The standard Strat vibrato design is less than ideal. It works alright and kind of stays in tune, but only if you set it up properly (always a delicate balance) and use it gingerly. It can also be a serious detriment to sustain. Many modifications, workarounds, and new vibrato designs have been developed over the years to address these problems, but all are compromised to varying degrees, from requiring irreversible guitar modifications, to just being damned ugly and inconvenient. One of the latest entries in the Strat vibrato upgrade game is the BladeRunner from Colorado's Super-Vee Tremolo Systems. The BladeRunner is an intriguing design that attempts to improve upon the tone and functionality of the standard Stratocaster vibrato while also maintaining a classic, streamlined appearance and being relatively painless to install.
The functionality of the Super-Vee BladeRunner hinges on its frictionless design. A standard Stratocaster bridge pivots on the six screws that attach it to the guitar's body, inducing quite a bit of friction between the bridge, body, and screws, whereas the BladeRunner pivots on a thin piece of highly resilient stainless spring steel. The steel separates the main body of the vibrato from the narrow section that is actually screwed into the wood, which doesn't move at all. Eliminating friction is key to the BladeRunner's smooth operation, and it prevents much of the natural wear and tear that would normally result from years of use and abuse of a Strat's vibrato. The spring steel also allows the vibrato to dependably return to "zero" after each use, keeping tuning stable. A set of highly polished aluminum saddles and a chunky tone block made of a mysterious material referred to by Super-Vee as "Sustainium" further enhances tone, sustain, and smoothness. Via a screw in this Sustainium block, adjustable bar tension allows the player to alter the bar's feel and position to taste. Despite these innovations, the BladeRunner doesn't look much different from a regular Stratocaster bridge at first glance, and it will install without modifications into just about any Strat.
Our BladeRunner came from Super-Vee pre-installed in a Mexican-made Fender Stratocaster, so I cannot personally attest to the ease of installation, setup, or to what the guitar sounded like before the BladeRunner was installed. I can say, however, that this guitar was quite lively and had excellent sustain. I've played many, many, (seriously...SO many) Strats of all different varieties and price points over the years, and this one sounded as good as the best of them. It seems likely that the BladeRunner contributed to this tonefulness and sustain in a significant way. The function of the vibrato was silky and hitch-free as advertised, returning to the zero point reliably even after some wicked whammy action, and the adjustable arm tension was delightful (nothing chaps my hide like a floppy vibrato arm). Tuning stability was certainly improved over the old standby, enabling me to use the vibrato with an abnormal swell of confidence. The BladeRunner performed very impressively, and is undoubtedly a significant upgrade to any Strat-type guitar with a standard bridge setup. Super-Vee manufactures BladeRunner vibrato systems for guitars with standard six-screw and two-post bridge mounts, and even has lefty versions available.
What we like: Smooth operation, stable tuning, and improved tone and sustain. Installation does not require permanent guitar modification.