A Guitarist’s Guide To the Floyd Rose Bridge System

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The Floyd Rose was invented back in 1976 and rose to popularity during the early 1980s. The world began seeing these double-locking tremolo systems fitted to the guitars of some of the industry’s most iconic players. Even now, the Floyd Rose brand is a fashionable choice for guitar makers and players alike.

Whether you’re using a Floyd Rose system for the first time or you’re an expert getting back to your roots, here’s a bit of history behind this high-tech tremolo, as well as a small guide covering the more technical aspects.

Floyd Rose – What Is It?

The Floyd Rose tremolo is what we call a double-locking bridge system. It came about in the late ‘70s thanks to a man by the name of Floyd D. Rose (clever, right?). Now, you may have seen this system on the axes of some of the most prominent players in the ‘80s, including Steve Vai and Eddie Van Halen. Guitarists often credit those two for Floyd Rose’s venture into the mainstream.

What is essential to understand is that Floyd Rose systems didn’t simply pop out of thin air. In fact, they were designed very similarly to the vintage screw-in tremolos from 1950s Fender Stratocasters, which is another system that remains popular today. These old-school screw-in tremolos gave guitarists the ability to raise and lower pitch using a tremolo bar to pull-off a vibrato-style effect.

Floyd Rose, however, decided to push this idea forward. 

The Floyd Rose system allows guitarists to lock strings in at two points on the guitar — the bridge and the nut. You insert the strings into the bridge’s locking saddles, which are fixed into place via an Allen key with tightening bolts at the back of the bridge. Each string has a “fine-tuning” mechanism as well, allowing players to tune their guitars in case there are any slight changes.

Next comes the locking nut, which takes the place of your standard synthetic or bone nut. It uses three metal plates that lock down the strings using an Allen key. This locking nut allows guitarists to go nuts with the whammy bar without pushing their guitars out of tune every five seconds.

The Elements of a Floyd Rose

To better understand how a Floyd Rose system functions, it is necessary to understand the various parts. Let’s take a look at the main components of the Floyd Rose tremolo system:

Bridge and Tremolo Arm

The bridge mounts to the guitar’s body and is the element to which the strings are attached. The tremolo arm locks into the bridge and can be removed at any time.

Mounting Posts

The mounting posts help hold the tremolo arm in position. Because the Floyd Rose tremolo is a ‘floating’ bridge, meaning it does not rest against the body, these mounting posts must make contact with the bridge to hold it in place.

Tension Springs and Screws

The tension springs sit in the guitar’s back cavity, countering the string tension on the guitar. Essentially, while the strings pull the bridge up, the springs pull the bridge back down to counter the tension. The tension springs are mounted with screws. One end of the screws attaches to the mounting plate while the other attaches to the bridge. Guitarists can adjust these screws as well, depending on where they want the plate’s position.

Spring Mounting Plate

There are five positions on the mounting plate where strings are mounted. Depending on the amount of tension you want, you can change the number of springs and their positions on the plate.

String Retainer

The string retainer is a bar that sits on top of the strings, near the headstock, to help retain their position.

Locking Nut

Strings eventually pass through the locking nut, which is adjustable via hex nuts. The locking nut holds the strings in position. This second locking element is why we refer to the Floyd Rose as a “double-locking” system.

String Retainer Screw

The string retainer screw is used to adjust the guitar string against the end of the saddle. You can loosen this long screw using a hex key, when you’re removing the strings, and tighten it when you are putting a new string in.

Mounting Space

The Mounting Space is the spot where the bridge makes contact with the mounting posts. In fact, this is the only point of contact, besides the back-end springs, that the Floyd Rose makes with the guitar.

String Saddles

The strings run through the string saddles before they are clamped into position with the saddle nut.

Fine Tuners

When the strings have been locked into place, you can use the fine tuners to adjust the tuning. The fine tuners don’t require any tools and can be adjusted with your fingers.

Intonation Adjuster

To move the position of the saddle, you can adjust this nut with a hex key.

Changing String Gauges or Tuning

Because the Floyd Rose system works by balancing string tension with the back-end springs, any change that alters this tension will require an adjustment or two. I keep my Floyd Rose a full step down at all times. If I ever want to change to standard tuning, I must re-balance the bridge.

The same thing goes for string gauges, as swapping out different strings requires a full adjustment as well. This is one of the biggest downsides of the Floyd Rose system.

Restringing a Floyd Rose System

Because of this need for rebalancing, re-stringing a Floyd Rose is a major pain point for guitarists who are new to the system, which is precisely why I want to provide a short guide for re-stringing a Floyd Rose bridge. Any Ibanez owners should note that these same steps will also apply!

 1. Mise En Place

Start by getting yourself some new strings. It is highly recommended that you stick with the same gauges as before, though if you decide to change it up, we’ll go over what you need to do.

To remove the old strings, you’ll need to use an Allen key. Allen keys, otherwise known as hex keys, are simple tools that drive or bolts with hexagonal head sockets. If you don’t have one already, you can get a set for next to nothing down at your local hardware store. You’ll need them to loosen and tighten the majority of the Floyd Rose components.

To expedite the process, I recommend getting a string winder and dedicated string cutters as well. If you need to make adjustments to the strings beneath the backplate, having a Phillips screwdriver handy is necessary. You might not need a screwdriver necessarily, though if you’re altering your string gauges, it’s a must.

2. Get Rid of Those Grimy Old Strings

Remove the locking nut plates first and put them off to the side where you won’t lose them. Doing this will unlock the strings, allowing you to unwind and remove them with ease. Make sure to remove one string at a time, replacing a new string right away. The process here is very different from regular string swapping, in which we remove all of the old strings at once.

However, remember that the main goal here is keeping everything balanced. 

By removing and replacing strings one by one, we retain that tension. Now, use your string winder to unwind your lowest string with the peg until it loses tension. Loosen that string’s saddle at the end of the bridge with your Allen key to pull the string out.

You might notice the bridge dipping in the back if you have a floating system, which just means that the bridge lost a bit of tension after the string was removed. Once you replace that string, the tension will come back as well.

3. Replacing Your Old String

Take your new string out of the pack and use your string cutters to cut the ball off the string’s back end. Run it carefully through the corresponding saddle and use your Allen key to tighten it. Once your string has been secured to the bridge, you can run the other end through the tuning post at the headstock. As per usual, make sure that there is enough slack so that the string can wrap around the post a few times.

If you use the same string gauges, the tension should return once the string is tuned to pitch, allowing the bridge to sit flush with the guitar’s body.

If you are changing gauges, you’ll have to perform a bit of additional work. Heavier string sets put more strain on the springs, generating more tension. Without any adjustments, the bridge will pop up out of the guitar. A bridge that sits forward will knock the intonation out of whack.

To avoid this, you must open the backplate and adjust the strings. Grab your Phillips screwdriver and tighten the screws until the bridge sits parallel with the body. Be sure to only adjust it a quarter-turn at a time before checking.

4. Rinse and Repeat

Are you feeling confident now? Time to hit the other strings!

Once all of the strings have been changed, tune them up to the desired pitch and make sure your bridge is sitting level. Gently stretch and strum your strings for a while to break them in. Once you have played them for a while and you feel like they’ve been broken in, fit the nuts back on and tighten them up.

While we’re here, NEVER attempt to adjust the tuning using the tuning pegs. The fine tuners on the bridge are there for a reason. Trying to adjust the tuning pegs won’t do anything since the strings are locked into place. All you’ll end up doing is breaking your newly set strings.

Is the Floyd Rose System Right for You?

Love it or hate it, after four decades, the Floyd Rose system is here to stay. If you’re looking for supreme tuning stability, as well as the ability to go nuts with your whammy bar, then the Floyd Rose system is 100% worth it.

Of course, as you can see from this article, the Floyd Rose system requires a bit more love and care than your standard tremolo bridge. There is a pretty big learning curve to get over before you become comfortable with it. You must be willing to learn the ways of the Floyd Rose if your aim is to shred. Be patient, mindful, and attentive, and the Floyd Rose will endow you with the power to play like the rock gods.

Tyler is a guitarist, singer, producer, composer & engineer based in Los Angeles. In between duties at Humbucker Soup, he swims in the shark tank of music licensing for film and television. His favorite axe is his custom Pelham Blue Fender Stratocaster.