“Oh, how fun it is to tune my guitar after every time I strum the strings!” Said no one ever.
If that’s your problem, well you might have some deeper issues with your instrument. However, if your condition is not as serious, but you really hate having to tune your instrument every so often, maybe you have already considered getting a set of locking tuners or a Floyd Rose installed in your guitar.
But which one will suit your needs better? Are they the same? Is one better than the other?
We will get into the details soon, but if you just want a quick answer about the differences between locking tuners and a Floyd Rose, here it is:
The main differences between locking tuners and a Floyd Rose are that locking tuners are a simpler solution that doesn’t affect tone as much and require little modding. Floyd Roses are more complex, require heavy modding, and impact tone. However, they provide robust tuning stability and upward pitch bending.
If you want to know more about this topic, in this article we will talk about the main features of both these options. After that, we will put them side by side to highlight the main differences among them. Finally, we will give you our insights into which one of these you might prefer for your own needs.
If you’re ready to get started, let’s go!
Locking tuners main characteristics
Locking tuners are a very simple solution to the string slippage that might happen at the machine heads.
They essentially are an additional mechanism at the string peg that locks the string in place. Think of them as an extra screw on top of the tuner that, when tighten, clamps the string and holds it still.
This hard retention of the string in that critical point greatly helps to prevent changes in tensions that lead to detuning. Especially when the players make regular use of tremolo arms.
This was absolutely needed in the 80s, as you can imagine.
Another advantage of these tuners is that they greatly simplify the chore that changing strings and winding them correctly is. With these, you can just pass the string through the hole, fasten the screw, and then cut the excess on the other side.
As simple as that.
However, locking tuners have their drawbacks:
- In some cases, they can increase string breakage in their point of action, especially if a lot of pressure is applied via the screw
- Tuning problems can come from other parts of the instrument such as the bridge, nut, or string guides or be environmental such as humidity and changes in temperature
- They are more expensive than traditional tuners
- They are heavier than normal tuners and can cause your guitar to lose balance
- You might need to make modifications to your guitar to fit them
Floyd Rose tremolo main characteristics
The Floyd Rose tremolo system was born in the late 70s and popularized in the 80s as a solution for the tuning issues many players were suffering.
Detuning was an epidemic back then with the number of dive bombs players were executing indiscriminately on a per-song basis.
This one is a more complicated contraption. It is actually a bridge that “floats” inside the body of the guitar and moves freely in the string tension axis, tilting forwards and backwards. Its flotation is made possible with a series of springs that attach to the instrument’s body and their tension compensates the force of the string’s pull.
When no forces are applied, the Floyd Rose bridge sits at a standard position, being in balance between the strings and the springs.
When force is applied, either in favour or contrary of the string tension, the springs expand or contract making it possible for the bridge to be tilted inside or outside the guitar’s body.
This machine is complemented with a locking nut that clamps the strings before they reach the tuners.
You usually tune your guitar normally, then fasten the locking nut screws making the tuners have no effect on string tension. To recoup the tunning feature, and to make small adjustments, the Floyd Rose incorporates fine tuners at the bridge.
One of the big game-changers of this system is that it allows the player not only to loosen the strings with the tremolo arm but also to add tension and bend pitch upwards while the bridge dives inside the instrument’s body.
The result of all this complexity is amazingly robust tuning stability that will not falter unless it experiences very extreme usage.
However, the Floyd Rose also has its drawbacks:
- If your guitar didn’t come with a floating bridge, installing one will require heavy destructive modding
- Changing strings becomes an engineering job
- Setting up your guitar also becomes harder
- If a string, for in some strange case goes out of tune you might have to unlock the nut to regain access to the tuners
- The springs that hold the bridge are known to suck up sustain from your strings
- Since the whole system works with a balance of tension between the strings and their springs, the strings become independent. If you break a string, the standard bridge position will shift and your guitar will go out of tune. Even playing double stops will become harder since the string not being bent will suffer a slight change in pitch as a response to the change in tension of the one being bent.
Pro-tip: When playing double stops on a Floyd Rose bridge, apply some pressure to it with your picking hand to keep it from tilting upwards and detuning the string you are not bending.
Main differences between locking tuners and Floyd Rose tremolos
If you have reached this point of the article without skipping the main differences between these 2 solutions might already be apparent to you.
Summing up, these 2 alternatives are different approaches to solve the same problem.
Locking tuners are a simpler solution that relies only on a different design of machine heads that incorporate a clamp that can be tightened with a screw and hold the string in position, preventing slippages.
The Floyd Rose bridge is a higher scale solution that in many cases would achieve the same results. However, when not pre-installed, it requires heavy, destructive modding of the guitar since it takes up a lot of space in the core of the instrument’s body.
This might sound that the former is way better than the latter, however, that’s not true.
There is an audience for both, and they, apart from the different engineering implementations, achieve slightly different things.
The Floyd Rose, although more inconvenient, delivers a rock-solid tuning that can last for months. Also, it allows the player to pitch bend upwards which really changes the sound palette of the more versatile musicians.
Locking tuners are not influential in tone at all and will only help you with tuning stability.
That might be a big pro or a huge con for different people.
Which one should you choose?
Here in GearAficionado, we don’t like giving you our opinion as if it was sent from above. We think that picking a piece of gear is a very personal matter and that what could be obvious for us, might not be it for you.
We always encourage you to test the gear before making a purchase, and in this case, it might be difficult to test it with your instrument because it requires some heavy modding, especially for the Floyd Rose.
What we can recommend to you is that you try out the most similar guitars you could find with each of these options.
Also, we hope we have given you important information to make a better choice.
If you want our insights into what we think you might prefer between locking tuners and a Floyd Rose, there they are:
- If you are a heavy user of the tremolo bar, try out a Floyd Rose bridge
- If you are just looking for tuning stability, look for some locking tuners
- If you enjoy the human-sounding upward pitch-bending that the Floyd Rose enables, go with it
- If you usually change tunings or even drop the E string to a D, locking tuners will be way easier to work with
- If you want to hold your tuning for months and be sure that it will be perfect every day, pick a guitar with a Floyd Rose
- If you want a tuning stability solution that will not affect your tone, get a set of locking tuners
Hello there, my name is Ramiro and I’ve been playing guitar for almost 20 years. I’m obsessed with everything gear-related and I thought it might be worth sharing it. From guitars, pedals, amps, and synths to studio gear and production tips, I hope you find what I post here useful, and I’ll try my best to keep it entertaining also.