One of the most widely used and often copied tremolo bridge systems, the Floyd Rose has evolved from a sole disgruntled guitarist's attempt to keep his instrument in tune to become a pivotal moment in the history of the electric guitar.
In 1977, a jeweller and musician by the name of Floyd Rose began to design a new tremolo system for his Fender Stratocaster, becoming disgruntled that he couldn’t replicate the whacky vibrato of Jimi Hendrix without putting his guitar wildly out of tune. With his jewellers' tools, Rose set out to create a locking nut to keep the strings in place, initially experimenting with a three-piece brass nut before settling on a hardened steel design with a modified bridge and six fine micro-tuners mounted above pivoting saddles that clamped the guitar strings in place.
Floyd Rose, the man himself. Source: floydrose.com.
After several successful prototypes of the tremolo system, Rose patented the Floyd Rose Locking Tremolo in 1979. By that time, Eddie Van Halen had already endorsed the locking tremolo and installed it on his infamous 'Frankenstrat', where it can be heard on the 1978 shredder's oddysey of 'Eruption'. Soon after, the Floyd Rose became a huge success, with Rose minting several supply and licensing deals with the likes of Fender, Washburn, Ibanez and Yamaha to throw his invention into wider mainstraim conscience.
By essentially removing the tuning pegs as a contributing factor to the guitar going out of tune through tremolo use, Floyd Rose’s locking nut system allowed for players to use the tremolo arm and maintain tuning stability. This resulted in an extremely versatile unit that would both raise and lower pitch by a fifth or more, creating incredible pitch squeals and dive-bombing effects that would become a characteristic of heavy metal guitar in the 1980s.
A Floyd Rose Original Tremolo System. Source: floydrose.com.
While Floyd Rose's are highly regarded in the hard rock and metal sphere for their wild versatility, there's definitely a few downsides to having a locking nut system installed on your guitar, particuarly when it comes to restringing. To replace a string on a guitar with a Floyd Rose bridge, you need to use an Allen Key to loosen the locking nut and bridge saddle of the guitar, a process which many find annoying and time consuming - especially when the tuning of all the strings is affected when one breaks or goes out of tune.
Due to the construction of the bridge, it's also difficult to change tunings on a Floyd Rose equipped guitar without completely resetting the tremolo arm. This has also resulted in people complaining that Floyd Rose guitars also have less sustain and are prone to having a thin tone - however, this has led to the development of brass sustain blocks, which can be installed in any Floyd Rose-equipped instrument.
While the glorious era of '80s hair metal has sadly departed, contemporary musicians such as Steve Vai and Tom Morello continue to push the Floyd Rose to its absolute limits.