Tremolo system lesson 2: How to tune a guitar with a Floyd rose/tremolo system installed on it
This is going to be a long lesson as a warning, as it’s a long process to set up a tremolo system, and you have to reset it every time the fine tuners at the bridge end of the guitar can no longer put the guitar back into tune.
I’ll explain this in simple and hopefully easy to understand steps. But first I will have to explain all the individual parts of the tremolo system and what they do so that you don’t accidentally damage your guitar in the process, or snap a string accidentally. A friend of mine was re-stringing a tennis racket which has plastic strings which are softer than guitar strings, snapped a string, and he burst his eyeball. Don’t take liberties and expect to come back unscathed; be careful with your instrument. It won’t be any danger to you unless you yourself do something to cause it.
There are numerous pieces of the tremolo system which include:
The locking nut screws; which are the three metal, square shaped objects with little screws going through them close to the head of the guitar.
The Tremolo Bridge; which is in the same place as a normal bridge, but works quite differently to a normal one; It’s the part where the strings are attached to the guitar body. Different systems have different bridges.
The tension screws; which are the screws used to hold the strings onto the guitar bridge, as the normal way of using the ball end of the string usually doesn’t work. Here they are the tiny black round screws just behind the strings on the bridge.
The fine tuners; which are used to fine tune the strings one the bridge and the rest of the guitar has been set up, as the regular tuners at the guitar head will not work once the locking nut screws are screwed down, and would likely snap the string if this was attempted.
The spring cavity, tension springs and the tension spring bolts; which determine what position the bridge is in and thereby how much tension is applied upon the springs.
And of course the tremolo arm; which is used to tilt the bridge to raise or lower the bridge to raise or lower the note(s) being produced by the guitar; it’s basically a long metal bar.
Right, now that the basics are done we can get to tuning you guitar. Now it doesn’t matter whether your guitar has got brand new strings on it that you’ve just put in, or it’s simply gone too far out of tune, this method of tuning will work both ways and with any gauge of string or tuning that you require. Now it may take a while the first couple of times you do this, but it does become more instinctive the more you do this.
First things first, while you are trying to tune, the bridge will most likely move and there by stop you from tuning the guitar properly. So you’ll have to block the bridge in place for the duration of tuning. Before you do this there are two things you must do first:
Unscrew the locking nut screws so that the tuners at the top of the guitar are now useable, and place all of the fine tuners on the bridge to halfway out. An easy way to do this is put one to completely in, another to completely out, then put all the rest in-between them and then put the two you started with at the same level as the others.
Now onto blocking the bridge: now some people will say that you need a specially cut piece of wood for this, but a small metal spoon works just as well. Now here’s the very important part. You have to block the bridge so that it’s parallel with the body of the guitar. This is the position you want the bridge to be in later when you are playing. Now here’s a trick to make sure the bridge doesn’t tilt up while you’re tuning. Tighten the spring tension bolts a bit tighter than they were before. This increases the tension and pulls the bridge down harder onto the spoon, etc, that’s blocking the bridge, stopping it from tilting up. If you don't know what I mean by blocking, you put the spoon or whatever you're using under the bridge so it can't move while you tune the guitar.
Now with the bridge blocked for the moment, tune your strings the way you want them. It doesn’t matter whether it’s standard E tuning, drop tunings, chord tunings, or however you like it, just tune it using the regular tuners on the guitar head. Once you have done this, re-screw the locking nut screws and check that the strings aren’t being pinched to the point that the tuning has changed. If they are this is most likely due to the screws being done up too tight, as they just need to hold the strings down, not squeeze them.
Now unblock the bridge. This will most likely cause the guitar to immediately go sharp as you tightened the screws in the spring cavity earlier. Don’t worry though. Tune one of the strings on your guitar just by using a tuner or by ear if you prefer, just by loosening the screws in the back of the guitar that control the springs until you hear the note you want, and tighten the screws if the note drops too low. Now check the rest of the strings on your guitar, and tune them with the fine tuners if any are out of tune. Because you tuned it while it was set with the bridge parallel, the bridge should now be parallel to the body without being blocked.
And there you are; you have successfully tuned your Floyd Rose/tremolo guitar from scratch and reset the tremolo system!
Now there are slight variations between tremolo systems but if you are confused, this lesson is specific to locking tremolo systems, so ask a technician if your tremolo system is one of these before attempting, or google it if you can’t be bothered.
The strings may take a while to settle, but this is the case with all new strings applied, so don’t worry if they are new. If the strings are quite old then they made need replacing if they won’t stay in tune. If the tremolo system doesn’t keep the strings in tune then check all the parts that I’ve mentioned so far to see if there’s anything that hasn’t been done right. If you’ve checked and all looks well but there’s still not a decent tuning being held, consult a technician as the system may need a complete overhaul.
And that’s pretty much it for this lesson. Next I’ll be showing you how to intonate your guitar so that all your harmonics are in tune as well. I hope this lesson has helped some of you guys out there.
Take care and I’ll see you next time!