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Tuning The Floating Trem

Tuning a floater will usually frustrate a novice to no end. There are many tricks to help speed the job along, but, you must learn to deal with the fact it's a pain in the ass. OK? Once you concede this you'll stop pulling your hair out and learn the tricks, and in time could become really good at it ;)

Understanding a floater is pretty simple. If you tighten one string the rest will loosen. If you loosen one string the rest will get tighter. It floats. To understand it think of it this way. You tighten one string to raise it's pitch, it pulls the bridge just a hair forward [because remember, it floats!] When the bridge is pulled forward it's doing a mini whammy dive, which, makes the rest of the strings go flat. This holds true if all your strings are 5 cents flat or 5 dollars flat ;)

I always tune from low E to high E except in rare circumstances. While checking the tuning it is very wise to check the trem angle, adjusting the trem angle will affect the tuning of the whole bridge. If the trem angle is negative and the strings are all sharp, loosening the trem to neutral will correct much of the sharp tuning. If the bridge is too far forward [the tail is too high] and the strings are all flat, tightening the springs will adjust the trem and pull all the strings sharper. Trem angle and tuning go hand in hand with the end goal being a correct setup, but right now we're just going to deal with how to get the whole bridge into perfect tune.

The nut pads are loose and you will not touch them again until after the guitar is in tune and you have fully stretched the strings and checked over the rest of the setup.

Plug into a tuner and read the pitch of all 6 strings. Are they all in tune? Then what are you reading this for?!

Are they all flat? Are they all sharp? Are they sharp and flat?

They're All Flat

Are they all a little flat? Or allot flat? This will determine how high you'll over tune.

Overtune. I always call it force tuning. Since raising the pitch of one string makes the rest fall flat, tune the string to a much higher pitch than in tune. Why? Let's say you tune E to pitch, when you tune A to pitch E goes flat. If you tune E to F then when you tune A the E will only drop a little. But of course you want to tune A to B, you still have 4 more strings to make both the E and A [then D and G etc.] flatter. With each progressive string you want to overtune, but just a little less over than the previous string, you have fewer strings left to tune to pull it flat. When you get to B you're tuning it just a little sharp and then E tune to pitch. Go back and check how close the strings are. Repeat until in tune. I AM NOT WORRIED ABOUT OVER TUNING TO ANY EXACT PITCH!. I'm trying to speed the process not worry about how perfect the pitch is I'm over tuning to, just close, and fast! Busy fingers jumping from tuner to tuner while listening to the pitch.

How high you over tune depends on how far flat all the strings are. If a guitar is 1/2 step flat on all strings I'd probably start by running the wound E to G, the A to a sharp B, the D to a E, G to A, B to B#, E to tune. Check and repeat to the degree necessary. That's what I'll tell you, but personally I just start cranking all the strings sharp, just running low E to high E, overtuning and just listening to the pitch until I know I'm close, then I'll start paying attention to the tuner basically for fine tuning. Of course if everything is just a little flat then you want to make much smaller changes like tuning E to F. After some practice you'll get the hang of it. Remember that this same principal works for fine tuning with the fine tuners, over tuning on the micro level ;)

They're All Sharp

Are they all a little sharp? Or allot sharp? This will determine how high you'll drop tune.

Drop tuning. I always call it force tuning. Since lowering the pitch of one string makes the rest go sharp, tune the string to a much lower pitch than in tune. Why? Let's say you tune E to pitch, when you tune A to pitch E goes sharp. If you tune E to C# then when you tune A the E will only raise a little. But of course you want to tune A to G, you still have 4 more strings to make both the E and A [then D and G etc.] sharper. With each progressive string you want to drop tune, but just a little less dropped than the previous string, you have fewer strings left to tune to pull it sharp. When you get to B you're tuning it just a little flat and then E tune to pitch. Go back and check how close the strings are. Repeat until in tune. I AM NOT WORRIED ABOUT DROP TUNING TO ANY EXACT PITCH!. I'm trying to speed the process not worry about how perfect the pitch is I'm drop tuning to, just close, and fast! Busy fingers jumping from tuner to tuner while listening to the pitch.

How low you drop tune depends on how far sharp all the strings are. If a guitar is 1/2 step sharp on all strings I'd probably start by running the wound E to C#, the A to F#, the D to a C, G to F, B to Bb, E to tune. Check and repeat to the degree necessary. That's what I'll tell you, but personally I just start cranking all the strings flat, just running low E to high E, drop tuning and just listening to the pitch until I know I'm close, then I'll start paying attention to the tuner basically for fine tuning. Of course if everything is just a little sharp then you want to make much smaller changes like tuning E to Eb. After some practice you'll get the hang of it. Remember that this same principal works for fine tuning with the fine tuners, drop tuning on the micro level ;)

They're Sharp And Flat

Are more strings sharp or are more flat. Are any of them WAY sharp or flat.

If one string is way out I'll start by dropping that into tune and see how the rest of the bridge falls into tune, then it comes down to if more strings are sharp than flat or vice versa, combined with how far out of tune they seem to be. For example, if there are 2 strings sharp and the rest are flat, I'll raise the pitch of the flat strings and over tune them a little.

Stop and read "They're All Flat" section above then resume.

By tuning up the flat strings the sharp strings will have fallen a little flat. They might fall flat enough I'll need to tune them higher also, in which case the whole bridge is now flat and I'm following the instructions above. Check all the tuning and if they're still sharp and flat repeat as necessary until everything is in tune or either all sharp, or all flat, then follow those instructions above. I'll reverse that if 2 strings that are flat by drop tuning the pitch of the 4 sharp strings to the same extent I would over tune in the previous situation. Pretty much, I just start scrambling the tuning around as I feel it needs it to obtain the goal of getting every string into tune at the same time. The more you deal with it the better you'll get, understanding the way it's affected is half the battle. It's a pain, deal with it, just get it done ;)

Anytime you change strings you must follow tuning by stretching the strings and then checking the trem angle to make sure it hasn't changed or needs correcting. String change is a good time to do a full setup tweak, a guitar is a system that must be maintained for best performance! What's the point of changing strings if they aren't going to play right ;)

There is also the phenomenon of spring shock where while tuning the whole bridge just keeps raising and raising, this touches on it somewhat.

Ibanez' instructions on tuning [picking up after the instructions for changing strings] typed verbatim from the Ibanez "How to tune your floating tremolo system"

"There is a trick to it at this stage. With both non-tremolo and 'vintage' tremolo guitars you can bring each string to pitch independently of the other strings. This is not so with a floating tremolo! Though each saddle is separate from the others, they are all mounted together on a single, large plate. In order to get your strings evenly in tune, you will need to tune in "stages". What we mean by this is this: start with the low E string. Turn the tuner until the string is no longer slack, and then move on to the A string. Do this with all the strings. Remember, you're not trying to achieve any type of tuning yet - you're just pulling up all the slack. After this is done, begin with the low E again, and turn the tuner about half a turn, then move to the A string. Do this to all the strings. Then repeat it. Check yourself with a tuner. Eventually, you will get close to being in tune. When everything is close, go ahead and finesse your tuners so they are in tune. *Why is this lengthy process necessary,* you might ask, *and why can't I just tune normally?* Good question! The answer is that attempting to tune "normally" will result in a tremolo unit that has pulled up from the body to such an extent that the action is now about half an inch high, and totally unplayable. Doing it this way will keep your action low and tremolo in the right place."

If you already screwed up and the tail of your bridge is sticking way up in the air with the action 1/2" off the fretboard the only sure way to cure it is to crank in on the trem springs and start backing down the tuning. Be prepared for a real pain in the ass because as the springs adjust to the tension then you'll have to readjust them and retune the guitar, over and over until they settle [when they stop pulling the strings sharp or flat as they adjust].

Of course I cheat quit a bit when I work on guitars, I have a feel for what I can get away with, but every now and then I used to get the trem all whacked out and slacking the strings and a few hours rest before starting again is the answer to getting it back in order but I'll usually just plug forward cranking on the springs until they're way too tight and then backing them off as they start reacting pulling the strings sharper and sharper, all the while I'm constantly tuning the tuners. It's a mess, a real pain, takes forever, tough, deal with it, just get it done! ;)

I only restring a guitar with the bridge blocked to it's full forward position now. When I take the slack out of the strings and unblock I'm usually far too sharp and have to detune into correct pitch. I've NEVER had string shock working this way and highly recommend it.

 

Copyright 2000 Ibanez Rules!! All rights reserved.
Revised: June 24, 2009.