The Floyd Rose Tremolo is a specific style of vibrato arm that uses two locking mechanisms to keep the strings in place and from going out of tune. This mechanism, on the bridge of the guitar, made it so the player could bend and stretch the strings with little consequence. It was such a popular device that the best and most famous guitarists are all fans of the Floyd Rose Tremolo. While Floyd Rose Trems might not be installed on people learning beginner guitar, the effects this kind of tremolo makes is useful to know for every player.
Vibrato and Tremolo Effects
When you are looking up the actual terms of vibrato and tremolo, they have a distinct difference. Tremolo occurs because of a difference in the volume while vibrato is a change in the pitch of the note played. However when it comes to guitar these two terms are often mixed up, tremolo bars help create vibrato effects.
The vibrato is achieved by using a lever or bar to bend the pitch of the notes rapidly, it requires a special bridge, so the strings or guitar are not broken. The first commercial vibrato arm was the Bigsby, which was made popular by Merle Travis. The ability to bend the pitch allowed for a lap steel type change in the sound. Soon other makers like Fender jumped into the vibrato arm game with their synchronized tremolo and whammy bar.
Regardless of the method used to create the vibrato, the method became a staple of rock music. Early surf rockers like Dick Dale and The Ventures made use of it as well as the most famous psychedelic and blues rock guitarists like Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page. You can even try out some tremolo and vibrato effects of your own with these artists’ beginner guitar songs. Soon the designs of vibrato arms and bridges would change to allow for even more pronounced pitch bending effects.
The Floyd Rose Tremolo Design
In 1976 engineer Floyd Rose created a locking system to help the guitar deal with the extremes of vibrato. As cool as vibrato sounds, when the strings are bent with a lever they tend to go out of tune. There are tricks to avoid this if possible, but without a system to lock the strings in place, eventually they will detune.
Floyd Rose helped get around this problem by locking the strings tightly to the nut and bridge, which is allowed to pivot. When the arm is pushed down the bridge moves counterclockwise and flattens the notes, when the arm is pulled the bridge pivots in and sharpens the notes. The double locking system allows to raise tones up to a seventh with no adverse tuning effects.
The Most Famous Floyd Rose Tremolo Guitar Players
This double locking system is so incredible that many of the best guitarists ever are on the list. While there are a variety of vibrato or tremolo arms on the market, the greats seem to agree that the Floyd Rose Tremolo allows for the most string manipulation with little to no tuning issues.
Eddie Van Halen
Van Halen helped create the idea of the shred guitarist and he was one of the early users of the Floyd Rose Tremolo. One of the coolest effects to do with a vibrato arm is the dive bomb (prominently heard in the “Eruption” solo). The dive bomb is best done with a Floyd Rose as other tremolo bars cannot create the effect as well.
Eddie did more than dive bomb with the vibrato arm, he wailed, howled, and created siren like intensity with all his pitch changes. If you want to play like Eddie Van Halen, a Floyd Rose Tremolo is essential to handle his shredding style.
Metal wasn’t the only genre that was moving in a progressive direction, rock bands like Rush were also focused on virtuoso style guitar playing. While Rush began before the invention, their guitarist Alex Lifeson eventually became a convert to the Floyd Rose Tremolo installed on his Gibson Les Paul.
But it wasn’t just the progressive and shredding bands that adopted the double locking system. Neal Schon used it while playing with the arena rock band Journey. Like Alex Lifeson he also used it on a Gibson.
Brad Gillis also used one in the band Night Ranger which mixed metal and pop with hits like “Sister Christian.” He went on to play with other bands like Ozzy Osbourne, but his signature whammy style has always been unique.
The lead guitarist of Metallica even finds the Floyd Rose setup to be essential among the variety of guitars he plays. He first used it during the album Ride the Lightning. Not all musicians solely use the locking tremolo, but most find it to be a useful tool on some songs.
Mick Mars of Mötley Crüe used the Floyd Rose and his guitar tuned down to D, to create his signature sound. You can hear him make use of the vibrato in songs like “Dr. Feelgood.”
Darrell used the Floyd Rose Tremolo to help develop his sound with Pantera, in songs like “Cemetery Gates.” He mixed pinched harmonics and the whammy bar to create a squeal like sound near the end of the song.
And of course there are so many other artists who may use these locking vibrato arms on occasion like Prince, Richie Sambora, and Joe Walsh. Basically if you played guitar in the 80’s, or are looking for that sound, you will find these tremolo arms to be essential.
Floyd Rose Tremolos are not cheap, and they require some skill to install, but it’s clear that they provide amazing benefits for vibrato. From the short list above it is obvious that the best guitarists see what an amazing mechanism it is. If you want to shred and bend technically complicated guitar riffs, the Floyd Rose is worth looking into.