Despite being a huge fan of the dive bombing shredtastic 1980s, from the outset of my guitar playing days I have been a stop tailpiece kind of girl. Granted, my first guitar – an Epiphone S-310 Strat copy – had a tremolo unit, but after breaking a couple of strings trying to sound like Eddie Van Halen, I decided maybe the whole “whammy bar” thing wasn’t for me. When I first saw a Floyd Rose tremolo unit, it looked overly complicated and too high maintenance for me. I was still trying to figure out how to play the right notes in the first place, nevermind bending them in or out of pitch with a tremolo unit. I decided I was going to forego the whammy bar all together and stick to the stop tailpiece that is what makes my Les Paul feel so cozy.
Fast forward two decades, one child and way too many hours spent studying, and I found myself with the financial ability and opportunity to purchase the signature guitar of one of my guitar heroes. A guitar that I had lusted after since I was nine years old. Problem: it came equipped with a Kahler Hybrid tremolo – a floating bridge. I didn’t care. I figured there was no time like the present to delve into the floating bridge arena, but the transition wasn’t easy. More than anything I was intimidated by all of the knobs, springs and parts that came with a Kahler or Floyd Rose bridge. Here are some tips to help you overcome your fear/anxiety of floating bridges and get you on the fast track to guitar greatness.
1. Don’t Fear The Reaper
Your guitar is a tool. If you have any doubts about that, watch the guitar tech at the next rock show you attend and you’ll see what I mean. The way they handle these supposed “delicate” objects is unreal. My biggest “fear” was that in dive bombing and doing acrobatics with my tremolo’s whammy bar, I would somewhow damage my guitar. Fear not. If you bridge is set up properly, you can bend to your heart’s content without worrying about breaking anything aside from the odd string.
2. Changing strings is NOT the hassle they told you it is
Once I realized the mechanisms for both the Kahler and Floyd Rose units, string changes actually became as simple as they are on my Les Paul. The key is to fit your guitar with the right strings. If you have a Kahler and you want to use heavy gauge strings, you may have to order some of the larger rollers so that you can safely use .11’s, .12’s and up without your guitar going out of tune. It’s a simple fix and you will be up and running in no time. With no shortage of “how to” videos on the internet, often done by the tremolo companies themselves, you can find help. Our own Dave Eichenberger did a special “Cage Match” post on locking vs traditional tuners, and he deals with the string-changing process for locking tuners – a feature that often scares away many non-floating tremolo users.
3. Make Adjustments
One of the key advantages of a system like the Kahler, as I found out, is that you can adjust pretty much every aspect of your guitar’s playability just by turning a few allen keys or a screwdriver. Each saddle can be adjusted higher, lower, or even sideways to ensure your ideal setup. It would be a shame if you just used your Floyd or Kahler exactly as it came from the factory, unless those are your perfect settings. Experiment and find your fit. Once I adjusted my Kahler to my liking, my transition to a floating bridge went a lot more smoothly. Jay Hale’s post The Care and Feeding of Your Floyd Rose will help you with some of the more significant elements of your bridge in a non-intimidating and helpful way, so you may want to check it out.
4. Practice Not Resting Your Hand on the Bridge
The biggest stumbling block for me was the fact that if you rest your palm/hand a little too hard on the back of a floating bridge, it will bend the notes you play out of tune when you don’t necessarily want them to be bent out of tune. This can happen because you accidentely move a fine tuning knob, or because you actually push down on your bridge. Because it’s a floating bridge, if you push on it, it will move. I was always told not to rest my hand on much of anything when I was taught to play, but I did find myself having to adjust my palm muting technique a little bit with my new Kahler. Once I figured it out, it became second nature.
5. Practice Your Tremolo Technique and Don’t Be Afraid to Experiment
You’ve got this new weapon in your arsenal, use it! You may want to check out some songs that use the dive bomb or vibrato technique you’re curious about, or listen to players that are gurus of the floating bridge. Eddie Van Halen, Dimebag Darrell, Lita Ford, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Nita Strauss, Jennifer Batten, Marty Friedman, Paul Gilbert, and Kirk Hamnet are just a few that come to mind. Whatever your preference is, be sure to practice making sounds with your guitar and learning how to control those sounds by way of the whammy bar and maybe even the volume knob. In fact, your floating bridge will allow you to make sounds you never thought were possible. Check out some of the articles on making sounds using your Floyd Rose/Kahler equipped guitar right here on Seymour Duncan’s blog.
Five Fun Floyd Rose Tricks
Feed Your Frankenstein: 10 Spooky Sounds You Can Make With Your Guitar