The FRT-3 replaced the FRT-1. Floyd Rose started his USA “garage-made” FRT-3s in his Seattle, WA shop starting sometime in late 1981. Floyd contracted out to Fernandes Japan to also produce these units from 1982-1985, and they were put on a variety production Fernandes guitars during that time.
A factory in Kyoto, Japan supposedly fabricated the official Japanese units based off wax moldings Mr. Rose sent them (Fernandes was a marketing company and never actually made anything. They contracted out to other factories to create their products). Floyd Rose contracted with Fernandes to make his official units, and this is a fact most people aren’t familiar with.
The Japanese FRT-3 is the first Floyd Rose tremolo to feature the “Floyd Rose” logo on the base plate. It’s a more refined version of the FRT-1 and features a gigantic steel sustain block, T-block inserts, and high quality steel. 1983 was a pivotal year for Floyd Rose, as he was starting to contract out to Schaller Germany, yet still maintained production in Japan. I discuss more of this in the FRT-5 article.
There were prototypes and transitions to the FRT-3, which I will discuss later in this article to avoid confusion. For now, I will discuss the differences between the USA and Japanese Official FRT-3s.
USA FRT-3 (1981-1982)
You could buy a USA FRT-3 directly from Floyd Rose’s Seattle, Washington shop from 1981-1982. These USA FRT-3s can be seen on certain USA Charvel guitars as well if the customer requested it.
Mr. Rose sent his FRT-3 wax moldings to Fernandes Japan to start production versions of this unit in the second half of 1982. It’s possible Mr. Rose co-mingled Japanese and USA parts in 1982 once he got shipment of parts (saddles, etc.) from Fernandes.
The USA patent sticker is a tell-tale sign of a USA FRT-3 you could buy from Floyds’ shop in Seattle, Washington. Mr. Rose also sold these at the 1982 NAMM show, which is where the owner bought the red-ink version.
Mill marks on the locking nut.
Flathead “prototype” USA style trem posts. These can be seen on other early USA models.
USA hand-made locking nuts by Floyd Rose were partially milled and seemed to be “offset” on one side and slightly coming off the base.
This USA FRT-3 was sold by Mr. Rose at the 1982 NAMM show. The patent sticker has red ink (instead of blue ink like previous unit).
USA Patent sticker – red ink
Official Japanese FRT-3 (1982-1985)
Mr. Rose would partner with Fernandes and have them fabricate his official FRT-3s. He sent them a wax molding he used for his USA versions, and production would soon start in the second half of 1982. The earliest Japanese FRT-3s were unmarked on the base plate, much like the USA version. Eventually, a “Floyd Rose” logo would be put on the base plate, making it the first ever Floyd Rose unit to feature the iconic logo.
An unbenownst fact to many is that Floyd Rose was contracted with Fernandes all the way until 1985, even when Floyd was working with Kramer guitars and Schaller. There are official Floyds coming out of Schaller Germany and Fernandes Japan starting in 1983. However, Japanese units were not available international, and few of the Japanese units ever left Japan.
Early unmarked Japanese FRT-3, also called Japanese prototype.
^ Production Japanese FRT-3 with logo, in gold, with “Floyd Rose” logo on baseplate.
Early unmarked Japanese slanted sustain block on left. Japanese production FRT-3 sustain block on right.
The unmarked Japanese FRT-3 bridge sports saddles similar to the USA version. In fact, it’s very possible Mr. Rose received shipments of these saddles from Japan and used them on some of his USA versions.
Above is a fully complete Japanese FRT-3 directly from Floyd Rose, evidence that Mr. Rose sold the Fernandes version and/or mixed parts with the USA versions starting sometime in 1982.
Photos courtesy of Scott Dunham.
Japanese Fernandes FRT-3 signed by Mr. Rose.
Above you see an unused Fernandes locking nut with the #2 (R2) sticker still in tact.
The Japanese FRT-3s have a different patent sticker than the USA versions. These ones say “Floyd Rose” on the sticker, as compared to “ROSE” on the USA versions.
The Japanese production “humpback” locking nuts were made of cast and often featured the numbers “4805” on the back.
Japanese stud posts often generally (but not always) had a phillips screw heads, as compared to the thicker flat-head screws for early USA stud posts.
Above is a picture from the 1983 Fernandes catalog. The FRT-3 is top right and bottom left. Although this is the first time it’s shown in a catalog, it was being produced in late 1982.
Brad Gillis of Night Ranger was a huge proponent of the FRT-3 and even preferred it over the later fine tuner versions. Brad Gillis’ Fernandes guitar is a copy of his 1962 stratocaster he used on tour. Brad also had an FRT-1 on it. He still uses the FRT-3 to this day.
Although artists such as Eddie Van Halen and many others wanted the fine tuning versions, the FRT-3’s design is preferred by some simply because it lacks the fine tuners which would obstruct certain playing styles.
Vinnie Vincent of KISS was also an early user of the FRT-3 and featured it on most of his guitars. Here you can see it on his Jackson V guitar, but it was also on his Carvin (and possibly Washburn) signature.
Above is Vinnie during his “Vinnie Vincent Invasion” band (after KISS stint) where he plays an FRT-3 on his Carvin guitar. In specifics shots, you can see Vinnie’s rare unreleased Washburn signature with a gold FRT-3.
Above you see Vinnie’s chrome FRT-3 on his Carvin guitar. Vinnie’s FRT-3 has the “Floyd Rose” logo on it, which indicates it’s a production unit (and not a prototype).
Here is a recent photo of Vinnie in 2019 still playing an FRT-3 on his Carvin guitar. Like Brad Gillis, Vinnie perhaps prefers the non-fine tuning versions simply because they lack fine tuners.
Above is Vinnie with his Jackson VV guitar and FRT-3.
Here is Brad Gillis on the cover of the 1985 Fernandes Catalog with his signature guitar, and this is the final year you’ll see the Japanese official FRT-3 on any guitars or catalogs.
Brad still plays a Fernandes ST-155BG to this day which looks to have a chrome FRT-3 on it (above). It’s possible Brad put on an FRT-1, but it’s difficult to see.
Above are JS series guitars in the ’85 catalog with the FRT-3.
Above is an FRT-3 Japanese advertise in some magazine. Notice the picture of Floyd Rose on bottom of ad.
Above is Floyd in Japan. July 16, 1982. Interview published in Rockin’ September issue 1982 (probably published mid-late August). Thanks for J.L. for the pictures. If any Japanese readers want to translate this, please let me know!
And alas, here is an ’85 catalog picture featuring the FRT-3 and German Schaller FRT-5, soon confirming the end of the Japanese Floyd Rose relationship. The FRT-3 will be redesigned and live on in Schaller Germany, however. Before we discuss the German FRT-3, it’s important to discuss some features of the Japanese FRT-3.
Prototypes and Early Designs
DISCLAIMER: Most of this information may not be 100% accurate because Floyd Rose himself has never discussed the Japanese era in detail (or ever). This is an accumulation of evidence-based research from myself and other vintage Floyd Rose experts. Some of this information may change as time goes on. If you have any information to add on these pages, please email me.
The FRT-3 prototypes are the most confusing because there seems to be multiple variations. Many people call all FRT-3s “prototypes” when in fact they are simply production versions. The FRT-3, in fact, was in full production for three years. Most people don’t realize Japan was an official contractor of Floyd Rose production from 1981-1984ish. For some reason, this vitally important era has been lost from the history books.
PROTOTYPE FRT-3 STYLE #1
(FRT-1 milled base plate, FRT-3 saddles, steel sustain block)
PROTOTYPE FRT-3 STYLE #1: Above is what I believe to be one of the earliest incarnations of the FRT-3. The base plate is 100% milled and not cast, which is very interesting. Prototype FRT-3s seem to feature no “Floyd Rose” logo and have chromed insert blocks. This version seems to have an FRT-1 base plate and FRT-3 saddles. However, the insert blocks are thinner than the standard FRT-3 and similar to the FRT-1. I believe this to be a transitional FRT-1/3 and may be one of the earliest. The base plate is more “square” like some earlier FRT-1s and bridge post stops are deeper. This may be of Japanese origin and be made for ESP Navigator guitars. Thanks to AXN Guitars for the pictures.
PROTOTYPE STYLE #2
(slanted Steel sustain block)
PROTOTYPE STYLE #2: ^ This, I believe, is a Japanese “prototype” FRT-3 that was supposedly made from a Floyd’s lost wax tooling in Japan according to one person who contacted Floyd Rose with questions (more below) regarding this FRT-3 style. It features no Floyd logo, has thinner chrome-plated insert blocks, and features an extremely rare end-slanted sustain block. This FRT-3 prototype may also be the version supposedly on Eddie’s Unchained guitar (If you have clear photos of his FRT-3 trem on the unchained guitar, please contact me). This is what one seller claimed about this proto style FRT-3 when asking the Floyd Rose marketing department:
“I called and was transferred to the President of Marketing and he asked me to send photo’s. He’s obviously a busy guy, so took a few weeks & he got back to me. The following is the main text/body of his reply and I will forward the actual e-mail in it’s entirety to the next owner:
Hi Mike Sorry for my delay as I have been very tied up..
After the review of the photos…
This was definitely made by Floyd. It’s not one of the original machined ones, however they are one of the ones made off of the lost wax tooling that he made. This tooling was sent to Japan later and they took over manufacture of this type of tremolo. But I can tell by the sanding marks Floyd made this one.
I hope this helps.
So, according this this person, this was made from lost wax tooling by Floyd Himself. That being said, none of this has been completely confirmed.
This style also features an extremely rare end-slanted steel sustain block as you see here. The production FRT-3s did not have the slant – they were flat. This one does have a patent sticker on it.
Ironically, you see the same slanted style sustain blocks on future FRT-4/5 copies but made of brass. This proves a theory that Gotoh may have helped Fernandes with some early production (I explain this more in the “Mystery Floyds” article).
Above is the exact same style but in gold. This person claims they got this directly from Floyd Rose’s shop in the USA. They actually made the thin plating of actual gold(!), from what others claim. Notice you can see the rather rough texture on unit, which resembles a rather rough casting process which most FRT-3s were made of.
PROTOTYPE VERSION #3
(slanted Brass sustain block, beveled and milled saddles)
PROTOTYPE VERSION #3: This prototype version looks similar to the last one, but the saddles have a slight half-circle recess where the insert blocks connect and clamp the string. Also, and very importantly, this version has a strange brass sustain block ALSO with an end-slant. The saddles are hand-milled.
This tremolo is almost spot on to a production FRT-3 besides the sustain block and saddles. The brass end-slanted sustain block is associated with FRT-4/5 copies possibly made by Gotoh/Double Eagle a few years later, so this tremolo really confuses my research.
As an educated guess, I think Fernandes may have outsourced Gotoh to help with some FRT-3 (but not FRT-4 or 5. I discuss this in Mystery Floyds) prototypes, and this was a result. This may be an official prototype made by Gotoh fabrication. Gotoh may have primarily made FRT-4 and 5 copies which were seen on Aria, ESP, and also (and ironically) on Fernandes guitars. This is something I’m still researching. Regardless, this particular FRT-3 with slanted brass sustain blocks seems to be an official Floyd Rose product.
Top view of the brass end-slanted sustain block. Note how the base plate is near identical to a production FRT-3.
An older photo (above) from Abalone Vintage shows the same bridge, in better condition, claiming it to be an original 1979 Floyd Rose. However, this FRT-3 variant was made most likely 1982.
Comparison picture: FRT-3 proto with brass end-slant sustain block (left), Japanese FRT-3 proto with steel end-slant sustain block (middle), production FRT-3 (right).
Above is a side view of the sustain blocks. Notice the slanted sustain blocks, something which perhaps signals a prototype version.
Above is another pair of slanted brass sustain-block versions.
The tremolo above supposedly came off a Mastumoku Washburn Falcon.
Brian Guitars FRT-3 Store Model Clone
(beveled saddles, no humpback, different intonation bolts, unknown sustain block)
This mysterious FRT-3 variant may possibly be the very first non-fine tuning copy of a Floyd Rose. They are seen on “Brian” guitars which are Japanese store models. Many Japanese guitar stores assembled their own guitars from various parts and created their own guitar line. This FRT-3 clone/variant was seen on these Brian guitar store models from 1982.
Notice how the saddles are beveled by the insert blocks like some previously mentioned variants, but they lack the “humpback” on the saddle like the other variants. Furthermore, the intonation bolts are different than the standard FRT-3.
No pictures of the sustain block, unfortunately.
(TRANSLATION) *The best-selling Chewsapo sold only by Alex ●Freud Rose Model Tuning Supporter Special Price ¥15,000 (Silver/Gold)*
Thanks to J.L. for the photos and information.
This is an ad from the “Alex store” in Japan selling this version for 15,000 yen, which is 1/3 the price of an official Floyd Rose. Notice the Brian guitar above that copies the EVH Frankenstein.
Another Brian guitar with the FRT-3 variant. The pots on this guitar date it at 1982.
Gallery of a Japanese “Brian” guitar.
PROTOTYPE STYLE #4: USA Machined Steel
(rounded sustain block, beveled saddles)
Eric Ernest at Abalone Vintage had this in possession and was supposedly made by one of Mr. Rose’s friends who worked at the Boeing airplane corporation. Notice the rounded sustain block which looks like some kind of alloy metal and not standard steel like the other FRT-3s. This version was completely machined and not made by casting like most FRT-3 variants.
Like a few other FRT-3 prototype variants, this one features the slotted edged on the saddles where the strings rest on. The nut/washer tremolo bar was standard during this time.
Eric Ernest claims it’s the only version of this variant he’s seen. If you have more information on this, please contact me.
1982 NAMM USA FRT-3
(USA measurements, USA patent sticker, steel sustain block)
1982 NAMM FRT-3: Above is a very interesting USA FRT-3 that a Japanese owner claimed to have purchased from the NAMM show in 1982. On this one, the saddles are slightly different than the production and prototype versions. The “hump’ on the saddle is more level to the rest of the saddles behind it. Also, the insert blocks are the same as the version with a slanted brass sustain block mentioned earlier. Also, and quite clearly, the patent sticker is different than the production versions and even says “USA” on it. It uses the American standard system, and not metric, for the measurements. Futhermore, the sustain block seems to be slanted like the prototype version mentioned early. For this reason, I’m predicting this may possibly be an earlier prototype built by Floyd Rose in the USA that was sent to the ’82 NAMM show.
POSSIBLE EARLY PRODUCTION # 5 (reversed logo, first ever “Floyd Rose” logo or production mistake)
POSSIBLE PROTOTYPE #4: At first glance, you might think there’s nothing out of the ordinary on this one. I missed it multiple times. But in fact, The “Floyd Rose” logo is reversed! The “F” is closer to the bridge post where the “e” should be. Very interesting. Also note the insert blocks are chrome, which I believe is a sign of an earlier FRT-3. Whether this is a mistake or prototype is unknown.
The “reversed logo” Floyd above doesn’t seem to have an end-slanted sustain block. It has a patent sticker, which was typical of the FRT-3 in this time.
PRODUCTION VERSION #1 (chrome insert blocks, Floyd logo)
PRODUCTION VERSION #1: FRT-3s that have the “Floyd Rose” logo generally are production models. I believe ones with chrome inserts blocks, as pictured here, are from the earliest production run. This is assumed because most of the FRT-1s and prototype FRT-3s had chrome insert blocks.
PRODUCTION VERSION #2 (black insert blocks, Floyd logo)
PRODUCTION VERSION #2: This production version is the same as the last but has black insert blocks instead of chrome. I believe this was typical of Japanese FRT-3s made from 1984-1985, but nothing is certain.
Mystery FRT-3 Clones
Here is a Japanese ad showing multiple different FRT-3 clones. The top left is a real Floyd Rose FRT-3. The others seem to be of the Argus and Tokai brand names.
A reader sent in this very rare “ESP” Floyd Rose FRT-3, which possibly signals the relationship starting with Kramer guitars. ESP would also make the “Magician” FRT-5 style bridge, the very first FRT-5 clone ever made.
Above is a relatively rare ESP Navigator Steve Lukather model an ESP FRT-3 variant similar to the ESP Mighty Vise. Steve Lukather was very popular in Japan during the 1980s, and there are many store models that look similar to this.
All Japanese Floyds from 1983-1989 had “humpback saddles”. They have a slight half-circle rounded where the screws press down. All Schaller Floyds have a more “V” indentation. The only non-Japanese Floyd that had these humpback saddles was the USA FRT-5 “Whale Tail” used on Eddie Van Halen’s 5150.
Above is the back of the nut which shows no number. This is probably a prototype or very early run nut. Most Japanese humpback saddle nuts of this time had a “4508” number stamped on the back.
The FRT-3 also had the T-block inserts like the FRT-1. The “T’ part held the block in place and wouldn’t fall out. This is a design I wish they still incorporated on all Floyd tremolos.
All Floyd Roses, Japanese and German until 1985ish, had screw-in tremolo posts. These were replaced by the thread-in style we see today. This was probably due to the fact that these screw-in posts were hard to adjust and didn’t work well with soft woods, often moving forward with the tension of the strings (over time). That being said, some Floyd fanatics still prefer these screw in posts.
The death of the Japanese Official FRT-3 coincided with the new Kramer Guitars deal in 1983. Fernandes Japan still created official Floyd Roses until the end of 1985 (though I’ve also heard 1987) and also sold Schaller-made FRT-5s near the end of this.
For some reason, which perhaps we may never know, Floyd Rose decided to move production to Schaller Germany (I discuss more of this in the FRT-5 article). Rumors say that Germany did not have as many restrictions on chromium, which may have played a part in the move. From here, Schaller made their own version of the FRT-3, which was rather different than its Japanese cousin.
Overall, the Fernandes Japan FRT-3 was an amazing non-fine tuning tremolo. The massive steel sustain block paired with the high quality steel plates made them tone machines that will last generations.
German-Schaller Production FRT-3
The German Schaller made FRT-3 was made sometime in 1983ish and is rather different than the Fernandes Japanese version. These did not have T insert blocks but instead had the modern “square” style that fall out. This is the first run of the design. Released in 1983. The sustain block is brass and chrome plated, and there is no US Patent stamp – making it a 1983. It has a 42mm sustain block.
Later versions of this German FRT-3 varied in regards to the sustain block and slight difference in the saddles, but the German FRT-3 looks very similar today.
The German Schaller FRT-3 was mainly put on lower-end Kramer models such as the Focus and Striker series, a far cry from its Fernandes Japan reign in late 1982 when it was considered an expensive, prestigious model played only by the highest class musicians.
Part of this reason is because the German Schaller FRT-5 was exploding in the USA in late 1983-1984 and was the flagship model. The FRT-3 without fine tuners, I’d imagine, was slightly cheaper to produce. Also, artists (EVH and others), were complaining that non-fine tuning Floyds were a hassle to tune once clamped, due to the nature of the strings going slightly sharp or flat once clamped.
The original Floyd Rose FRT-1 prototypes did not have this issue because Floyd could make the locking nuts within tolerances of 1/1000th of an inch. This wasn’t possible with full production. Hence, the invention of fine tuners. All in all, as mentioned before, many famous musicians still preferred the FRT-3 design when the more popular FRT-5 was the king in town.
After the mid-1980s, it seemed the FRT-3 disappeared for about 30 years (literally). No one wanted the non-fine tuning locking tremolos. They were considered an obsolete relic only discussed as an “early” model before the modern FRT-5. And again, no one even knew about the Japanese productions before the German counterpart. That is, until the invention of locking tuners and a high profile youtube guitarist, Guthrie Govan.
Much like Brad Gillis of Night Ranger, Govan prefers the FRT-3 for his playing style. Fine tuners get in his way. Furthermore, the invention of locking tuners lessens the requirement of a locking nut (and hence, don’t need to worry about tunings going flat or sharp once the locking nuts are clamped…because there are none). The German Schaller FRT-3 had varied sustain blocks and saddles as you see on the Charvel Govan model, but it has been relatively similar for most of those years.
So there you have it. Once the king of locking tremolos in the early 80s, then banished from oblivion for 30 years, and now a sought after tremolo in 2020 used on modern custom shop guitars. Who would have thought a non-fine tuning tremolo invented in 1979 would still be as pivotal in guitars today?
Well now, why did exiling of the FRT-3 begin, you might ask? Well, it didn’t start with the modern FRT-5 style as you would think. It started with with Eddie Van Halen being annoyed with the FRT-3 and essentially Floyd Rose creating an even more important lost relic, the FRT-4.
Above is a video I made on youtube going over many of these details I discussed. I’ve since found new information, which I updated on this website.