The Floyd Rose Bridge is either an angel or demon, depending on who you are. Today we are going to take a look at the origin, as well as the modern Floyd in an attempt to demystify this amazing guitar innovation!
The Floyd Rose Bridge: Be Not Afraid!
Every morning I like to browse the Reddit forums about guitar while I drink coffee and wake up. Most of the time I am looking at people’s “NGD” or “New Guitar Day”. People get a new guitar and post about it with pictures. Looking at guitars first thing in the morning is a proven method of making your day better!
Sometimes there are beginner questions, and I don’t mind taking a few minutes to give some advice to beginners and intermediates. Because they have some legit questions… sometimes. The other times it is something like neck pocket cracks on a Fender. Which… is just a symptom of Fender design, it happens.
But the frustration that I see from people with a floating bridge, or a Floyd Rose bridge is RELENTLESS. People are either angry, confused, or a combo of both. You never get a second chance to make a first impression, and the Floyd Rose bridge can be a really awful “first date” for some guitarists. Floyd Rose guitars get “ghosted” all the time!
Then on guitar forums, you see the deluge of bad advice that immediately follows. I think I have heard just about everything at this point, and some of the answers are positively ridiculous. Some are just downright wrong, and even harmful. I’ve seen people say most recently:
- Change the strings one at a time
- Get a Tremel-NO
- Block it completely
- Get a new guitar
- Give up and sell it immediately
None of these are helpful advice. If you never take all of the strings off, then how do you plan on cleaning the fretboard or polishing the frets? If you block it, then what’s the point of even having the Floyd Rose? Why would someone get rid of the whole guitar?
There are all types of guitars out there, and having at least one guitar with a Floyd Rose bridge is a great addition to your arsenal. You can do a myriad of techniques with a Floyd, and some people like myself, Eddie Van Halen, and Steve Vai have made it part of their whole guitar style. I love having a floating trem, and there are lots of cool things you can do with one.
What Is A “Floating” Electric Guitar Bridge?
A floating electric guitar bridge is usually called a Tremolo bridge, or a “trem” for short. This means the bridge sits on a pivot, like a fulcrum lever. The tension of the strings is equal to the tension of the springs in the back of the guitar, causing the bridge to “float”. This allows the user to make vibrato effects by pulling up or down on the trem arm, or “Whammy Bar”.
Today we are going to talk about what a Floyd Rose bridge is, where it came from, and how to use it properly. We are also going to go over how to set up the bridge in a separate article, since it is not as hard as you think. We can also talk about some things that might make your life easier with a Floyd Rose bridge.
But first, let’s dive into the design and beginnings of the Floyd Rose, and how it became a staple of Metal guitar playing. Some of the most influential guitar players have done some amazing things with a Floyd! As they say; “necessity is the mother of invention”. Guitarists definitely had a need, so let’s take a look at the invention part!
The Floyd Rose Bridge: History
If there is anyone to associate the Floyd Rose bridge with, it is probably Eddie Van Halen. He really brought the idea to the mainstream in the early 80s since guitarists wondered how he was making those outlandish sounds. For a while, people even thought Eddie was using synthesizers to trick people into thinking it was a guitar making the sounds!
But Eddie wasn’t the guy that designed the bridge in the first place. You see, Floyd D. Rose also liked playing with the whammy bar on his own guitars, but like everyone else, he had a problem keeping them in tune. The Fender Stratocaster bridge was the first real attempt at making a “fulcrum” style bridge, and it had remained unchanged for decades. That was about to change, in a big way!
Floyd Rose was a jeweler by trade, and did repair on small metal parts all the time. He would leave the office every day and play guitar at home as a hobby. Floyd played guitar in a local band inspired by Jimi Hendrix and Deep Purple. He liked to use the tremolo system on stage, but none of the usual tricks to stay in tune were working for him.
People had told Floyd to lube the nut of the guitar, as well as locking the strings around the tuning pegs. These tricks all helped, but Floyd wanted something stable, that would never go out of tune. He started working on the Floyd Rose bridge in 1976, starting with the nut.
The first point of any tuning failure on an electric guitar is going to be at the nut. Floyd started by using his jewelry store machines and tools to mill out a brass nut that locked the strings in place. This worked well, but the nut wore down too quickly, so it was back to the drawing board. Hardened steel proved to be a better material to forge the nut material.
This worked for a while, but then Floyd must have become a little indulgent. Because he applied the same thought to the bridge of the guitar as well. What if you could lock the bridge pieces as well as the nut, and create a fully new system?
He ended up making an entire bridge system that could be intonated just like a Fender, but the parts all locked down, even the intonation screws. He then combined the bridge portion with a redesigned locking nut. To his surprise, this system worked, and held up without wearing down. Word got out, and 4 very famous guitarists ended up with the first prototypes:
- Eddie Van Halen
- Neil Schon (Journey)
- Brad Gillis (Night Ranger)
- Steve Vai
Keep in mind that these were hand-made at the time, and Floyd made all of these bridges by himself. Floyd worked closely with the artists that used his new bridge, and eventually patented the Floyd Rose bridge system in 1979. Copies started to pop up, with the most infamous being Kahler. Gary Kahler was sued by Floyd Rose and was ordered to pay 100 million dollars for breaking patent!
Floyd Rose had taken a lot of feedback from the guitarists that used the bridge, most famously from Eddie Van Halen. Eddie has some suggestions regarding the Floyd Rose Bridge, and some features were changed here and there. Steve Vai famously wanted the bridge to bend backwards, leading to routing the body of his guitar so he could “pull up”.
Through Floyd’s connections with the legendary guitarists that used his bridge, he became overwhelmed with orders. He could not keep up, so he partnered with Kramer Guitars to mass produce the Floyd Rose bridge system. Since the parts were no longer made by hand, some of the precision was off, leading to new tuning issues. These bridges were now being produced at a larger scale, and therefore, needed a new design.
The addition of fine tuners were added to avoid the new tuning issues. The tiny fine tuners allowed the user to adjust the tuning after the nut was locked down, which had become an issue with the mass produced Floyd Rose Bridges. Floyd and Kramer remained exclusive until 1991 when Fender released the Richie Sambora signature guitar. Fender went on to use Floyd Rose bridges in several models.
Kramer Guitars had lost popularity in the 90’s so partnering with Fender was a huge win for Floyd Rose. After the partnership with Fender, Floyd Rose took matters into his own hands in 2005. The Floyd Rose name had become a brand that was popular enough to be a business all on its own.
Floyd Rose has since became its own company, and makes bridges for many different guitar brands. If you want a Floyd Rose bridge, you can buy if from the company itself or any licensed retailer. There are several versions to choose from, sitting at different price points. There are tons of options:
- Floyd Rose “Special”: Affordable Version
- Floyd Rose 1000 Series: Upgraded Version
- Floyd Rose Original: All Steel Original version
- Floyd Rose Pro: Low Profile, Narrow Spacing
- Floyd Rose 1500 “Hot Rod”: Made By Schecter Exclusively
Most “Metal” branded guitars offer Floyd Rose bridges. Schecter Guitars is one of the largest buyers of Floyd Rose bridges, with ESP/LTD right behind them. The Floyd Rose bridge has become a staple of Rock and Metal guitars, and the rest is history!
The Floyd Rose Bridge: How Does It Work?
This is the big thing right? This is what gets people frustrated and emotional when it comes to the Floyd Rose Bridge. It works on a fulcrum system, which is a lever that pivots. The bridge pivots from the two mounting holes, on a knife edge to move forward and backwards. In the diagram above:
- FIGURE 1: The Floyd Rose Bridge in the natural “neutral” position called the Zero Point. The bridge is parallel with the guitar body.
- FIGURE 2: The trem bar is depressed, making the bridge pivot forward. This causes the strings to go slack. With minor movements, this cause the pitch to be LOWERED, bending the note down as far as you want.
- FIGURE 3: The trem bar is being pulled up, making the bridge pivot backwards. This causes the strings to tighten. Minor movements will make the pitch RAISE, bending the note up.
So it works just like any other whammy bar, but the difference is that the Floyd Rose has a Zero Point that is easier to return to since you have the strings clamped at the nut. When you press down on the whammy bar, the springs in the back of the guitar pull the bridge back to the Zero Point. Why does this not work on regular trem systems?
Because regular trems, like a Fender Two-Point Trem does not have the benefit of a locking nut. When you push down on a standard trem, the strings still go slack, but they have to move through the nut slots. This is where you go out of tune, since the strings can get caught in the nut slots. We call this “binding” at the nut.
But a Fender style bridge does not allow you the same amount of movement as a Floyd Rose bridge. The Floyd is usually recessed into the body of the guitar, allowing you to pull up much further than a traditional trem. Most Fender trem systems are set to float, but you can only pull up a half or full step.
With a Floyd Rose bridge, you can pull up much further, and well as push down further. This is where famous “Dive Bomb” techniques come from. You can push down and pull up in one single motion, and a Floyd Rose is meant to always return to Zero Point, level and straight.
With a Floyd Rose you clamp down the strings at the nut, so they cannot move. The strings are also locked in at the bridge itself. This is why you can “Dive Bomb’ with a Floyd and it returns to Zero Point almost every time. Once a Floyd Rose is set up properly, you never really have to adjust it. Unless…
The Floyd Rose Bridge: Cons
The idea of a floating bridge is not new by any means. Fender started it way back in the 50’s, and the concept is the same with a Floyd Rose bridge. A floating bridge takes a little technical know-how and basic physics to understand. This is where beginners often mess up by changing string gauges or tunings.
The Floyd Rose bridge design often causes all kind of woes for guitarists not familiar with how to set them up. I see tons of angry comments all the time, but like most things in guitar, this is user error. The Floyd is designed to be set up, and then rarely ever changed.
There are factors to consider before you buy a Floyd Rose guitar. The whole advantage to a Floyd Rose system is consistency. I set up my Floyd Rose bridge on my main guitar about 3 years ago, and I have only made minor adjustments since then! This is one of the reasons that I love a Floyd Rose, but it can also be a hinderance.
Cons Of A Floyd Rose:
- Must stay in one tuning, preferably
- Must use the same brand and gauge of strings
- Carry tools with you at all times
- Know how to properly set one up
- Basic maintenance on parts when they wear
- Breaking a string on stage means the guitar is out of commission (need a backup)
- Double stop bends can be a problem
The first problem that most guitarists run into with a Floyd Rose bridge is the fact that you need to set it up for one tuning. Unlocking the nut, and trying to tune the guitar with the traditional tuners will cause the bridge to loose or gain tension, and it will throw the system out of whack. In the picture above, I detuned my guitar by one step.
The strings and the springs in the back of the guitar must remain at equal tension. The bridge itself is floating, which means it is held in place by the tension of the springs, and the tension of the strings themselves. The same can be said for a regular Fender bridge as well, but the Floyd usually has a recess in the body that allows it to sink backwards.
Not only do you have to stay in one tuning, you need to stick with the same string gauge as well. Going up or down a gauge will also cause the bridge to gain/lose tension. To avoid having to constantly adjust your guitar, its best to stick with one brand and the same gauge (brands can differ, even if they are the same gauge).
This can also be a problem when changing strings. When you change the strings on a Floyd Rose bridge, all of the tension will be released, leaving the bridge completely recessed and pulled back; the opposite of the picture above. To counter that, you need to “block” the bridge.
Blocking the bridge can be done from the back, where the springs are located, or from the top. There are many methods to do this, and we show you how in Floyd Setup Guide. This takes 90% of the frustration that most people have with a Floyd out of the equation.
Your playing style may also be affected, since doing bends that include open strings. When you do a whole step bend on the G string for example, you will be adding tension. This will cause the other strings that are open to detune. This can be a big adjustment for some players, and Country/Blues style double stop bends are out of the question.
For some guitarists, a Floyd Rose bridge is out of the question. That’s okay, there is a good reason why some many players use fixed bridge guitars.
The Floyd Rose Bridge: Pros
For me, the pros outweigh the cons by a huge margin. Being able to do Dive Bombs and other outrageous techniques is one of the biggest draws to the Floyd Rose for me. I can pull up or down, and create all kinds of cool effects.
But I also use the trem in a subtle way. Sometimes I will just bend the note ever so slightly, or I will add some vibrato that would be unnatural to achieve with my fingers alone. I also like to do “flutters”, which is where you hit the bar quickly to make a “stuttering” effect. The possibilities are limitless to me.
There is also the issue of “set it and forget it” that I absolutely LOVE. As I stated earlier, I have my main guitar setup, and I have not done any major adjustments in 3 years. This is because the Floyd Rose bridge is so consistent. The intonation is set, then clamped down by screws, so I never I have to fiddle with that.
Other than regular truss rod adjustments, I have not had to do anything to the Floyd. I use the same brand of strings every time, and the same gauge. So maintenance is a non-issue for me. I also have a re-stringing routine with some gadgets that we will talk about in the Floyd Rose Bridge Setup Guide. It takes me maybe 15 minutes to change strings.
My guitar is almost always in tune when I pick it up. This is one of the biggest advantages of having a Floyd Rose bridge, since the strings never have the chance to slip out of tune. They may be off by a few cents here and there, but the fine tuners always get me right back in tune with minimal effort.
I like the whole feel of a Floyd Rose. Not only are the moving parts easier to use for me, and easier to maintain, but I like the whole feel of the bridge. Palm mutes feel much better since there are no set screws stabbing my hand. So much of guitar playing is “feel” so this is an important factor
The Floyd Rose Bridge is not for everyone, and that’s ok. If we all played the same guitars and amps, everything would be pretty boring! The Floyd Rose Bridge is a very valuable tool, that unfortunately can have a steep learning curve. Actually, any floating bridge can have this problem.
Learning how to set up a Floyd Rose can be easier than you ever thought!
But don’t let a bad first impression throw you off the idea of a Floyd. Guitar stuff can be confusing for most beginners and intermediates. If you have tried a Floyd-equipped guitar before, and you just couldn’t get it set up, maybe you should give it another shot! Setting up a Floyd from scratch is not as hard as some people make it out to be.
If you just don’t want to deal with it, or you have no way to incorporate it into your style, that’s totally ok! But don’t let a bad fist impression turn you away from an otherwise cool gadget. There is a lot of guitar gear out there that may seem difficult to grasp at first, but as we broke it down today… the Floyd Rose bridge is just simple physics!
Do you like Floyd Rose bridges? Or do you think they are the absolute worst thing on the planet? Let us know your thoughts!