Locking tremolos provide great tuning stability. They can be a source of frustration. This tutorial shows you how to set-up a locking tremolo.
Traditional tremolos still have their place, but locking tremolos reign supreme for staying in tune. The only set-back is getting the system set-up in the first place, particularly in full floating mode. Follow along with this guide to learn how to string-up, set-up, and keep your locking tremolo playing the best that it can.
For this tutorial we’re using a Floyd Rose double-locking tremolo for our examples. Some say that the original Floyds are the best for tone due to the quality of the materials. There are a variety of locking tremolos available.
Before going to the trouble and expense of swapping out a new tremolo, try your hand at setting the stock one up following this guide. You may find that the right set-up makes all the difference.
The main parts of the Floyd Rose style locking tremolo.
How to install strings on a Double-Locking Tremolo
Note that there are some single-locking tremolos that do not require that the string’s ball end be clipped off before installation – check your instrument.
Use wire cutters to trim off the ball-end of the string.
Before installing new strings trim off the ball-ends. Cutoff an inch or two from the ball-end. The string manufacturing process puts stress on the area of the string closest to the ball-end. You want a good cleanly wound section of string ready for the locking saddle.
Adjust the fine tuners on the tremolo base so that they are in the middle of their adjustment range.
Above: Adjusting the fine tuners on the tremolo base.
In the illustration above we can see the proper orientation of the string lock insert with the alignment hole close to the bottom edge. A close-up shows the small hole the end of the string lock bolt fits into.
The string-end is inserted into the saddle between the string lock insert and the inside edge of the saddle. There is a small flat piece of sheet metal press-fitted into the underside of the saddle that acts as a depth stop for the inserted string.
Over time this insert may become loose and fall out. When this piece is missing (as it often is) make sure not to insert the string-end past the bottom of the saddle.
The cleanly cut string-end is inserted into the saddle approx. 3/16″ (4 mm). Then using a Hex wrench the string lock screw is tightened (clockwise) firmly.
After the string is locked into the saddle. The string is then passed over the lock nut within the grove, under the tension bar, and then into and around the tuning peg. Before winding the string up to full tension, you can put the string-lock insert back in place, screwed in, but left loose. Note that the curved underside of the lock-nut insert should follow the curve of the lock-nut base. The string should pass under the string tension bar, and be clear of the screws that mount the tension bar to the neck.
The string’s path over the locking nut. The locking nut insert has been removed over the 5th and 6th strings for visibility.
Setting-Up The Floyd Rose For Floating Or Blocked Play.
Some players prefer to let the back edge of the Floyd tremolo rest on the face of the guitar, this prevents the tremolo from being pulled up to sharpen the pitch of the strings during play and the de-tuning that occurs when a string breaks. There is a difference in the tone of the guitar when the tremolo makes contact with the body of the guitar. This type of set-up is possible on guitars with a small neck angle, and wether or not there is a relief rout behind the tremolo (found on many modern guitars). See illustrations below.
A high neck or low neck angle can be achieved by using a neck shim to alter the neck’s angle in the neck pocket. To reduce the neck angle, the shim is placed at the forward edge of the neck pocket (not shown).
A locking tremolo set-up for full-floating operation will have a smoother playing feel, closer to that of a traditional tremolo. The strings are affected by string bends (with the string being bent up in pitch de tuning the others), and subtle vibrato effects are possible.
A full-floating locking tremolo can be difficult to replace individual strings quickly. Particularly in live performance situations. Have a spare instrument on hand or face lengthy breaks in performance. Remember, all the strings will need to be retuned once the locking nut is loosened.
Using A Spacer To Set-Up The Floyd Rose For Full-Float.
The set-up of a locking tremolo for full-float is accomplished by using a spacer block to tune the strings against during set-up, and then carefully adjusting the tremolo springs to match.
For full-floating the tremolo has to be balanced. This is accomplished by carefully adjusting the spring tension. A spacer placed behind the trem-block will act as a stop during the initial set-up. You may be able to use a nine-volt battery as a spacer, a piece of wood, plastic, or other material
Ideally the tremolo base is parallel to the surface of the guitar body so that the string passes over the saddle at correct point.
During floating tremolo set-up, a spacer block is used to adjust spring tension. This technique can be used to traditional tremolo set-up also.
Step-By-Step Floating Tremolo Spring adjustment
- Loosen the spring claw adjustment screws until the string tension holds the spacer in place.
- Make sure that the tremolo base plate is parallel to the face of the guitar. Too much or too little angle and the intonation will be off (or hard to set) and your strings will be prone to breaking.
- Adjust the width of your spacer if you need to, to get the tremolo base plate parallel with the face of the guitar.
- Tune the guitar to pitch (string tension should be holding the spacer block in place).
- This is a good time to double check the string height.
- Once the strings are tuned up to pitch, snap them to get the excess flex out of the peg head windings.
- When the guitar is tuned and remains in tune after string snapping and retuning, tighten the spring claw screws just enough to take off the pressure holding the spacer block in place.
- Re-check and adjust the tuning again. At this point your tremolo should be balanced against the string’s tension and only minor adjustments to the tuning will be needed. If you find that removing the block throws the tuning off by a large amount you may need to snap your strings some more to takeout additional flex.
Adjusting the height of tremolo with full string tension can dull the knife edges on the tremolo base and damage height adjustment bolts, perform this adjustment with the strings partially tuned up to pitch.
Firmly tighten the locking nut bolts. Take note of the orientation of the lock nut inserts. They are curved on the bottom to match the curve on the top of the lock nut. Make sure to replace the correct lock-nut insert. There are specific Bass, Middle, and Treble inserts – wear on them can make them less reliable if switched around. With the locking nuts tightened, check your tuning again using the fine tuners for adjustment. Your Floyd should now be good for dive bombs and whammy bar fun with only occasional fine tuning.
- If you run out of fine tuner adjustment, unlock that string’s locking nut, turn the fine tuner to the middle of it’s range. Re-tune the string, and then retighten the locking nut.
- Over the life of a set of strings, you may need to occasionally recalibrate your fine tuners a few times. Do this by loosening the lock-nut screws, unscrewing the fine tuner screws, retuning, tightening the nut lock screws, and then fine tuning.
- Replace strings one at a time once you have your tremolo set-up. Snap and retune until stable to avoid the set-up process again.
Setting up a locking tremolo is a balancing act. With some know-how locking tremolos offer better tuning stability than traditional tremolos. Locking tremolos can also be set-up for flull-floating making it possible to have the base of the tremolo rest on the face of the guitar for slightly different tone and a trade off between playing technique and additional tuning stability.