Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Floating Tremolo Guide

The Floating Tremolo -Basic Info

The purpose of the trem is simple: To raise or lower the pitch of a played note by lengthening or shortening the length of the string the note is played on. It's the same, simple concept as bending and pre-bending a string, but how it achieves this may not be so clear. It takes patience and diligence to master such a sensitive, intricate, and sometimes delicate system.

As with most complex things, there are a bunch of parts and confusing names to go with them. Here are the major parts defined and a few labeled diagrams of an exploded and assembled Floyd-type trem. Pay attention to the names of major parts, as we will use proper nomenclature later in this guide.

1. Saddle - A metal box the string is locked into. There is one saddle for each string. Each saddle contains a long screw that fixes the string holder block inside it. An Allen wrench is required to loosen or tighten these.

2. Base Plate- The platform upon which the other parts are attached. The tremolo arm is attached here, to allow movement of the entire tremolo.

3. Tremolo Arm - The bar extending out that can be used to change the angle of the tremolo, thereby raising or lowering the pitch of the note.

4. Posts/Studs - Two pegs extending from the body of the guitar upon which the tremolo pivots. Due to the softness of wood, two metal anchors are glued into the body which the posts screw into.

5. Knife Edge - A very important part of the trem. This is the point that contacts the trem posts, allowing the trem to pivot.

6. String Holder Block or Saddle Block - A cube-shaped metal block that presses the string end into the saddle wall thus locking it tight. If they fall out, they are easy to lose.

7. Intonation Screws - Screws that hold saddles on the base plate; when loose, the saddles can be moved forward and backward, effectively changing intonation of a string (intonation will be covered later in this guide). An Allen wrench is required to loosen or tighten these.

8. Locking Nut - string clamp, installed as the "zero fret" at the neck. It has screws and braces called "locks" to clamp on the strings that run through it. An Allen wrench is required to loosen or tighten the nut. Together, the locking nut and tremolo are referred to as a Double Locking System.

9. Fine Tuners - Screws that are used to re-tune strings after the nut is locked. After locking the nut, the tuning keys will not effect the strings. If you need to dramatically change the tuning of your guitar, you should use the tuning keys instead.

10. Tremolo Block - The large piece of metal that extending down from the base plate and connecting the springs to the tremolo.

11. Tremolo Springs - Springs that pull the bridge down to counteract the strings. They are installed in a cavity that is usually accessible from the back of the guitar under a plastic cover. There are usually 3 springs. However, to change the resistance of the trem, as few as 1 and as many as 5 can be used.

12. Spring Claw Hook - A connector between the guitar body and springs. It has special "claws" to attach the springs to. This part is usually mounted to the guitar body using loose long screws that are adjustable.

Note the different nomenclature in these two diagrams.

Ibanez Original Edge

The Original Floyd Rose

Notice that they very similar? Well they are. The Edge is a "licensed" version of the Floyd Rose. That means that Ibanez is paying royalties to Floyd Rose (a part of Fender Corp.) to produce a trem based on the Floyd design. Ibanez is not the only company to do this. Be aware that there are many licensed Floyd's out there, with varying quality and stability. It is generally accepted that the Ibanez Original Edge, Edge Lo Pro, Jackson JT-6, JT-590, Gotoh, and Schaller licensed trems are excellent, high quality models. Not surprisingly, Schaller made Jackon's higher quality trems, and Gotoh makes Ibanez's.

According to, an Original Floyd Rose "should" be able to replace any licensed floyd.

How the Floating Trem Works

Think of the trem at work as a balanced platform pivoting at one point. There are two forces pulling on the trem- the strings and the springs. In this diagram, the strings are red and the springs are blue.

Figure I - When there is no pressure on the arm, or pressure is released, the trem will be at/return to what is know as the Zero Point. This is the point at which the pull of the strings and springs equal each other and the angle the trem rests at.

Figure II - When the arm is pushed down, the trem will tilt forward, the strings will relax, and the springs will be stretched.

Figure III- When the arm is pulled, the trem is tilted back/down, the strings are stretched, and the springs are relaxed.

The tension on the strings, whether they are stretched or relaxed, will raise and lower the pitch respectively. This is how the Floyd-type trem actually changes the pitch of notes.

Servicing and Maintaining the Floating Tremolo

The most important thing for new players to learn about their trem systems is how to maintain it and how to correctly perform basic services on it. This includes changing strings, adjusting action, adjusting trem angle, etc. It is suggested you learn these things before buying a floating trem equipped guitar, or at least before attempting to service it. Although this guide is meant to instruct others, it is much, much easier to learn by watching the process being done by a local tech. Most techs should be willing to teach you about the trem and answer any questions you might have. Therefore, I encourage you to see your local tech if this guide seems unclear to you, or you wish to have somebody elaborate further on this content.

As there are many different ways to perform such basic things as changing strings, I have chosen to base this section on the literature and instruction put out by the Floyd Rose organization.

Changing Strings

Step 1: Unlock the three clamps at the nut with the allen wrench provided with the guitar or bridge.

Step 2: Set the fine-tuners on the bridge to the middle of there tuning range.

Step 3: Change ONE STRING AT A TIME (starting at either E string) by first loosening the string and unclamping it at the saddle with the 3mm allen wrench.

Step 4: Cut the ball end off the replacement string with a pair of wire cutters. Make sure you cut the string at a point before the winding that holds onto the ball end.

Step 5:Place the freshly cut string end into the center of the saddle and tighten the clamping screw until it is difficult to turn.

Step 6: Thread the other end of the string under its nut clamp and under the string hold down bar, then to the tuning key and tune the string. [Pull on the string until it is tight around the tuning key and retune.


Step 7: Repeat 2 through 5 until all strings are replaced.

If you want to remove ALL of the strings in an attempt to clean/condition the fretboard, it is highly recommended that you temporarily block your trem. I will explain blocking later.

Tuning your Tremolo

Now that you have replaced the strings and secured them to the posts, you must now tune your strings. One property of brand new strings is that they must stretch, and depending on the type you get, they may stretch a lot. It can take up to 24 hours for your strings to completely stretch, all the while you should be continuously retuning with your tuning keys, not your fine tuners, which should remain at the middle of their range. If you want to actively stretch you strings, stick your finger underneath the string and GENTLY run it along the fretboard like shown.
This is without a doubt, the most common reason for tuning instability for new trem users. With a fixed bridge, there is much less tension on the strings, so they will stretch out over time with playing. With floating trems, the springs will actually pull on the strings, causing them to stretch out much faster. New users don't know this, so when they go back to playing and using the trem, some strings stretch out and go flat, while others are already stretched, and go sharp. Meanwhile, the player thinks that some part of the trem system is not working properly, IE the locking nut.

After you believe your strings are stretched, you should tune your tremolo. Tuning a tremolo can be a little tricky because it is not like a fixed bridge (duh). As you tune the strings, there will be a constant pull since the springs are still pulling on them. That means, if you tune one string flat, the others will go sharp to compensate for loss of tension from that one string.

Step 1: Make sure your fine tuner screws on the bridge are still at the middle of their adjustment range.

Step 2: Tune the strings to your desired pitch (this can be drop tuning, open tuning, or standard pitch, the procedure is the same for any tuning) with an electronic tuner starting with the low E.

Step 3: When you have finished tuning all of the strings, check the tuning on the low E again. If the low E is now flat, re-tune the strings starting again with the low E but this time tune the low E, A, D, G, and B strings a little bit sharp, then the high E to pitch. If the low E is sharp, re-tune as just described only tuning the first five strings a little flat. You must tune the strings a little sharp or flat to get to your tuning because every time you change the tension (or pitch) of one string, the other strings change pitch in the opposite direction due to the pull of the springs.

Step 4: Repeat step 4 until all the strings are at the desired pitch.

Correcting the Trem Angle

Now you've gotten the strings properly stretched out and in tune, but you notice a problem. The trem is either tilted back or forward. This is a common occurrence when changing strings, especially if you are changing brands, thickness, or both. To fix this, you must readjust the trem angle. This is done by screwing or unscrewing the large screws holding the trem claw in the back of the guitar as pictured below.

If your bridge is canted forward, you need to slacken yours strings and screw in the screws holding the trem claw. This will cause the springs to pull the trem down, creating a new Zero Point.

If your bridge is leaning backwards, then you need to unscrew the screws holding the trem claw. This will move the springs forward, allowing the strings to pull the trem and tilt forward.

Make small adjustments at a time, and retune as you go. When your trem has reached the correct angle, make sure that the trem claw screws are even with each other.

Take note that some Ibanez's trems do not have the same correct trem angle.

This is the correct angle for the Edge, Edge Lo Pro, and Edge III

This is the correct angle for the Edge Pro, Edge Pro II, and Lo TRS series

Adjusting Your Action

When changing strings to a different thickness, you may have to adjust you action. Your action is the amount of space between the frets and the strings.

If your action is too low, you may be experiencing string buzz, particularly on the larger strings. To raise the action, unscrew (counter-clockwise) the trem post with an allen wrench gradually, while constantly testing for string buzz with a pick. Remember, a little string buzz won't kill you. When it gets to the point of being heard through the amp, limiting sustain, or killing notes entirely, then it should be dealt with.

If you aren't experiencing string buzz and want to lower your action, screw down (clockwise) the trem posts while testing for string buzz. In the never-ending pusuit of low action, you might end up bottoming out the trem posts. If this is the case, don't force them any further. You could end up spinning the anchor which the posts are screwed into. Remember the anchors are only glued into the body, and you will have to remove it and reglue it in (this is also detailed later).

Due to the fact that the lower strings are bigger than the higher ones, you trem posts will most likely be uneven, with you bass side somewhat higher than your treble. It is a good idea to keep you trem posts mostly level to keep a more consistent string tension when diving and raising the trem.

A Quick Note About Your Action and Truss Rod-
Unfortunately, you might have to raise your action to an uncomfortable/undesirable level to get rid of fret buzz. If this buzz is occurring more towards the headstock (frets 1-5), then you can adjust your truss rod to get rid of it. However, I WILL NOT give directions on how to adjust the truss rod. It is possible, through blatant stupidity, to damage you neck by incorrectly adjusting you truss rod or forcing it. Usually, I would I just post this without thinking twice because there's nobody out there that stupid right? Well... after the last couple of days, I don't know. I'm just going to omit it in an effort to avoid the "Why is my Neck Cracked and Truss Rod Stuck?" post or PM that would probably follow. It is true that the SOLE purpose of the truss rod is to adjust the neck relief (curvature of the neck from the pull of the strings), and you are not supposed to use it to change your action. But you're not supposed to jaywalk either, so whatever. If you want to mess with your truss rod, go take it to a tech and have him explain it to you. I'm not going to attempt to teach it here.

Now that you have changed the strings, tuned your guitar, adjusted the trem level, and made sure you action was good, you can lock your nut and begin using your fine tuners. It's pointless to lock prior to this point, as you may have to unlock them again to make adjustments to any one of the above aspects. When locking the nut very tightly, the pads will turn slightly with the screws and can sometimes pull the strings along with it, causing them to go out of tune. Use your fine tuners to correct this. It is not recommended that you lock your nut (or any part of your guitar, for that matter) extremely tightly, as this can cause stress fractures on the back of your neck, similar to the porcelain cracks on toilets. This is a common occurrence among older guitars with double locking systems with nuts that screw through the neck.

Adjusting Your Intonation

Once in a very long while, you might hit a chord and notice that it doesn't sound right. You plug your guitar into your tuner, and everything is in tune, but you go back and the chord still sounds off. The problem might be your intonation. Intonation is basically the correct length of each of the strings on your guitar. Due to the frets being at the same intervals along the fretboard, and the properties of different thickness strings, strings on a guitar must be at different lengths, and the length of each string is usually adjusted at the bridge. To fix your intonation, you must first identify what string(s) needs to be fixed and if you want to change it sharp or flat. Return your fine tuners to the middle of their range, unlock your nut, plug your guitar into your tuner and get it in tune, and then hit the natural harmonic over the 12th fret on each string one at a time. Each of the natural harmonics should be at the same pitch as the fretted note at the 12th fret of that string. If the fretted note is flat, you need to move the saddle towards the neck. If the note is sharp, you should move it towards the fine tuners.

Step 1: It is also highly suggested that you temporarily block your bridge to prevent movement of the trem from interfering with the adjustments. Once you have determined which direction (toward or away from the nut) to move the saddle, loosen the string until it is limp.

Step 2: Loosen the intonation screw holding the saddle to the bridge plate while holding the saddle in place. Move the saddle in the desired direction a small amount (about 1/16in on the first adjustment and your best guess on subsequent adjustments) and re-tighten the screw. (There are usually two places to screw the intonation screws on the base plate. If the saddle will not move forward because it is resting against the intonation screw, you can move the screw to the next hole forward on the bridge plate. This will give you more adjustment range. Also, if you need to move the saddle away from the nut to a position where the attachment screw can no longer clamp the saddle firmly, you can move the screw to the next hole back on the bridge plate.

Step 3: Re-tune the string and check the intonation again using the procedure outlined above.

Step 4: Repeat this cycle until each string is properly intonated. When you’re finished with the intonation procedure tighten your locking nut. Locking your nut will not change your intonation setting.

Common Causes of Tuning Instability

Strings Not Fully Stretched - Again, the most common cause among new trem users. A common sign is strings going flat after pulling on the trem arm. Sometimes only a few strings go flat and the others go sharp to make up for the imbalance among the strings.
Stretching strings by hand. Keyword = GENTLY!

Loose Nut - It seems like an obvious thing, but we all make mistakes. Both the nut pads and the nut itself as a whole should be locked in order for the trem to work at its best. I tighten my nuts (lol) to a bit past the point of hand tight to avoid cracking the neck. When moving from a climate with low air pressure to one with high, the guitar will actually shrink in size. As a result, there will be loose screws that must be retightened, including the nut.

Worn Nut Pads - When nuts are used for a very long time (especially with large gauge strings) grooves may start to form in the areas where the strings are. This can allow strings to slip. Inspect your nut pads occasionally, and make sure that you don't get them mixed up, since the one for the big E and A string may be more worn than a smaller string's pad.

Loose Neck Screws - This causes the neck to move slightly, but enough to effect tuning. Again, check screws after air pressure changes and for general wear on the wood. Check for stress cracks while you're at it.

Loose Saddles - Sometimes a saddle may become loose. This can cause the string to go flat, in turn making the others go sharp. If you slacken the string to the point where it is limp, the loose saddle may move when touched. Make sure you tighten the intonation screws well.

Interference by Other Parts - Sometimes parts may hit the trem as it moves throughout its range of motion. Common culprits are new pickguards that hitting against the base plate and the sides of the route if your trem is a tight fit and the body wood has expanded.
Corner of trem baseplate hitting the pickguard

Worn or Damaged Knife Edges - This is a pretty serious problem. Over time, the knife edges of your trem will start to lose their edge or may become damaged from mishandling. This will cause a less consistent motion when the trem pivots on the posts, causing tuning issues. The quality of the trem will often govern the durability of the knife edges, as higher quality trems have heat-hardened knife edges, while cheaper ones do not. If you find that your knife edge is rounded and worn, or is damaged, it can be re-sharpened using a steel file. The Edge, Edge Lo Pro, and Edge Pro have replaceable knife edges.
A worn knife edge. Note the burs and indentations on the left side.

Worn or Damaged Trem Posts/Studs - As the other part of the pivot point, posts can wear and form notches and even burs. Like worn knife edges, worn posts can interfere with the smooth motion of the trem. Replace them if necessary.

A Quick Note on Lubrication of the Pivot Point -
Some will recommend lubing the pivot point with products like petroleum jelly, chapstick, and grease. These products will have little to no effect on a knife edge in good condition. The purpose of lubrication is to reduce the amount of friction between to surfaces as the they move against each other. There is very little friction in the pivoting of the trem, as the only contacting surfaces are the thin knife edge and the divot of the post. The pivoting action produces little friction as the knife edge presses on the post, rather than sliding along it like a brake pad on a rotor. My experience with lubrication is to avoid it on areas exposed to open air and dust and dirt. During my first tour, soldiers would apply generous amounts of oil to the surfaces of their weapons to prevent rust, but dust would stick to the residual oil, dirtying the weapon. By the end of the tour, soldiers were only lubricating most essential internal parts of their weapons - the bolt, firing pin, and bolt carrier. The same concept applies to lubricating the knife edges, as dust and dirt can stick on the lube, gunking up the most important area of your trem. The bottom line? Avoid lubricating the pivot point. The only exception would be to sparingly lube the posts prior to screwing or unscrewing them, since the knife edge can grind against the post as it moves along the inside of the divot.

Loose Trem Posts or Anchors - Since all woods are softer than steel, the anchors and trem posts may work themselves loose in the body of the guitar. If the anchor is loose, you must remove it by inserting a junk post you don't wish to keep, and yanking the entire thing out with a set of pliers. Put glue (preferably non-expanding unless the anchor was very loose.) along the bottom rim of the anchor, and reinstall it. Let it dry and set for 24 hours. If the posts is loose within the anchor, one or both pieces may be worn and bent. Replace them as necessary.

Common Adjustments on Your Trem

Adjusting Arm Tension - There are different system used to adjust arm tension on Floyd-type trems. The most common is the screw-on arm. For a looser arm, leave the nut loose, and for a stiffer arm, screw it down all of the way. Ibanez has made a few systems to adjust arm torque. The Edge, Edge Lo Pro, and Edge Pro have a drop-in arm that uses 2 nylon washers (called bushings) to resist the spin of the arm. For a looser feel, remove one or both bushings. These will wear out over time, and must be replaced. The Edge III and Edge Pro II use a similar drop in arm, but rely on a screw on the side of the arm holder instead of bushings to adjust tension.

Adjusting Arm Height - At the bottom of the arm holder, there is a small screw. This acts as the "bottom" of the holder, stopping the arm from screwing or dropping in any further. Screwing it into the socket creates a higher arm height, unscrewing it lower.

Removing, Moving, and Adding Springs - You can increase the pull of the springs by adding springs or placing them in a V formation. The diagonal positioning of the V formation lengthens the spring, making it stiffer. You can also remove springs to achieve less resitance while diving the trem. Keep in mind when changing springs, you must adjust the trem claw to make up for the change in spring tension. Many of Ibanez's trems have a block lock bar that screws into the bottom of the tone block, preventing the springs from flying out of the tone block. It is suggested you have at least 2 springs in your trem cavity, and that they are placed symmetrically in the trem cavity to apply even pull across the trem and the strings.
V formation with 3 springs instead of 2. Notice that they are symmetrical.

Blocking and Modifying the Range or Action of the Trem

In an attempt to limit and simplify the trem, many people have "blocked" them. Blocking a trem is placing a carefully sized piece of wood into the trem cavity between the tone block and the cavity wall.
A completely blocked trem. The wood holds the tone block in place and prevents any movement, making it, essentially, a fixed bridge.

Some trems have been converted to "dive only" trems. This is done by gluing in place the block closest to the trem claw, allowing the trem only to dive, and not pull up. There are also devices such as the Floyd Rose Trem Stop and Tremol-No that can provide the same effect.
The Floyd Rose Trem Stop makes this trem dive only.

Unlike the Floyd Rose Trem Stop, the Tremol-No can also convert the trem to a fixed bridge with a turn of the screw.

Locking Trem Posts
Some of the older Ibanez trems like the Edge and Edge Lo Pro have a locking feature that prevents them from turning. The purpose of this was to prevent even the smallest movement of the studs, and provide even more tuning stability. The way these locking posts work is by having 3 pieces, the trem posts which fits inside the anchor, a smaller locking screw which fits inside the actual trem posts themselves, and the anchor.
As you can see from this picture, when engaged, the locking screw extends to the bottom of the anchor, preventing the trem posts from lowering itself further into the anchor, and stabilizing it further. To move the trem posts down, you must first "unlock" them by unscrewing the locking screws with a smaller allen wrench. As you unscrew the locking screw, it rises and allows the trem posts to screw into the anchor. When you are done "unlocking", you can then lower the trem posts to a desirable level, and then "relock" them by screwing locking screws until they reach the bottom (Don't overtighten, as you can break them). To raise the trem posts, just unscrew them and screw down the locking screws so that they contact the bottom of the anchor once again.

Don't forget about these! It is extremely easy to break locking screws, as they are only a few millimeters thick.

Source : Megatron @ The Guitar Matrix -

1 comment:

Mike Thompson said...

Thanks for this article! I guild electric guitars for a hobby, and I have started on my first guitar with a tremolo. This has helped me out a lot in figuring the whole tremolo thing out.

-- Mike