FLOYD ROSE FRX
RETROFIT WHAMMY DEVICE FOR A LES PAUL



(Original .pdfs from floydrose.com)

06/23/16 - I've got a bunch of whammy-equipped guitars, so why would I want another? Simple: I like whammy bars and I like the play-feel of the Les Paul's shorter scale length neck.

Floyd Rose tremolos have appeared as a factory-installed feature on a few Les Paul models through the years, but they're really, really pricey; besides, I've vowed not to buy any more guitars since our house is starting to look like a guitar store.

In my quest for Les Paulian Whammyhood, some years ago I bought a Stetsbar tremolo; I really wanted to like it but wasn't happy with the way a plucked note interacted with the bridge and body, especially at high gain: I tried it on two Les Pauls and in both, plucking a note triggered strong sympathetic vibrations in other open strings. I'm all for mastering string dampening technique, but I didn't want a guitar dedicated for teaching that! (It was kind of ugly too, but that's something I can live with.) I'd given up chasing the Whammified Paul until I stumbled across Floyd Rose's FRX tremolo.

What It Is: The FRX is advertised as being a double-locking tremolo system that can be fitted onto a Les Paul without the extensive routing and modifications that standard Floyd Rose-style tremolo systems require. Cool! Unlike the Stetsbar, it doesn't rely on a totally new paradigm (the Stetsbar is actually an innovative design with a lot of advantages-- I just wish it worked for me): It's the familiar knife-edge design with the spring-tensioned counterbalance mechanism moved from the backside and rotated 180 degrees to the rear of the bridge. The single large spring relies on compression instead of stretching to counterbalance the tension of the strings. Consequently, there's no heavy tremolo block, and through-body routing isn't needed. The trade-off is that it's a longer and slightly thicker mechanism that sits on the face of the guitar body.

Is it ugly? If you favor old-world aesthetics like antique furniture, rifles with engraved wooden stocks, and Les Pauls with beautifully figured tops, you'd probably consider this (and most tremolos) an abomination. Those who think that Giger's Alien and AR-15s look cool would probably like the look. Guitarists who just want the functionality probably wouldn't care. Different strokes for different folks.

Cautions: That said, I would be cautious about installing the FRX on a new Les Paul even if you don't care about things like figured wood. Floyd Rose is upfront about the need to drill two holes in the headstock to install the locking nut, so it's not a totally reversible mod. As most folks probably (or should) know, you don't actually have to drill the holes for the locking nut until the end, when you're sure that you want to commit to the installation. However...

In a by-the-book installation, the front of the bridge is supported by two thick allen screws that allow adjustment of the bridge height. These need to be in firm contact with the face of the guitar and they aren't in the same place as the native bridge height adjustment bushings-- the screws are positioned over wood. The instructions strongly advise attaching the included adhesive plastic pads under those screws to protect the finish. I installed it on my beater Les Paul without the pads, but I'm skeptical that the plastic pads would completely protect the finish from dents caused by the downward force of the strings and whammying, concentrated through the two screws. Maybe they would? I can only speculate about this, but I'd be wary of risking the finish of a guitar that I'd been babying.

Then there's the not-by-the-book installation. The second paragraph of the installation instructions is printed in red, and fairly long. If you bother to read it, it cautions that certain Les Pauls (Customs) have a neck angle that requires the bridge to be mounted close to the body, and matter-of-factly states that the spring transfer rod's retaining nub may require a small channel ("slight modification") to be routed in the top. If you don't do this, you won't be able to adjust it for low action. (Apparently, this applies to Gibson's "The Paul" model as well.) This would be an important consideration before placing the order, especially if you like low action and wanted one for an expensive Les Paul Custom!


Sorry... I made up my own terminology in the article for things like the "base plate" (their "mounting frame") and "bridge/saddle plate" (their "base plate"). What I call the "nub" is the unlabelled projection at the front underside of the bridge/saddle plate.

Installation: I began to ignore the instructions at step 1 after reading that 17-20 mm of the tailpiece anchors should protrude from the top... it was obvious that this would result in an absurdly high-mounted bridge with horrible action, and would leave only a small length of the bolts anchored in the body. Instead, I tried to figure out how the thing worked, so I could do the installation based on my experience and intuition. The instructions don't show how the thing works or what all the parts do in a way that I could quickly digest; The instruction's order of assembly wasn't the way I'd do it either (For me: Install, test, and adjust the bridge first; play it for a while and then decide if you want to install the locking nut or uninstall the whole shebang.)

How it Works: This one's different from a standard Floyd Rose design and its operation isn't quite as easy to discern from a cursory visual inspection. As delivered, both parts of the bridge were connected and appeared to be a single piece: In fact, the bridge mechanism is two pieces: A base plate and the blade/saddles plate. They're held together by the spring transfer rod and the fulcrum points. When the rod is loosened, the two pieces separate.

The base plate has rear oval openings that fit over the posts that replace the tailpiece anchors. These are used for several things:

  • gross intonation adjustment (how far forward the posts sit in the oval openings, which determines how far forward the mechanism mounts. Rear-adjustable allen screws let you set this)
  • base plate's rear height (the plate's distance from the face of the body, at the back of the plate)
  • pivoting action for the plate (for changing the height adjustment screws at the front of the plate-- The posts have grooves that look and work like those used with the blade fulcrum, except they're for the gross intonation allen screws).

The spring transfer rod travels through the base plate's open frame at a downward angle to the front, where it's underneath the base plate. There, the pointed end nestles into the "nub" on the underside of the blade/saddles plate. When the rear screw is turned, the transfer rod pushes forward and tilts the back of the blade/saddles plate downward. Strings provide the counterbalancing tension on the other side of the fulcrum point.

The fulcrum point: The blades are an integral part of the blade/saddle plate and aren't removeable or replaceable. The grooved fulcrum posts are fixed to the bridge plate and non-adjustable; height adjustment comes from the allen screws in the front outer sides of the bridge plate. They adjust the front height of the entire mechanism.

Once I understood how it worked, I saw that the transfer rod and retaining nub were a problem: They bottomed out against the body before the adjustment screws could set the action to my preference (low). Since the neck angle couldn't be adjusted (damned Gibsons and their non-adjustable necks), wood would need to be routed if I wanted more latitude to adjust the string height. The nub is around a centimeter wide, and over a centimeter would have to be routed to the rear to accommodate the transfer rod's length below the plane of the base plate (depends on how high off the body it was mounted). Again, not the sort of thing that many people would be willing to do to a Les Paul with a shiny new finish. Not a problem for my funky beater Les Paul. Fortunately, the ugly routing is hidden by the tremolo... but that makes it a not-so-easily-reversible installation.


The Ideal Candidate... is someone who really wants a dive-bombing whammy bar on their Les Paul and who would not be fazed by aesthetic concerns. Some folks have done much more intrusive and irreversible surgery on Les Pauls to install a Kahler or original Floyd Rose tremolo. This is certainly much, much easier to install... but it does have its limitations.

I don't consider it an ideal floating tremolo for doing Vai/Satriani pull-ups or flutters. I've tried to adjust it, but when set as a free-floating tremolo with .009 light strings, dives and pull ups don't return to the same pitch. I believe that the transfer rod design introduces too much drag or friction-- not much, but just enough. This might work better with heavier strings and more spring tension, but I'm not willing to go there. This happens with some other traditional tremolo designs too, and the "live with imperfection" solution is to give the whammy bar an extra nudge after each use.

Maybe because of this, it's designed with a Trem Stop thumb wheel, which lets you block and limit pull ups. This turns it into a Van Halen-esque dive-only tremolo, which, along with gentle shimmers, probably accounts for 99% of all whammy bar usage. Though it may sound like sour grapes, there's a big practical advantage of dive-only tremolos: Staying in tune after breaking a string.

When you break a string, the spring tension is suddenly greater than the string tension, so the remaining strings are pulled sharp. A dive-only tremolo prevents this. This is a desirable feature if you're performing and want to continue playing in tune until you can change guitars or replace the broken string.

With a dive-only setup, you can also crank up the spring pressure to stiffen the feel (harder to dive). This makes it work better for doing double-stop bends. Bear in mind that the stiffer the feel, the harder it is to do gentle shimmers.

With a fully-floating tremolo, the spring pressure is used to set the angle of the bridge, depending on the string gauge. Since you can't add additional springs, you can't use it to change the feel.

If you can't live without pull ups, the FRX is designed so that you can screw in a "tremstable ball post" to make the feel firmer and define a center return point: This does help the problem of it not returning to the same pitch for dives and pull ups, but it dampens the feel of a free-floating tremolo. You can do pull ups, but you can't do flutters. Basically, it's just a nylon/delrin part that rubs against the outer edge of the bridge to provide resistance. An indentation across the side of the bridge gives the ball-ended post a place to park at the center point. It's a simple design that I consider sort of a kludge: I wonder how long it lasts before it wears down to ineffectiveness?

Before You Buy... The no-routing installation is probably its biggest selling point. However, the possibility of damage to the finish isn't stressed in any of the sales literature I've seen (Doh! That's not a selling point!). Given the way folks feel about their guitars, this could really piss off some casually curious folks who may have been led to believe that this is a totally risk-free installation. IMO, it isn't.

Why I Like It: Like I said, I'm not concerned about damaging the finish of my beater Les Paul. it really works great for a certain type of whammy work, and in my opinion, is better than anything else out there that doesn't require through-body routing. Though the dive range isn't as wide as a standard Floyd Rose tremolo, it's perfectly adequate for anything I'd want to play. Most important for me was that it didn't alter the string/bridge/body coupling -- no undesirable sympathetic vibrations were transmitted to the other strings; no loss of sustain.

It stays in tune. It's a Floyd Rose design, which means that the string path is fixed from saddle to nut, with no places for it to slip or bind and put the string out of tune. Other systems have longer string paths that can cause binding problems at the saddles, nut, string tree, or machineheads. The Floyd Rose design simply stays in tune better because the string path is simpler (although it's more of a pain in the ass to change strings, or make quick, on-the-fly tuning changes).

I like the "feel". The whammy bar is right where I expect it to be, and it holds position better than any of my other Floyd Rose style tremolos. I think the play feel is very similar to the standard Floyd Rose design when it's set up with light strings and a few springs. With a dive-only setup, if you don't like the loose feel, you can stiffen it by increasing the spring tension.

Miscellania... I appreciate that the fulcrum point is close to the string saddle exit points, like it is with Ibanez's ZR bearing fulcrum tremolo design. Some of the knife-edge designs have a significant distance from where the string exits the saddle and the knife edge pivot point. The greater the distance, the wider the string height excursions. If you pull up on the whammy bar, the strings lower. This may cause them to touch pole pieces of pickups that need to be mounted close to the bridge and a consistent, close distance from the strings (like the Fishman MIDI system or Roland's divided pickup). Although I don't have any plans to go MIDI on this guitar, it's nice to know that this bridge is one of the better candidates for that.

The spring at the rear is used to counter the string tension so that the bridge can be balanced at the correct angle. Used in conjunction with the Trem Stop thumb wheel, this lets you easily change the tension of all the strings at once, which can be helpful for downtuning, and coming back to standard pitch. You can do the same thing with conventional multi-spring mechanisms, but you have to block the tremolo and adjust the two spring tension screws on the backside with a Phillips screwdriver. Basically, you can do it faster and more easily with the FRX.

The Trem Stop thumb screw is simply a thumb wheel at the side that limits the amount the bridge can be pulled back (for upwards bends). That makes it easy to switch between a free-floating tremolo and a dive-only tremolo, or anything in between to limit the amount of upward pull that you want to allow. I imagine that radically tightening the tension spring could be used to create a functionally blocked tremolo (like a hardtail), just like tightening the backside springs on a Strat. In mine, the thumb screw was too easily turned by accident so I added a dab of Loktite to reliably hold its position; a tensioning spring would be a slicker way of doing this. Also, if you fully recess the screw and your bridge is mounted low, it could scratch your finish.

Unlike the Ibanez versions of the Floyd Rose design that I'm familiar with, the FRX doesn't have replaceable knife edges. If they wear or are damaged, it looks like you'd need to replace the entire bridge piece (or try to repair the blades)... Which brings up the question: How easy is it to get replacement parts? Floyd Rose's current website seems to have good product support. I'm not concerned about this now because mine is new, but it could become an issue in the future if this product withers on the vine. Replacement parts would probably be easier to find sooner than later.

I Almost Forgot... The Locking Nut! It's not the most attractive thing that I'd want to decorate my guitar with, but it works, and it works well. It mounts directly behind the existing nut so all you have to do is position it there, drill two screw holes (don't drill completely through the headstock), and screw it down. After you screw down the locking pads, it doesn't matter if you've got a binding or poorly-cut nut, because the strings aren't going anywhere. Naturally, you want to lock the strings after you've stretched the strings and tuned your guitar. Locking nuts are also very handy for keeping the strings in place (like a capo) when you have to remove the bridge for a chore like replacing pickups, removing a pickguard or a bolt-on neck, or routing under the bridge. It's much easier to install than removing the original nut and retrofitting a locking nut.

My Verdict: After playing with it for a few days, I really like it. It's definitely staying on the beater Les Paul (especially now that it's got an ugly-assed channel routed in the top).


 


EVH D-TUNA

I'm sort of in an EVH mode, so I thought it would be fun to subject the LP to the full shredstick schtick. I've never been very interested in learning any "dropped-D" stuff (learning the standard tuning has provided more than enough challenges), but I've been curious about it in the same way that I've been curious about Telecasters with B-Benders.

The EVH d-tuna is a quick and easy installation on an FRX tremolo, and doesn't require accepting any additional trade-offs. I love stuff like that. The icing on the cake is that it requires the whammy-down only trade-off that I'd accepted with the FRX: I'd be more reluctant to install it on a guitar with a perfectly performing fully-floating tremolo because I'd be forced to sacrifice pull-ups and flutters. See?

Installation is easy and intuitive; tuning it isn't quite as intuitive and requires a more careful reading of the instructions. I saw the allen wrench and noticed the grub screw on the side of the d-tuna mechanism. "Hmmmm... whazzis for?" I didn't associate a side screw with a fine-tuning mechanism. However, it's what you use to tune the string to E in the standard position, after you've tuned the string at the keys to the dropped D position. A diagram with arrow and label in the instructions would be a big help to those who skim instructions. Once you've done that, it works perfectly. It's a brilliant and simple design.

I'm hesitant to get too used to it though. I've spent most of my guitar learning years trying to develop a connection between the fretboard and what I hear in my head (to avoid thinking); it's a little disconcerting when an interval doesn't jive with what you've been training the brain for.

 


Moved the pickup selector switch to practice EVH tapping tricks. The upper bout selector spot may be filled with a working killswitch IF it isn't too easily triggered unintentionally.

The ceramic DiMarzio/ibz pickup deserves credit for being one of the most hum-buckingest passive pickups I've come across, and is great in a noisy environment with high gain and compression. I installed this after the Burstbucker became microphonic, then replaced it with an EVH Frankenstein Chrome Humbucker. I really wanted to believe, but couldn't stand the loud, loud hum that it DIDN'T buck. The pinkness of the DiMarzio/ibz was definitely easier to live with.


Afterthoughts, A Month Later: I removed the D-Tuna, not because there's anything wrong with it. It does what it's supposed to do very well. However, I don't really have any use for it because I don't play anything that requires it! The tradeoff for the drop-D feature is that you lose use of the low E's fine tuning knob and tune the string with an allen wrench instead. I found that to be more of an inconvenience than the drop-D feature was useful to me. At least it's quick and easy to reinstall should I change my mind.

I decided to give the EVH Frankenstein pickup a second chance, and it's actually a very good-sounding pickup, especially for higher gain stuff. It feels very easy to bring out false harmonics. Yes, it's every bit as noisy as I first observed, but I've become more tolerant of the hum since I've been playing a Strat with conventional (not noiseless) single coil pickups. I don't like hum, but I've found that it's something that I can live with (at least on a few guitars). With an ISP Decimator noise gate right after the guitar, the hum can be dialed out.

 


KLUSON'S REVOLUTION MACHINEHEADS

While I was in Les Paul mode, I was reminded of how frustrating the stock "Gibson Deluxe" tuners can be. It's not an issue on a guitar with a locking nut, but on my other Les Pauls, while trying to zero in, the pitch would sometimes overshoot and would have to backed down and slowly walked up to the correct pitch. Doing this two or three times in a row gets aggravating. This sort of thing is usually caused by binding in the nut; the usual cure is to brush graphite (pencil) shavings/powder in the slots. It works. Properly tying strings to the tuner post eliminates the need for locking tuners, too. But so much of guitardom is about upgrading stuff (in lieu of practicing). So... blame it on the tuners!

I think the stock tuners on my Les Pauls are actually an older Kluson model with a 14:1 ratio. I think they're basically cheapish tuners that are manufactured to unexacting specs. Some work fine, but some feel to have more "slop" than others.

It's not surprising that Kluson would manufacture a more upscale, more precision model with a 19:1 ratio. Not only does it give the guitarist an upgrade to keep busy with, but it also puts some extra money in Kluson's pocket, and keeps the gears of commerce greased. Everybody's happy.

I'm happy. They were an easy direct replacement in my 2008 GOTW#33 Les Paul; I didn't even need to use their mounting hardware and bushings. The 19:1 ratio is just about right; I don't think I have the patience for a 40:1 ratio tuner. They're smoother and more precise than the stock tuners, which eliminates the frustrating overshooting-the-pitch problem-- exactly what I wanted.

It's also nice that the plastic keys have the same vibe as the originals (but are removeable so they can be swapped with metal ones); the key shaft is a bit longer and thicker than stock, and the tuner body looks like a Grover. However, the two screw mounting holes are in the same exact place as the stock tuners so the installation is completely reversible.

 

 

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