Floyd Rose - The Man

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.

While disappointed with major labels increasingly discouraging innovation with formulaic releases, and taking issue with the way in which the Internet has become a musical free-for-all, Floyd still feels very optimistic about newer artists that continue to push the envelope and keep real guitar-playing in the spotlight, citing The Mars Volta and Love45. He continues to work towards ever-increased consistency and quality, as well as lowered prices, despite already stellar reviews and a vast satisfied clientele, in order to compete with outsourcing manufacturers and keep the Floyd Rose brand at the top of the guitar food chain, always well ahead of the curve.

Despite his incredibly lucrative work as an inventor, Floyd never considered the success of his innovation to be an alternative to a career as a successful musician, but rather an accessory to that career. While his musical exploits might not be as well-known as his tremolo system, Floyd did make his mark in music history, and plays to this day. Based out of Seattle in the early 1980’s, Floyd’s band C.O.R.E. featured himself and Scott Palmerton, also known as Jonathan K.; eventually the two left the group to form Q5 with guitarist Rick Pierce, bassist Evan Sheeley and drummer Gary Thompson, all of whom were former members of the group TKO who appreciated Floyd’s compositional strength. Q5 was noticed by Heart’s management team, and recorded a seven song demo. Their debut album Steel the Light was released in 1984, which had unexpected success in Europe after a re-release on the Music for Nations label. The success of the debut album warranted a follow-up called When The Mirror Cracks in 1985, an album with a strikingly different aesthetic; they disbanded shortly after this release, and the remaining members formed the band Nightshade. The strength of Floyd’s compositions has been proven by their recurrence; Great White would later cover Q5’s “Ain’t No Way To Treat A Lady,” and as recently as 2006 InnerWish covered “Lonely Lady” on their album, Inner Strength. Floyd’s musical endeavors continued with his work on 34 Below’s 2001 album, Is It You?, which he engineered and produced, and Q5 would come back together to perform at Headbangers Open Air in 2009, opening with their second album’s title track.

Floyd has also been spending his time as a country music songwriter.  As of 2013, he has written a number of tunes recorded by some of Nashville's best session players showcasing his supreme skills as a composer and arranger, dating back to his days in Seattle with Q5.

 

Floyd Rose - The Machine

Artist Endorsement Leads The Way

After creating the initial models, Floyd finally had a highly-developed piece of original hardware, and began showing and talking up his new system to friends like Randy Hansen, an extremely talented Hendrix impersonator, but Randy challenged Floyd that he could put it out of tune. After several minutes of giving the guitar a true Hendrix treatment, which included slamming the guitar on the ground, stepping on it, and worse, Hansen held up the guitar, looked at Floyd and went to strum what he expected to be a horrifically detuned open E chord—of course, he was baffled when not a single pitch was out of place. Naturally, Hansen became one of the first buyers. Floyd’s friendship with Linn Ellsworth of Boogie Bodies Guitars also proved to be extremely fortuitous when they became his first manufacturer and allowed him to show his system to guitarist Eddie Van Halen, who had very recently exploded onto the national scene with his band’s 1977 debut album, Kinetic.

Eddie’s use of the system was nothing short of the ultimate artist endorsement, and was a great relief to Floyd after having no success bringing his innovation to Fender, Gibson, and even local music shops, all of whom doubted its marketing viability (it was also Eddie’s idea to allow the system to be fine-tuned up to a whole step, letting guitarists tune to drop D without undoing any clamps). Realizing that this was a better method of getting his invention out there, he developed a consistent method of going backstage at concerts and talking up his system to the guitar techs, who would then bring it up to the guitarists themselves. This model of casual artist endorsement, with Eddie Van Halen at the forefront, along with greats like Neil Schon, Brad Gillis, and Steve Vai, became the root of Floyd’s success, which lead finally to large-scale manufacture when he licensed his model to Kramer, shortly after receiving his first patent in 1979. The list of artist endorsements, as you can see on the Artists page, has grown exponentially since then.

After early work with Fernandes and Boogie Bodies guitars, Floyd Rose had perfected his model, and received U.S. Patent 4171661 on October 23rd, 1979; the invention was described as a “guitar tremolo method and apparatus.” Kramer’s distribution of the system began shortly thereafter; Eddie Van Halen often came in to the shop and worked on personalizing his own system with Kramer President Dennis Birardi and Vice-President Andy Papiccio. The popularity of the system had become immense, but an unintended result was that many companies began violating Floyd’s patent and distributing low-quality imitations. However, the sheer number of imitations was such that the number of lawsuits necessary to maintain complete control simply wasn’t feasible (although there were more than a few successful cases). Instead, Floyd and Birardi decided to begin sub-licensing the original to interested manufacturers, to prevent them from distributing the unlicensed imitations.

Continuing Innovation

In addition to the locking tremolo system, named by Guitar World one of the “10 Most Earth Shaking Guitar Innovations,” one of Floyd’s more recent innovations is the SpeedLoader, a modified tremolo system which allows users to change strings faster than players with standard guitar bridges; professionals can change all six in under a minute. The system’s custom, double-bulleted strings are utterly exact in length, manufactured at decimals up to two-thousandths of an inch so that they’re less than a half-turn of the fine-tuners away from perfect pitch on installation. This painstakingly developed system’s genesis began in 1991 and was not made public until the January NAMM show in 2003—just one example of Floyd’s inexhaustible efforts towards continuing innovation. The SpeedLoader Tremolo System is not currently in production but we have plans to bring it back in the coming months.

Even more recently developed is the Floyd Rose FRX Tremolo: a surface mounted bridge that requires no routing or modifications whatsoever on any carved-top guitar with a hard-tail/stop-tail bridge, making for an extremely easy switch on models such as the Les Paul, SG, and Flying V—a complete retro fit, the bridge can be very simply secured into the previous bridge’s location with no excess drilling. Even more convenient is the locking nut, which is designed to be placed just above the existing nut, rather than to replace it; it doubles as a truss rod cover and can be very easily secured in place of the old cover. Slightly angled clamps ensure that this system, parted from the nut itself for the first time, still allows no string slippage whatsoever. As it does not necessitate any real manipulation of the instrument, this system is ideal for anyone uncomfortable with physically modifying their guitar, while still retaining the strength and reliability associated with Floyd Rose hardware.

Floyd Rose and AP International

As of 2005, distribution of the Floyd Rose Original has reverted to Floyd Rose, while the patented designs are still licensed to other manufacturers for use. To this day, Floyd Rose still contends with the popularity of Floyd’s system juxtaposed with the multitude of imitations, licensed or otherwise, always working to ensure that the name is always associated quality and consistency. The Floyd Rose brand exists now as a division of AP International, under the direction of Andrew Papiccio, former Vice President of Kramer guitars. AP has been dealing with the manufacture, distribution, sales and marketing of musical instruments and accessories on a global scale for nearly 40 years.

In addition to Floyd Rose, AP is also the distributor of Babicz Full Contact Hardware bridges featuring patented eCAM saddle technology; KTS Titanium, known for titanium pieces that are vastly stronger than traditional stock hardware; Pure Tone Technologies, maker of the beloved new PTT1 multi-contact 1/4" output jack; ProRockGear, a diverse source of stylish and durable instrument cases, stands, and other accessories; and Kahuna Ukuleles.