trem

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.

Stringing a Bigsby

As a young man, I was largely immune to the charms of the Bigsby. All I saw was a cumbersome hunk of metal nailed to the front of an otherwise beautiful guitar. 

So much wasted time. Now, I love 'em. Perhaps this is a change that only maturity can bring. Like the pleasures of a lovely old whiskey, realising that facial and body-hair isn't all that great, or believing that all teenagers are up to no good. 

Either way, I now understand that Bigsbys look great and sound brilliant. 

They can be a pain to string up though. One little mini-trick, however, can make an annoying job just a bit less fiddly. 

What you'll want to do is to bend the string's ball end around something like a screwdriver. The string end takes on that rounded shape and it's easier to fish it around to hook onto the axle pin. 

Once hooked on, it's generally not too difficult to keep some pressure on the string as you get the tuner end sorted out but you can jam a piece of foam or something under the Bigsby axle to stop it flopping off in you have trouble. I've never found it necessary, though. 

Restring a Bigsby #1

Restring a Bigsby #2

Restring a Bigsby #4

Fish the bent string around the axle and onto the pin

Bigsby's own installation instructions mention bending the ball end to a 45º angle but I prefer this method—I don't like placing any hard kinks in a string as it could weaken it.

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.