If you want your axe to stay in tune during a serious dive-bomb, you’ll need a Floyd Rose tremolo with a special double-locking system. Since this system can look a little daunting to set up, we’re going to show you exactly how this type of guitar bridge works, and how you can string up and intonate it.
What’s a Tremolo? / How Does a Floyd Rose Work? / Stringing Up / Alternative Method / Tremolo Angle Set-Up / Blocking the Tremolo / Intonating / Adjusting String Height / Types of Floyd Rose Tremolos / Links
What’s a Tremolo?
A tremolo is a type of guitar bridge that can be fully tilted using a fitted tremolo arm to alter the string tension and therefore, the pitch. By tilting the bridge forward towards the headstock, you’re effectively releasing the tension of the strings and lowering the pitch. For your information, Leo Fender was wrong when he came up with the name for this type of bridge, because a tremolo effect is actually a change in volume while, when pitch is altered, it’s called vibrato. As such, a tremolo bridge is in fact a vibrato bridge.
The Floating Tremolo
Many vintage-style tremolos, including those of Fender Strats, only tilt one way. When you release the tremolo arm, springs in the back of the body make sure the bridge automatically comes back up. Some tremolo systems also allow you to tilt the bridge backwards to increase the tension on the strings and raise the pitch. These systems are called floating tremolos. To ensure that the bridge always returns to its original position, the spring tension needs to be exactly the same as the string tension.
Floyd Rose Tremolo
Using a tremolo alters the string tension, creating friction at the bridge saddle, the string nut and the string windings near the machine heads. Eventually, this leads to an out-of-tune guitar; a problem vintage-style tremolos are infamous for. The solution that Floyd Rose came up with in the seventies, was to secure the strings at the string nut or the saddles, a system we now know as a double-locking tremolo (note that single-locking tremolos exist too). With it, the strings are only fixed in place at one end via a locking nut, either at the bridge or at the string nut. For supple action, a Floyd Rose bridge only has two suspension points called studs, compared to the six screws of a vintage tremolo. Both double-locking and single-locking tremolos can be set up in a fixed or floating configuration.
How Does a Floyd Rose Work?
To explain the inner workings of a Floyd Rose tremolo, we have to start by identifying the most important parts.
After you’ve secured the strings at the string nut, it’s no longer possible to tune the guitar using the machine heads. To adjust the string tension now, each string has its own little screw that sits on top of the bridge, called fine-tuners. When turned clockwise, it pushes the long clamping screw down, which locks the string at the bridge saddle. Turning it clockwise tilts the saddle, increasing the tension of the string and ultimately raising the pitch. The range of a fine-tuner is roughly 1.5 to 3 full notes, depending on the string.
What’s more, the range of double-locking tremolos is an important topic, since these only change the tension of string between the string nut and the bridge saddle, meaning that the length between the nut and machine head can stretch and shrink. This is what gives a Floyd Rose tremolo a much greater range than say a vintage tremolo. If you bring the tremolo arm all the way down to the body, the strings could actually loosen up so much that they’d ‘fall off’ the fretboard. Either way, this is what you want to do to sound like Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Eddie Van Halen en Dimebag Darrell (Pantera).
Stringing Up and Tuning a Floyd Rose
When the time comes to restring your newly-purchased or used Floyd Rose-fitted guitar, the best way forward is to remove and replace one string at a time to keep the floating tremolo stable. If you undo all of the strings right away, the springs will pull back and the bridge will no longer return to its original position after you finish stringing up. Moreover, there’s a chance that the tremolo gets pulled out of the studs and misaligned, causing it to break and continuously whack your guitar out of tune.
If you insist on removing all strings at once in order to clean the fretboard, you can remove the backplate and slide it under the long hex screws to maintain string tension and make sure the tremolo returns to its neutral position.
To carry out the following steps, you’ll need a phillips head screwdriver and a 3mm Allen wrench/hex key. Ever-useful tools and tool kits include the Ibanez MTZ11 Guitar Multi-Tool, the Ernie Ball Musician’s Tool Kit and the D’Addario Electric Guitar Maintenance Kit. You can lay your guitar flat on a table on top of a blanket or towel, but if you have one with a slanted headstock like certain Ibanez, Jackson and Gibson (Axcess) models, the headstock shouldn’t rest on any surface since the pressure can cause it to break. Here, the HDS Headstand from Planet Waves can help out.
Step 1: Make sure the string blocks at the locking nut are removed. You can so using a 3mm Allen wrench to unscrew the clamping screws and removing both the blocks and screws.
Step 2: To clamp the end of the string in the saddle, the ball-end and any extra winding have to be cut off. You can use wire-cutters or the string-cutting part of the Planet Waves DP002 string winder.
Step 3: Now unscrew the long hex screw that pushes against the clamping block inside the saddle until you’re able to fit the new string between the block and the saddle.
Step 4: Slide the string in the saddle and secure the hex screw again. Don’t tighten the screw too much, since this can damage the saddle or flatten the string and cause it to break. Go for ‘snug and secure’ rather than ‘good luck trying to get this screw loose’.
Step 5: Now it’s time to attach the string to the machine head. There are several ways to do this. Check out a Youtube tutorial or one of our blogs if you’ve never swapped the strings of an electric guitar before.
Many guitars with a Floyd Rose tremolo have a string guide sitting behind the locking nut, which presses the strings down so that they move in accordance with the string nut and stay in tune when you secure the clamping blocks. This means you’re supposed to route the strings over the locking nut and under the string guide (can be seen in the image below step 1).
For tuning instructions, read our article How to Tune a Floyd Rose Tremolo.
If you follow the steps outlined above, you’ll end up having to cut each string twice: first the ball-end, then the excess bit at the machine heads. Alternatively, you can switch up step 2 and as a result, skip step 5 and only cut each string once. This will not only leave your headstock looking a lot cleaner, you also won’t be cut yourself on any sharp string ends.
Step 2 alternative: Rather than cutting off the ball-end, stick the string through the hole of the machine head right away, routing it under the guide and over the locking nut. The latter might be a bit troublesome, so a tip would be to slightly bend the end of the string without the ball-end so that it points upwards when you run it through the string guide. Then, pull on the string until the ball-end meets the hole of the machine heads. Place the string over the saddle and cut it off about 3cm down where it meets the fine-tuner, then continue with step 3 and skip over step 5.
Setting Up The Correct Angle
One of the most frequent issues experienced with a Floyd Rose tremolo has to do with the angle it’s in: it can be tilted either too far back or too far forward. The ideal angle is achieved when the base plate is flush with the body of the guitar (as seen below).
The following image shows a schematic cross-section of the Floyd Rose system, plus the tools needed to make adjustments.
Tremolo Tilted Too Far Forward
When the bridge is tilted too far forward, the strings will end up too far removed from the fretboard and ruin the intonation. More on this later on.
There are a few possible causes here. In most cases, this issue is caused by higher gauge strings than those installed in the factory or workshop. The thicker the strings, the higher the tension has to be to produce the same pitch as thinner ones. So, when you go for a different gauge, an unbalance is created between the tension of the strings and the tremolo springs. Sometimes, the previous owner of a used guitar has had his instrument set up in a lower tuning. Consequently, when you then tune it back up to standard, the same unbalance is created. Another explanation is that one or more tremolo springs have been lost, and there’s not enough spring tension compared to string tension.
Please note: Before you continue, it’s important to loosen the clamping screws of the locking nut if you haven’t already done so. If you don’t, it’s likely that the screws in the locking nut or bridge saddles break due to excessively high tension.
If there’s room, the simplest solution is to add one or more springs. This should fix the problem and tilt the bridge backwards.
The best solution is to tighten the tremolo claws screws to stretch out the springs and make them pull on the tremolo block a little harder. This has to be done gradually, however. As soon as the springs exert more force on the bridge, the tension on the strings increases, causing them to fall out of tune. As such, it’s best to turn both screws a full rotation before going back to tune up the strings. Tuning down will actually cause the bridge to sink a little bit, so it’s important not to drive the screws too deeply into the wood so that the bridge is already in the correct position while you haven’t even tuned the strings yet. If the bridge isn’t moving back far enough, simply repeat the same steps. If the bridge moves back too far after a single turn of the screws, take the claw screws back out by a half or quarter turn.
Tremolo Tilted Too Far Backward
The biggest issue caused by a tremolo that’s tilted too far backwards is that the strings get too close, or even sit against the frets, rendering the guitar pretty much unplayable. The cause here is the opposite of what you’ve seen above, meaning there are either too many or too few springs, or the strings that have been installed are too thin for the current set-up.
Please note: When one of the strings breaks, the bridge will also tilt backwards a bit. In that case, don’t loosen or tighten anything but start by attaching a fresh string. During tune-up, the bridge should come back into its neutral position.
The solution again includes loosening the clamping screws before you start adjusting the bridge. Follow the same steps you would use to correct a tremolo that has tilted too far forward but in the opposite way. First loosen the tremolo claws with a full anti-clockwise rotation, then tune up the strings and repeat these steps until the bridge sits flush with the body once again. Here, when you tune the strings, the bridge will actually move forward slightly. If the bridge moves forward too far after a single rotation, drive the claw screws back in the wood by a half or quarter turn.
Blocking Your Floyd Rose Tremolo
You could decide to block one of the two directions your Floyd Rose bridge is able to move in and essentially stop it from floating. Guitar legend, Eddie Van Halen has actually done this for most of his tremolos so he can do divebombs. Like most vintage ones, his bridges only tilt forward, giving Van Halen the advantage of being able to tune the low E string in drop-D*. To do this, Eddie uses the D-Tuna, a patented and unique device found fitted on some EVH models.
*To do the same without a D-Tuna, you need to first turn the fine-tuner all the way down to maintain enough headroom to tune the low E string down to a D. Don’t forget to leave a little room to tune the string back up when needed.
If you tighten the tremolo springs a little, it’s also possible to push up a single string to bend a note without lowering the notes of the other strings. This is because the bridge tilts forward slightly when you push up the string. Another benefit is that the bridge won’t fly straight back if one of your strings happens to break in the heat of the moment. Since you’d be able to at least finish the song you’re playing, this can be a real lifesaver on stage.
Blocking the Tremolo One Way
To make sure your tremolo can’t tilt backwards anymore, you can fit a piece of wood between the body and the sustain block as seen below. Measure the width and secure your tailor-made block of wood with superglue or double-sided adhesive tape. To guarantee that the tremolo hits the block every single time instead of stopping right before it, you can tighten the springs by driving the adjustment screws a little deeper into the wood. Alternatively, you can fit an extra spring, but remember that this will require you to apply more force to the tremolo arm.
There are also various ready-made solutions available, and the Tremolo Stop is possibly the simplest and most affordable option. This small yet ingenious system is placed between the tremolo springs and requires you to remove at least one spring. You then use a hex key to get the bolt to come up against the sustain block and that’s it. The bolt can be loosened later when you decide to return the tremolo to its floating configuration.
Fully Blocked Tremolo
It’s also possible to block a Floyd Rose both ways. The easiest, non-permanent way is to fit a block of wood both in front of and behind the sustain block. Carve out wedge-shaped blocks so you can easily slide them between the sustain block and the body until they’re locked in place.
Intonating A Floyd Rose
If, after you finish tuning your guitar, several open strings sound out of tune when you play certain chords, or if the notes played at the higher frets sound off, then the intonation probably needs some attention. To fix this, you’ll have to position one or more saddles a little towards the front or back. In case of fixed and vintage-tremolo bridges, it’s only a matter of turning a screw. For a Floyd Rose, especially in floating configuration, things unfortunately aren’t that straightforward.
What Side do I Push the Saddle Towards?
To check the intonation of a string, the pitch at the 12th fret must be the same as that of the pinch harmonic above the same fret. A pinch harmonic can be played by holding your finger against the string, so that it’s lightly touching, before plucking it and pulling your finger away immediately. Then, the following rules apply:
– Is the pinch harmonic lower in pitch than the fretted note? Move the saddle towards the neck.
– Is the pinch harmonic higher in pitch than the fretted note? Move the saddle backwards.
Moving the Bridge Saddle
Before you move any bridge saddles, you have to take the tension off the relevant string(s). That means loosening the locking nut, if you haven’t done so already. The saddles of a Floyd Rose tremolo are secured to the base plate via hex bolts. Use a 2.5mm hex key to remove it.
Exactly how far the saddle has to be moved depends on the difference between the harmonic and the natural note played at 12th fret. Start small, say 1 millimeter. The more experienced you become, the easier these estimations become. Use the bridge saddle as your reference point, then secure the hex bolt again and tune the string. Don’t forget to check the intonation and rinse and repeat until your guitar sounds pure again. Should you have to move one of the saddles so far back or forward that the bolt gets in the way, you can take the bolt out completely and screw it into one of the other two free holes of the base plate.
Using a Floyd Rose Intonation Tool (or the EJK1000 Intonation Adjuster in case of an Ibanez-made tremolo), the saddle position can be effortlessly adjusted via a thumb screw. This way, you don’t have to take the tension off the strings every single time.
Adjusting the Height (Action) of the Strings
Contrary to other types of guitar bridges, you can’t adjust the individual saddle action in Floyd Rose tremolo systems. The action is the distance between the strings and the frets and to adjust this, you need to adjust the two studs. Modern Floyd Rose tremolos have studs that can be adjusted using a 3mm hex key, while older models have studs that resemble big wood screws and can be adjusted using a regular screwdriver. Since there are two studs, the height of the bridge can be adjusted in total or per side.
Different Types of Floyd Rose Tremolos
Up until a couple of years ago, the Floyd Rose tremolo was patented, meaning guitar manufacturers that wanted to use the system for their guitars were forced to include “Licensed Under Floyd Rose Patents.” Ibanez came up with their own Edge tremolo (left image below), which works on the basis of the same principles but looks a lot more massive. Later down the line, the Lo Pro Edge (middle image below) was called into existence, which has a lower profile for more playing comfort. The long clamping screws are shorter here but the system works just like a regular Edge tremolo. Floyd Rose later took this streamlined design and released it under the name Floyd Rose Pro (right image below). Either way, Ibanez is known as one of the biggest innovators of tremolo systems and the brand regularly releases a new double-locking model that’s to a certain extent related to the Original Floyd Rose.
Lastly, there are models (like the Ibanez Edge Pro seen in the left image below) that don’t even require the ball-ends of the strings to be removed. All you need to do is simply stick the strings in their saddles and secure them using a hex bolt. As far as ball-ends go, the same goes for the single-locking tremolo in the middle and right image. Here, the strings are run through hollow tubes, after which they come up through the saddle. Since that means that there are no clamping blocks involved, replacing the strings is not only much faster, but easier, even though there is an increased chance of going out of tune. Just like with a double-locking tremolo, the strings are secured at the locking nut.
A correctly set up Floyd Rose will reward you with masses of playing joy and ferociously wild vibrato effects without having to tune up all the time.
If you have any additional tips or tricks to share about Floyd Rose tremolos, don’t hesitate to leave a comment!