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My Floating Tremelo Sucks. Is it me or is it you?

My Floating Tremelo Sucks. Is it me or is it you?

So you are a pretty competent Guitarist. You might refer to yourself as an Intermediate player (are we ever really “Experts” except on Guitar Hero?) and have been looking to take the next step.

It is time for a Premium Guitar. One that isn’t a restrictive beast and will let your Tonal Inflections reach new heights. Nothing will hold you back and everyone in your band (or your neighbors) will think you are a Guitar God.

You have spent hours on the Forums, days within Magazines and years on our Website. You have found your next Guitar. It has it all- the looks, the pickups, the neck dimensions, the hardware. It is perfect.

Except for one thing…

The infamous EDGE Tremelo from an Ibanez JEM7V

It has a Floating Tremelo. A Floyd. An Edge. A never ending tuning, string breaking and intonation destroying machine that will ruin every Gig you play from now until the end of time.

Your dreams have been shattered and all hope is lost.

But Salvation is at hand. Forget what you have read and what your bandmates have heard. The Floating Tremelo can be tamed and can be the catalyst you need to help you take your riffing to the next level.

The Floating Trem or Floyd Rose has been around since the late 70’s. It actually came about because Mr. Rose’s guitars with Vibrato’s weren’t staying in tune so he cleverly created a solution where the nut was changed out to put in his revolutionary locking nut.  He then came up with the idea of locking the strings down at the Nut with similar single string clamps- then decided to take the Vibrato to the next level by routing out extra clearance under the bridge of the Guitar, giving you the ability to bend both ways with much more vigor.

Locking Nut Assembly from an Ibanez JEM7V

Because the strings were “Locked” at both ends (hence the term Double Locking Tremelo), tuning stability was easily maintained as the only thing that could change tuning wise was the length of the string (or no string at all…). The springs within the Tremelo work as the counterbalance to the Strings themselves, meaning adjusting the feel of the Trem was as easy as carefully tightening or loosening the springs in the underside of the body.

A Traditional Floyd Rose Special from an LTD

Players like Steve Vai and EVH were pioneers of this new found Technology and somewhat helped shape their sound. The classic sound of dumping out a Trem, so there is no tension on the strings, then bending back up and over normal tension- is easy to learn but hard to master. Eddie Van Halen even came up with his own design of not routing out the body as much, thus meaning the Double Locking Trem would only bend down, giving even more tuning stability. This encouraged the practice of “Blocking Off” of traditional Floyd’s buy screwing a small block of wood behind the Tremelo, achieving the same result as EVH design.

There is a lot of Benefits of having a Floyd on your Guitar. Subtle Vibrato’s are super easy, really reactive and easy to do. Pinch Squeals sound 1000% cooler when you lightly bend in or out of one.  It helps open up your playing to a different style and encourages experimentation. You can generally only get certain sounds and unique half and quarter notes with a Floating Trem as well.

You essentially begin to treat your guitar in a different fashion. Some of us find that we begin to pick more on top of the Guitar, so as not to add any pressure to the Trem and to get your hand ready to manipulate the Tremelo. The by-product of this is your picking becomes a bit more accurate and this transfers across to Hardtails. Overall, having a Floyd equipped Guitar in your repertoire will help you be a more complete player for some.

A SyncroniZR 2 Point Tremelo from an Ibanez SA960QM

But the Cons are where people start to get scared. We hear it every day of the week here at Port Mac Guitars, and the mis-information is rife. But the beast can be tamed.

Firstly you will slightly change your playing style. If you are used to heavily resting your hand on a Hard Tail, doing this on a Floating Trem will actually Bend Up the Tremelo, putting you slightly out of tune.

Changing strings can be annoying for the first few times, as you actually string Double Locking Tremelo’s backwards- with the Ball End of the string going thru the Machine Head first, then is locked off down at the Tremelo’s String Blocks. 

If you don’t change the strings properly you can totally unbalance the Tremelo, putting your Intonation out of whack. And then you have the dreaded string break…

The Famed "Lions Claw" cavity under an Ibanez JEM7V

You see, Tremelo’s are a delicate balancing act. The careful art of String, Tremelo and Spring obtaining that magical harmony seems worse than it is. But if one of those elements fails (usually the String), then everything can be put out of Balance. Suddenly your High E becomes an E# (usually mid- solo) and you are left with a Guitar that doesn’t want to hold tune anymore.

It was the classic problem with a Simple 2 point system. Once one side of the Tremelo pulls harder than the other- then all is lost.

At least, that is what the Forums would have you believe...

You see, 9 times out of 10 the chaos is created from a poorly setup Tremelo. Usually, the thing isn’t balanced in the first place thus dooming you before you have even begun.

A tradtional Floyd Rose system on a PRS

Cheap Trem’s (or Tremelo’s on some cheaper pricepoint Guitars) can be finicky, but can be beaten into Tuning Stability Submission. Our true test is if we can do a setup on a Floating Trem, then ship the Guitar across the country with the Guitar arriving in tune. We at Port Mac Guitars focus on 3 key factors to make our Setup’s last.

The main ingredients are Good Strings with the correct gauge for the job, Correct Spring Tension and Patience.

Good strings are important as quality strings will always break less.  A lot of manufacturers of Guitars always recommend at least 10’s gauge wise to be put on their setups, to help hold the tension of the Springs. Cheap no-name strings will always break quickly, usually down at the Tremelo end of the Guitar where a lot of force is being exhorted. Obviously if you are venturing outside of normal tunings, adjust the gauge accordingly. But if we ever hear the complaint of “My 9-40’s keep snapping on my Floyd, even when I am in Drop C#” we know that some problems can’t be fixed…

Spring system from an Ibanez JEM7V

Spring Tensions is a fun part of the job. It is like the Mechanic balancing the Tires and needs a subtle touch. If you have ever seen a Floating Trem looking like it is shooting into the Sky on a 45 degree angle, it is because there is WAY too much pull on the Strings. This can happen because the springs have stretched and aren’t holding the tension as they should, the Locking Nuts haven’t been locked off correctly or the neck has moved from Transit, the Guitar being in a hot car or other external factors.

The same is applicable for the reverse- Guitars are fluid things and often you will see and unbalanced Trem not because of the Trem itself, but because of a million different things.

You also need to ensure that the Spring Tension is equal. Without that, a Traditional Floyd will pull towards the dominant side, giving you bad tuning, bad intonation and a Trem that feels like it is "torquing" and wont behave predictably.

And lastly, Patience. You will be thinking you will be leaving a world where you can just whack some new strings on and life will go on. But the fact of the matter is, is there really such a Guitar? Every Guitar has its quirks and all need a special type of love.

The first big No-No with Floating Trems is just cutting the old strings off. You need to remember the physics of what we are trying to combat. By you cutting an active force from the equation, you can do some damage. The old Guitar Tech trick is to grab a rag or tea towel, and to stuff it into the cavity for the Floating Tremelo. This will lock off the Floyd from pulling past its fulcrum. This method protects the Tremelo itself, the Bridge Posts the Trem attaches too, the cavity directly underneath the Trem and the Springs.

Removed Locking Nut from an Ibanez JEM7V

Once the strings are off, be sure to give the naked fretboard and frets a clean. We like to then get the neck nice and straight, as making any truss rod adjustments at this stage is as easy as it gets. Remember- “Lefty Loosy, Righty Tighty”!

At this stage you should make sure all your Fine-Tuners are all their half-way point and are even. This will make any small changes easier and will leave you plenty of tuning scope during a gig.

Be really careful too when removing cut strings from a loosened String Block- as the blocks themselves are a number one candidate for “Things that dematerialize once I have taken my eye of them”. Easy to lose, but easy to replace, luckily.

String Block Assembly on an EDGE Tremelo

Then string back thru the Machine Heads leaving the Ball Ends at the neck end. Lock the strings into their blocks nice and tight- but be wary as some Trem’s Ferrule Screws can be weak- So over-tightening can strip the buggers quick as.

If you have ever struggled making sure you leave enough loose string before tuning up, then changing strings this way is a breeze.

Tune the strings up to tension and give everything a good stretch. This is where patience really helps. You can’t just pull once and expect things will settle straight away. Strings don’t bloody work that way!!! Take your time, pulling, tuning, pulling and retuning until thinks settle down. Only use the machine heads and not the Fine Tuners. And don’t fall into the trap of locking things off too early. Once you are happy with the Tuning Stability, remove the rag from the cavity and repeat the process. If the Trem isn’t sitting level then adjust the Springs at this point.

You should then use your smaller allen key to adjust the intonation for each string.

Also check to see if this new bit of pressure has affected the necks bow and straighten if needed. Then lock off the Locking Nuts. One trick is to just do this not super tight, then to leave the guitar for an hour or so to see if the neck moves at all and needs to settle. This is especially important if you are putting on a heavier gauge of string, as things are gonna move. Give the Trem a few good Divebombs (dumping it out) then back to its higher extremity to see if things are holding firm. Don’t be shy as a good Floyd Setup needs to be ready for some abuse!

Then the last move is to repeat- Unlock the Locking Nuts, Adjust the Neck if needed, Pull the Strings, Retune via the Machine Heads and make sure the Trem angle is correct.

Now it is time for the Hard Lock Off. Give the Locking Nuts a few good turns. You will find with some Trems that this extra pressure on the string will slightly put the strings out of tune. That’s what the Fine Tuners are for! A couple of Micro Turns on the Fine Tuners and things should be back in tune. If you are having to make some large adjustments at this point, then something isn’t balanced so rinsing and repeating might be necessary.

Fine Tuner Positions on a Floyd loaded PRS post setup after hard-locking the Nut. 

Now play the Guitar! Bold moves at this stage will help things settle for a long time so do not be afraid to give things a kick! It is not a good idea to bang the Floating Tremelo to its extremities (i.e You can feel the Trem hitting the Cavity) as you might pull the Tremelo of its Posts- WHICH IS A DISASTER. This is a cause of many Symptoms and Problems such as “My intonation is only correct on half of my strings?”, “I can hear this awful noise when using my Tremelo?” and “Why does my Floyd ‘click’ when I push on it?”.

If this happens the best thing is to take the whole Tremelo System apart (Strings off, Springs off and Trem out) to inspect/repair any damage and rebuild the system as per above.

Once you have done this restringing method two or three times, it will feel second nature. And you can be like us and can do restrings on Floyds in record time! If you are gigging and break a string, this firmer more balanced setup means you will need less Fine Tuner to sort things

It is worth mentioning at this stage, that Ibanez came up with the perfect fix to String Breaking issues. Their Zero Point system utilizes multiple Counter Weight Springs so even if you break 5 out of 6 Strings- you will still be in tune!

But that revolutionary system is a whole other story…

Ibanez's ZPRS Counter Balance System

In fact, Ibanez have gone a long way in taking the Floyd Systems to a whole new level, with multiple incarnations that are each designed to fix a problem, or to do something a little special.

So all you need to join the Floyd Club is Good Strings, Correct Spring Balance and a bit of Patience. And advice from us is always free so hit us up on the Phone, Chat, Email or Text and we can talk you thru the process.


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