Floyd Rose: Setting Up, Restringing, Action Height + PROs and CONs


If you have any doubts about Floyd Rose tremolo system for electric guitar, this is the article for you.

I took my time and did my best to cover all issues bound to Floyd Rose. I hope you’ll enjoy reading it.

Let’s go!

What Is The Purpose Of Floyd Rose?

Back in the 1970s, a young guitar player named Floyd D. Rose was trying to make the Hendrix and Purple tremolo attacks and got frustrated because his 1957 Fender Stratocaster would always go out of tune.

This young man was not only a guitar player. He’s also been making and selling his own jewelry. That gave him the precision and skills to work with small metal parts.

He created his first model in 1976 that featured a locking nut and a tremolo with clamps. He solved his tuning issues and was able to use the vibrato bar on his guitar as much as he wanted. Rose changed the approach to guitar playing for an entire generation.

His first patent for the invention came along in 1979. Players like Eddie Van Halen, Brad Gillis and Neal Schon had one installed on their guitars. Soon after, master virtuoso Steve Vai followed and guitar playing suddenly involved some new skills made available by Floyd’s invention.

A first agreement with Kramer guitars took the model to worldwide recognition and the institution that it is today. It replaced all other double-locking tremolo systems in the business almost immediately.

So, Floyd D. Rose set out to make a tremolo system that would allow players to play with the whammy bar as much as they wanted. All of that, without modifying the tuning of their instruments.

You can check this video by Van Halen making extreme use of their tremolo system in the middle of a song and continuing to play it without any problems.

How Does a Floyd Rose Tremolo Work?

The principle of a Floyd Rose tremolo is that it is a double-locking unit that doesn’t allow the strings to move beyond two clamps located at the nut and the bridge of the guitar.

Since the guitar strings don’t move from that position, they always return to the same pitch and tuning when the tremolo system is flat. Let’s go through some of the parts.

  • locking nut with clamps

The top part of a Floyd-Rose guitar has a different kind of nut than other guitars.

If you pay attention you will realize that there are three (for six-stringers, four for seven and eight string models) metal clamps that are locked with hex springs.

The strings go through these clamps into the tuning pegs (if the guitar has them). Once the guitar is in tune, these clamps get closed tightly and strings will no longer move.

  • locking tremolo unit

The tremolo unit is located on the back part of the guitar, beyond the pickups.

This tremolo unit has another set of clamps that are individual for each string and that once locked don’t let the string move at all.

As it is a floating tremolo unit, it is connected to the guitar body through two big springs next to the last pickup. On the other far end of the tremolo system, you can find the micro tuning wheels.

These make the trem more accurate and fix tuning issues when the upper clamps are closed.

  • springs

This is not unique to Floyd Rose units, but common to all tremolo systems in the world. They work with springs loaded on the back of the instrument inside of a chamber.

They are usually three or five and can be adjusted for increased or decreased tension.

  • cavity

Since it is a floating unit with the ability to go down as most tremolos but also up, there is a cavity carved straight to the wood of the guitar to make room for this upwards movement.

For some guitar models, like the Fender Ritchie Sambora Signature, the Floyd Rose is single-action and hence there is no hole.

  • micro tuning wheels

The micro tuning wheels are on the far back of every Floyd Rose unit and are a great way to fine-tune your instrument to perfection.

Also, they work wonders to tune your guitar once you’ve closed the upper clamp if it’s gone out of tune. They weren’t present in Floyd’s first model.

They came as a an addition to make it easier for players to tune without opening the upper clamps.

The Floyd Rose tremolo unit is attached to the guitar with two bolts. Other than that, it is completely floating on a cavity, allowing the dual action and the extreme stability.

Activated with a whammy bar, your instrument can go up or down and go back to perfect pitch easily.

How Do You Set Up a Floyd Rose?

Setting up a Floyd Rose is not as difficult as it might seem at first glance. It is not an easy endeavor either.

You can go DIY on it or have a qualified technician do it for you. I recommend you have it done by an expert.

If you decide to go DIY, my favorite video is this one by SkyScraper Guitars. It shows you every step going from zero to fully intonated and ready to play step by step.

Let’s go through the steps right here.

1. Put Fresh Strings On

This is the first rule for setting up any electric guitar in the world.

Always install fresh strings on them before you start the process. To put on the strings in a Floyd-Rose equipped guitar, you need to cut out the ball-end and put it through the clamp at the tremolo unit.

After adjusting the lower clamp, put the string through the upper clamp at the locking nut and then into the tuning pegs to tune it.

Do that with the six strings.

2. Lock The Bridge

There are million options to lock the bridge. Choose the one that you like the most and start the set up process.

If you don’t lock the bridge, it is going to be impossible to deal with the floating qualities of it. It will, at the end, become a very complicated mess.

3. Adjust The Truss Rod

The truss rod is what modifies the curve of your guitar’s neck to make the pull of the strings not to break it in two.

This is quite a delicate thing and it is always better to have a qualified technician do it for you.

4. Adjust Your Guitar’s Intonation

Just like any other tremolo system in the world, you have an individual intonation saddle for each string that can be modified from the bridge itself.

You should check the open string sound against the harmonic at the twelve fret. Then adjust that difference moving the saddle back and forth.

We are going to it particularly in the next section, but you can adjust the action at this point too.

5. Close All Clamps And Fine-Tune Your Guitar

Once you have done all the adjustments (including tuning your guitar perfectly), close all clamps and use the micro-tuning wheels to take it to perfection.

Once you have your guitar perfectly tuned and with all the clamps closed; chances are you’re going to enjoy the perfect tuning for some time.

How Do You Lower The Action On Floyd Rose?

The action of a guitar (any electric guitar) depends on two things: the bow of your neck and the height of your saddles.

The interaction between these two factors has as a result the height of the string against the fretboard known as “action” on your guitar. The higher the action, the more force you have to apply in order to play a note.

That’s because the distance between string and fret is higher. If the action is lower, it becomes easier to play effortlessly covering a smaller distance. The only precaution when lowering the action is that the strings might touch another fret and make an annoying buzz sound.

To lower the action, you have to adjust the truss rod, which I don’t recommend you do on your own. If you want to take a chance, you have to remove the truss rod cover. With the right tool, you have to move the tensor clockwise or counter clockwise.

By putting a capo on your first fret and pressing with your finger on the 20th to 24th fret you need to check the distance between the fifth fret and the sixth string. Adjust it to be less than one millimeter.

Once the truss-rod adjustment is done, you can go to the saddles and try lowering the strings from there too. Bear in mind that you need to avoid string buzzing, so don’t go too far down.

Check it real time, play it for an entire day, see how it fees and then adjust it again.

Does Floyd Rose Affect Tone?

Yes, it does. But it doesn’t affect it in a negative way.

For many players, using a guitar with a Floyd Rose affects the tone of their instrument. It makes a sustain shorter and it cuts off some of the low end.

The theory behind this assumption is that Floyd Roses, or any other kind of double-locking tremolo, prevents the strings and the bridge to sit on the wood of the body.

That way, a Floyd Rose is making the guitar resonate less and it kills some of the frequencies in the way.

Technically, it sounds very convincing; it is a good theory. The fact that it affects your playing is a different thing.

For example, if you happen to play with a lot of distortion, then you will never feel the difference while being able to pull all the tricks this tremolo system allows you.

If you are more of a tone purist or minimalist, then you will notice the lack of vibration on your guitar’s body and its effect on tone.

The height of the strings is also a huge factor to the overall tone and feel of your instrument. In this sense, Floyd-Rose equipped instruments are always the ones that allow for the lowest action.

So, to answer the opening question: does a Floyd Rose affect tone?

The answer is a definite yes. Will it affect your playing negatively? Well, that depends on your playing style and the rest of your gear.

How Do You Change Strings On Floyd Rose?

To change the strings in a Floyd Rose tremolo is very easy.

The thing I think you should never do unless you are doing a complete set up of your instrument, is to remove all the old strings at once.

This will cause the Floyd Rose unit to literally fall inside the cavity. This can ruin the previous set up your guitar had.

That being said, you can check this great video to help you out in case you are a visual learner.

1. Open the clamps at the locking nut.

2. With your tuning pegs relieve the tension on the desired string.

3. Once it is loose, take it out from the tuning peg.

4. Open the clamp of the bridge (only) for the string you just unwind.

5. Take the old string out of the guitar.

6. Cut the ball end on the new string.

7. Put the new ball-less string inside the empty clamp and close it firmly until it is tight.

8. Make the string go all the way to the tuning peg making sure it goes through the designated cavity at the locking nut.

9. Wind the string to its tuning peg and tune it to the note you want it to be at.

10. Repeat the same steps with all the strings in your guitar.

PROs

Here are some advantages of having a Floyd Rose.

1.  Extreme Divings And Pulls

The first pro is actually the main reason why some guitar players do choose a Floyd Rose equipped guitar in the first place.

With time, even these moves got a specific name like for example doing a “dive bomb”. That means to let the strings loose in the guitar by activating the tremolo and going all the way down.

This way, all the strings will go floppy and they will virtually not make any noise at all. When you hear it is actually as a dive bomb killing the guitar sound after making it go down in pitch.

On the other hand, it is also possible to do a pull on this kind of floating bridge and have it go up in pitch from the original note. This was very common in the eighties and early nineties in which many guitars would have a Floyd Rose system.

You can check the amazing guitar player from Pantera and Damage Plan, Dimebag Darrell doing an extreme pull with a harmonic and taking the original note way higher.

Extreme dives and pulls to do all kinds of fun tricks are definitely PRO number one and the reason behind many people’s choice.

Check this interesting article from this page:

2.  Tuning Stability

OK, so you can do some fun stuff with your Floyd Rose, but is that all it is good for?

Well, the answer to that question is a definite no. I used to have this amazing Ibanez EX Series in pitch black that was an absolute dream and I’ve been playing it extensively during my teenage years.

I learnt all my chops on that thin and beautiful neck. My life went on and I discovered the almighty Telecaster and then owned my first Les Paul and the rest is (unknown) history.

One fine day I found the Ibanez EX Series inside a case with a million stickers on it and I realized I hadn’t played it in more than three years at least.

I opened the case and strummed an E major chord and to my absolute surprise. It was perfectly in tune. Can you believe it?

Well, this is one of the biggest positive things about a Floyd Rose: the tuning stability. Yes, it is difficult to set it perfectly in tune, but once you do, it will hold up like no other guitar.

Check this related article from this page about tuning stability of tremolo systems.

3. Tuning Accuracy

Along with the tuning stability, Floyd-Rose-equipped guitars have an amazing accuracy. That’s because of the micro tuning you can do with the dedicated wheels.

Although there are some guitars that don’t have a Floyd Rose bridge and have the micro-tuning wheels too like for example BB King’s Lucille, they don’t have the accuracy achieved by double-locking trems.

Once you tune your guitar perfectly and close the clamps at the locking nut, you can still perfect your tuning with the micro-tuning wheels.

This can take your guitar to absolute perfect pitch. Also, if it goes slightly out of tune (yes, Floyd Rose systems go out of tune eventually) you can tune it using these little devices in the back of your tremolo.

All of that without the need to reopen the clamps at the locking nut to use the guitar’s traditional tuning pegs.

4. You Can Change Strings Without Flipping The Guitar

This is a plus when you compare a Floyd-Rose-equipped guitar with a Telecaster or a Stratocaster that have the strings going through the body or the tremolo, respectively.

If you have ever re-stringed any of these instruments, you’ll know that you have to flip it time and again to be able to finish the job because strings are inserted from the bottom.

When you are restringing a Floyd-Rose equipped guitar, all you have to do is to cut off the ball end and close the clamp on the tremolo system and the one at the locking nut to finish the job.

Not flipping the guitar many times is, for many of us, a plus of this tremolo system.

CONs

There are, however, some disadvantages of Floyd Rose tremolo systems. Let’s go through each.

1. It Is Technically Very Complicated

This is, to me, the biggest disadvantage characteristic for Floyd Rose tremolo systems.

I am a writer but also a touring musician and have been on the road for some time without a huge budget.

If I have a problem with my Telecaster (or Yamaha), I open it and get it fixed myself right away or watch a YouTube tutorial or, worse case scenario, take it to the closest repair shop.

If I have a Floyd-Rose equipped axe, chances are I am totally out of that guitar if I have an inconvenience with the tremolo system.

I speak from experience, because yes, it happened to me more than once. So, the technical complications of it are quite a drawback for me.

2.  If One String Goes Out Of Tune Or Breaks, You’re Completely Out Of Tune

Another hugely important thing for a touring or live-playing musician like me is this.

If a string breaks on your Floyd Rose guitar, you are completely out of battle. As it is a floating tremolo, what keeps it straight (and hence in tune) is the way strings pull evenly.

If you happen to break a string, that even tension that made it stable, in tune and reliable, is completely lost and hence, your entire guitar goes completely out of tune.

Yes, the entire thing, not just a string.

It is a helpless moment in which you just need another guitar and can’t even finish the song.

On the other hand, if you break a string, let’s say of a Telecaster, you can finish the song and then put the fresh replacement string on it for the next tune.

3. Can’t Do Drop Tunings On Stage

Because of the same principle that we spoke about in the last CON, if you modify the tension of any of the strings, the others will compensate and hence, go completely out of tune.

Let’s say you have one song in the set with a drop-D tuning (very common, right?).

You need either another guitar in that tuning, to have your partners and audience give you solid five minutes to balance it again with a drop D or get an EVH D-tuna installed on your sixth string.

The drawback of the D-Tuna is that it requires you to lock your trem and make it one-way only (down).

Anyway, if you’re interested, check this interesting related article from this page about guitars best for low tuning playing style.

4. Tuning Takes a While

Yes, right from the last two, you have this third disadvantage, because of the floating quality of the trem.

Tuning is about leveling it perfectly and it can take a while.

The best way to do it is to take the out-to-in approach which means you should tune your outer strings first (low E and high E).

Then go to the next to (A and B) and finally the center two (D and G). Not doing this will mean that once you get to the higher E having started from the lower E, the guitar will out of tune again and you have to start all over.

5. You Need Specific Parts

Have you ever seen, in a set of pickups, the sticker saying “F-Spaced”?

This IS especially common in Dimarzio pickups, a brand that has been manufacturing pickups and accessories for Floyd-Rose equipped guitars since the beginning. It still creates the signature models for Vai, Satriani and the rest.

Well, this means that the pickup has the spacing to fit the strings of a Floyd-Rose-equipped guitar which is not the same as the regular trems.

6. Set Up Is More Complicated Than Regular Trems

Finally, the final disadvantage that I can find for this tremolo system is that the set up process is more complicated than guitars equipped with regular tremolo systems.

There are plenty of tutorials in YouTube showing you how to do it.

Still, none of them will take less than twenty minutes or use simple, easy-to-get tools.

Also, if you have the set up done by professionals, they will charge you extra for a guitar with a Floyd Rose tremolo system than a traditional one.

Conclusion

I hope this article gave you some valuable information and insights about Floyd Rose tremolo systems.

Everything has both positive and negative sides. Floyd Rose tremolo system is not different.

If you enjoyed reading this article as much as I enjoyed writing it, I’m more than happy about it.

Don’t forget to check out other interesting articles from this site.

Cheers, and rock on!

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