Aluminum or rolled steel block?

Discussion in 'Guitars in General' started by clunk, Aug 11, 2006.

  1. clunk

    clunk Member

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    A store i know took an early 60's strat trem block to a machinist and had a bunch of replica blocks made. There are two kinds you could buy, rolled steel and aluminum. I have a couple of strats with the rolled steel blocks. Has anyone tried aluminum? What are the tonal differences between aluminum and steel?

    Clunk
     
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  2. EADGBE

    EADGBE Member

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    I think aluminum is too light. It may cause you to lose sustain. I'd go with whatever weighs the most and is the most dense.
     
  3. michaelprice83

    michaelprice83 Member

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    I think it would be worth experimenting, nobody on this board can be certain how it would sound. Don't forget aluminum stoptail pieces are highly sought after and used on only the finest Gibson offerings..... Aluminum does have a place in the world of guitar bridges. Y.M.M.V.
     
  4. Marcel

    Marcel Member

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    Aircraft 7075-T6 Aluminium processed through a form of hard anodizing (that actually penetrates and coats this type of Aluminium) can easely exceed 60 on the Rockwell B scale. There is a manufacturer here that makes parts from that stuf: it sustains and sounds like a bell -forever!
    I am curious if these replica blocks you mentioned are made from this type of aluminium and what it does soundwise.
    And I don't mean 6061 Aluminium. Contra to popular believe this is NOT real Aircraft Aluminium!

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  5. Terry McInturff

    Terry McInturff 40th Anniversary of guitar building! Gold Supporting Member

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    Hi,

    Back "in the day" (1996- 1999?) when I was using a custom made Mannmade vibe bridge I decided in favor of an aluminum block for those units. I must confess that I do not know what specific alloy that they were made of. What I CAN say is that it was my impression that the metal was somewhat hard, given that it was aluminum.

    These bridges were used on my earliest production TCM double-cut models, all of which had thier genesis circa 1981. The only important change that I made to the design was in 1995, when I changed my headstock to the current one.

    These initial TCM Inc. guitars shared that same basic chassis, although they featured a number of different options. TCM guitars such as the Glory models, the Zodiac, and the Empress fell into this category of what I think of as "phase one" TCM guitars.

    The TCM Royal....while it shares the same body profile and overall dimensions as the early TCM designs...does not in my mind fit into the same "mold" as does the other TCM guitars of this period....with this guitar I finally came up with the methodology to develop a truley "tuned" chamber for a semi-hollow electric....vibe bridges were not an option on this particular guitar...and thus, trem block materials were never an issue. Just wanted to mention that, as the TCM Royal was as visible, marketing-wise, as the Glory, etc.

    The aluminum block on those Mannmade bridges complimented the tonal goals of the Glory, Empress, Zodiac etc (TCM "phase one") designs, namely a snappy, articulate tone voiced specifically to sit in a band mix, ie, to occupy a place in the "soundstage" that did not trod unduly into bass guitar, keyboard, or especially vocal territory.

    Most of this earlier TCM work was really aimed at combo use. What I was trying to accomplish was a guitar that would "sit right" mix-wise, with little fussing about as regards EQ, etc. Of course, what amounts to "sitting right" in a mix is as subjective as any other tone-oriented music gear matter.

    Anyhow, the aluminum block on the particular Mannmade bridge that I had John build for me worked very well for my purposes at the time('96-'99).

    The differences betwixt the two different block materials...cold-rolled steel and whatever aluminum John recommended....were subjected to, basically, the very same testing regimine that I carry forth to this day; namely,

    1) an in-house prototyping routine that involves making recordings of the guitar under controllable circumstances, thus allowing said guitar maker the opportunity to monitor the results in front of the 824's at will.

    Possibly, initially, partly an excuse to justify my purchases of certain recording gear such as a monitor system/control room that I could be comfy listening to for hours and which I think sounds GREAT, in addition to certain mics, and especially a recording environment specifically for guitars featuring a specific recording chain, acoustical environment, and the like. 100% repeatable, for totally usable, analytical results.

    2) The all-important "live-with-band setting. At the time that I was testing the aluminum block/vs/steel block I was involved in three band settings. First, a 9 pc band backing a vocalist and three backing vocals (a hard rock-meets-Stax Volt horns, B3, etc and I am the kinda "Jimmy Page" guy) second, a sorta "psychedelic hard rock-meets looping/electronica" band and finally, a straight-ahead Who style Brit hard rock band.

    The results?

    Overall, the aluminum block...given the overall design of this early TCM product line....I had expected the aluminum block to be a bit "honky" sounding....ie, a fast rise time and a quick decay, with a bit of a "bump" maybe around 600-800...

    And I had expected the steel block to have a very fast rise time and a slow decay, with a "bump" around 1.5K and up to ? Given the specific guitar chassis, the tonal goals of which were long established at the time...you know, the earlier TCM tone.

    Results?

    Initially, as I recall (according to my notes), the fundamental things were not too surprising. The steel sounded "bright" and the alum sounded "darker".

    But, we would reveal our lack of knowledge if we restricted ourselves to such a paltry, and thus overall innacurrate, description. Don't fall prey to that! :)

    The Alum had that honk...but the tone was not predominately "middy"...there was a pleasing top to the tone...

    The steel had a fabulous quicker reaction to the pick attack...a faster "rise time" as I define (and have stolen from the synth guys) the term. But I must say that I was surprised to learn that the steel had absolutely NO increased sustain, compared to the alum.. It sounded a bit spikier..may I say it?...a "steelier" tone.

    Again, you must keep in mind that chassis that was the test bed....the TCM Glory was NOT a Fender Stratocaster and was NOT a PRS Custom 24, etc etc.

    Anyway, the aluminum had a bit of a natural "compressed" sound compared to the steel...with the following analogy, we are are talking TINY but...think of a typical OPTO compressor (with that sort of typical thing going on), dedicated to riding a very specific window, and squashing that window down at about a 2:1 ratio, minus 1.5 db threshold

    You can hear it, but mainly FEEL it. Take it away, and it's absence is more noticable than it's presence.

    Now, maybe I'll talk about my experiments with ABR 1's, Alum stop tailpieces, more and more and etc.....

    Thasnks for reading this twaddle,
    Terry Mc
     
  6. Marcel

    Marcel Member

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    Terry,

    Very interesting twadle :). The most used higher grade aluminium is the 6061-T6 type. T6 meaning heat treated which makes some types of Aluminium harder.
    On top of the heat treatment it can be coated or anodized, which makes it even harder and can give gold or other colors to some Aluminium types.

    I'm guessing (not sure but makes some sense to me) that the harder the aluminium used for the tremolo block the more snappier the tone and quicker the reaction to the pick attack -or "rise time", with even better sustain. At least this is what steel does when using a type like UNS 1018 cold rolled steel versus softer steel.
    7075-T6 anodized treated Aluminium is the strongest and hardest of all Aluminiums but still machines well. The sample that I heard sustained incredible! It's maybe the perfect material for producing an alternative sounding Strat replacement block?
     
  7. tim gueguen

    tim gueguen Member

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    The Allan Holdsworth Ibanez sig models had aluminum trem blocks. I bet the Charvels he played before that did too.
     
  8. Terry McInturff

    Terry McInturff 40th Anniversary of guitar building! Gold Supporting Member

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    Thanks for the info, Marcel. I do appreciate it!

    I have not really paid much attention to metal alloys until recently. I've had selectively graphite reinforced necks since 1981...I have spoken in print about the specifics many times before...I am now phasing in Titanium reinforcements instead. This is really new in this field, totally new, and thus I have been looking at the various Titanium alloys and have learned to appreciate such.

    Thanks again Marcel, and I hope to learn more from you in the future!
    Your friend,

    Terry
     
  9. Giraffecaster

    Giraffecaster Member

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    aluminum, even heat treated and anodized tends to strip threads, no? wouldn't that be a problem for a trem bar being screwed in and out?
     
  10. Terry McInturff

    Terry McInturff 40th Anniversary of guitar building! Gold Supporting Member

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    Good point. It was not an issue for me, as I only use push-in arms with a tension screw that bears against a nylotron bushing. Certainly, one would not want aluminum for a threaded bar.
    Good thinking!
    Terry Mc
     
  11. clunk

    clunk Member

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    Wow. Thanks for the responses. I know that the store offers the block in 1018 cold rolled but im not sure what "type" of aluminum is used for the other block. The price for both is the same although the sales rep told me that the aluminum costs a little more to manufacture. They are selling both for $75 Canadian.
    When i talked to the sales rep he described the sound of the steel block as giving the guitar a little more high end shimmer with a little richer harmonics. Basically what i found with my strats. He described the aluminum as giving the guitar a little more resonance to the already existing tone. But he also said it was difficult to describe.
    He did mention how alot of players do switch stop tail pieces to aluminum in gibsons for a certain type of sound, which is why they are offering the aluminum blocks for stats.
    Werent the Japanese strats from the 80's using aluminum for their big blocks? If they did i cant see it being a high grade of aluminum.
    i may buy one just to see how it sounds. Just wanted to see if anyone had tried this in a strat. I'll keep you posted when i do try the switch sometime.

    Clunk
     
  12. Marcel

    Marcel Member

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    My pleasure Terry!

    It's very interesting to do research in the world of high grade alloys as stronger and super lightweight types are being developed by the industry. I think there is a lot that can be learned. I guess the trick is to find and use (new) materials that are very usable in guitar manufacturing that won't cost as much, which have (even better?) predictable tone caracteristics. The right kind of Titanium alloy could be very applicable as there are super strong alloys!

    Hi Clunk, and thanks for bringing this up! But the sales rep makes no sense to me by stating that Aluminium cost more to manufacture...most high grade Aluminiums are easier to work on (think less wear of tools etc) and cheaper then high grade steel types...hence the correct price of HIGH quality steel tremolo replacement blocks.
    It would be nice if they could tell you what grade Aluminium these blocks are. So I look forward to your test result post!

    Best wishes to you all,

    Marcel

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  13. 908SSP

    908SSP Supporting Member

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    1018 cold roll steel is not a high grade steel it is cheap, cheaper then most aluminum. Aluminum tends to stick to end mills and high silicone content of some alloys wear bits as fast as steel plus it is generally machined faster which adds to wear but cuts machine time. If the aluminum is anodized that adds to the cost, but no more then powder coating the steel. I very much doubt there is much if any tonal difference between 6061 and 7075. Yea one is harder and stronger but the difference is not that big and the actually alloying material levels is tiny.

    Oh some of those trem blocks on imports are made from "pot metal" a catch phrase that refers to any old alloy they could throw in the pot. Usually aluminum with a large amount of zinc and tin. This pot metal usually is of very poor quality with cracks and pores running through it. Lots of stop tail pieces are cast from this stuff.
     
  14. Marcel

    Marcel Member

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    To each his own I say...

    But I pay more for a (stainless) steel bar then for Aluminium these days, and faster production time equals to cheaper parts when producing parts in larger numbers...so tool wear MAY be just the same measured in time, but you have less steel parts made in the same time...

    All I can say is that 7075-T6 anodized Aluminium seams to be very suitable. At least I have never seen or heard an 7075-T6 Aluminium anodized tremolo block in a Strat type guitar, nor in any other model.
     
  15. Marcel

    Marcel Member

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    O...and Callaham uses USN 1018 colled rolled steel for their Strat replacement blocks. Their steel type should be hardend WITHOUT lead..which wears milling tools like grazy. Many here think they are the business...:)
     
  16. clunk

    clunk Member

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    Actually Callaham is where i discovered the steel blocks that were used in vintage strats. Or at least learned about the old steel blocks and their effects on tone. Then i saw the 2 types in the music shop.
    I will see if i can find out what grade the aluminum is that they manufactured the blocks with.

    Clunk
     

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