Electric guitar

How to restore the tremolo of your electric guitar


Let’s talk about the dirty elephant in the room – not taking good care of your kit. This PRS electric guitar has a serious build-up of Bridge Funk â„¢ in the tremolo. We see grime, rust, goop, and pitting in the veneer, and that’s for sure.

With a bridge this far, we are in restoration and repair territory. We’re going to extract the parts, clean up what we can, see which parts can be salvaged, and replace the ones that can’t! Jack runs a few disciplines worth respecting, some more aggressive than others, starting with light and only pulling out the big guns when necessary.

The parts of this tremolo are numerous and made in different metals, in different finishes and sometimes plated so you have to be careful not to damage the parts too much.

Let’s tear it down and rebuild the bridge – minus the goop – and see what we can save!

Tremolo restoration

(Image credit: Jack Ellis)
  • Correct Allen Keys
  • Blue roll
  • The water
  • Lighter fluid / Naphtha
  • Servisol 30 foam cleaner
  • Penetrating WD-40 or GT-85
  • PB Blaster Penetrating Oil
  • Plastic pick / old credit card
  • Plastic bristle brush
  • Brass bristle wire brush
  • Wire brush with steel bristles
  • # 0000 Yarn wool
  • Soldering iron
  • Tap and Die Set
  • Ironwork vice
  • Taupe Handles
  • Crochet and pick tools
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Tremolo restoration

(Image credit: Jack Ellis)
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Tremolo restoration

(Image credit: Jack Ellis)

1. Remove the back plate and remove the tremolo springs

Tremolo restoration

(Image credit: Jack Ellis)

2. Let’s extract the complete tremolo so that we can work on it safely, away from the guitar. Loosen the anchor screws that hold it to the front of the guitar.

Tremolo restoration

(Image credit: Jack Ellis)

3. This is what we are dealing with, a mixture of grime, grease and rust. It even smells. Great.

Tremolo restoration

(Image credit: Jack Ellis)

4. Insert the tremolo into a vise for easy gripping, audition different types of screwdrivers to find the one that works best for aged heads – ours was suitable for a Phillips PH1. If you’re already stuck, some of the tips later in this article may be helpful.

Tremolo restoration

(Image credit: Jack Ellis)

5. Put the parts in order, sometimes there are different lengths of bolts or springs, it will make reassembly much easier.

Tremolo restoration

(Image credit: Jack Ellis)

6. Yuck, here’s the tremolo baseplate. The veneer broke in many places, allowing rust to appear, and so we have what is called pitting. It won’t go away, but the look can be improved for sure.

In terms of cleaning here is the order of gravity, it goes from a light and safe cleaning to a more aggressive abrasion.

(Image credit: Jack Ellis)

You have nothing to lose with every game when you start off on the right foot. But be aware that switching to more aggressive methods runs the risk of damage.

Keep in mind that metal plating is like paint – if you walk through it, that’s it. There is no turning back.

Tremolo restoration

(Image credit: Jack Ellis)

Just hitting it with the Servisol foam cleaner removed a considerable amount of mud from the deck.

Tremolo restoration

(Image credit: Jack Ellis)

With the removal of rust, we had to degrease, clean with foam, pick it up and lightly abrade it with the brass brush. He took the worst but unfortunately the rust on the baseplate will come back in the future.

The damage was already done with the long exposure to the sweaty and salty dirt. Knowing when to stop is important!

Tremolo restoration

(Image credit: Jack Ellis)

Let’s see what we can do with these intonation bolts. In this case, they are metric M3 (3mm diameter) with 0.50mm thread pitch, so we passed them through the corresponding die cutter. This is a tool for cutting wires and here it can be used to “chase” rust and dirt free wires.

Tremolo restoration

(Image credit: Jack Ellis)

If you don’t have a die, you can either replace the parts or give it a try with a wire brush.

Common bolt sizes

(Image credit: Jack Ellis)

Clean the stool

Tremolo restoration

(Image credit: Jack Ellis)

There is a horrible build-up on the sides of these; we’re just going to go through the cleaning chart again, starting with the safe end, then opening a tin can if we need it …

Start off nice and then gradually become more aggressive! Swearing helps … sometimes.

Removal of blocked parts

We have saddle-height grub screws stuck here – a classic. Buried in grime and then rusted in place, there is once again a safe procedure to follow.

Remember, start from the top and see how severe you have to be to free the room:

(Image credit: Jack Ellis)

How we got out

Tremolo restoration

(Image credit: Jack Ellis)

The saddle top cleaned off pretty well with the brass brush but look at this …

Tremolo restoration

(Image credit: Jack Ellis)

The larvae are rusty like hell, and worse on coiled-string saddles where the hand has most often rested.

Tremolo restoration

(Image credit: Jack Ellis)

Fixed in a vise, we can get dirty with it. First step, soak the WD-40. Pick out the trash you can in the Allen adjustment head and try a new Allen wrench in it. Drive it clockwise (down and down).

Sometimes a little bit of back and forth really helps loosen it up. We were lucky and didn’t have to work in the worst case!

Tremolo restoration

(Image credit: Jack Ellis)

To clean out the grime remaining in the holes, we are going to use a faucet to drive out the threads. A tap is the part that goes with a die – one makes nuts, the other makes bolts.

On our PRS the required bolt type is M3x0.50, so the same diameter and pitch are needed for the threaded hole.

Tremolo restoration

(Image credit: Jack Ellis)

Replacement grub screws – let’s take this opportunity to upgrade to stainless steel screws, eh? They will not rust in place when this happens again.

We will go ahead and assume that the owner will not adjust their cleaning schedule too much …

Tremolo restoration

(Image credit: Jack Ellis)

Go up the bridge! Come back as you took it apart with a few new parts added. We managed to save the intonation bolts, replace a dozen grub screws and upgrade them to stainless steel, replace the springs, and successfully whip the saddles and baseplate up a notch.

It’s nothing new, but it looks better and most importantly, it’s fully functional now.

Tremolo restoration

(Image credit: Jack Ellis)

Finally, we better put the whole guitar back in place now …