Transient signals such as plosives in speech or Castanets in audio do not have a specific modulation or periodic structure in time domain. However, in the spectral domain they exhibit a prominent modulation structure, which is a direct consequence of their narrow time localization. Based on this observation, a spectral-domain AM-FM model for transients is proposed. The spectral AM-FM model is built starting from real spectral zero-crossings. The AM and FM correspond to the spectral envelope (SE) and group delay (GD), respectively. Taking into account the modulation structure and spectral continuity, a local polynomial regression technique is proposed to estimate the GD function from the real spectral zeros. The SE is estimated based on the phase function computed from the estimated GD. Since the GD estimation is parametric, the degree of smoothness can be controlled directly. Simulation results based on synthetic transient signals generated using a beta density function are presented to analyze the noise-robustness of the SEGD model. Three specific applications are considered: (1) SEGD based modeling of Castanet sounds; (2) appropriateness of the model for transient compression; and (3) determining glottal closure instants in speech using a short-time SEGD model of the linear prediction residue.