Last month we touched on some homemade ways to convert your Floyd Rose into a fixed tremolo. This month, as part of the set up series we will go over some basics on how to change strings and set up a Floyd Rose equipped Axe.
Quick History Lesson Time: Floyd D Rose was a guitarist and engineer that played in a number of Seattle based bands back in the seventies. He like most guitarist of the time was influenced by guys like Hendrix and Blackmore and used his tremolo a lot. Frustrated by not being able to keep his Axe in tune he set out to invent a better wheel. By the late seventies he had a working unit and started marketing his new double locking tremolo design. The first bridges and nuts were hand built, custom made units and were quickly picked up by some of the more influential guitarists at the time, Eddie Van Halen, Neil Schon and Brad Gillis to name a few. In October of 1979 Rose was granted a patent for the new tremolo design. As word spread about the new design, demand out grew Rose’s ability to custom fabricate the tremolos and in early 1980 Rose entered into a licensing agreement with Kramer Guitars to fabricate the tremolos. The Floyd Rose tremolo was featured on many of the guitars in the Kramer product line and made these Axes very popular with the 80’s big hair bands. These early Floyd Rose tremolos were not equipped with the fine tuning system that is now standard on today’s FR Original units. In February of 1985 Rose was granted a patent for the first generation of fine tuners and saddles. As demand grew further for the tremolo, both Rose and Kramer started licensing the manufacture of the tremolos to other suppliers and guitar makers. In January 1991, Kramer’s exclusive agreement with Rose ended and Fender Musical Instruments Corporation (FMIC) announced that they would be the new exclusive distributor for Floyd Rose products. This agreement lasted until 2005 when distribution of the Floyd Rose Original tremolo reverted to Floyd Rose (Now a Division of AP International).
Enough of the boring stuff, let’s get to changing your strings.
Note: The next section covers the setup and changing of strings on a floating, original type Floyd Rose tremolo. A lot of what we discuss here can also be used on other Floyd Rose models but there may be some small differences. So if in doubt visit their web site and check out their Tech Info section.
First Check the set up
The first thing you to do is visually check that your Floyd is set up properly on you Axe. By that I mean that the body of the tremolo (i.e. the Base plate) is parallel with the body of your guitar. With your Axe tuned to pitch, tilt it on its side and check that the top of the base plate is parallel to the top of your guitar body. If not you will need to adjust the spring tension while tuning your Axe until you get the correct balance between the tension generated by your strings and the tension generated by the tremolo springs. First take a No. 3 metric Allen key and loosen the three hold down clamps at the nut so you can use your headstock tuners to tune your Axe.
No. 3 Allen Key to loosen the hold downs at the Nut
Next remove the spring cover plate on the back of your Axe to get access to the springs and the spring claw.
If your Floyd is angling up away from the body, tighten the screws holding the spring claw in towards the body by a few turns. Then retune your Axe and check where the tremolo top plate has moved to. If it is still angling away from the body tighten the spring claw screws a bit more and retune again. Repeat this procedure until you get the top plate parallel with your body.
Still a slight up tilt. Need to tighten the spring claw a bit more.
If your Floyd is angled down towards the body, or touching the body, release some of the tension by backing off the screws holding the spring claw in place. Retune your Axe and check if the tremolo is parallel. Again you may need to repeat this a few times until you get everything just right.
Next using your 6” rule, check your string height. Adjust your string height by turning the two tremolo fulcrum and height adjusting posts on either side of the tremolo until you are happy with the string height.
Tremolo fulcrum and height adjusting posts.
Adjusting the Micro Tuners
Once you get the setup correct you need to adjust the micro tuners. When you do this, your Axe is going to go out of tune. Don’t worry about it, all were doing now is setting up the micro tuners to give you the maximum amount of adjustment later when you put your new strings on. Start by screwing the (4) four or (5) five (on a seven Strings) center adjusting wheels almost all the way in. Now set the two outside adjusting wheels so that you have about the same amount of up and down travel on both of them. I.E. there’s the same amount of screw thread above the holding plate as there is below the plate.
Same amount of thread above the plate as below.
This gives you the same amount of pitch correction in both the sharp and flat range. With both outside screws set to the same height, take a 6” steel rule and place it over the top of the two outside adjusting wheels. Then raise the center ones until they touch the underside of the rule. This way they are all set at the same height.
Two outside wheels set, with the 4 inside ones down lower.
All six set at the same height.
Note: If you are using both standard and drop D tunings on your Axe the micro adjustment on a standard Floyd should give you enough adjustment to go from an open E to an open D. But there’s a trick to get there. Instead of setting the bass E string adjusting wheel at the mid travel point, as described above, you will need to set it up differently. Turn the adjusting wheel all the way until it bottoms out on the holding plate. Then back it out one and a half turns. Now tune your Bass string to an open E and try it out. Plug your Axe into your tuner, and back the adjusting wheel out until you hit the open D. You should still have a bit of adjustment on the wheel for limited fine tuning but it works!
Changing the Strings
Before we start change strings make sure the three hold downs at the nut have been loosened up. Better yet take them off completely and put them in a parts holder so you don’t lose any parts, this will make changing your strings easier.
Remove the Hold Downs. Put them somewhere safe!
Start with your Bass E string and change one string at a time. First, slack off the string tension and remove the string from the tuning peg. Then take the same No. 3 metric Allen key and loosen the string clamping screw at the bridge.
Loosen the string clamping screw to remove the string at the bridge.
Be care full here, you don’t want to lose the small hardened steel string holding block that is now loose in the saddle. (Trust me; they can be a real bitch to find if it drops out of the saddle!!!).
Do Not Loose this Little F?cker. Your life will be miserable!
Next take your new E string and cut off the ball end with a pair of wire cutters. Make your cut about 1½” (38mm) from the ball end. Now insert the end of the string into the saddle between the face of the saddle and the hardened steel string holding block. Make sure the string is all the way down into the slot and that it is centered with the groove on the top of the saddle. Now using your Allen key tighten the locking screw until the string is firmly held in place.
Remove the Ball end from your new strings.
Insert your new string and clamp it in place by tightening the locking screw.
A word of warning here, don’t crank on this locking screw too much, it is surprising how little pressure is actually required to hold your strings in place. Too much pressure can actually break your string or even worse strip a thread, so apply just enough pressure to hold the string in place.
Once the string is installed at the bridge, install it on your tuning peg just like any other guitar, make sure you have at least three windings on the post and tune it to pitch.
Try and keep a minimum of 3 windings on each tuner post.
Now repeat the same exercise for the rest of your strings. Make sure you only change one string at a time. By changing one string at a time you will keep sufficient string tension on the tremolo so that it will not pop off the two fulcrum support posts.
Checking your Intonation
Here’s where the real fun starts! If you have ever tried to adjust the intonation on a Floyd you know how much of a pain in ass it can be. There are no screws for adjusting intonation! If you try and take the short cut of doing it with the string tuned to pitch, you know, that as soon as you unlock the saddle hold down screw, it will move forward due to the string tension. Then you are faced with trying to figure out where it was before you loosened the hold down screw and where to move it too. Or, you can take your time, loosen your string each time, move the saddle to where you think it should be, tune your string again and check the intonation. Now 9 times out of 10 it will still be out and you will need to repeat the same procedure a number of times to get it dead on. Most guys, just give up and live with an Axe that is slightly out. So here is how you make your life easy!! Go to Stew Mac and spent the grand total of $15.00 (plus shipping) and buy “The KEY”.
The KEY hooks on both raised plate and the locking screw. You adjustment your Intonation by turning the black knob.
This is one of the greatest little gadgets out there and is also one of the reasons I still have all of my hair!! The Key installs on all Micro Tuner type “Original Floyd Rose” units and allows you to fine tune your intonation with your string tuned to pitch, the same way that you would do it on a vintage style tremolo.
With the Key installed loosen the saddle hold down screw with a No. 2.5 metric Allen key. Go about the adjustment the same way you would on any bridge. One nice thing with a Floyd is that you have two hold down screw positions to choose from. If your saddle is too forward use the front hold down screw position. If you need to move the saddle back a lot use the rear hold down screw position. Play with each saddle till you get each one of them right.
Play the Crap out of it
Once you get your Intonation set up, play the crap out of your Axe for a while, stretch your new strings out and make sure they are as stable as you can get them before you re-install the three hold downs at the nut. There is no point in locking down your strings at the nut until they are stretched out, your Axe will only go out of tune right away.
Squeeze the Nut
So you have stretched your strings out and it’s time to reinstall the three locking clamps at the nut. If you just go ahead and clamp them down I guaranty your Axe will go out of tune, plus you will lose some of the micro adjustment you have just worked so hard to get. This is because each string is a different gauge and the hold down clamps will put a different amount of pressure on each string as you tighten them down. This is what I do to maximize the tuning adjustment when I re-install the hold downs at the nut. Start with the E and A strings, as soon as you start to make contact with your strings check the tuning of your Axe. Make a half turn on the Allen screw and then adjust your tuning by using your tuners at the headstock, not the micro tuners. Tighten it again after each re-tune. Do this on each pair of strings until they are all done and all tightened down. Do your final tuning adjustment with your micro tuners and you are done.
That’s all the time we have this month Boys and Girls. Come on back next month (Same Bat time, Same Bat Channel) and I promise we will finish of the set up series.
Cheers, Be Good to Each Other and Remember
“The most important part of my religion is to play guitar” “Lou Reed”
To read more about Mark click HERE