Floyd Rose

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Floyd Rose

Early Life and Influences

In 1963, a 15-year-old Floyd Rose picked up his first guitar, a Harmony, and an old tweed Fender amp. A year later, Floyd’s family moved from Durango, Colorado to Reno, Nevada, and he received his first tremolo-equipped guitar, a 1964 Fender Jazzmaster. Having grown up a fan of the Beach Boys and the Ventures, he found himself making ample use of his whammy bar, which only increased into the late 60’s and early 70’s as he found inspiration in Hendrix’s performance at Woodstock, and in watching Ritchie Blackmore play in Sacramento. As Hendrix and Blackmore were the two artists he emulated the most, Floyd was snapping whammy bars in half on an almost weekly basis, while also trying to cope with his strings going wildly out of tune, which was a major problem for a musician whose love for a well-applied whammy bar was equaled by his meticulous attention to his intonation.

It was when Floyd learned to intonate his guitar himself for the first time that he considered manipulating it in order to step it up to his personal standards-- to find a way to get what he really needed out of his instrument. His first modification was to install a ¼ inch steel bar in place of his whammy bar, which even he couldn’t break, and then to loosen the six bridge screws to extend the range of his pitch bending. While very satisfied with the new durability and extended range, he was equally frustrated with the worsened problem of staying in tune. After trying all the tricks he’d ever heard of to get around this problem, they were all hopelessly insufficient, and he found himself in need of a better solution.

Innovation and Evolution

One evening, while casually watching TV after a particularly aggravating rehearsal in a freezing-cold storage unit, Floyd noticed that the windings of his E string slid across the nut when the tremolo arm was depressed. Curious if this could be the source of the problem, he marked the string at the nut, and then used the tremolo arm; as he expected, even after minimal use, the mark on his string was displaced from its original position at the nut. Floyd’s first attempt to control this displacement involved Krazy Glue, and even this primitive method had some initial success; enough to encourage further experimentation.   

Floyd’s job at the time would prove surprisingly fortuitous; in 1976, he was making jewelry by day, so he owned a lapidary rig and applied his tools to create a thin brass nut that used three U-shaped clamps to lock the strings in place. He installed this system on the 1957 neck of his 1963 Fender Stratocaster, drilling two holes into the neck beneath the new nut—a risky maneuver to perform on vintage hardware, even in 1976. This initial model of the locking system worked well as long as the tremolo arm wasn’t too deeply depressed. Soon after, Floyd borrowed $600 from his parents to have his second model made at a machine shop; he considers this to be the first real model of what we now know as the Floyd Rose Tremolo Locking System, the only problem being that the material it was made of was not strong enough. His next model used more durable materials, moving from easily dented brass to hardened steel, and included a locking bridge. A multitude of artist endorsements, with Eddie Van Halen at the forefront, would lead to an explosion in popularity, an ensuing patent and mass-manufacture with Kramer.

Floyd Rose Today

Floyd’s innovations continue to this day.  In 2003, he released the SpeedLoader Tremolo System which used the same priciple of his namesake locking tremolo design but using pretuned proprietary strings.  In development since 1991, the system cut down the player's restringing time from 10 minutes or more to under 30 seconds for the skilled technician and without the need to cut the ball ends of the string nor the use of allen wrenches.  By using fine tuners and the precisely cut strings, it rendered tuning heads on the headstock useless in this application.  The SpeedLoader was made in both tremolo and fixed-bridge versions.

Most recently, Floyd has been in development of the FRX Retrofit Tremolo System for Les Paul-style guitars.  Requiring no routing to the body, the FRX is a surface-mounting bridge that swaps the Tune-O-Matic bridge with the new tremolo using existing post holes.  The locking nut is a truss rod cover/nut hybrid that goes in place directly above the stock nut on the guitar and does not need a routed nut shelf.  A constant tinkerer, Floyd has been working on this design for several years and continues to make improvements.  You can look for the system at NAMM 2014 at the Floyd Rose Booth (4860) in Hall C.