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Advantages and Disadvantages of the Floyd Rose Tremolo

Guitar Gopher is a guitarist and bassist with over 35 years of experience as a musician.

Floyd Rose Original Tremolo

Floyd Rose Original Tremolo

The Floyd Rose

The Floyd Rose Locking Tremolo System is a smartly designed piece of gear. Some guitarists might even tell you it is one of the most important inventions in the history of the electric guitar. But like any work of genius, it has its detractors as well.

Guitar players are a demanding lot when it comes to their equipment, and most have an opinion one way or another when it comes to the Floyd Rose.

As for me, I’ve always been a fan. But I also see why some players shy away from such a complex system. Guitarists need to weigh the pros and cons of the Floyd before choosing an instrument equipped with this powerful bridge.

This article is intended to help you better understand how the Floyd Rose works, and to outline the advantages and drawbacks so you have the information necessary to decide for yourself if it is right for you.

Of all the different types of guitar bridges out there the double-locking design is the only one that has the potential to seriously change the way you play guitar. For some guitarists, this means a wider world, and the chance to explore exciting new ideas. For others, it becomes a crutch they rely on that hampers their playing.

Do not go into this decision lightly! Here’s a look at the advantages and disadvantages of the Floyd Rose Tremolo System.

How the Floyd Rose Tremolo Works

The first step in deciding whether or not a Floyd Rose is important for your playing is to understand exactly what the thing does, and why it does it so well. This requires a step back in time and a little history lesson.

Back in days of yore (like the ‘60s and ‘70s) the only tremolo systems available were fairly unstable except when used for simple vibrato techniques. In fact, that’s exactly the purpose for which classic bridges like the Fender Synchronized Tremolo and the Bigsby Vibrato were designed. No level-headed guitar player expected to be able to perform massive dive bombs and still have their instrument come back to pitch.

Then Hendrix blew everyone’s minds, and Van Halen picked up where he left off, so before too long guitarists were bent on finding a way to get a Fender tremolo to stay in tune with aggressive use. You could have some success by managing string pull, or by using graphite and other lubricants at points of friction, but for the most part, it was a losing battle.

Friction is one big reason guitars go out of tune, even those with fixed bridges. Bending a note, or in this case, manipulating a whammy bar, causes the string to stretch, slacken and move. At places where the string contacts parts of the guitar (such as the nut and bridge) it can get hung up and not return to its original spot, thus slightly altering the tension on the string. Even a difference of a couple of millimeters means the guitar is now slightly out of tune.

In the 1970s a guitarist and jewelry maker named Floyd Rose set out to build a system that eliminated the friction issues which caused a string to go out of tune when using a tremolo bar.

The Locking Nut

The locking nut design is a key feature of the Floyd Rose System. Since the nut is one of the main places a string will get hung up, altering the basic nut design altogether goes a long way toward maintaining tuning stability.

Rose solved the problem by sandwiching the strings between two pieces of steel, tightened down by bolts. Instead of allowing the strings to move over the nut, this holds them in place.

The strength and quality of the clamping mechanism itself is important, but just as important is the fact that this unit actually replaces the nut. Note the position of the Floyd Rose locking nut in the image on the left below.

Floyd Rose Locking Nut (left) and '80s-era Ibanez Locking Unit (right)

Floyd Rose Locking Nut (left) and '80s-era Ibanez Locking Unit (right)

Now compare it to the locking mechanism on my 1985 Ibanez PR1660 in the photo on the right. Note that, in the image on the right, even though the strings are locked the nut is still a point of friction where the strings can potentially get hung up. (Ibanez has since improved their designs tremendously, and even this one wasn't so bad.)

The design of the locking nut is a major reason the Floyd Rose Tremolo System is so effective. This is one “lock” in the double-locking system. The second lock is at the bridge.

The Bridge

The Floyd Rose Bridge functions in a similar way as other pivot tremolo bridges. Two adjustable screws mounted on the body of the guitar create a fulcrum along with the plate of the bridge itself. Springs within the guitar’s body cavity counteract the tension of the strings. Thus, pulling and pushing on the tremolo arm changes the tension on the strings, causing notes to go sharp or flat.

Traditionally, the bridge is another place where friction can cause a string to get hung up, and the guitar to go out of tune. Rose solved this to a great degree by locking the string in place via clamps and adjustable hex screws and softening the break where the string passes over the bridge.

In conjunction with the locking nut, this is the revolutionary “double lock” that changed the way guitarists looked at the whammy bar. The strings can’t budge, not at the bridge or the nut, and in theory once they are brought to pitch they should stay in tune even under extreme duress.

The Floyd Rose Bridge

The Floyd Rose Bridge

Advantages of a Floyd Rose Tremolo

There is only one advantage to the Floyd Rose System: It works. It works really, really well. Set up correctly, a guitar with a Floyd can take a huge amount of abuse without going out of tune. Pull notes sharp as far as you can, or mash the tremolo arm against the guitar body, and the strings will still come back to pitch.

Of course, it has limits, and after a while, you will have to retune your guitar, but more than any other tremolo system the Floyd remains rock solid.

So what does this mean to you? It means if you are into styles of music that tend to incorporate a lot of guitar tricks and whammy bar work, this is your best bet. Shredders and metal guitarists especially will appreciate how this bridge stands up to the abuse they can dish out.

That said, I’ve seen players in more subdued forms of music such as blues and jazz use double-locking tremolos as well. They don’t need anything more than simple vibrato, but the extra insurance when it comes to tuning stability is worth it.

Bottom line: If you intend to use the tremolo bridge a great deal in your style of play, you should seriously consider a guitar with a Floyd Rose.

Disadvantages of the Floyd

So if these things are so great, why aren’t they standard issue on all guitars? As it turns out, there are some negatives here as well.

Basically, because double-locking tremolos are more complex than other bridges they require a little more attention. You can’t take your guitar to the shop every time something needs to be adjusted. You are going to need to learn to solve problems yourself. Once you get the hang of it they aren’t hard to maintain, but there is definitely more work involved than with a more traditional bridge or tremolo system.

A few key issues:

  • Changing strings is more involved, and some tweaks and adjustments to the whole system likely will be necessary each time.
  • The locking nut means you can’t change your tuning as easily. You need to unlock the strings first, and then possibly adjust the entire bridge system, depending on how severely you intend to alter your tuning.
  • Sustain is sometimes an issue with guitars equipped with a Floyd, especially compared to a fixed bridge.
  • Your strings are highly interdependent with a Floyd Rose. This is true of all guitars to some extent because of string vs neck tension, but it is amplified here. That means if you break a string in mid-song your tuning goes out of whack.
  • Setups are more complicated. You should learn to do it yourself, but taking your guitars to a tech for a tune-up once a year isn’t a bad idea either.

Advice from Framus on Floyd Rose Setup

Is a Floyd Rose Worth It?

To figure out whether or not you need a guitar equipped with a Floyd Rose Tremolo System you need to decide whether the benefits outweigh the hassles. Does the ability to perform massive dive bombs and wild guitar tricks, or does simply the peace of mind knowing your instrument will stay in tune, outweigh the time and patience required to keep the bridge in good working order? For many players, the answer is a resounding Yes!

Maybe wild whammy bar work is an important part of the kind of music you are into, but that doesn’t mean you have to follow the crowd. In fact, for beginners, I usually recommend sticking with a hard-tail bridge. Learning guitar is hard enough without having to figure out why a tremolo bridge isn’t cooperating.

It’s also important to mention that there are other bridges out there that have built on the double-locking design. Ibanez, for example, has some excellent hardware on their guitars these days, made by them exclusively for their instruments.

For me, an authentic Floyd Rose is the way to go, but some excellent guitar companies incorporate licensed models on their guitars as well. If you choose to go the licensed route do your research and make sure you are getting quality gear.

I was raised in the ‘80s on old-school metal, hard rock, thrash, and shred, during the golden era of the gunslinger guitarist. I’m a huge fan of the Floyd Rose and always will be. I hope this article helped you to understand whether or not you will become a fan too!

Floyd Rose Poll

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

Comments

Bebe on September 09, 2020:

Wanted to asnwer the poll but can't. :D As I have only one guitar - and it's has a FR. I meant to buy a hard-tail but came across this older Japan made Ibanez (RG550EXL) and couldn't let it go. :P I'm also left-handed, so that narrows options quite a lot, too.

The truth is, that ATM I have kinda zero experience with other types of guitars, so can't draw a comparison between other types and FR.

But let's say, I did my research and knew what I was buying (as far as you can know without having an actual experience), it was not in any way an accidental buy.

So far no problems, and I intend to learn how to set it up myself. There's a tons of info on every aspect of dealing with FR, so...

So far, I feel like the only main downside is that changing tuning a lot is not really practical with FR. But there's still solutions to this problem, like buying a Tremol-no or another guitar and keep the FR in one chosen tuning. Not a can't-resolve issue. :)

I hope I continue liking my guitar as much as I do now. :)

Steve on August 22, 2020:

FR in design - resting in 2x screwbolts to the body to guitar in balance with tension on the other side tuning problems are preprogrammed. Nut locking isnt enough ! There a tons of guitars out there with exact the same problem ! And no one really fix this. Talking it how to fix this doesn't really fix the problem. People want to have fun playing not having intonation problems every time all the time. Im the mechanical engineer and i own the Jackson Dinky with just the same problems.

For that thing keeping in tune on the other side of the trem block u need adjustable double spring system with push-pull action. For diving - pull action should be higher as the tension of the springs getting in right pitch position back every time even when slight changes appear as wear of, but u have to have 100% blocking nut operational or using blocked tuners to keep the strings in place. Push action springs must be higher tension as this blocks the overforce of pull-springs that brings tremolo trem back in right position. Crucial is how much tension in push-springs will be necessarily for keeping it in neutral position. The higher the tension of the spring system the more rigid would the system be to the entire tremolo and strings. Higher force means also higher wear of on the 2x screwbolts due friction. Thats the tricky part cos we just ad one freedom to the trem system more. That would be solution that allredy in some ways exists but not as a whole - google it.

There are other trems but i prefer Super Vee bladeRunner cos is fixed to the guitar body using non friction system as a spring plate between trem and fixing points, doe it is floating point trem at my opinion the best solution as u get max sustain out of it and act kinda as fixed bridge trem when not used. In that spring plate u get the binding force with no friction and wear of involved. The Trem King has a fixed bridge - springs are always in place, also great sustain, but have floating trem block around axis. I do not own these two trem but i love to get my hands on them. For me FR is dead permanently. If FR doesn't cause problems on your guitar yet, it will later for sure. As for my knowledge the principle of operation of those two trem is far better as 2 point friction FloyRose and the clones, no matter licensed, special or original one. The fact that parts wear of even slightly cause the huge intonation problems immediately no matter if cheap, mid-range or high end guitars. For money they charge for original FR u get the some good mid range guitar. And then there is pain in the ass re-tuning the whole system that can take time before springs sedle up properly. FR trem when invented was revolutionary, nova days "g-player tuning nightmare". So on problematic FR's 95% of players blocks FR trem or sell wear of guitar on some portals. Only few, if the guitar is really, really good, take it to the repair shop.

I don't have a clou why FR is being so popular despite huge drawbacks that users at some point feel.

In mechanical world friction is desirable only between the tires and the road obviously, when two elements are stick together passing force trough and mechanical machining when u cut material. Friction in all other cases is undesirable phenomena and should be avoided. FR is pure friction depended.

Guitar Gopher (author) on June 18, 2020:

@Antti - The PR1660 is seriously underrated in my opinion. Mine has been through the ringer, but it still has one of the best necks of any guitar I've ever played.

Antti on June 17, 2020:

Very nice "review"!!! I have white Ibanez PR1660 and I´m going to get another one later on!!!

Anonymous on October 24, 2019:

They are not making only one real deal system and that is the 1000 series...Rest of them are garbage! The knife edges on an original or special are getting dulled in a few days, without any rotation in the studs after you apply pressure from springs and strings...And the 1000 series its available only with custom order from usa...A big idiot joke...I blocked mine with a handcrafted wood piece...

Guitar Gopher (author) on August 25, 2019:

@Scott - Sorry, I'll take that Ibanez with me to my grave. :-)

Scott Wilmarth on August 25, 2019:

The Ibanez locking trem is soooo much better!!! Sell me that pr1660!!!

Jink Horberrett on May 11, 2019:

I don't think it's too useful in terms of Jazz guitar

JF Côté on January 29, 2019:

In the disavantage, I would add the fact that the strings tend to be tighter, so harder to play.

Colin Goodger on April 16, 2018:

Great article! I have a Floyd Rose on my Vantage Guitar and love the fact that it stays in tune on stage even when the temperatures change during the set. When you do the sound check and then wait to go on stage it's so good to know that you don't have to faff around tuning up and can just smash the first tune out.

Mauro Leme on July 14, 2017:

People who really hate Floyds won't even read this full article, let alone fill a poll...