Increasing Sustain on Your Stratocaster
By Caleb Knott
I have owned quite a few “strats,” two of them made by myself and my father, as well as some stock
models that I have modified. Here are some techniques that I have picked up over the last eight
years for increasing their sustain.
Upgrading the Strat Tremolo System
The first thing that comes to mind when I think about increasing a strat's sustain is the tremolo block in the back where the strings go into the guitar. Most stock blocks on strats, especially the Squier models and some of the Made in Mexico Strats, have a pot metal block. Steel blocks are harder and denser than pot metal, which will give you more sustain. Upgrading the quality of your tremolo block can do a lot for your tone and your sustain.
Also, consider replacing the traditional saddles with steel saddles. Bent steel saddles are often used as a replacement for traditional chrome-covered cast metal. Some people choose to keep the originals for aesthetic reasons.
Replacing the Pickups
Often, higher output pickups (“hot” pickups), can boost your sustain. Fender, DiMarzio, Seymour Duncan, and Lindy Fralin produce high-quality pickups. There are special pickups that can be used to achieve certain sounds. For example, Fender Custom Shop Texas Special pickups can give you a Stevie Ray Vaughan or Jimmie Vaughan tone, as well as more sustain.
Assorted Gear & Set Up
Tuners: Tuners might not seem like they would affect the tone or sustain, but they do. The sound vibrates from the strings to the tuning poles, through the tuners and down on through the neck and body. It’s all connected, so higher quality tuners will help to increase sustain.
String guage: It only makes sense that heavier strings would increase sustain. However, thicker strings, while increasing sustain, can also make your guitar harder to play. I do not recommend sacrificing playability for sustain. So, experiment with string gauges first.
Dense woods: When choosing a guitar, consider the effect the wood has on sustain. Denser woods like maple or alder increase sustain and brighten the sound. Thinner finishes also help the wood breathe and allow the guitar to vibrate.
Nut material: The material of the nut is very important. Plastic nuts have become standard these days, whereas most vintage guitars had nuts made of bone. Denser materials including bone, brass or any kind of metal is a good choice.
Neck joint: A solid neck and neck joint is essential not only to sustain, but to the integrity of the instrument. A weak attachment between the neck and the body means the guitar is more prone to break and less likely to sustain notes well.
You will note that the better model Strats are loaded with the features that maximize sustain. For example, the latest American Standard Stratocaster has a copper-infused cast-steel bridge block and bent steel saddles, Fender Custom Shop Fat 50’s pickups and deluxe tuning machines, all of which serve at the increase the sustain. To improve more economically priced Strats, make changes to your guitar one part at a time, in order to achieve the desired sound, without significantly increasing the guitar’s weight.
I hope these tips and tricks will give your guitar everlasting sustain. Please check out my YouTube channel at: www.youtube.com/CalTamaDrummer
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