Updated: Sep 1
I have at hand two Fender tremolo units. The more expensive Made in USA Genuine Fender tremolo that retails for about $130 The other one is the cheap counterpart PING Wells. Made in Taiwan. These retails for about $25-30 on Ebay..
Fun fact: Much of the parts of the US made tremolo´s are made with the very same machines and tooling inserts that Leo Fender used in the 1950´s. They are still preserved and operated by Fender. I dont really know what parts on the US bridge are made at the Corona. Maybe someone has better insight on this than me. But they claim it to be all USA made. I do believe they drill the Tremolo block at the factory, but not 100% certain. Anyway, ill leave it at that.. Moving on...
The US Tremolo is a Pure Vintage Tremolo bridge with Pat.Pending stamped saddles. These are the Vintage Spacing 2/7-32. The other is the Mexican Narrow 2-1/16 Spacing. (If you need to know. The difference between Pure Vintage Tremolo and Std Vintage Tremolo units are the Pat.Pending Saddles. The Pure Vintage is getting more scarce to get. But the Pat.Pending saddles can be required easily everywhere if you want that minor detail.)
Now The expensive USA tremolo is only found on MIA Strats, While the PING are found on Mexican standard models. They can not be interchangeable since they have different mount spacing holes (Some MIM models like the vintage reissue series might have Vintage spacing mount). For MIM you can aim for third party manufacturers like Callaham and Wilkinson for instance if you want to up the quality of the bridge. Ditto for US Strats as well if the original USA tremolo is not cutting it for you. So what gives the $100 difference? Here it is, explained with pictures.
By brief looks they are very similar. Same weight and such. There are both minor and major give aways on these if you inspect them closer. The saddles are nickel plated on US Trem while the PING has chrome dipped saddles.
The block is the one that sticks out the most by the first visual inspection. The Genuine fender is a steel block, powder coated and smooth. The Ping is just untreated steel machining. Many though, prefer these for the vintage look. It might also age quicker and differently than its more expensive counterpart.
Measurements: USA BLOCK PING WELLS BLOCK
Thickness: 12.77mm Thickness: 14.94mm Width: 75 mm Width: 73.3mm Height 42mm Height: 41.85mm
Drilling for the strings ball-ends are deeper into the Ping block than the USA one. USA: 6.5mm Deep PING: 16.7mm Deep
Thickness of the tremolo plate is also slightly different.
USA Tremolo: 2.7mm thick
PING Tremolo: 2.4mm thick (Chrome plating adds slight thickness)
The other thing that sticks out is the taper and bevel on the units. The USA is more smoothed out. Most likely finished all the way before plated.. The taper is more narrow as well: About 7.5mm, where the Ping has a 8.5mm taper. The PING has tooling lines on the bevel., holes are countersunk underneath. So both are machined differently giving two different results.
It´s weakest point on the PING out of the box is the machining for the screw-in tremolo arm. The arm is more snug on the USA one, while the PING is very wiggly and poorly fit. This causes many to use plumbers tape to make it more firm. Many opts for a block with Nylon insert (like Callaham) to remedy this problem on their tremolos. The punched hole on the plate on the USA unit is also smaller of 5.2mm vs the Ping with 6.5mm. But this does not affects anything. SADDLES: The saddles is also of much difference.
As mentioned, USA saddles are Nickel vs PING that are Chrome dipped.
Underneath we see that USA Saddles are more rounded off and polished on the edges. The PINGs are not. I dont believe the PING saddles gets much post treatment after chroming.
Most importantly and most evidently. The shape is different. USA are more smoother U-shaped where the PING saddles are more V-shaped. The Ping has a slight higher profile. as well. The U-shape will improve longevity of the threading by a small degree. USA Saddles comes with compensated height screws. PING have same size on all adjustment screws that will protrude on the lowest adjusted saddles and needs to be shortened if required.
Thickness on material is the same, but the PING measures slightly thicker but that is because the Chrome plating adds a little to them.
Even the springs are different quality. I guess you can tell which is which.
Intonation screws are also different. Ping has them slotted for Flathead screwdrivers as well. Great for emergency if a star screwdriver ain't at hand. Geniune Fender does not. Fender also seemed to have the screws more center, Vs PING is slightly drilled higher. So there it is for you guitar nerds.