Tremolo “Hot-Rodding” & “Upgrading”

Something about the OCD nature of guitar players means they commonly need to be tweaking their axes.  These tuners or those poteniometers or that strap.  Maybe we can all just agree that we want to look cool too?

Tawny Kitaen, You’re Needed On Set

And is there anything that looks cooler than pulling off some whammy bar action?  No way!  So why not make the tremolo look awesome, right?

Floyd Rose Custom Shoppe Tremolo
Floyd Rose Custom Shoppe Tremolo

Visual tweaks to the double locking tremolo system started a few years back and appears to have found moderate appeal.  One of the more common visual alterations come in the form of stainless steel screws.  That includes saddle mounting screws, string lock screws, and nut clamp screws.

Stainless steel is more resistant to corrosion than the standard black alloy steel screws.  If you’re like Angus Young and sweat a lot on stage, that could be a more practical option.  What about where the rubber meets the road… or rather, where the metal meets the metal?

Let’s get this out of the way first.  First of all, I’m going to cover this in tensile strength.  That the maximum load in tension (pulling apart) which a material can withstand before breaking or fracturing.  Lesser mechanical properties include Yield Strength and Proof Load.  Yield Strength is the maximum load at which a material exhibits a specific permanent deformation.  Proof Load is an axial tensile load which the product must withstand without evidence of any permanent set.  So, yeah, let’s keep it simple.

Your common black alloy screw found on the Original Series Floyd Rose tremolo is generally Class 10.9.  That’s a tensile strength of about 145-150 KPI (that’s thousands of pounds per square inch).  You can hit up a place like Fastenal or your local bolt and screw supply and find Class 12.9 black allow, which has a tensile strength of about 176 KSI.  For reference, that about as strong as some of the titanium out there… except without the additional tonal benefits.

A4 Stainless Steel Socket Cap Screw
A4 Stainless Steel Socket Cap Screw

Some of the very strongest stainless steel out there is the A4 grade, which can have a tensile strength of about 116 KSI.  So even the low end Class 8.8 black alloy is stronger.  Yet your more common stainless steel bolts are 18-8, having a minimum tensile strength of 65 KSI.

The Reader’s Digest version is that black alloy screws are going to be stronger than stainless steel screws.

Floyd Rose is honest in describing stainless steel as “highly resistant to corrosion”.  Other outlets for these stainless steel screws might appear a bit disingenuous with the suggestion of stainless steel being harder – pfft! those pesky facts!

Floyd Rose is also much more fairly priced with the stainless steel part.  Consider $5.10 for a set of 6 saddle mounting screws.  You can find copycat Floyd mom and pop type places charging about 4x more than Floyd Rose – that’s over $3 each.  The top of the line A4 grade stainless steel from Fastenal is $0.0992 each.  I don’t know about you, but if I’m going to take the stainless steel path and don’t want to deal with tracking them down at the hardware store, I’d rather pay Floyd $.85 each than some other place more than $3 a pop… if for nothing more than Floyd being honest in the description.

Brass Locking Nut
Brass Locking Nut

Speaking of tensile strength of metal.  Let’s revisit a recent evaluation of the Brass Locking Nut.  The brass used on the brass locking nuts that I bought are confirmed by the manufacturer at over 100 KSI – and sorry, mine are not for sale.  In comparison, the “bell brass” that many places claim to use for sustain blocks is about half of that at approximately 58 KSI.  Within 2 days of my Brass Locking Nut review, a similar product made of “naval brass” hit the market from one of those smaller mom and pop sort of places.  “Naval brass” is around 25 KSI.  While not having a sample of the “naval brass” product, I cannot attest to the durability… although it might appear that the numbers speak for themselves: 100+ KSI or about 25 KSI.

Seems like there are definitely things to consider.  At the end of the day, some stainless steel screws are used in certain automotive industry applications to attach panels and so on – probably a good idea for cars near the coasts.  So I’m not saying that stainless steel screws are bad.  When it comes to your locking tremolo applications, it will depend on your goals… and how much torque you apply to these screws.

We could get into other things, like noiseless springs and heavy duty springs and brass tremolo claws (which include the brass screws!) and how the official Floyd Rose parts are also more cost effective that some of the alternatives… but I know you guys are smart (you’re reading this, aren’t you?  LOL!).  As consumers, maybe there are a few valuable insights mentioned here to help make the best use of your hard-earned dollar.

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