Take it to the bridge! Next, turn the guitar over and make sure the six mounting screws holding the tremolo to the body are all adjusted flush to the bridge plate (Photo 5). Don’t tighten them too much, otherwise the tremolo will rock forward on its beveled edge. Lower each screw just enough for the bridge plate to sit flat and flush with the body.
Testing one, two. Tune up and test the spring tension by bending the strings. Does the trem move at all? If so, tighten the claw a bit closer to the body. Hold a note on one string and bend another against it. You want the held note to stay in tune as you bend the other string. Keep in mind that some guitar necks flex a bit when you bend a string and this will subtly affect the tuning. In this case, we’re only paying attention to the tremolo to see if it rocks forward when bending strings.
Be patient: You may need to tighten the springs several times before the trem stays rock solid when you bend. Remember to always tune after every adjustment. Once the trem is secured flush to the body and doesn’t tilt forward when you bend strings, it’s time to move to the final setup stage.
Adjust the saddles. Now adjust the action at the bridge saddles. Using an Allen wrench, adjust the two screws to position each saddle to your preferred height (Photo 6). Make sure each saddle stays level and doesn’t tilt, and adjust the saddles in a gentle arc that matches the fretboard radius. I explain this operation in “How to Set Up a Fender Stratocaster.”
Final Setup. After decking the trem and adjusting the action, the strings may be sitting too close to the pickups and this can negatively affect intonation. So we have to check the pickup height before doing anything else. If you want to brush up on this, read “How to Balance Pickups on Strats and Teles.”
After adjusting the pickups, then tackle the intonation. Again, I detail this process in “How to Set Up a Fender Stratocaster.”
Beware of Stripped Screw Holes
Occasionally when locking down a Strat trem I’ve encountered worn out screw holes, either at the spring claw or bridge plate. Stripped-out holes must be doweled and re-drilled, otherwise the screws will continue to strip out more wood and will eventually slip out of the hole. Last year I wrote a column about fixing stripped-out holes for pickguard screws, and the same principles apply here, although in this case the holes are bigger and require a slightly larger dowel. Check out “Got a Loose Screw?” for complete details. Remember, if you don’t have the proper tools or knowledge to correctly do this—or any guitar job—play it safe and consult your local guitar tech.
Tip: Always put fresh strings on your guitar before you adjust the intonation.
All right—that’s it! You’ve now locked down your trem and should have a much easier time keeping your guitar in tune.