If your guitar has a tremolo bridge, you can set it to three possible configurations: floating, decked and blocked. Each setup has it’s own pros and cons and in this article I’ll be comparing them so you can decide which is the best configuration for your tremolo bridge.
The Quick Answer
A floating tremolo bridge allows the tremolo arm to have the full range of movement but it is the least stable setup. A decked tremolo partially restricts the tremolo arm partially which helps to increase tuning stability. A blocked tremolo fully restricts the tremolo arm and hence is the most stable.
|Floating Tremolo||Decked Tremolo||Blocked Tremolo|
|Tremolo arm is allowed the full range of motion||Tremolo arm can only be pushed down||Movement of the tremolo arm is fully restricted|
|Least tuning stability||Moderate tuning stability||Most tuning stability|
|All strings go out of tune when one breaks||The rest of the strings stay in tun when one breaks||The rest of the strings stay in tun when one breaks|
|Bends are more likely to go out of tune||Bends stay in tune||Bends stay in tune|
|Least sustain||Moderate sustain||Most sustain|
With a floating tremolo, the bridge is pivoting on two pins rather than sitting directly on top of the guitar’s body. This means you can move the tremolo arm either up or down without the bridge contacting the body.
Most Stratocasters come with floating bridges as stock. The bridge is connected to the body using either 2 or 6 screws (depending on if you have a 2-point or a 6-point tremolo). The bridge is balanced between the string tension and the tension of the springs which are located in the back cavity of the guitar.
The advantage of the floating tremolo is that it allows you to get the full range of motion from the tremolo arm. However, there are only 2/6 screws connecting the bridge to the body, this setup offers the least sustain.
Additionally, since the bridge is balanced between the string tension and the spring tension, if one string breaks the rest of the strings will be pulled out of tune. Also, you can’t drop tune the guitar without completing setting up the bridge again because it messes with the tension. Finally, if you play two strings at the same time and bend one of them, the string which isn’t being bent will be too loose and go out of tune.
Which Guitarists use a Floating Tremolo?
- Joe Satriani
- Steve Vai
- Eddie Van Halen
- Stevie Ray Vaughan
- Jeff Beck
Advantages of a Floating Tremolo:
- The tremolo arm can be pulled up or pushed down on
Disadvantages of a Floating Tremolo
- Reduces sustain
- When one string breaks, the rest will go out of tune
- Cannot drop tune
- Bends can go out of tune
With a decked tremolo, the bridge is pulled flat against the guitar body by using the springs underneath in the body’s cavity. This means that the tremolo arm can only be pushed downwards rather than pulled upwards.
A tremolo can be decked by adjusting the spring tension which is located in the back cavity of the guitar. You can add more springs to increase the tension, with the most popular technique being to use 5 springs (instead of the 3 springs that come standard with most stock floating tremolos).
The decked tremolo offers a compromise between the floating and blocked setups. You’ll be able to get some use out of the tremolo arm, but without the guitar going wildly out of tune if one string breaks.
You get more sustain compared to using a floating tremolo, but less than with a blocked tremolo. Since there is more contact with the bridge and body compared to a floating tremolo, the greater the vibration transfer, and hence sustain will be.
Hence, if you only want to use your tremolo arm to subtly add vibrato effect by flattening the pitch, then the decked tremolo is a great option which is used by many professional players.
Which Guitarists use a Decked Tremolo?
- Jimi Hendrix
- John Frusciante
- David Gilmour
- John Mayer
Advantages of a Decked Tremolo:
- The guitar can be drop tuned
- When one string breaks, the rest do not go out of tune so easily
- Bends stay in tune
Disadvantages of a Decked Tremolo
- Can only push down on the tremolo rather than pull up
- Less sustain compared to a blocked tremolo
With a blocked tremolo, a piece of wood is placed against the metal bridge block in the body’s cavity which prevents the springs from working and means that the tremolo arm cannot be used to achieve a vibrato effect.
The main reason why players do this is because they don’t have a need for the tremolo arm and prefer all the advantages that come with a hardtail bridge.
The wooden block which is placed against the metal bridge block locks the bridge in place so it cannot rock backwards/ forwards when the tremolo arm is pushed/ pulled on. The benefits include more sustain and increased tuning stability.
Which Guitarists use a Blocked Tremolo?
- Eric Clapton
Advantages of a Blocked Tremolo:
- Results in the most sustain
- Drop tuning is possible
- Bends stay in tune
- When one string breaks, the rest do not go out of tune
Disadvantages of a Blocked Tremolo
- The tremolo arm cannot be used
Which Tremolo Bridge Setup is Best for You?
- If you have no interest in using the tremolo arm on your guitar, go for the blocked tremolo setup. This will give you the most sustain and tuning stability out of the three possible setups.
- If you still want to get some use out of the tremolo arm but are concerned about the issues caused by bending and string breakage, go for the decked tremolo.
- If you want the full range of motion from your tremolo arm then the floating bridge is your only real option.
Remember, all these modifications are reversible so feel free to try them all out at some point and see which best suits your playing style.
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