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 adjustment.
Before continuing you should have:
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
Floating bridge downsides
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.
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.
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 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).
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!