Understanding Your Double Locking Tremolo System
By William Lewis
The double locking tremolo system is probably one of the most loved and hated pieces of guitar
hardware. On one side, you have people who swear by them. On the other, people who hate them and
say that they aren’t worth the hassle they put up. I’m not here to try to sway you to one side or
the other. What I’m going to do is help you understand the double locking system and show you how
to deal with it so you don’t run into future problems.
One of the more important things to understand is that there are genuine Floyd Rose locking
tremolo systems and also licensed units made by third-party manufacturers. To some people, the term
“licensed” tends to bring up feelings of sub-par tremolos that won’t hold tune for long or even at
all. However, the Ibanez Edge tremolos, the Schaller double locking tremolos, and the Gotoh units
are all considered "licensed" (since they have to use the Floyd Rose patents), and they are of
On the genuine Floyd Rose systems and some of the better quality licensed units, the base
plate for the bridge and the knife edges are all one piece of solid metal. Typically case-hardened
steel with either a gold, chrome, or black-powder coating added. The advantage to having a single
piece is that the vibration can travel through that metal better and, in turn, give you better
sustain. They also hold up better over time because it’s hardened, unlike the cheaper units.
Cheaper licensed units use a few different metals inside the base plate with harder metal
used for the knife edges. What you have now is something that has a lot of small little holes
inside. The only thing I can really think to compare it to is a chocolate bar. If you’ve had an
original Hershey's bar, you may have noticed how it is uniform inside, there are no gaps or
anything of that nature. Now compare that to a Hershey's bar that has air added into it. You see a
lot of small little voids inside where the air is. That same process happened when you combine
different metals instead of using one solid piece. And while air might make for delicious
chocolate, in a tremolo system it means reduced sustain, as well as reliability.
Whether you have an actual Floyd Rose or a licensed unit, one thing that does not change is
the physics behind the double locking tremolo. The key to having a successful experience with a
double locking tremolo is balance. If the tremolo unit is balanced, it will hold tune and operate
exactly as it should. If the tremolo is not balanced, you will have issues with tuning stability.
For example, say you switch from a light-gauge set of strings (9's) to a heavy-gauge set (11's).
The light set will impart about 85 lbs. of total pressure on the bridge; the heavy-gauge set will
exert about 118 lbs. of pressure. If we were to leave the tension unbalanced, the heavier set of
strings would cause the bridge to rise up off the body of the guitar. It is very likely that that
angle will make the guitar difficult to play. The bridge angle can interfere with your picking hand
as well as raise the action.
The solution is to ensure that the spring tension is in balance with the string tension. You
want the bridge to sit parallel to the body, not angled up or recessed back into the cavity. So,
the first thing to must do is decide
strings do you wish to use. If you keep the same gauge and you have already adjusted the
bridge, all you’ll have to do is change the strings. But, if you are changing your string gauge, it
gets more complicated. So for the sake of conversation, let’s say you will be switching from those
9's up to a set of 11's.
Changing String Gauge and Adjust Tremolo Tension
You first want to find or build a simple wedge. The wedge will be placed under the base plate
to hold the string lock screws in such a way that they can be easily accessed. A quick note, those
of you with Lo-Pro double locking systems won’t have to worry about a wedge. With those particular
units, the lock screws are accessible even with the bridge pulled as far as it will go into the
With the tremolo arm attached, push down on the
bar until you can slide your wedge up underneath the base plate of the bridge. I have used
a multitude of items as a wedge, from specially cut pieces of hardwood to pencils wrapped in duct
or electrical tape, it really boils down to whether or not the item selected is strong enough to
hold the position. The pencil wrapped in tape is the easiest one to do and it works quite well. I
typically place mine on either end of the bridge, wedging it in diagonally from the strings so that
it is not in the way but still in a position where it will hold without sliding out of place.
Once your wedge is secure, take the appropriate sized
and loosen the
. Be sure to put these in a safe place where they will not be lost. Once your nut locks
are off, loosen the strings. This can take a try or two because by loosening one string you
increase the pressure on the others. So, when you loosen one string, the tension is displaced from
that string onto the remaining strings.
Once you have your strings loosened up, take your string cutter and cut the string at around
the 3rd fret. That will give you enough string to grab onto to unwind each one without putting your
fingers in a spot where they could be cut. Unwind all your strings at the headstock and throw them
away. Your next step is to unlock the strings at the bridge. Take the allen wrench you used for the
nut locks (they almost always use the same size) and loosen the string lock screws. Sometimes the
blocks will not move back, so you may have to manually push them back.
Now remove the strings and throw them away. Take this opportunity to clean your fretboard,
headstock, and bridge while you have the strings off. Now you’re ready to put on the new strings.
With most double locking units, you have to cut off the ball ends of the strings. Some of the
Ibanez units allow you to keep these on, so removal is not needed with those units. You’ll want to
cut the ends off about 2 or so inches up the string. You want to cut above the area where the
string is wrapped over near the ball end. If you don’t, you can have uneven pressure from the block
in the saddle, which may lead to the string slipping out.
Take each string and push it down into the
You’ll feel it hit the metal at the bottom. Hold it in place until you tighten the string lock
screw with your other hand. You want it snug, but not overly tight. Too tight can damage the
string, block, or even the screw. Repeat the process of putting the strings in the saddle and
tightening the screw for the remainder of the strings.
Once your strings are locked to the bridge, now it’s time to wrap the strings around their
respective tuning machine post. I typically wrap the low E and A strings about twice, the D and G
strings 3 times, and the B and high E about 4 times. Once you have that done, you can put the
tremolo arm back on and pull out your wedge.
Since you already know the heavier 11’s are going to exert more pressure, go ahead and
tighten the screws on the tremolo claw. This will increase the spring tension so that it offsets
the now increased string tension. You will likely have to do this once or twice more, but there
really is no way to be exact until you inspect the bridge angle. Go ahead and start tuning at this
point. I strongly advise that you use cross tuning in this situation.
This tuning method raises the bridge more evenly and helps you get in tune faster. What you
want to do is tune your 6th string (low E) first, then your 1st string (high E), then your 5th
string (A), then your 2nd string (B), then your 3rd string (G), and finally your 4th string (D).
You’ll have to repeat this part quite a few times when stretching in a new set of strings. If your
bridge is not sitting level, you’ll have to adjust the springs which will lead to more retuning.
Even after you’ve stretched them adequately, I recommend you leave the nut locks off and play
for a bit. This helps to stretch the strings more which ensures they will stay in tune when you
lock the nut down. Once everything seems solid, go ahead and put your nut locks back on the guitar.
Remember, a snug fit is key. But, too much pressure can actually eat into the nut locks and may
cause tuning issues down the road.
Finally, check your tuning once again and use the fine tuners to make any final adjustments.
After that, you’re done. Your guitar should now be good to go. Now you can enjoy all the perks of a
double locking tremolo. And, the next time you need to restring your double locking tremolo, you
should be able to breeze right through it.
William Lewis teaches and writes about guitar online. He says he has been playing the guitar
for 14 years and his style leans toward bands like Metallica, Megadeth, Pantera and AC/DC. He lives
in Terra Alta, West Virginia. You can email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Or
you can like
William Lewis on Facebook
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