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My first experience with a Steinberger R-Trem was with as Steinberger Spirit GU-7R from the now defunct MusicYo.com. It is a beautiful guitar but from the first time I played it, there was something wrong with the highly touted R-Trem.
The first problem that I had with the R-Trem was the screw used to tension the main spring. The screw was really hard to turn and felt really rough. It turns out that the threads for the screw were stripped. Tough news for someone who had been looking forward to owning a Steinberger for so long. After getting over the disappointment, the busted threads were drilled out and a keps style lock nut was added to replace the threads. The screw used to tension the main trem spring is now nice and smooth.
After fixing the main spring screw, there was more trouble. Whenever the R-Trem was moved, it made a creaking sound! What next! After having a close look, I discovered that the front of the bridge was rubbing up against the body. Was the trem not installed properly in the cavity? Was the whole thing somehow defective? I didn't know and wanted to play the guitar right away I solved what was in front of me. I took a metal file to the bridge and filed off enough metal so that the bridge didn't rub on the body anymore. Goodbye squeaky noise!
By now, the guitar was playing really beautifully. Unfortunately, with a lot of playing, the bridge started to squeek and creak again. The bridge was being pulled into the body. What the heck! I wasn't going to keep filing the bridge away!
After searching on the internet and taking the R-Trem apart again, it looked like the dreaded and infamous bending post problem had reared its ugly head. How could the posts bend? Well, the posts weren't bending, the cheap metal that the posts were screwed into was bending! Aaargh! That was it! I cut off the part of the metal holding the posts and replace that wimpy stuff with some proper chunks of steel.
Finally, all problems solved! Right? Nope, the soft metal (probably zinc) that most of the R-Trem is made out of is causing another problem. It's not affecting how the trem works too much yet but the tab or bracket that transfers the force of the main trem spring to balance out string tension is starting to bend.
I think that a lot of these problems make a strong case that the material used to make the R-Trem just isn't up to the task of keeping everything in working order in the long term. Either that or the R-Trem just wasn't designed to last.
One of the cool thinks about the R-Trem is the locking mechanism that allows you to play with a floating or fixed bridge. It also allows you to lock the bridge in tune if one of the strings break. Of course, this would be a really cool feature if it actually worked properly! On the R-Trem, there is just too much slop in the pin that holds the locking arm in place and between the locking jaw and locking stud. The lock really doesn't perform as promised since you can still wiggle the bridge when it's locked.
If I can wiggle the bridge, then the strings can easily go out of tune or not be the same tuning when floating as it is when locked. A locking bridge is a good idea but the design on the R-Trem just doesn't deliver.
The GU-7R with R-Trem plays really well and is a beautiful sounding instrument when it is working well. Unfortunately, some of the design is lacking and the whole thing seems to always be tending towards self destruction!