A set of Original Floyd Rose trem parts (above left, photo courtesy of Banzai Music) and part of the original 1979 U.S. patent diagram filed by Rose on October 23, 1979 (above right).
The Floyd Rose Revolution In 1977 Floyd Rose designed a fulcrum-style vibrato bridge that aimed to achieve better tuning stability than Fender’s design. The “double-locking” tremolo that bears his name allows users to clamp each string at the bridge and the nut. The Floyd Rose played a significant role in shaping the sound of ’80s rock, facilitating over-the-top guitar histrionics by allowing an unprecedented amount of whammy-bar abuse while meticulously maintaining the guitar’s tuning. In some ways, the design is as integral to hard rock and metal as Marshall and Mesa/Boogie amplifiers, and high-output pickups by the likes of DiMarzio and EMG.
Rose was inspired to develop his bridge after applying Krazy Glue to his Strat’s strings after they were tuned to pitch. Before long the tuning problems returned, so he tried a more permanent strategy: He rented machinery to make locking nuts and bridges. When Randy Hansen—an infamous Jimi Hendrix impersonator and noted whammy-bar abuser—got a hold of the second Floyd Rose prototype, he found that his guitar remained perfectly in tune even after he stomped on the bar and then tossed the axe in the air, catching it by the bar. That’s when Rose knew his device would be a game changer—though it was the next Floyd owner who put the trem on the map.
Rose’s friend Linn Ellsworth of Boogie Bodies was making guitars for Eddie Van Halen, the world’s biggest guitar hero at the time. Rose showed Van Halen the unit and he was quickly sold. Rose struck a deal with Kramer guitars to be the exclusive distributor of the trem despite the fact that the guitar manufacturer had planned to use the Rockinger trem, a locking-nut design that they had referred to as “the Eddie Van Halen tremolo.” Van Halen’s iconic, Floyd-equipped “Frankenstrat” went on to become the decade’s defining axe, and Floyd Rose mania ensued.
The Floyd Rose consists of a floating bridge and a locking nut. Unlike conventional bridges that rely on the ball end to keep the string in place, the Floyd Rose necessitates cutting off the ball end just above wrappings. The string end is inserted in a saddle, and a small metal block clamps the strings in place when you tighten the 3 mm hex screw at the back of the bridge (in the same location as a Strat bridge’s intonation screw). Up at the nut are three square pieces of metal, each of which tightens down on a pair of strings via another 3mm hex screw once the guitar is tuned. When the strings are locked in place, the headstock tuners have no effect on tuning. However, small adjustments (roughly a whole-step’s worth) can be made via fine tuners at the rear of the bridge. One downside of the fine tuners: Because of their location, they can sometimes obstruct a player’s picking hand, particularly if the player rests their hand on the bridge.
The biggest pitfall of the Floyd Rose, however, is that if it is set to float and a string breaks, the whole guitar will go out of tune. Because of this—and the fact that changing a string on a Floyd Rose-equipped guitar takes longer than on many other bridge designs—many Floyd users always bring backup guitars to gigs.
An example of Kahler’s cam-based locking-tremolo design (above left, photo courtesy of Banzai Music) and part of the company's U.S. patent diagram (above right).
Kahler’s Threat to the Kingdom of Floyd Perhaps the most direct competitor to the Floyd Rose was the tremolo designed by Gary Kahler. In the late ’70s Kahler had a guitar hardware company called Brass Factory that made brass versions of the Fender trem and developed several bridges with Fender. In the ’80s Kahler changed the company name to American Precision Metalworks and soon unveiled the Kahler tremolo.
The Kahler trem had several unmistakable Floyd-inspired design features, including a locking nut and fine tuners on the bridge assembly—enough to warrant a patent-infringement judgment against Kahler. Unlike the Floyd Rose however, the Kahler is a cam-based system—strings attach to a single cylindrical cam inside the bridge housing. Furthermore, Kahlers didn’t require snipping the ball ends off of strings.
The battle raged between Floyd Rose and Kahler throughout the first golden age of shred, with many flashy players pledging allegiance to one system or the other. In the end, Kahler lost a patent-infringement lawsuit and the balance of power went to Floyd. In 2005, however, Kahler began manufacturing bridges again under Floyd Rose licenses.To this day, the company has produced over a million trems.