature string breakage.

To overcome this problem the TremKing people sensibly chose to use Graphtech saddles. Graphtech saddles are low friction and avoid the problem of unnecessary string breakage.

Unfortunately though, because of the way that the string passes over the top of the tone block, the string is still rubbing against metal. This means that although the saddles will not cause premature string breakage, they will still still break early because the strings rub against the top of the tone block.

Fortunately though, the break angle across the top of the tone block is quite slight, so the issue of string breakage is only really prominent on the lighter strings. For me, this means that I have broken two high ‘E’ strings in a week, though none of the other strings have broken yet. Also, I’ve found that you can overcome this problem by wrapping masking tape around the string about a centimeter or two from the ball end. This causes the tone block to rub against the masking tape, and since the masking tape is behind the saddle it does not affect the vibration of the string.

I’m not the only person who has had a problem with the high ‘E’ string breaking often: review on the seymour duncan forums

Tension Bar Comes Off

The TremKing design requires that there is a pre-stressed spring which acts as a trem stabiliser. This spring is attached to a metal bar, called the tension bar, which keeps the spring under tension. The problem is that the spring does not attach very securely to the tension bar, so over time (or with heavy trem use), the spring can work its way out of the tension bar.

This means that if in the middle of playing the spring pops out, you’ll hear a loud, disconcerting clank, and then your guitar will go completely out of tune.

If, like me, you tend to leave the back plate off your guitar you will have springs shooting across the room (or shooting into your stomach). Of course, you can leave the backplate on, but then everytime it comes off you’ll have to remove the backplate to reset it.

I emailed Rusty (Mr. TremKing) with a suggestion about having the end of the spring threaded so that it could actually screw onto the tension bar. He thanked me for the suggestion, so I hope that means that he will implement it at some stage.

Again, I’m not the only person who has had this problem: review on thegearpage board, and also Ricks review (half-way down the page).

On the plus side Rusty has sent me a replacement spring and tension bar, where the spring has a small crimp in the end. This crimp is enough to hold the spring to the tension bar.

Also, I had good results by gluing the spring to the tension bar. It works well, just make sure that you use a good two-pack metal glue.

Zero-Point

This is the last main issue that I had with the TremKing. The TremKing doesn’t always return exactly to zero. In my experience, it needs a slight push (or pull, depending on how I’ve set it up), after using the bar, to get it to return to the zero-point. It’s not a big problem because once you are familiar with the unit you automatically compensate with a small flick of the bar and then you are exactly back to pitch. It is a little bit annoying though, and is far from a perfect design.

I pulled the TremKing apart to see if there was anything that I could modify to get the unit to return on pitch more reliably. After unscrewing everything I found that the TremKing uses a ball-baring type pivot on the high ‘E’ side, but that on the low ‘E’ side it is just using a pin. After hosing the pin with copious amounts of WD-40 the TremKing returned to pitch appreciably more reliably. I personally feel that if the design used a ball-bearing joint on both ends, then the unit would return to zero far better than it does currently.

Again, others on the net have experienced this problem. All of the previous three links I’ve posted (thegearpage board, seymour duncan forum, and Ricks review) mention tuning instability and drift and/or having to tug the bar to get it to return to pitch.

No Pride in their Product

This isn’t really a functional issue but nonetheless, it reflects poorly on the TremKing company. The suede cushion on the TremKing is not properly glued to the tension bar or support arms. So the suede has begun to peel away from the metal. It doesn’t really effect the function of the trem, but it is wierd that the promotional pictures on the actual TremKing website also have the suede peeling off! Why would they display a dodgy unit on their promo shots? They don’t seem to have any pride in their product.

(The image can also be found by going to their installation page and then clicking on ‘Tone Block 2′)

Other Problems

In addition to the problems listed above, my particular TremKing also had a broken delrin sleeve which is what the trem arm is supposed to slip into. This meant that the trem arm would dangle, flop about and even fall out. Also, for some reason, this sleeve seems to serve to electrically isolate the arm from everything else. But since mine was broken, it meant that every time I touched the trem arm it would create a buzz/static noise. After e-mailing Rusty at TremKing he sent me a replacement sleeve. With the new sleeve I now have some control over the tension of the arm, and the static noise problem has gone away.

Why I’m Still Keeping the TremKing

By this stage I’ve replaced the delrin insert, replaced the trem arm, lubed the pivot joints, taped up the strings, and glued the tension bar to the spring. All in all I’ve done a lot of DIY work to make this thing perform well. But now that I have done all of this I feel that this trem is as good or better than any non-locking trem that is available and (finally) does what it is supposed to do.

Although I emailed Rusty about the tension-arm/spring issue, and suggested the screw-in solution, I have not told him about any of my other ideas – essentially because I feel as though I’ve been an unpaid, R&D, guinea pig.

The TremKing is one of the best ideas for an after market trem that I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately though, I feel that it has been made to a price-point without due regard to quality. As a result of poor quality control, and a few minor design flaws, this unit falls very far short of being the tremolo wonder that it easily could have been.

If/when TremKing release Version 2 with these issues addressed I may consider using it.

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12 Comments

  1. Greg says:

    Ty – found your blog googling Wilkinson tremolo’s. I really appreciate the work you put into it. I am re-skilling myself in electric guitar after mostly acoustic playing. I am upgrading my MIJ mid 80s strat with Kinman Woodstock plus pickups and was looking to replace my original Kahler floating tremolo with a more vintage Callahan or Wilkinson design after reading Chris Kinman’s website. Current workaround will be to install a Tremol-no to lock the bridge. Later I will get my strat to a luthier to see if I can retrofit a vintage bridge.

    Thanks again for this brilliant blog. Keep up the good work.

    • Ty Quinn says:

      Thanks man, I’m glad you’re enjoying the site… this is the first bit of online feedback I’ve got, so it is very much appreciated :)

      Yeah I’ve been considering installing a Callahan on my next Warmoth – they do seem like damn good bridges. For now though I’ve actually replaced the TremKing with a Hipshot (bridge, not tremsetter) which seems to be doing the trick – I’ll do a post on it in a few weeks so you can read all about it then. Replacing a Kahler will be some fairly major surgery, so the best of luck if you do decide to swap it out. Tremol-no seems like a good option in the meantime.

      Regards,

      Ty

  2. Greg says:

    Ty – Glad to hear that you are having better luck with the Hipshot bridge. I had a little look on their website and it looks great. The Kahler on my strat seems to fit into the standard strat bridge route, so major body work isn’t required (it’s an older fulcrum type, not the latest cam type bridges). I just need to check the placement of the current fulcrum bolts to see what is required to fit other bridges.

    Also had a look at the Warmoth site – an endless array of customisation choices. Had to wipe the drool off my face. I’m just about to install my Kinmans with the K9 – will tell you how it goes.

    • Ty Quinn says:

      Greg – Look forward to hearing about your experiences with the Woodstocks and the K9. I have the Traditionals so it’d be nice to hear what you think of the Woodstocks. The tonal variety available with the K9 is really something – I reckon you’ll be very surprised… I was.

      Let me know how things go.

      Ty

  3. david westsmith says:

    Ty, just curious how the trem king tremelo arm enters the block. what I could never stand about a stock fender tremolo and quite a few others is arm play when doing very subtle vibrato movements. I tend to use a tremolo a bit like jeff beck. for accents and such. I hate a loose slappy feeling arm. can you go into some detail how the arm feels to you and if and how it is adjustable?— the best tremelo system I ever had was on a ibanez roadstar 2. so simple. graphite nut and a tremolo arm that had two nylon washers on it. awesome system and worked perfect.

    • Ty Quinn says:

      David – Before I start, do note that I pulled the TremKing out months ago, and replaced it with another trem. So I’m just talking from memory.

      The trem arm just slips into a delrin sleeve which is in the tone block. As far as the adjust-ability it has a hex screw which winds in and squashes the delrin against the trem arm. As such, once the arm is in, you can wind the screw fairly tight – but of course this means that you will then have difficulty getting the arm back out again :) .

      With the screw set such that I could still get the arm in and out, the trem arm won’t quite hold in position – but almost. So if you like the trem arm set very firm, the TremKing won’t quite cut it. Also, when the TremKing was brand new, I found that the arm didn’t move much inside the delrin sleeve, but after tightening/loosening the hex screw a few times I quickly fatigued/mis-shaped the delrin sleeve, so there is a bit of play in the arm now :( .

      As far as the ‘feel’, it feels pretty similar to any other system which uses a pre-stressed spring to stabilize the tremolo – such as any guitar with a tremsetter, backbox, back stop etc. However like all trem stabilizing systems there is a very obvious zero point/detent. This means that every time the trem returns to zero, you’ll feel a ‘bump’. As such, trying to ‘circle’ the note with vibrato is impossible – since you will be constantly passing through the zero point. Also, like other stabilized trems, the TremKing feels the same throughout its range – unlike typical un-stabilized trems which tend to increase in tension/firmness as you approach the extremes of the range, but generally feel much looser with subtler vibrato.

      Hope this helps,

      Ty

  4. Jay says:

    I was reading the install guide and it does talk about the pitch issue. Oil yes. Also tuning the thing about 30X helps. You need to back out the screws or tighten them 1/4 a turn until the pitch issue is not detectable. With effects its undetectable. I use gauge 10 strings and only two springs. I cant tell any pitch issues now, although the tuner detects some. I did get sired of the tuning, screw turn and the sound was so near perfect I had to take a break and play! The bridge sounds so light and airy as if its gotten some “Acoustic” style sound. I suppose you could do a song or two of bends and dive bombs and perhaps tune again, I mean come on look what is going on to the strings they are stretching. The pitch zero thing would be a deal breaker but carefull reading and screw turning makes for me nothing detectable. Tuner does show there two tunings out there but I might go back and screw turn, hell I cant tell, but yes one hour of tuning on install, no fun.

    • Ty Quinn says:

      Jay – I’m glad you’ve had a better experience than me :) . Like I said in my post, I do feel that this trem performs well after hours of painstaking set-up:

      Quote. From original article:
      All in all I’ve done a lot of ‘diy’ work to make this thing perform well. But now that I have done all of this I feel that this trem is as good or better than any non-locking trem that is available and (finally) does what it is supposed to do.

      Really my main problem with the TremKing was that there were too many obvious design flaws, and seemingly poor quality control. After a lot of headache, plenty of emails to Rusty, and numerous ‘workarounds’, the TremKing behaves respectably – I just wish that these problems were addressed at the factory rather than leaving it to an unsuspecting end-user to figure out.

      Quote. From original article:
      The TremKing is one of the best ideas for an after market trem that I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately though, I feel that it has been made to a price-point without due regard to quality. As a result of poor quality control, and a few minor design flaws, this unit falls very far short of being the tremolo wonder that it easily could have been.

      Plus, it still seems to me that your TremKing isn’t quite fully set-up yet either. Like you said:

      Quote. Originally posted by Jay:
      With effects [tuning problems are] undetectable

      That’s all well and good, if you like playing with loads of effects, but personally I don’t use many effects.

      Also,

      Quote. Originally posted by Jay:
      …I cant tell any pitch issues now, although the tuner detects some

      I don’t know what tuner you are using, but in my experience very few tuners are more than 2-3 cents accurate – unless you are using a strobe tuner. For me, 2-3 cents of tuning discrepancy is very detectable, and hardly acceptable in a tremolo.

      Like I said though, its great that you’ve had an overall positive experience with the TremKing – I envy you very much :D

      Kind Regards,

      Ty

  5. rusty says:

    Hello Ty, Give me a call , will ya? 866-324-6300 toll free…

  6. Gert says:

    Is that cease and desist from Rusty, or have he made improvement? After reading above, I am turned off tremking.

    • Ty Quinn says:

      No, not a cease and desist or anything like that. Rusty just wanted to talk about a number of improvements that they had been working on for a new design. In fact, he seemed very appreciative of the fact that I had written such a detailed review – even though it wasn’t a favorable one.

      I asked Rusty to email me with the new improvements to the TremKing, so that I could add a short update to the review. However, I haven’t yet received any email yet. I guess that means that those updates are still on a prototype and are not yet on the production version.

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