RangeOfSounds.com is reader-supported. We may earn a small commission through products purchased using links on this page.
If you have a guitar with a locking tremolo system you find yourself not liking very much, you might wonder whether you can remove a locking nut from a guitar and replace it with a regular nut.
You can remove a locking nut from a guitar, but there are some complications. First, a locking nut is larger than a regular nut, so you’ll need to fill the space left behind. Second, unless you block off or replace the locking tremolo system, you’re going to face serious issues with playability.
Just like installing a locking tremolo system and locking nut, removing them is not a decision to make lightly. Let’s look at why you might not want a locking trem and what your options are if you want to replace it.
What Does A Locking Nut Do?
First, it’s worth a look at why a guitar has a locking nut in the first place.
Locking nuts are an important part of a locking tremolo system like a Floyd Rose. They clamp the strings in place firmly at the nut, while the tremolo bridge locks the strings into their individual saddles.
The point is to keep strings the same length when using the tremolo system to bend notes. As you no doubt already know, the length of a string determines its pitch.
When a string slips off its place in the nut, it will change length and will go out of tune. Guitarist Floyd Rose found this out for himself and developed the eponymous double-locking tremolo system to solve that problem.
The strings are clamped in at the bridge and at the nut a locking collar with three screws holds down the strings in three pairs.
Why Don’t People Like Locking Nuts?
If you aren’t familiar with using a locking tremolo system, you might be wondering: what’s the big deal? After all, isn’t tuning stability a great thing to have?
It absolutely is, but part of getting tuning stability from a Floyd Rose or other kind of locking tremolo is properly setup. If you don’t have the tremolo system set up correctly, you might have more tuning problems than with a regular guitar.
Another problem people run into is that the locking nut means you can’t use the tuners on the headstock without unlocking the correct pair of strings first. If you use the tuners when the nut is locked you risk breaking a string.
Instead, any tuning adjustments need to be made with the fine tuning mechanism at the bridge. Those knobs are good for small adjustments — hence the name — but normally can’t change the pitch of the string by more than half a step.
That means if you play in an alternate tuning, you’ll need to unlock the nut. And when you do that, you need to be sure to not unlock all the strings at once or you risk changing the balance of the bridge.
One exception is if you switch back and forth between Standard Tuning — E A D G B E — and Drop D, which lowers the sixth string to D. In that case, the late, great Eddie Van Halen invented a solution for you, the d-tuna.
That device replaces the low E string fine tuning knob at the bridge and allows players to switch back and forth in seconds. One issue is that the d tuna doesn’t work well with a so called “fully floating” Floyd Rose, which can raise and lower the pitch.
Instead, it’s meant for a so called “dive only” setting.
Can You Use A Locking Tremolo Without A Locking Nut?
You might wonder whether you could get away with just not using the locking collar on the locking nut of a Floyd Rose style tremolo system — would it work like a regular trem?
Sadly, it wouldn’t. Because of how the Floyd Rose is set up, running it without the locking nut would almost certainly mean real problems with tuning stability, whether you used the trem bar very often or not.
That’s because locking tremolo systems like a Floyd Rose use spring tension and the tension of the strings in conjunction to hold the bridge in the right spot. That means when you change the tension on one string, you’ll change the tension on the other strings in the other direction.
So moving one string flat would make the others go sharp, and vice versa. When you got the guitar back in tune, it would likely balance out, but any change in tension would cause the same problem again.
The biggest problem with that should be obvious: Instead of just one string going out of tune, all the strings do, making it that much harder to fix. The locking nut, because it clamps the strings, keeps tension constant.
Can You Remove A Locking Tremolo?
So you’ve decided you don’t want the locking trem on your guitar: Now what? Can you remove the Floyd Rose and replace it with something else?
It’s definitely possible to completely remove a locking tremolo system from a guitar and replace it with something else, but there are serious challenges that might make you decide to take another path.
First, there is the hole in the body. While many Floyd Rose trems can fit in the same body routing, all of them are larger than a vintage Fender-style tremolo system.
Some players choose to remove all the tremolo hardware, from the bridge to the springs and claw, and fill that cavity with wood. Then they can measure for, re-drill, and then install a new bridge.
This is not a beginner level project — it takes serious woodworking skill and even if you have that, it will always be obvious that something was done to the guitar.
Depending on the guitar, you might be able to find a replacement trem system that will drop into the existing holes, but it won’t fill the routed area completely.
Another option might be to find a much larger bridge that can be installed over the holes and cavities used for the locking trem system, but that depends on the dimensions of your guitar and what you can find on the new and used market.
How To Block Off A Tremolo System
An option between just learning to use the existing tremolo system and risking turning your guitar into glorified kindling with a woodworking project is blocking off the tremolo system. This has an added advantage: You can do the same on just about any trem equipped guitar.
- Lay your guitar on a flat surface and make sure the neck is well supported
- Remove the strings from the guitar
- Turn the guitar over and remove the cover over the tremolo spring cavity
- Loosen the two screws that hold the spring claw, but don’t remove them entirely
- Measure the space between the bottom of the tremolo block and the lower edge of the cavity, as well as the depth of the cavity
- Saw, plane, and sand a block of wood to fit snugly in between the tremolo block and the bottom of the cavity
- When installed, re-tighten the screws holding the spring claw
This prevents the bridge from pivoting at all, so it is effectively a non-tremolo type bridge. This video details the same basic idea.
There are also some off the shelf solutions if you don’t want to carve your own block for the tremolo system. Something like the Tremol-No offers players the ability to lock the tremolo in place while unlocking it easily, for example.
How To Replace A Locking Nut With A Regular Nut
If you’ve blocked off the tremolo, you might wonder what to do with the locking nut. If you wanted, you could continue to use it — without the springs pulling on things, tuning stability would probably be amazing, but a decent set of locking tuners would be a lot easier to use.
You could also use the nut without the locking collar, but that is not ideal. First, locking nuts are screwed to the neck.
Without the locking collar holding things in place, the screws could back out and cause rattling. Another problem is that locking nuts are metal and aren’t designed to have the strings moving back and forth across them constantly like on a regular nut.
That can lead to wear, binding, tuning issues, and even string breakage problems over time.
A much better solution is to replace the locking nut with a regular nut, but that’s easier said than done. A Floyd Rose style locking nut is much larger than the small standard nut on, say a Fender Stratocaster or even a larger kind like found on a Gibson Les Paul.
In order to install a locking nut on a guitar neck you normally have to remove a small amount of material behind the nut to make the space deeper both top to bottom and front to back.
This video about replacing a Floyd Rose locking nut gives you an idea of how much larger they are.
At least one company made a regular nut designed to drop into the slot left by a Floyd Rose locking nut when removed, but those have been discontinued. They occasionally show up on for sale on the used market.
To give you an idea of how much larger those replacement nuts are, let’s compare them to a standard Fender Stratocaster’s nut dimensions.
A Strat comes with a nut that is about 42 mm wide, 3.5mm front to back, and4.5 mm high. The nuts designed to replace a locking nut measured 41.5 mm wide, 10 mm front to back, and 7.5 mm high.
A decent luthier can make a replacement nut to fit the slot, which is likely the best choice unless you’re comfortable making your own.
There are plenty of reasons to like a Floyd Rose style locking tremolo, but they definitely aren’t for everyone. And if you’re buying a used guitar that wasn’t well cared for or just has a poorly working knockoff, getting it to work right can be frustrating.
There are options out there to keep a locking trem system in place, from simple to elaborate and from DIY to store bought. It’s important to consider how the nut will have to change during that process, as well.
I’ve been a musician, particularly a guitarist, for more than 25 years. I love writing about guitars, gear, recording, music in general and more.