Floyd Rose brass sustain block review and installation guide
Even high quality guitars frequently have small, low quality sustain blocks fitted to their Floyd Rose systems. A brass sustain block upgrade is easily the most common upgrade made for Floyd Rose guitars. The reasons for this include cost, as brass is 1/4th of the price of a titanium or tungsten upgrade, as well as the increased sustain and fatness offered by a big brass block upgrade.
So I decided to put a 37mm L-shaped brass block (market price $39.99) into my ESP LTD KH-602 (retail $1,284). My particular block was a Floyd Rose official, although there’s a number of manufacturers on the market. For a bit of background, the KH-602 is a Kirk Hammett signature loaded with an EMG-81 bridge pick-up and an EMG-60 in the neck. It has a Floyd Rose 1000 Series tremolo bridge, which is the Korean-made Floyd, made with the same materials as the German made Originals. The guitar body is alder, the neck maple and the fingerboard rosewood. Presumably different wood types will respond differently to different block types.
I’ll break this article into two sections: the review and the installation guide. Let’s start with the review.
37mm Floyd Rose brass sustain block review
My intention with the brass sustain block upgrade was to thicken up the somewhat thin sound of the KH-602 for my band’s EP rhythm guitar recordings. The songs are in D standard and drop C tuning, and feature a lot of high gain parts. I found the brass block performed fairly well on a guitar in D standard but it didn’t improve the results I got while playing in drop C.
The stock installation on my guitar was a 32mm (height) x 8mm (depth) Floyd Rose branded block, which is made out of nickel-plated brass. The stock guitar sound was a little shrill and I wanted to warm it up. The new block was 37mm (height) x 13mm (depth), so there was a lot more mass and weight added. My guitar was noticeably heavier afterwards.
Brass block delivers on warmth, but fails at drop tunings
How did it change the sound? Well, it worked well for certain styles of playing, and less for others. As expected, the big brass block made the guitar a lot warmer and fuller sounding. Unfortunately under high gain, and particularly while downtuned, the brass also made the guitar tone muddy and indistinct. Single note rhythm playing sounded fine, but as soon as I started using three-finger powerchords in drop C, the note separation was lost.
Earlier scratch takes I’d done with the same guitar in drop C without the brass sustain block were noticeably clearer and sounded a lot better. I never particularly liked the tone of my guitar but after hearing it with brass, I found a new appreciation for the stock set-up. Having the greater clarity and note separation of the original block made a world of difference in the studio.
While playing in drop D with the brass block, guitar had a fuller sound with less emphasis on the high end. The difference in rhythm tone while using high gain in drop D wasn’t really that huge. It certainly sounded a little different but if I don’t think it was really worth the time and effort of changing the block.
Brass block works wonders for clean playing
In terms of clean tone, the brass block worked really well. It thickened up the tone, adding extra bass and mid-range. The highs sounded warm and fat, rather than harsh as EMG pick-ups can tend to sound. The notes were clear even while playing chords. There was plenty of attack. If you predominantly play clean and have a bright/harsh sounding guitar, a brass block would be an excellent choice.
The overdriven sounds were an improvement. It was slightly warmer and fuller than the stock sounds, although it wasn’t a massive difference. The problems with note separation that occurred under high gain were not an issue thankfully. So for overdriven tones the brass block upgrade was successful. However as I intend to use this guitar for high gain work, it was definitely not for me. In a different guitar perhaps it could have worked for that application, but not in my case.
What sized block should I get?
It’s worth noting that the L-shaped sustain block is not for everyone. It adds extra mass, which many people like. However not all guitars have room for the L-shaped block, the additional area which sits beneath where the whammy bar is attached. Even if there’s empty space in that area, it doesn’t mean the L-shaped block is a good idea. If the cavity beneath the whammy bar is narrower than the rest of the cavity, it can reduce the range of motion of the whammy bar. Likewise, a 37mm block is not suited for all guitars. It’s bigger than the stock blocks in many guitars, and can reduce the ability to raise the pitch via the whammy bar. Of course, you could cut into the body of your guitar to open the cavity, although that option won’t appeal to everyone.
The range of motion in both directions was affected when I installed the L-shaped 37mm block in my KH-602. A standard-shaped 34mm block would have been a better choice for the guitar. That’s exactly what I intend to replace the brass block with. I’m going to give a brass capped aluminium block a try next. If you want to hear my review of that, comment and that will greatly increase the likelihood of a follow-up article.
Titanium or aluminium mods
In terms of other options, my lead guitarist uses a guitar with a titanium sustain block mod, and it has a huge amount of clarity and presence. In the wrong guitar that presence could come off as shrill however. I haven’t used aluminium but I made a recent query to the builder at KillerGuitarComponents.com and they told me that it’s sharper than brass. It’s a balance between the tonal qualities of brass and steel.
The brass block verdict
A brass block would be an excellent choice for someone who mainly wants to work with clean or overdriven sounds. Lead playing in particular benefited from the brass upgrade due to the smoothed out high end. I think it would be also be a good option for a single coil player, as the lack of note separation I experienced with my humbuckers would likely not be an issue. The warmth of brass would also be a great match for the thinner sound of single coils. Unfortunately the brass block upgrade was an bad choice for my intended drop tuned humbucker high gain application. I’ll be delaying the EP recording until I can get a replacement block as the guitar just doesn’t have the clarity required for the material.
Brass sustain block installation guide
This guide is for the installation of a Floyd Rose brand 37mm L-shaped brass block. The steps are exactly the same for any Floyd Rose Original or Floyd Rose 1000 replacement however, even for blocks made by third party manufacturers.
The brass sustain block upgrade is not a difficult project to undertake – no soldering or any specialist knowledge is required. That said, this is just a guide and every guitar is different. With any guitar mod, there is the possibility of screwing things up, which can be very expensive to fix. So if you aren’t willing to take that risk, getting a pro to do it is the way to go.
Step 1. Take the bridge off your guitar. You do this by loosening the Floyd Rose locking nut screws, loosening your strings via the tuning pegs and loosening the string locking screws at the rear of your Floyd Rose bridge. This will allow you to take the strings out at the bridge end, but you can leave them attached at the nut end. Then turn your guitar over, unscrew the back plate and take the Floyd Rose springs off the sustain block. Take note of the configuration of the springs so you can put them all back in the same place. Now take your bridge out of the cavity. If possible avoid changing the height of the two action screws to either side of the bridge, because it’s a pain to reset them.
Step 2. Take a photo of your bridge from above to get a reference of where you intonation saddles are set. When you complete the process, this will make it easier to put your intonation to where it was.
Step 3. Loosen each of the six intonation screws from the saddles.
Step 4. Remove the saddles and store them in the order that they were placed on the guitar.
Step 5. Remove the screws that hold the base plate to the sustain block. You’ll need either a screwdriver or the correct sized Allen key to do this. Most models you should be able to just take right off, although some manufacturers overtighten the screws. If you can’t get the screws off via the application of a reasonable amount of pressure, then I’m afraid you may have to get a guitar tech to do this stage. Note the positioning of the spacer plate so you can put it all back together in the same configuration.
Step 6. Screw your new sustain block into the base plate and place it back into the guitar. Before you start this step, ensure that the spring holes on the base of the block are facing the right direction – they should be closer to the spring claw. Put the springs back into place.
Step 7. Replace your saddles, referring to the earlier photo in terms of their positioning. Replace your string locking screws and then lock the strings back into the bridge. Tune the guitar up, check/adjust the intonation as required and once you complete that process, re-tighten the locking nuts.