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String Changing Tips for Double-Locking Electric Guitars

Here's how to change strings on a guitar equipped with a double-locking tremolo (like a Floyd-Rose or one of the licenced variants) and have it stay in tune with the same action.

To start off, here's a list of the things you'll need:
  1. Strings that are the same gauge as the current strings on the guitar - preferably the same brand. (Note: any changes in string gauge require a different setup and should be done by your local guitar tech).
  2. A tuner
  3. Wire cutters
  4. The proper allen wrenches (most likely included with the guitar)
  5. A lint-free cloth
  6. GHS FASTfrets string lubricant (optional)
  7. A good hour or so to do it right
  8. A can or bottle of your favorite cool drink
Now here are the steps for a successful string change:
  1. Unbolt the locking nut, turn your bridge fine tuners to a neutral or slightly high position, and retune (get used to this, you'll be doing it a lot during the next hour).

  2. Unwind, unbolt and remove the High E string. Why the thin one first? It will be less tension removed from the overall string pull, and later when the low E is changed, the tension difference will help stretch the higher strings just a bit more.

  3. Cut the ball-end and associated winding from the new high E String, place this end in the saddle and tighten it up, then slowly run your finger over the string to give it a slight bend from the saddle to the neck. This seems to prevent breaks from this area.

  4. Run the string up and tighten it, but not to full tension. Now it must be stretched. You can tell how effective it is by plucking the string, stretching it, then plucking it again. Note the difference in pitch. The trick here is to stretch the string in several places: over the neck pickup, at the 20th fret, at the 12th fret, and at the 5th fret. Once the stretching produces a difference in pitch, tune it and the rest of the strings up (yep, you need to do this after changing each string, which keeps the floating bridge in the same place as where you first started). The easiest way to stretch is to place your index and middle fingers on one side of the string, then press your thumb between them and pull up about an inch (this is why you are stretching while the string isn't under full tension).

  5. Grab that beverage and take a sip - you're doing fine!

  6. Repeat steps 3 thru 5 (or 3 thru 6 if you're thirsty) for each string, and don't forget to stretch the string and retune the whole guitar each time.

  7. Now tighten up the locking nut, and then (you guessed it) retune, only this time with the fine tuners.

  8. Take out the cloth and wipe down the guitar. Then apply the FASTfrets, if desired.
Congratulations! You're done! Now when you start playing and dive the bar till the strings flap, it will come back in tune!

Just a few more notes:
  • Always tune up (i.e. increasing tension until you are in tune to avoid any "play" in the string).
  • The more you do it, the faster you will get, but don't cut corners.
  • This method does not require you to risk marring the finish by "blocking out" the tremolo.
  • At about the G string, you might be lamenting the fact that you left a perfectly good fixed-bridge guitar sitting at the music store. Just pop in anything by Vai, Satriani or Van Halen to help "keep the faith".

John Close is a happily married father of three who hopes one day to record a cool CD of guitar music for the dual purposes of personal growth and an Ibanez sponsorship.