Tuning Stability on Vibrato or Tremolo Bridges

If your guitar includes a tremolo arm, commonly referred to as a whammy or wang bar, you’ll need to adjust the bridge from which it protrudes in order for the tuning stability to be unaffected when the tremolo arm is used. There are several types of vibrato or tremolo systems, ranging from those which produce subtle wavering effects through the radical dive-bomb style locking trems, to the highly complex transposing tremolo bridges. Each of these needs to be adjusted, especially when the existing strings are replaced with new strings of a different gauge. Otherwise, the guitar will not stay in tune when the tremolo arm or whammy bar is deployed. Many guitarists own instruments which they favor but whose tremolo systems they do not use. In such cases it is advisable to disable or block the system in question for the sake of tuning stability when a string breaks or when changing to a different gauge string set.

Fender® Vintage Vibrato Bridge

Lift up the tremolo arm to make the bridge sit flat on the surface of the guitar body. Using a Phillips screwdriver, unscrew the six screws at the front edge of the bridge plate to a height of 1.6mm (1/16th of an inch) above the top surface of the bridge. Tighten the outer screws (No. 1 & 6) until they meet the top surface of the bridge plate.

To disable: Remove the cavity cover on the rear of the guitar and tighten both spring retainer screws until the bridge plate is laying flush to the top surface of the guitar. Remove the vibrato arm and store it in your guitar case.

 

Fender® American Series Tremolo Bridge

For a two-pivot model such as the American Series bridge, use the tremolo arm to pull the bridge back flush with the body and adjust the two pivot screws to the point where the tremolo plate sits entirely flush at the body (not lifted at the front or back of the plate).

Allowing the bridge to float freely (no tension on the tremolo arm) using the claw screws in the tremolo cavity, adjust the bridge to the desired angle— the Fender spec is a 1/8″ (3.2 mm) gap at rear of bridge. Re-tune periodically to get the right balance between the strings and the springs. If you prefer a bridge flush to the body, adjust spring tension to equal string tension while the bridge rests on the body (you may want to put an extra 1/2 turn to each claw screw to ensure that the bridge remains flush to the body during string bends). Avoid putting too much tension on the springs, as the tremolo arm will feel unbalanced. Sparingly apply a small amount of lubricant gel at the pivot contact points of the bridge for smoother operation.

To disable: Remove the cavity cover on the rear of the guitar and tighten both spring retainer screws until the bridge plate is laying flush to the top surface of the guitar. Remove the vibrato arm and store it in your guitar case.

 

Bridges with Bigsby Vibrato System

Test for burrs and obstructions by listening for pinging or creaking sounds and sudden jumps in pitch. You will be able to observe them immediately on the StroboPlus screen when the image suddenly jumps or reverses direction. Use a nut file or fine sandpaper to remove burrs and add graphite or a similar lubricant to aid the smooth passage of the string over the bearing surfaces such as the saddle and nut. Different guitars react differently to a Bigsby; bear in mind that this is a subtle vibrato effect and therefore not suitable for dive-bombing or similar acrobatics.

The Bigsby is most often used on Gretsch, Fender Telecaster, Gibson Les Paul, ES, SG, Epiphone and Rickenbacker guitars. The smoothest Bigsby operation is often encountered when it is mounted on a guitar with a roller bridge as the strings roll and do not slide over the saddles and thus are less susceptible to drag or snag.

When putting new strings on a guitar equipped with a Bigsby, gently pre-bend the ball end of the string before placing it around the axle and hooking the ball-end of the string onto the axle pin of the Bigsby. Take a small piece of foam or stiff piece of cardboard folded in two and wedge it between the guitar body surface and the axle to keep the string anchored on the pin until you tune the string up to tension. Make sure that the string’s ball-end is sitting tightly at the base of the axle pin to avoid later slippage.

Guitars which feature a Bigsby vibrato rarely have locking nuts, so ensure that the nut is sufficiently “slippery” to allow smooth passage of the string when the Bigsby is used. Also, avoid excess string on the capstan of the tuning machines on the headstock. Overlapping string windings may lead to unstable return to tune during the operation of the Bigsby. Installing a set of locking tuners can greatly improve performance and tuning stability by considerably reducing the length of “dead” string wound on the capstan. Locking tuners are available as drop-in replacements for most guitars.

If used too heavily, the spring part can fall out of the Bigsby assembly. In emergency situations, a wine cork cut to just over one inch (2.54cm) length can act as a spacer until a proper spring replacement is sourced.

To disable: Remove the spring. Remove the vibrato arm and store it in your guitar case.

Floating Tremolo bridge intonation procedure (Floyd Rose™, Kahler™ etc.)

For the uninitiated, tuning and intonating a guitar with a floating   tremolo system can be confusing and frustrating. However, when you understand the physics of the bridge and how it reacts, it’s a   simple routine. It is important to know which make and gauge of  string you favor, as experimenting with different gauges can lengthen the time required. A floating tremolo bridge relies on the balance between the string tension on the front of the guitar and the spring tension on the back. Once these tensions are balanced correctly, the bridge is very stable.                                                                                 It is therefore worthwhile to learn how to do this properly.

The brand, type and gauge of string is important, as there can be some variance between strings of the same gauge but different maker, and even the same brand and gauge but different material. So consider the material from which the strings are made. Strings made from stainless steel, nickel, brass, chrome, gold and other metals and alloys as well as polymer-coated strings react differently. Choose a readily obtainable string brand, alloy type & gauge and stick with that if you want to save the most time when tuning and intonating guitars with such bridges.

The end result should be a stable tuning with the nut locked, fine tuners at approximately 50% of their thread length, and the floating bridge plate exactly parallel to the top surface of the guitar.

Replacing a worn set of strings with an exact replacement set (same brand/alloy/gauge)

The first step in this procedure is unlocking the nut. Loosen the screws on the locking nut and replace one string at a time. Once it’s unlocked and loosened, forget about the nut until completely finished. Do not move on to the next string until the one you just replaced has been stretched and is up to pitch. When you remove an old string, set its fine tuner on the bridge at halfway position to allow for adjustment of the new string to be installed. When you install a new string, you can either cut off the ball end of the string in order to clamp the bare end between the jaws of the saddle, or install the string backwards with the ball-end at the headstock, while trimming the other end of the new string to fit the scale length of the guitar (remember to leave a little slack for adjustment). When you install a new string, stretch it gently (ensure that the locking nut remains unlocked until all new strings are stable, in tune and the bridge is floating correctly parallel to the guitar surface). Use the regular tuning pegs on the headstock to tune the new string–the fine tuners are for use later when all new strings have been installed, stretched, roughly tuned and you have locked the nut. At this stage check that:

  1. All strings are in tune
  2. The tremolo bridge is parallel to the guitar’s surface
  3. The fine tuners have equal room to fine tune the strings
  4. The nut is locked

Fine tune all strings using the fine tuners on the bridge.

Replacing a worn set of strings with a different replacement set (different brand/alloy/gauge)

First, place a flat shim under the bridge to prevent it from moving while the new strings are being installed. Secondly, increase the tension of the springs in the rear bridge cavity of the guitar so that the bridge is tight against the shim. Unlock the nut and remove the old strings. Take the opportunity to clean and oil the fret board if necessary. You can now install the new strings and intonate as you would on a standard hard-tail, non-tremolo guitar:

  1. Tune the string until the strobe image is stable
  2. Fret the same string at the 12th fret and observe the strobe image
  3. If the image is rolling clockwise, loosen and move the saddle back to increase the string length. Retighten  the saddle screw.
  4. If the image is rolling counter-clockwise, loosen and move the saddle forward to decrease the string length. Re-tighten the saddle set screw
  5. Continue above until the strobe image is immobile when string is plucked open and also when fretted at the 12th fret.
  6. Repeat for all strings.

When the strings are stretched, tuned and intonated, lock the nut. Then slowly and carefully decrease the tension of the springs in the rear cavity by backing off the spring retainer screws until the shim falls out. Be sure to alternately unscrew these retainer screws by tiny increments or the balance between the tension of the new strings and the tension of the springs will be thrown off, the bridge will not be level and the guitar will be out of tune. If you are moving to a heavier gauge string than was previously installed on the guitar, installing an extra spring may be necessary to counter the extra string tension.

From now on, unless changing strings again, all tuning adjustments should be carried out using the fine tuners at the bridge. Do NOT use the headstock tuners, as the locked nut will prevent their use and string damage or breakage may occur.

Steinberger TransTrem bridge intonation procedure

There are several versions of this system. Shown below is the TransTrem 2 which is featured on Steinberger guitars from the late 1980s.

The following guide is reproduced with kind permission of the NS Team.

 

 

 



The Steinberger Transposing Tremolo
Detailed Instructions

 

Understanding these instructions is essential in order to get the full benefit of this sophisticated mechanism.

1. INSTALLING TREMOLO ARM: To install, spin arm clockwise into threaded hole for a minimum of four full turns. When the arm is screwed in almost to the desired position, tighten the knurled locking nut firmly down. Tighten both arm and nut together for about 1/8th of a turn more to lock them into position.
To remove or re-adjust the arm, spin arm counter-clockwise until the small transposing arm contacts the back of the pin. Continue turning until arm is free.
To adjust rotational friction of transposing arm, turn the set-screw located diagonally under the arm on tuner housing.

2. TO USE TREMOLO: Rotate arm into playing position and use normally.

3. TO TRANSPOSE: Drop the arm down, then turn clockwise to engage D, C, and B tunings. Pull arm up and turn clockwise to engage F# and G tunings. To disengage, rotate arm counter-clockwise.

4. TO TUNE: First lock the tremolo in center E position by rotating arm clockwise. Then, tune individual strings with small knobs as you would normally. ALWAYS LOCK TO TUNE!

5. TO ADJUST TREMOLO RETURN: After unit is tuned, as in step 4 above, rotate arm counter-clockwise to disengage center lock. If tremolo moves and does not remain in tune, turn SPRING TENSION KNOB at bottom of guitar to adjust to pitch as required. Tremolo should not move or change pitch when going in and out of locked position. Additional tremolo positions of Eb and F are possible by further adjustment of the spring tension knob.

6. ACTION AND INTONATION: First,unlock the saddles with the side set screw. Adjust the action(vertical movement) with individual saddle set screws. For bridge intonation (horizontal movement), push the  saddles manually. If intonation is sharp at the 24th fret, push the saddles back (toward tuning knobs). If intonation is flat at the 24th fret, push saddles forward (toward headpiece).
ALWAYS LOCK side set screws when bridge adjustment is completed. (1 1/2mm allen wrench required).

7. TO ADJUST TRANSPOSING FEATURE: The TransTrem(™) should transpose all strings in tune. Starting from regular E tuning, the pattern should be as follows:

Transposing Chart

String

Down
3 steps

Down
2 steps

Down
1 step

Center
Notch

Up
1 step

Up
2 steps

1st or E
2nd or B
3rd or G
4th or D
5th or A
6th or E

B
F#
D
A
E
B

|C|
|G|
|Eb|
|Bb|
|F|
|C|

D
A
F
C
G
D

E
B
G
D
A
E

|F#|
|C#|
|A|
|E|
|B|
|F#|

G
D
Bb
F
C
G

Adjust TransTrem with these intervals


If a string does not maintain its tune according to this chart, the tuner jaw must be adjusted up or down. Use the key provided, a small screwdriver, or a coin to adjust the screw located just behind each jaw. Turn the screw clockwise to move the jaw down or counter-clockwise to move the jaw up according to the following procedure: 

1)   Set the transposing arm up 1 step and tune with knobs according to the chart. (Example: “E” string should be “F#” in the 1st step up position).

2)   Transpose to 2nd step down and check the new pitch with the chart. (Example: “E” string should be “C” in 2nd step down position).

3)   Adjust jaw height in the lower position only. If pitch is flat, lower jaw by turning the screw (located just behind the jaw) clockwise. If pitch is sharp, raise jaw by turning the screw counter-clockwise.  

4)   Repeat steps 1 through 3 until pitch is correct in both positions. Always use the knobs only to tune in the up position, and the jaw screws only to adjust the pitch in the lower position.  All other transposing positions should be automatically in tune when the 1st up and 2nd down positions are properly adjusted.

NOTE: CALIBRATED transposing strings are required for best results.  Improperly calibrated strings will not track well with each other, so the tuning will not be accurate in all positions.  This process is greatly facilitated by use of a chromatic electronic tuner. With an electronic guitar tuner with only 6 intervals, find on your transposing chart the steps for each string that are tuned to E, A, D, G, or B and use these intervals to set transposing feature. (For best accuracy, use steps that are furthest apart) While this adjustment may be a bit confusing at first, it is really very easy once you get use to it.

8. TO REPLACE STRINGS: To remove, loosen the tuning knob until the string is loose and the ball can slide up and out of jaw. ( “B” and “G” string balls are deep in saddles and restricted from upward movement by a small lip. Simply move ball back in jaw and lift to remove).

To install strings, align string ball with hole in jaw, and push ball down as far as it will go. (On “B” and “G” strings, balls must be pushed below small internal lip, and should then pull up on lip for most stable operation). After rough tuning, push tremolo all the way up and down several times to set strings, then fine tune and adjust transposing feature as needed.

NOTE: The TransTrem will work with all double ball strings, as well as conventional single ball strings using a STRING ADAPTOR available from Steinberger. However, the best results will be achieved with CALIBRATED double ball strings designed for the TransTrem, with either a threaded ball or a non-threaded ball. The transposing arm is easily removed by loosening screw on side of arm. The transposing pin is removed by loosening set screw.

Reprinted with permission from the NS Design
website

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