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
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
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
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
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).
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
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.