They’re arguably one of the most creative and controversial gear innovations of the 1980s. The Floyd Rose tremolo system safe-guarded against even modest tuning missteps after a shredding solo or series of whammy bar dive bombs. So who was Floyd Rose and how did his hardware turn up on so many guitars?
Floyd D. Rose was both a musician and machinist. Late in the 1970s, he noticed a problem with tuning stability as he developed his own playing style inspired by Jimi Hendrix and Ritchie Blackmore. After a few years of tinkering with a new bridge hardware solution, in 1979 Rose secured a patent for a bridge and nut combination that locked the strings in place.
This early design was revolutionary. The strings were clamped down tight at the bridge and sandwiched in up top between the nut and a bolt-on brace. This meant that the tuners were only used when tuning and were otherwise removed as a source of instability and string slack while playing.
Rose’s design quickly caught both the eyes and ears of the industry. By 1980, Kramer guitars formed a partnership with Rose to distribute the new tremolo system as well as load them into their fleet of metal-savvy instruments. In these early years, the design of the Floyd Rose tremolo system was still evolving. From 1982-1984, some of Kramer’s overseas models featured this style of bridge without the fine-tuners that became standard from the mid-1980s on. While the relationship between Rose and Kramer became rocky by the late 1980s—there’s even lore of a lawsuit—the popularity of the Floyd Rose system caught the interests and endorsement of the greatest guitar heroes of the decade.
If you’ve ever wondered how Eddie Van Halen’s guitar survived the onslaught of dive bombs and intense octave bends of the late 1980s, it’s mostly due to the Floyd Rose tremolo system. Steve Vai’s soaring solos of the decade are equally indebted to this style of tremolo. While players like this forged a new profile for guitar heroes, their early adoption of the Floyd Rose gave the system just the endorsement it needed to go mainstream.
Since that time, Floyd Rose tremolo systems found their way onto almost every brand imaginable, with a particular weighting to those that appeal to the metal heads in the room. Kramer, Ibanez, BC Rich, Jackson, ESP, you name it, they’ve rocked Floyds. For some of these brands—such as Jackson or Yamaha—the bridges were domesticated through officially “licensed” tremolo systems. As a result, these bridges channeled the design philosophy of the original but allowed brands to add their own touch.
Whether you love or hate locking tremolo systems, the reality is they made a huge impact on the ascendancy of rock guitar in critical years in the 1970s and 1980s. So if you’re feeling the need for an attempt at a tap, shred, and dive bomb rendition of “Eruption,” pick up a Floyd and see how it feels!