Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Fender Mustang Dynamic Vibrato Setup

Here are a couple tips on setting up the Fender Mustang Dynamic Vibrato. My '65 reissue came with no instructions and I had to use the Great Gazoogle for guidance on setting up the vibrato. This vibrato unit is unique to the Mustang. Note that the Stratocaster, Jazzmaster and Jaguar vibratos are referred to as "tremolos" or "trems." I'll do the same here. The Mustang vibrato consists of a base plate, two threaded posts which go through two holes in the plate and screw into a stop bar which anchors the strings and the vibrato bar. Underneath the base plate are two springs that connect the posts with the plate and provide tension against the strings. There are two adjustments that the user can make to the vibrato.

The first is the height of the stop bar, which is raised and lowered via two Allen screws accessible through the top of the bar. Counterclockwise turns will raise the stop bar, clockwise turns will lower the stop bar. When I bought my Mustang the stop bar was raised pretty high, which resulted in an uncomfortable hand position (I was used to a Stratocaster tremolo which I have set up flush with the top of the body of the guitar). The stop bar can be adjusted up and down to adjust the position of the vibrato arm to make it more or less parallel with the top of the guitar body. Adjusting the bar up will decrease tension, adjusting the bar down will increase tension. You will have to re-tune the guitar after the adjustments are made.

The second is to increase or decrease the spring tension. This is accomplished by moving the springs from one groove to another on the posts. This can only be done by removing the tremolo. I usually make this adjustment when I am putting new strings on the guitar. After you have removed the five screws that hold the base plate, examine the posts. The posts from a '65 reissue have three grooves and thus three choices for adjustment. The groove furthest from the baseplate will produce the highest tension to counter string tension, the groove closest to the baseplate will produce the lowest tension to counter string tension. Usually this adjustment will be necessary if you change string gauges. If you use .11s or up, use the furthest grove, .10s or lower use the middle or closest groove. The springs can be tricky to remove. I needed to use needle-nosed pliers to get them off and to secure them again to the post.

Since I rarely use the vibrato, my preference is to have the highest tension on the vibrato as possible. I have adjusted the springs to give the most tension even though I string my guitar with .10s. This is akin to using all five tremolo springs in a Stratocaster and screwing in the trem claw as far as possible. This has the effect of increasing the sustain. Since I rarely use the vibrato, this is definitely a plus with the Mustang as the light body produces less sustain than a Strat or a Tele. I also screw the stop bar down until there is barely enough room for the strings to pass under it. The disadvantage of this approach is that you really cannot use the vibrato bar. Since the stop bar is screwed down the vibrato bar will be really high and the tension will be very high as well. When the stop bar is higher and the tension lower, you can use your palm to rock the bar for a gentle vibrato, a nice effect.

A couple final tips. On the posts just below the threads there is another groove similar to the ones for the tension springs. This groove serves as the knife edge for the base plate. Make sure that the edge of the base plate is resting in this groove and not on the post threads. I usually have to pull up on the stop bar before I start bringing the strings up to tension in order to make sure that the base plate is in this groove. Finally, when you reassemble the vibrato, use a tiny bit of grease on the post threads to ensure easy adjustment.


  1. Thanks for the expanation - very helpful. I'm building a guitar at the moment and i was considering a Mustang bridge. What is the action like (compared to say a strat or bigsby?

  2. Has anyone thought of a way to turn this into a stop tailpiece?

  3. It *is* a "stop tailpiece" - the only difference is the method of stringing the tailpiece from the front, like a Gibson wraparound. But the function and stability are essentially the same if you use the highest tension setting (or change the springs to far heavier ones - this is a trick used on Fender pedal steels to "lock in" strings not affected by the changer.

    The action is similar to some Bigsby models, which vary depending on the type used in combination with what type of bridge. It's hard to compare without more specific information, as "Bigsby" is a brand with several models.

    Having a slight about of "give" in the tailpiece ( or "rocker") isn't a bad thing - at higher volume levels the small amount of sympathetic vibration (harmonic content) that is transferred to the lightweight body from the spring/plate/tailpiece assembly will help increase, not lower, sustain. A locked-in-place stop tailpiece using tight studs doesn't have that feature.

  4. Excellent advice, thank you.

    I used some of the suggestions here to get my Squier Mustang (one of the newer Vintage Modified types with Duncan Designed pickups, which came stock with a Jag style bridge then replaced with a more authentic Mustang one) up to spec. It is strung with 11s as I feel that's the minimum gauge that should be used on 24" short scale guitars like this, so the springs are on the lowest part of the posts.

    The only problem that still remains enough to bother me is that just like the trem system on my Fender Jaguar CIJ upward travel doesn't bring the strings back to pitch properly - they're always sharp so if you pull the arm up you need to also push it down at the end of the trem use to get the guitar back to where it was supposed to be, tuning wise. I figure that might be a quirk intrinsic to the designs of both systems, but it unfortunately makes upwards trem travel basically useless in 90% of cases... unless you deliberately want to send the guitar out of tune.

    1. What dou you think about the Squier? I'm thinking on buying it. Do it have problems? I would replace the tuners, the trem and the bridge.

  5. Thanks for shearing a useful information about a tension spring.It is really admirable info i am lucky to read a blog like this.

  6. http://www.jag-stang.com/forum/topic/7440-how-to-block-a-mustang-tremolo-so-it-returns-to-tune/

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  8. Hello, I recently did this to my Vibrato on my Mustang to the highest setting and the feeling of the strings sustain is great alone, but I noticed the volume on my guitar went way down when played through an amp. I thought it would have the opposite effect. I even raised the Pickup to compensate for the change in string height, due to the increase in tension, and that didn’t help. Do I need 500k Pots?