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Fabrizio Dadò by Fabrizio Dadò
On February 06, 2023

​The setup of your guitar (PT. 8): Setting a floating style vibrato or tremolo

In this article you will find instructions and tips about setting of the floating vibrato unit (also inappropriately called tremolo) of an electric guitar, with special regard to models often used on super-strat style instruments. This is part of the general setup of the guitar, that involves topics covered on the Soundsation blog as intonation, pickup and action adjustments.

Before continuing you should have:

  • your usual strings installed and tuned
  • an action adjusted according to your taste.

All that verified, we can talk about how to self-adjust a vibrato bridge with two studs and springs.

Please take note that the setting of a Fender vintage style six screw vibrato is debated in the Soundsation blog article “The setup of your guitar (PT. 7) –Setting a vintage style vibrato”, largely valid for floating bridges with two studs without a locking nut. Examples are the G&L Dual Fulcrum Vibrato that Leo Fender introduced in the '80s, the Fender 2-Point Synchronized Tremolo featured on 1986 Dan Smith's and George Blanda's American Standard Stratocaster, the Wilkinson VS100N (left photo below), the Music Man Standard, the Gotoh NS510T-FE1 (right photo below) and similar ones, of which we are going to talk here.

How are floating bridges made?

Talking about stud mount bridges with just two studs/screws instead of traditional six screws, the most popular are those in the Fender American Standard style and various types of Wilkinsons, the latter designed and introduced in 1986 by Trev Wilkinson, musician, hardware and pickup inventor, founder of the English brand Fret-King. He also designed the Roller Nut, used on some strats since 1987 and replaced by the Fender LSR in the early '90s.

Wilkinson parts are currently made by Japanese Gotoh and Korean Un Sung.

Almost all guitar and hardware manufacturers have these kinds of floating bridges in their list, mostly matched at the headstock by locking machine heads of brands such as Gotoh (left photo below), Schaller and Sperzel (right photo below). These tuners clamp strings in the shaft holes and prevent tuning loss when the vibrato arm is heavily handled.


Materials floating bridges are made of are essential for their mechanic and sound quality. Certainly steel has to be preferred at least for saddles, because it provides the highest vibration transmission speed and a good sustain.

Tremolo blocks (or sustain blocks) are often made of aluminium, brass, titanium, zinc alloys (especially Zamac: Zinc Aluminium Magnesium) and also pressed metal powder in cheaper models, as the '80s Fender Am Std, poor in terms of sound and duration. Studs and plate knife edges are very important for bridge duration and operation smoothness. G&L fifty year old tremolo, by example, features hardened steel for the bridge frame, the sustain block and the studs, whereas the threaded anchors dipped into the guitar body are made of brass. Saddles are made of stainless steel. Considering the hardness of this material compared to hardened steel, string to saddle contact point must be very well machined in order to avoid friction and breakage. Knife edges to studs joints are circular and wraparound, a useful feature during string changing, as we'll see.


Wilkinson VS100N plate is made of hardened steel; studs, saddles and arm are made of stainless steel; the sustain block of zinc alloy. It's a great product, and it can also replace the American Standard tremolo with no modification. However, it is always good to turn to a luthier!

Floating bridge advantages

  • General lightness and two stud swinging give floating bridges greater fluidity and ease of use if compared to vintage style bridges.
  • These bridges with matching locking tuners and well cut self-lubricating nuts (or roller nuts) allow wide intonation excursions with no tuning loss, both in up and down ways.
  • In the finest models, saddle clamping to the bridge plate, together with the above described points, provide tuning and intonation retention for a long time, virtually making setup controls necessary only at string change.

Floating bridge downsides

  • Instrument overall sound is somewhat different from the one of a typical vintage style strat, with an apparently minor contribution of body wood in favour of bridge metal. By example, Wilkinson bridges can emphasize a metallic resonance around 2000 Hz (spike). If this not appreciated, the problem can be solved by the adoption of saddles made of alternative materials like GraphTechs.
  • According to some experts, other metal contributions to sound come from locking tuners, that are heavier than vintage style ones, and from eventual metal nuts as roller ones.
  • The presence of only two balance points and a thinner sustain block (in order to prevent beating on the body during up/down bridge movements) can induce a strange sound fluctuation called warbling when playing on the higher portion of the fretboard, after the 12th or 14th fret. If this event occurs, it is solved on prestige guitars by the adoption of stabilizers like the Hipshot Tremsetter and similar others, a sort of dampers that in addition ensure a decidedly lower intonation drop of open strings during bending and, generally, an even smoother operation of the vibrato.


  • You have to replace strings one at a time. Infact, due to sudden tension loss, the bridge looses its grip on the studs and collapse onto the guitar top, while springs disengage the claw. When you need to clean or polish the fretboard, and therefore to release all the strings, it's good to put a wood, plastic or hard rubber wedge under the rear side of the bridge, thus avoiding the circumstance. I use a purpose-built wood block (photo below) or a pen ink eraser, but everyone can find his own solution. Somebody prefers a fitting Post-it pad. The important thing is not risking to damage the top paint.

Floating bridge setup

What has been written about the six screw vintage style bridge setup is also effective for floating bridges with two studs without a locking nut, at least for the spring tension adjustment. The main difference here is that the bridge should be parallel to the guitar top, especially if it lies in an excavation; otherwise, you can set it flush with the body top or angled according to your taste and need, as it happens for the Fender Am Std.

Then proceed to tuning and spring tension in following alternate steps until the desired result is reached.

  • Height (action)

Setting a floating bridge height is easy: you just have to act on stud Phillips or slotted or Allen screws. It is important to set the bridge plate at the height recommended by manufacturer or your trusted luthier. Using the right number of springs (2-3), I suggest the bridge to stay as low as possible on the guitar top as long as a friendly use is got and the action is optimal. Like I said, some guitars feature a recessed top routing where the bridge stays, thus keeping it as low as possible and allowing a very comfortable action.

Once you have lowered the bridge as much as possible, you can complete the work acting on the screw pair of every saddle.

On some floating bridges, as the Wilkinson VS100, you have to loosen an Allen screw that secures the saddle position in order to ensure stillness and maximum sound transmission: this has to be done before any height or intonation adjustment.

  • Radius

Using the same screw pair you have used for the saddle height setting, try to follow the fretboard radius as you would do on a common strat (in this regard, read our blog article).

  • Intonation

Intonation procedure is the same as for vintage bridges in the case of Fender 2-Point Synchronized (Am Std) style tremolos, that are equipped with Phillips screws inserted from the back (you can read our blog article).

  • Arm

At this point you still have to adjust the arm height in its position and your preferred rotation friction. Modern bridges provide setting by means of a spacing screw under the arm hole and a little Allen screw radial to the plug point. This applies when the arm and the hole are not threaded.


Some arms have removable nylon rings to set the friction plug-in.

If you have any doubt, especially if the nut is height adjustable with screws or shims, turn to your trusted luthier.

Floating is OK, but there's more than this

Construction accuracy, quality materials, locking machine heads and a good setup provide a flowing, easy and reliable use of the arm on floating bridge equipped instruments, without tuning loss not even if you are exceeding in swing – within certain limits. There was a time though this was not the situation, and it was necessary to turn to the only possible choice: the Floyd Rose bridge, still unrivalled for a “wild” use of the vibrato. This subject is dealt with on the fantastic Soundsation blog, along with the Kahler vibrato, the other great competitor in the '80s/'90s!

Fabrizio Dadò