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Changing the Strings of an Electric Guitar with a Floyd Rose Tremolo System

Changing the strings of an electric guitar with Floyd Rose tremolo system is a little more complicated than restringing a guitar with a fixed bridge but it is still not that complicated. Before getting into the actual procedure you will have to know some general terminology related to the different parts of a guitar as well as a listing of tools and supplies needed to perform this operation. There will also be a detailed look at the Floyd Rose tremolo system including all the parts we will be concerned with when changing the strings.

Here we see a Floyd Rose equipped electric guitar with all of the parts needed to change the strings labeled.

Tuning Pegs – Mechanical turning device used to tighten the guitar’s strings.

Locking Nut – A grooved piece of metal with a locking mechanism that also holds the guitar strings above the fretboard.

Tremolo System – A mechanism that acts as a bridge by holding the string of a guitar above the fretboard. The difference between a normal guitar bridge and tremolo system is the tremolo system allows the tension on the string to be changed (which also changes the pitch) by pushing or pulling on the “whammy bar”. Of all the tremolo systems on the market the Floyd Rose system is the most popular because of its smooth repose and its ability to stay in tune.

Figure 1 Electric Guitar with a Floyd Rose Tremolo

Floating Verses Non-Floating Tremolo Systems
Before we get to far there is a distinction that needs to be made about the two general types of Floyd Rose systems: floating and non-floating. Floating Floyd Rose tremolos will have the body of the guitar under the tremolo routed out to give it the ability to pull up on the whammy bar arm. A non-floating tremolo will not have this ability and the back portion of the tremolo will seem to be resting on the body of the guitar. Once you have determined if your tremolo is floating or non-floating keep that information in mind as it will become relevant a little later.

Floyd Rose Tremolo System Parts

Intonation Adjustment Screws – These screws can be loosened to change the intonation of the guitar but this is outside the scope of what we will be doing in this lesson. This is pointed out to prevent confusion with the bridge lock fasteners.

Bridge Lock – This will hold the string “locked” into the tremolo system. The string will then rest in the saddle and will act as a bridge.

Bridge Lock Fastener – An Alan wrench screw that when screwed in “lock” the string inside the bridge lock canal. Loosening this screw will cause the string to dislodge itself from the guitar. Do not remove your string this way, as there is a lot of tension on the string when it is in tune.

Fine Tuners – These are small screws that can be turn with ones fingers. As their name implies they are used to precisely tune the guitar after the locking nut screws have been locked.

Figure 2 The Parts of a Floyd Rose Tremolo System


Tools & Supplies
When restringing this type of guitar there are a couple of tools that are needed and there are at least a couple of others that can be very helpful.

Alan Wrench (Required) – You will need an Alan wrench to loosen the locking nut and bridge lock fasteners. Most Floyd Rose equipped guitars come with two Alan wrenches, the big one will fit the locking nut and the bridge lock fasteners, the smaller one will fit the intonation adjustment screws. If you do not have the Alan wrench you can go to a hardware store and buy a full set of either metric or standard (if your guitar was made in America try standard if not get metric).

Wire Cutters (Required) – Tool designed to cut piece of wire. You will need these to cut off the metal ball of each guitar string. This tool is also very useful for trimming the excess string length from the tuning pegs. A pair of heavy-duty scissors could be used as a replacement but doing so might ruin the scissors.

String Winder (Not Required) – A specialized guitar tool designed to help users turn the guitar’s tuning pegs at a high rate of speed.

Set of Electric Guitar Strings – A package of 6 lengths of wire approximately 3’ long, varying gauges with a metal ball at one end of each string. When putting new strings on a guitar with a floating Floyd Rose tremolo system it is important that you use the right gauge string (the most common gauge is .009-.042 know also as “medium electric”).

Removing Old Strings
1) Loosen the locking nut using an Alan wrench. These do not need to be removed only loosened.
2) Loosen the strings of the guitar by turning each of the tuning pegs clockwise five or six times. If you have a floating tremolo system you may have to turn the tuning pegs a few more times.
3) Once the stings are no longer tight, loosen the bridge lock fastener with an Alan wrench. It may help if you push down on the whammy bar as this will cause the strings to loosen even more and may also give you better access to the bridge lock fastener. Unscrewing the bridge lock fastener will cause one side of the string to be freed from the guitar. If you look into the bridge lock you will notice there is a screw that connects to a piece of metal, which in turn pushes the string against the wall of the bridge lock and holds the string in place. It is important that you do not lose the little piece of metal. The screw will not come out but the metal piece may if you turn the guitar upside down before retightening the bridge lock fastener. You will not be able to restring the guitar if you lose these pieces.
4) Pull the freed end of the string up through the locking nut so that the string is only connected to the tuning peg.
5) Unwind and remove the strings from the tuning pegs.

This entire operation should be performed for all the strings of your guitar. Although there is no set order the strings should be removed. Its suggested that you start with the thickest string, then remove the thinnest string, then the second thickest string and the second thinnest string and so on. (See Figure 2)

If you have a floating tremolo system you should notice that once the strings are removed the tremolo no longer “floats” instead it rests leaning back against the body of the guitar. If you were to add one string at this point you would never be able to get it into tune in fact it wouldn’t even be able to create a clear note. It is the tension of all the string combined that makes the tremolo float so you will only be able to get this guitar in proper tune when you have replaced all the strings.

 

Figure 2

Once the guitar’s strings have been removed take the opportunity to clean the entire guitar using a soft piece of cloth. For more heavy-duty cleaning you can dampen this cloth with lukewarm water. Much of the guitar can only be properly cleaned when the strings are removed. Be sure to take time and thoroughly clean your tremolo system as these tend to collect dust and if the chrome wears off they are also prone to rust. This is also the best time to apply any polish you wish to use. Cleaning your guitar is very important, as it will maintain your guitar’s beauty and increases the life of your instrument.

Adding New Strings
When adding new strings you will need to know what strings goes into which tuning peg. (See Figure 3) For the sake of this example we will start by putting on the low E String, which is the thickest of all the guitar strings.

Figure 3

1) With the unstrung guitar laying flat on a table remove a new guitar string from the package. Unwind the low E string and look for the metal ball located on one end of the string. Cut it off.
2) Place the end of the string you just cut into the E string bridge lock making sure it fits between the wall of the bridge lock and the little piece of metal inside the canal.
3) Tighten the bridge lock fastener with the Alan wrench. Make sure the string does not ride up while tightening the bridge lock fastener.
4) Thread the other end of the string through the locking nut
5) Place the other end of the string through the hole in the tuning peg making sure that there is a little slack. Turn the peg counter clockwise enough so the string does not fall out.
6) With one hand on the tuning peg and the other hand holding the string about half way down its length. Pull up on the string so there is a little tension on it.
7) Turn the tuning peg until the string is tight. (This is where a string winder will help because you may need to turn the peg a lot to get the string tight.)
8) If you have a floating tremolo this may have to be done a couple of times because it may loosen up again.
9) Repeat this procedure for the remaining 5 strings.
10) With a pair of wire cutters, cut the excess string that is left hanging from above the tuning pegs.
11) Tune the guitar.
12) Pull on each string slightly to stretch them out and then retune the instrument.
13) You may have to repeat step 12 a few times depending on the strings.
14) Lock the locking nut using your Alan wrench.
15) Retune the guitar using the fine tuners.


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