Floyd Rose brass-capped aluminium sustain block review
Brass-capped aluminium blocks
Floyd Rose sustain block upgrades are a common and reasonably affordable way for guitarists to alter their guitar’s tone. Different block types can produce very different results, as well as the overall dimensions of the block. I’m in the middle of an EP recording and wanted to beef up the tone of my ESP LTD KH-602, which can be a little shrill at times with the stock set-up. I initially tried a big brass block upgrade but it sounded a somewhat muddy for the downtuned high-gain work I had in mind for the guitar. You can see my full review and installation guide for that mod here. In the search for a full-sounding guitar tone with presence, my next mod was changing the block to a brass-capped aluminium block.
Custom made brass-capped aluminium block
I ordered the new 34mm (height) x 12.7mm (depth) block from Killer Guitar Components. At $69.95 (USD) the brass-capped aluminium block was almost double the price of the average brass block, but roughly the same cost as a titanium block. I didn’t want to go with titanium as that material tends to bring out a lot of attack and presence, which can come off as shrill on certain guitars. The KH-602 is a Kirk Hammett signature with an EMG-81 bridge pick-up and an EMG-60 in the neck. These active pick-ups aren’t the warmest pups going around so titanium would have been a risky choice.
Killer Guitar Components is a two-man operation that custom builds their mods for buyers. I asked the builder for advice on whether brass-capped aluminium would be a good match for the guitar, explaining the issues I had with brass. His comment was:
“I think you will find the aluminium is a great alternative to the brass. It’s definitely brighter and more articulate.”
And it turns out he was right. I’m certainly happy with the results I got from the brass-aluminium block. It’s not a very common design so there’s not much info about it on the web. You can hear the results for yourself in the linked SoundCloud above. The playlist includes the new block as well as the same song recorded with the first block mod I tried, the 37mm x 12.7mm L-shaped brass block (market price $39.99). Note the brass block has larger dimensions so that factor also affected the tone. The stock block in the guitar was a tiny 32mm x 8mm Floyd Rose branded block, made of nickel-plated brass. Unfortunately I haven’t got a demo of the original block to share, but trust me when I say it wasn’t anything to write home about.
Aluminium provides balanced presence and warmth
Anyway, enough about the previous mods. What does the new one sound like? The aluminium block has a fair amount of attack and presence, which brings the guitar track forward in mixes. It’s not as bold and in-your-face as titanium, which is exactly what I was looking for. It has a reasonably warm sound, but it’s not as full as the brass block. In my case that suited me, as I found the brass a little woolly for high gain work.
For overdriven and high gain sounds the aluminium block is a winner. It’s a great mix between presence and warmth. There’s plenty of attack and aggression while still retaining the body of the guitar, which can be an issue with active pick-ups. The presence allows the block to still sound good while working with high gain and lower tunings.
For clean sounds, the capped block was brighter than the brass block and had more emphasis on the high end. It still retained a full low end though. The brass block made the guitar sound quite dark for clean tones, although in a very pleasant way. It was a bit of an unexpected sound to get from a super Strat style guitar. The aluminium block brought the tone into more familiar territory; more in the range you’d expect from a dual humbucker Strat-body guitar.
The first clean part in both demos was performed with the bridge pick-up, while the second sections were done with the neck. Perhaps the guitar did sound slightly better with the brass block for cleans, although it was quite dark, so it wouldn’t suit all applications. I’m happy with the cleans from the aluminium though, and besides I’m not intending to use this guitar for a lot of clean playing. I’ve got much better options in my collection for that application.
Brass shines for lead playing
For lead playing, the pure brass block really shined, due to the smooth roll off of the treble. The aluminium wasn’t quite as creamy, and added a more prominent high end. To get the lead sounds I was after I ended up turning down the treble and presence a fair bit. Aluminium would work well with a darker-sounding guitar although for a guitar that already has a lot of top end, brass would probably be a better choice.
There’s a few things worth noting with the aluminium block. The majority of the block is aluminium, while the top few millimetres is a screw on brass cap. If you wanted to make things a little brighter, you could remove the brass quite easily, although I’ll definitely be keeping mine on. All Killer Guitar Components blocks include extra-long stainless steel mounting screws. My Floyd Rose is a 1000 Series and came stock with short pot metal screws. While modding my guitar in the past I’ve accidentally bent some of the pot metal components, and a guitar tech that worked on it half-stripped one of pot metal screws. So the tougher stainless steel screws were a nice upgrade included in the overall package.
Overall, the brass-capped aluminium block upgrade gave me the results I wanted. It was a great balance between presence and warmth, and is perfect for my intended high gain application. It performed well on every application I tried it for, be it lead, overdrive or clean tones. The brass was perhaps a little better for lead and clean, although that also depends on the guitar you are pairing the block with. The brass-capped aluminium block was certainly a massive improvement over the stock Floyd Rose block. I came close to selling this guitar due to the tone I was getting with the original block, but I’ll definitely be hanging onto it now.
If you’re thinking of doing a block upgrade and want to prevent it from hitting your wallet too hard, make some time to read our installation guide in the brass block article. The guide can be used for installing any original Floyd Rose block mod.