floyd rose

Locking Nut String Retainer Bar Adjustment

Locking Nut String Retainer Bar Adjustment

You know the string retainer bar? Also known as the ‘dammit-I-forgot-to-put-the-string-under-it bar’. 
It’s that little thing on the headstock, between your nut and tuners. The strings install under it. 


You’ll find them most often on guitars with locking tremolo systems like Floyd Rose and Ibanez Edge bridges, and, on these instruments, it's important that it's properly adjusted.

Setup FAQ: Setting up for Dropped Tunings

Setup FAQ: Setting up for Dropped Tunings

If you play in dropped tunings or you detune your guitar, you'll probably want to give some thought to the instrument's setup. Do you set up for the dropped or standard tuning? What sort of setup adjustments should you worry about. What's the low-down? 

Get it? Low-down. Ha. Click through for more info and fewer jokes. 

Setting Intonation on a Floyd Rose

Intonation on Floyd Rose and Ibanez Edge variants

Ah, the Floyd Rose… The torment of Setter-Uppers the world over. There's no doubt that the double-locking tremolo does its intended job very well but they are a massive pain in the rump to set up. Anybody I know who does this for a living gives a little inward groan when a Floyd comes in for a setup. 

No sense complaining, though. Let's get to it and recap the intonation prerequisites.

By the way, for the most part, this intonation procedure applies to the Floyd variants as well as the Ibanez Edge variants.

The rest of your setup must be right for you before you start. Intonation is the last thing to set so get your action, relief, nut and pickups sorted out first. You should have fresh strings (of your usual gauge and brand) installed, properly stretched, and tuned up as normal.

Remember, always check intonation and tuning with the bass in the playing position (i.e. not lying on a table or counter but upright as if you were playing it).

The basic theory, as always, is this:

  1. Pick the open string and verify it’s in tune.
  2. Fret at the 12th fret and pick this note. Compare it to the open string—is it flat or sharp?
  3. If the 12th fret note is flat, move the saddle forward a little using a flat or philips screwdriver as appropriate.
  4. If the 12th fret note is sharp, move the saddle back a little by turning the screw clockwise.
  5. Retune the open string and go back to 1.

Now this basic theory is all well and good but a double-locking trem can have some idiosyncrasies that make it a bit more challenging. 

SADDLE LOCKING SCREW

On your Floyd, or similar bridge, the saddles are bolted to the bridge baseplate. In order to move a saddle back or forwards for intonation the saddle locking screw must first be loosened.

Location of saddle locking screws on Floyd and variants

Now, in order to gain access to get a hex key into the saddle locking screw, we need to slacken off that particular string. I know you'll be tempted to just push the string to the side but, if you try to make the adjustment without loosening the string, the tension will pull the saddle forward and you'll be unable to control how much it moves. 

With string tension slackened off, it's easy to just nudge the saddle back or forth.

After you've moved the saddle, you need to re-tighten the saddle locking screw, clamping the saddle to the baseplate again. This is necessary so that the saddle doesn't shift as you tune the string back up to pitch. To allow more adjustment range, each saddle-locking screw can be screwed into one of two holes—use the forward or rear screw-hole as needed to clamp down the saddle.

You need to do this, one string at a time, repeating the saddle movement until your intonation is where you want it. 

It's tedious but that's the price of a well-setup Floyd. There is a tool called 'The Key' that can help with original Floyds. More below.

Why can't i just dump the trem?

It is possible to avoid so much detuning and retuning by depressing the trem far enough down that the strings slacken and no longer pull on the saddle when you release the saddle lock screw. Of course, you have to hold it in this position as you make your adjustments.

If you can do this easily, go for it.

Personally, I find it a bit awkward. I don’t find any benefit in doing things this way and I feel it’s less risky to go the long way around.

INTONATION STEPS ON FLOYD ROSE-STYLE TREMOLO

So then, all of this adds to our intonation steps and makes our process as follows:

Note: All steps assume that the locking nut is NOT locked.

  1. Pick the open string and verify it’s in tune.
  2. Fret at the 12th fret and pick this note. Compare it to the open string—is it flat or sharp?
  3. If the 12th fret note is flat, slacken the string and loosen the saddle locking screw before moving the saddle forward a little.
  4. If the 12th fret note is sharp, slacken the string and loosen the saddle locking screw before moving the saddle back a little.
  5. Re-tighten the saddle locking screw to clamp the saddle back to the baseplate. Move the saddle locking screw to the forward or rear screw-hole as necessary to ensure adequate adjustment and a sound clamping.
  6. Tune that string back up to pitch, check tuning of the other strings (see below) and go back to 1.

Adjusting intonation on a Floyd Rose (using The Key in this instance). Allen wrench loosening saddle screw.

Keep checking your tremolo balance

If your bridge is floating or raised off the body, keep an eye on how it’s behaving as you proceed. If your saddles travel a lot during intonation, the overall tuning of the instrument and balance of the bridge can be affected.

Keep checking the tuning of the other strings as you go and, if they sharpen or flatten by much, adjust the tremolo spring tension (around the back) to bring them back to their original balance point. Loosening the screws holding the tremolo-claw/springs will lower string tension and tuning. Tightening the screws will raise overall tuning.

THE KEY INTONATION TOOL

If you have an Original Floyd Rose (or licensed OFR), there is a small, but handy, tool called The Key. 

The Key latches into place between the back of the bridge and the string-locking screw. Within limits, it allows you to set intonation under string tension.

The Key prevents the saddle pulling forward under string tension.

You fit the key and tension it so that the saddle doesn’t get pulled forward when you loosen the saddle locking screw (so youcan just push the string to the side rather than de-tuning it). Turning the adjustment on The Key allows you to move the saddle in a more controlled fashion.

The Key doesn’t work with anything other than the Original Floyd Rose style bridge. If you’ve another Floyd or an Edge or Lo-Pro you’re still de-and-re-tuning each time.

Also, The Key is better at ‘forwards’ movement (i.e. ‘with’ the string tension rather than against it) so it’s a good idea to set all of your saddles farther back before you start and move each forwards into position when you set intonation.

It’s not a panacea, but The Key can make a fiddly job slightly less fiddly.

Find The Key on Amazon: US | UK

Note: This Amazon link has my affiliate code attached. If you click it and buy stuff, Amazon gives me a few cents. It doesn’t cost you any more and it means that, every now and then, I get to buy some tea or something. If this bothers you, feel free to just search for the stuff yourself.

DOUBLE-LOCKING TREMOLO INTONATION QUIRKS

What? The detuning-loosening-moving-tightening-retuning-checking process isn’t quirky enough for you?

Ok, then…

Keep an eye on what hole the saddle lock screw is in. You’ll want it to make good contact with the saddle itself. I often see Floyds with a saddle barely clamped under a sliver of lock screw. You don’t want saddles slipping so move the screw to the hole that gives best purchase.

The nut deserves some serious consideration. Unlike a traditional nut, it’s not possible to set each string’s height individually. With your locking nut, the height has to be adjusted by inserting metal shims between it and the neck.

Since the height the strings sit in the nut plays a big part in intonation, it’s important to get it right. You can buy metal shims online (Stewart McDonald do a set of various thicknesses and you should have plenty of options if you Google ‘floyd rose shims’). You can stack different thickness of shim together to get things where you want.

Again, this is a bit fiddly and will probably involve some trial and error and a couple of tries.

SET INTONATION ON FLOYD ROSE SPEEDLOADER

The Floyd Rose Speedloader procedure is a little different. You can lock the trem in place before you start and each string can be slackened off by unlatching the string-saddle which means there’s not so much de/re-tuning involved.

Engage the tremolo stop.

  1. Pick the open string and verify it’s in tune.
  2. Fret at the 12th fret and pick this note. Compare it to the open string—is it flat or sharp?
  3. If the 12th fret note is flat, slacken the string by unlatching the saddle string release (as if you were changing the strings). Then loosen the saddle locking screw before moving the saddle forward a little.
  4. If the 12th fret note is flat, slacken the string by unlatching the saddle string release (as if you were changing the strings). Then loosen the saddle locking screw before moving the saddle back a little.
  5. Re-tighten the saddle locking screw to clamp the saddle back to the baseplate. Move the saddle locking screw to the forward or rear screw-hole as necessary to ensure adequate adjustment and a sound clamping.
  6. Re-latch the saddle (as if you’d just installed a new string) and tune that string back up to pitch Check tuning of the other strings (see below) and go back to 1.

Reinforcing Floyd Rose Cavities

Removing a regular tremolo bridge and installing a Floyd Rose is something that most repairers will do from time to time. Going the other way isn't quite so common though. It's generally a bit more rare to uninstall a Floyd in favour of a non-locking trem. 

And, in this particular instance, it threw up an issue that had to be dealt with.

The Floyd was to be removed from this Strat and a new non-locking trem installed in its place. Firstly, this meant plugging the existing Floyd post holes and drilling for new holes a little farther back. 


Incidentally, here's something worth stating for the benefit of those researching this topic. You'll find information online that the Schaller 3801 bridge will retrofit a Floyd. This isn't the case exactly. While the 3801 shares the Floyd's unusual post spacing, its overall footprint is smaller and it will not intonate if you don't move the posts back as I've done here. You'll need to plug and re-drill 6mm farther back. Sorry—no drop-in retrofit for you.


This new post hole is dangerously close to the cavity.

When I drilled those new post holes (you can see the new hole overlaps the plugged one in front), the treble side hole was dangerously close to the cavity. I wasn't prepared to take the risk that this thin sliver of wood wouldn't crack or break in the future. 

Best to play it safe and add in a little reinforcement here. 

Because there's plenty of space between the new trem block and this front cavity edge, I shaped a piece of wood to run the full width of that edge—not just a chunk to glue into that recess behind the post. This should give things a bit more strength and further reduce the risk of catastrophes. 

Gluing reinforcement strip to trem cavity wall

Reinforcement strip in place

I'll sleep a bit easier knowing that this post is less likely to break through the cavity wall some night the owner gives his whammy a wiggle. ;-)

Shoddy Floyd Rose Setup

Really, really shoddy work. And not just shoddy work but bare-faced, hard-necked, cheek.

You see, someone charged for this train wreck.

Really. Someone had the balls to claim to be a guitar repair tech, to claim to know how to set up a Floyd Rose equipped guitar, and then had the massive balls to actually charge for this.

Look at it (click to embiggen). A customer dropped it in recently and asked if I could have a look as they didn't think the last guy was quite on the level.

That's an understatement. Whoever it was that 'set this up' failed utterly to balance the Floyd bridge and shoved a messy wad of hard foam underneath to try compensate for that. Not that that's going to work as it's string tension pulling it to much - which is obvious from the insane angle of the 'rest' position. The guy didn't even mange to get the Floyd knife-edge bearing against the proper position on the posts - the bass-side actually bears against the threaded section of the post.

There's no way this system would ever work properly like this. It's got limited pitch-drop movement, no back/up movement, won't stay in tune, has really high action and, probably the least of the problems, the intonation's way out.

Someone charged for this. Look at it. Someone had the nerve to charge for this. I'm struggling with that.

I make mistakes, everyone makes mistakes. Most don't charge for their mistakes, however. And I think it's being generous to call this a mistake instead of lazy, opportunistic and even dishonest.