When most manufacturers ship guitars with Fender-style vibrato tailpieces, they set them to “float“; that is, so that the bridge is not resting flat against the guitar top. Rather, it sits at a slight angle that allows the pitch to be raised as well as lowered. Adjusting the angle at which the tailpiece floats is simply a matter of adjusting the tension of the springs in the back of the guitar (sometimes there is a cover over the springs that must be removed in order to adjust them). These springs counter-balance the pull of the guitar’s strings and return the tailpiece to its resting position after you have used it.
To adjust spring tension, simply turn the two screws in the back of the guitar that secure the “claw” plate that holds the loop end of the springs. As you turn the screws in or out, you will need to re-tune the guitar. Go slowly, a turn or so at a time for each screw, re-tuning after each adjustment.
- Fender sets the tailpieces on factory guitars so that the back of the tailpiece is 1/8″ or so off the body.
- Some players prefer to tighten the tension springs down so that the bridge sits flat against the body. This allows only downward pitch bends, but some players feel it improves resonance and sustain. It also keeps the guitar in tune if a string breaks.
- Some players — Eric Clapton being a notable example — prefer to block the tailpiece with a piece of wood so that it is flat against the top and can’t be used to change the pitch of the strings. Players do this because they feel it creates a more stable feel, stable tuning, improved resonance, sustain, and tone.
- If you change string gauges (or sometimes even brands) you will likely have to adjust the angle of the bridge to compensate for the different string tension.
- If you adjust the angle of the vibrato, you should double-check the guitar’s action and intonation to ensure they have not been affected.
- Fender-style tremolos have room for five springs in the back of the guitar, though most ship from the factory with just three springs installed (which works fine in most cases). If you don’t like the “feel” of the tailpiece, you can experiment with adding one or two more springs, then adjusting the claw screws to re-balance the tremolo.
- Some sources suggest that tremolo springs wear out with age, though we haven’t seen this be a major issue. If you are a heavy tremolo user and decide to replace the old springs in your guitar, be sure to replace all of them at once to maintain stability and even tension — this will help prevent tuning issues.