The Ultimate Headless Guitar & Bass Resource

TransTrem Guitar Set-up Instructions

These are detailed and step-by-step instructions for the set-up and operation of a TransTrem equipped guitar.
We recommend that you use either the calibrated, double ball-end D'addario or Labella string brands, as we have had years of experience with the strings from both of these fine companies, and their quality and the accuracy of their calibration is excellent.

The TransTrem is a much more sophisticated tremolo than any other on the market, but once you've learned how to adjust it, it is relatively easy to re-adjust for different brands and gauges of strings.
If you've set-up electric guitars before, you should have no difficulty learning how to properly adjust a TransTrem-equipped guitar. The "basics" for setting the "action" and intonation on a Steinberger are essentially the same as for any modern electric guitar.

Even if you replace your strings with the exact same brand and gauge, if you wish your TransTrem to work "perfectly" in tune, you will want to "tweak" the adjustments very slightly after each new string change, as every string set has some minor length variation. This basic type of "fine-tuning" only takes about 5 minutes. set-up a TransTrem. First, decide on the brand and gauge of string that you wish to use.
Lower the TransTrem arm to the lowest locking position and engage the transposing arm into the pin. This will lower the strings as much as possible, and it will make it much easier for you to change the strings.
Loosen the strings using the knurled (regular) tuners until the strings are loose and you can remove them. This is always a good time to clean the fingerboard with your favorite guitar cleaner/polish.

Be careful not to touch the trem arm at this stage so that you don't knock it out of its locking position, as it is now under spring-loaded pressure and will "SNAP" back quite suddenly. This will not damage it (in my experience), but it certainly creates stress on all of the metal-work and will probably also startle you.
Install your new (double ball-end calibrated) strings. At the headpiece, if your guitar is equipped with a rubber string retainer, simply "fold" it over towards the back of the neck, so you can insert the ball-ends into the headpiece.

It is VERY important to install the ball-ends into the bridge with the round opening of the ball-end aimed vertically and (even MORE importantly) you must push the ball-end down into the jaw to MAKE SURE that it is seated into the very bottom of the jaw holder. On some of the strings, notably the B and G, there is a "lip" at the bottom of the jaw, and the ball-end must "catch" under this edge for the TransTrem to function correctly.
We find that it can help to accomplish this by using a small tool to keep pressure on the ball-end as you begin tightening the string and bringing it up to pitch.
You do not need to tune the string all the way up to its final frequency at this point, as the bridge is still in its lowest position, so when all of the strings are installed and you release the arm (carefully), it will raise the tuning of all of the strings quite a bit.

Once all of the strings are installed and brought up to a low pitch, carefully and slowly release the arm. You must now engage the transposing arm into the "zero" or "standard E" position. This is the LOCKED position that you must ALWAYS use when simply TUNING the guitar up to standard pitch. This is now your "RULE #1".
Now tune the guitar up to standard pitch using your guitar tuner. The "trick" at this point in the set-up procedure is that you must now stretch your strings over and over (and over again) until you are convinced that they are COMPLETELY and TOTALLY stretched out and will no longer stretch at all. This may take some time, with repeated stretching and re-tuning. You can also use the tremolo arm to help with this "stretching process".
When you are confident that ALL of your strings are COMPLETELY stretched out, you can begin the actual set-up process.

The first steps are to set the "action", and to adjust the intonation of the bridge saddles.
The "action" is the height of the strings above the fretboard. The original factory spec for this is:
.060" for the high E and should increase slowly to .070" for the low E. This height is simply a matter of personal preference. As the fingerboard has a very slight arc or radius, the strings should also follow this curvature.
To adjust the action, (and to set the intonation) you will need to loosen the small set-screw which is located on the bass side of the bridge. This tiny set-screw is very important, as it "locks" the saddles in place. When all of the height and intonation adjustments have been made, you will need to re-tighten this allen screw.
Each roller-saddle has two small allen screws which allow you to adjust the height of each string.
In general, both screws should be set at about the same height, so the top of the saddle is roughly parallel with the plane of the guitar.

We would recommend playing your guitar throughout the entire fingerboard to make sure that you are happy with your action settings before moving on to the intonation adjustments.
Setting the intonation on your guitar is fairly basic EXCEPT that it is done with completely manual adjustments. Most guitars (Strat, Les Paul, etc..) have a screw of some type to adjust the intonation of each string. Except for a few unusual (and rare) Steinberger bridge variants, the roller saddles on these Steinbergers are not connected to adjustment screws. Instead, each saddle must be moved (pushed) manually into its correct position.

If you've adjusted the intonation on any electric guitar in the past, the same general rules still apply. Using a good quality guitar tuner, simply compare the open string to the fretted note at the 12th fret. Some musicians prefer to compare the harmonic at the 12th fret to the fretted 12th fret. In either case, if the fretted note is sharp, the saddle must be moved towards the bottom (tuner section) of the guitar. Conversely, if the fretted note is flat, the saddle must be moved towards the neck (fingerboard). When both notes are identical, you can move onto the next string, and then the next, etcetera. When you feel that the action on all of the strings and the intonation is correct, the bridge saddles can be locked into place with the side set-screw.

Some caveats... as these adjustments are made manually, you may find that moving one saddle affects its neighbor. You may need to loosen the side set-screw a bit more so the saddles are a little "looser". The other issue to be careful about is that occasionally when you tighten the side set-screw, it may cause some of the saddles to shift slightly.

This process is a bit tricky, but not impossible, and when completed you will be thrilled and satisfied to know that your action is correct and your guitar will play in tune throughout the fingerboard.
Re-check the action adjustments of each string and re-check the intonation of each string before proceeding, as we will next move on to the TransTrem adjustments, and those settings are "predicated" on the assumption that the action and intonation are already "perfect".

Setting up the TransTrem....
In our experience, not many people have taken the time to learn the set up requirements for the TransTrem. It is really not very difficult, and once you have done it a few times, you will find it to be very easy to do.
Assuming that you've now set the string "action" and intonation, and have really stretched your strings, the next step is to make sure that the "Master Tune" knob is properly adjusted. The Master Tune knob is the large knurled knob which is located at the very base of the guitar, "under" the regular tuning barrels.
Assuming that you've followed the previous instructions and your tremolo arm is in the "zero" (E) position, you will now need to carefully "unlock" the transposing arm from the transposing pin. At this point, the bridge (and the tuning) will typically shift a bit. Perhaps sharp or flat. It makes no difference. Using the Master Tune knob, turn it until the guitar comes back close to standard (A440) pitch.

Now, re-lock the transposing arm into the pin and check the tuning again. Re-tune (if necessary).
Again, release the arm and check the tuning. Use the Master Tune knob (again) to bring the High E back in tune. What you are trying to accomplish here is that when releasing the arm, that the guitar remains "perfectly" in tune.
We will re-visit the Master Tune again, but if you can get this balance fairly close, it is sufficient at this point in the set-up procedure.

TransTrem adjustments:
Now that you've accomplished the basic set-up of the bridge, we will be "tuning" the TransTrem bridge. Again you will need to have an accurate tuner. It need not be an expensive tuner. Even a basic meter tuner such as the Boss TU-12 will work fine.

The basic concept here is that on each string, we will be comparing just two notes. Always remember, ONE UP and TWO DOWN. This is now your "RULE #2".
We will be comparing the notes on each string using the tremolo bar to move the transposing arm into the first "UP" position and the second "DOWN" position.
If you look closely at the transposing pin, you will notice that it has a series of "slots" (or cuts) in the metal-work. Each of these "steps" is the "step" that locks into the transposing jaw to change the tuning. We will be adjusting the UP ONE note and the TWO DOWN note, and once both of these notes work correctly, all of the other jaw positions will also work correctly.

The "RULE #3" now that you've memorized ONE UP and TWO DOWN, is that you only tune the UP position with the "regular" knurled string tuning knob, and you only tune the DOWN position with the vertically positioned slot-head TransTrem jaw adjustment screws. Please review our diagram if you are not clear on this description.
The chart we have provided will illustrate the six-strings of your guitar, and indicate the up and down notes for each string.

E F# C
B C#. G
G A Eb
D E Bb
E F#. C

So, beginning with the high E string, move the trem arm into the first up position. If you check the chart, you will see that this note should be an F#. Using the "regular" knurled string tuner, adjust this tuner until your 1st string (E) is in tune (F#).

Now, unlock the arm and press it down and get it to lock in the TWO DOWN position. This may be a bit tricky until you've done it a number of times. It is easy to "over-shoot" and then it will lock in the THREE DOWN (lowest) position. Once you have determined that you are in the correct TWO DOWN position, see the chart and you will find that this note should be a C. In the DOWN position, the tuning is ONLY adjusted using the vertically facing single slot-head jaw screw. This can be adjusted using a small flat-head screwdriver, or you may be able to purchase an original TransTrem adjustment tool.

The fourth (and last) "RULE #4" is:
Sharp-turn counter-clockwise
Flat- turn clockwise.
What this tells you is that if you determine that the note in the TWO DOWN position is SHARP, the TransTrem adjustment screw must be turned in the counter-clockwise direction.
Conversely, if the note in the TWO DOWN position is flat, then the TransTrem adjustment screw must be turned in the clockwise direction. Once you've determined which direction to turn the screw, just turn it about 1/8th of a turn. These flat-head screw-turn adjustments are relatively small.
Now, unlock the arm and bring it back to the ONE UP position. Check the tuning of this note again, and determine if it is perfectly at F#. You may need to retune this string. Again, the UP position is tuned using the "regular" knurled string-tuner.
Once you have determined that this note is accurately in tune, return the arm into the TWO DOWN position and check the tuning.

These back and forth operations are the "basics" of tuning the transposing operation of the TransTrem. When both of these notes are perfectly in tune, you are finished with this string. This may take some trial and error the first few times that you attempt it, but rest assured that it will become much easier (and faster) as you do it more times.
Now, move onto the B string and repeat the same process. Continue on each string until you have completed all six strings.
You have just worked through "one set" of transposing adjustments.
Next, relock the arm into the "zero" or E position and re-tune each string again. Also a good idea at this point to re-strech your strings to make sure that they are all totally "settled".

Once all six strings are perfectly tuned, move the arm into the "free-floating" position. You will probably find that the guitar is slightly flat or sharp. Using the large Master Tune knob at the base of the guitar, bring the guitar back into perfect tune.
Again, what you need to accomplish here is that the guitar must stay in tune regardless of whether the arm is locked or "free-floating".
Depending on how accurate you need your TransTrem to function, you may elect to now repeat this entire process.

We usually find that two complete "runs" in this fashion will accomplish a very accurate set-up. Again, it is this fine-tuning or "tweaking" that will really fine tune all of the TransTrem functions.
In general, the two "up" positions will operate in tune more accurately (and with less fine-tuning) than the lower two positions. When you use the lowest positions, the strings become quite loose that and you may find that total and "perfect" accuracy may not be possible.


This whole procedure is predicated on the assumption that your TransTrem mechanism is functioning correctly. Almost EVERY TransTrem that we have examined over the years needs some attention. This is not surprising when you consider that most of these very complex mechanisms have not been cleaned or adjusted for 20 or more years.

In fact, it is unusual in our experience to find a TransTrem that DOESN'T need new bearings, cleaning, and lubrication. The factory bearings were not of the sealed variety. If the TransTrem has been used extensively, these bearings will be worn, and conversely, even if the guitar has merely been in storage, the original lubrication will probably be dried out and again, the bearings will not rotate smoothly.
A bearing change is NOT an expensive job. Surprisingly, we have encountered some self-proclaimed "expert" Steinberger repair shops who don't see the critical importance of this essential work. This may be because it is not a "profitable repair job" for them. So, if your technician isn't willing to do this critical bearing replacement, we would recommend that you find a different, or more experienced technician.

One sign that your bearings are not operating correctly is that the tremolo will not return to pitch. A properly adjusted TransTrem with a good set of bearings will operate nearly perfectly, and will consistently return to the correct open tuning. To check this, simply depress or raise the tremolo arm and release. If everything is correct, the guitar will return to correct open tuning EVERY time!
The original factory specification that Ned decided upon is 7.5 cents of tuning accuracy in either direction (whether the arm is pressed down and released OR if the arm is pulled up and released.
Since all mechanical devices have some resistance, absolutely "perfect" tuning is not theoretically possible, but we think that you'll find that this 7.5 cents is "close enough for jazz".

The other issue that we run into quite often is that the original roller saddles are corroded and will no longer spin freely and accurately. These rollers must spin smoothly and perfectly or the TransTrem will not operate correctly.
Often the original roller saddles can be "burnished" back into correct specifications.
If your saddles are too worn or corroded, we carry roller saddles, which are carefully designed and engineered, and built for us exclusively.

Written by: Don Greenwald