The original Floyd Rose fine tuning patent, a vertical fine tuning variant (above), was filed March 15h, 1982.
The patent drawings above show the original Floyd Rose vertical fine tuner. Ironically, the FRT-4 vertical fine tuner barely survived 6 months before being modified into the FRT-5 design. However, Floyd was awarded the FRT-4 (and 5) patent in 1985.
It may be ironic, but most people have no idea how one of the the most important features, fine tuners, were developed on the Floyd Rose. The whole experiment resulted in a tremolo that has essentially been forgotten in time, the FRT-4. The production FRT-4 started creation sometime in 1982 by Fernandes Japan and was the first Floyd Rose to feature fine tuners. It is said that 25 prototypes of the FRT-4 were made in the USA by Floyd Rose, many of them going to high profile artists. The production units (made in Japan) were only made for four months, which may make it the most rare production Floyd Rose unit along with the FRT-1 and USA “5150” FRT-5.
The FRT-4 was most notably played the Eddie Van Halen on his 1982 Frankenstrat with a sanded Kramer logoed neck. Eddie, however, played a prototype hand-made version (and not a production version).
The invention of fine tuners were the direct result of many musicians complaining that the non-fine tuning Floyds would go flat or sharp once the locking nut was clamped. This wasn’t an issue with Floyd’s early FRT-1 prototypes because he could make the locking nuts to small tolerances. When the FRT-1 and 3 were brought into production, however, the factories could not recreate the extremely detailed tooling tolerances Floyd used in his shop.
Above is a picture of Eddie with his Prototype gold FRT-4 made in the USA by Floyd Rose himself. Rumor says there were three gold ones made, but again, nothing can be confirmed.
Floyd Rose and Eddie Van Halen made a contract deal with Kramer guitars right around this time, which of course, made sales of Kramer and Floyd Rose units explode all through the 1980s and created a guitar empire that nearly bankrupted Gibson.
Above is another great picture of Eddie with his gold FRT-4 prototype, which was only on it briefly. Eddie did not like the vertical fine tuners because they were too close to his hand, which essentially interfered with his playing style.
Floyd initially created the fine tuners in the vertical orientation because he thought it looked better on the guitar and didn’t want the tremolo too large or noticeable.
Per Eddie’s request, Floyd Rose made the fine tuning range long enough for Eddie to go into drop D tuning.
Eddie played his gold FRT-4 prototype on his classic Frankenstrat that had an ’82 Kramer Pacer neck on it with the logo sanded off. Rumor says he sanded off the logo because Fender had a lawsuit against Kramer to change the headstock design. Eddie later put on a Kramer Pacer “beak” neck on it shortly afterward in 1983. Note that Eddie had 7+ different necks on the course of the Franenstrat’s life. Also, don’t confuse the “Frankenstrat” guitar with Eddie’s “5150” guitar. They both have the famous red/black/white stripes but are completely different guitars.
Above is a picture of Eddie at the Kramer factory with his FRT-4 prototype. Supposedly, this is right before Kramer introduced him to his very first FRT-5 whale tail. He has the Square-heel neck on the guitar at this point.
Eddie with a his gold FRT-4 prototype on his Frankenstrat in the early Kramer years (probably October 1982). The Frankenstrat is closer to Eddie.
A very rare behind-the-body Frankenstrat photo which is perhaps the sustain block of the gold FRT-4 prototype. Notice how the block is more rounded and not “square.”
Here’s an estimate timeline of the prototype FRT-4 and Kramer Deal:
3-82: Vertical Fine tuning patent filed.
4-82: Diver Down released.
4-82: Eddie First showed up with Kramer and Rockinger.
6-82: Kramer introduces Rockinger “Eddie Van Halen” trem.
7-82: Eddie live with Gold Floyd “style” bridge in Columbia, SC.
8-82: Eddie Finalized his Kramer endorsement.
Above is an early interview with Eddie Van Halen where he talks about how “We got this vibrato thing with a fine tune thing in it.” (43 minutes)
Eddie is most likely referring to his gold first generation FRT-4 vertical fine tuning prototype. The interview also has great information on everything regarding early EVH.
What’s very interesting is in the 1983 Fernandes catalog another Van Halen replica model is listed as the “SX-135VH” which features a banana headstock and FRT-4. This, of course, was most likely going to be a red/black/white Frankenstrat copy but never seen the light of day due to Eddie Van Halen suing all manufactures trying to copy his striping designs.
Perhaps a few made it out of the factory, but I’ve never seen one. If you have pictures of a Fernandes SX-135VH, please contact me.
K.K. Downing of Judas Priest got an FRT-4 prototype as seen on this flying V which was recently sold at an auction. It looks to have a Kahler locking nut. Downing had to sell most of his gear due to a his bankrupt golf course business, and this guitar now resides with a different owner.
K.K. playing his Hamer with FRT-4 prototype live. Photo on the right shows K.K. with Eddie Van Halen.
Above is an up-close shot of K.K. Downing’s FRT-4 prototype in chrome.
Here is a picture of Steve Lukather of Toto with his Fender strat modified with a prototype FRT-4. This prototype variant of the FRT-4 is slightly different than Eddie’s and K.K. Downing’s and seems to feature longer saddles.
Above is Floyd Rose at the Fernandes Booth during the 1982 NAMM show. It looks like he has some type of FRT-4 vertical fine tuner.
Analyzing the Prototype FRT-4
The FRT-4 prototypes were made in the USA by Floyd Rose. 25 prototype units were supposedly created, three of them being gold. This fact differs from the official production units, which were made in Fernandes Japan (the official contractor during this time).
The Prototype FRT-4, in my opinion, is the “Holy Grail” of Floyd Rose units due to it’s importance, rarity, and uniqueness.
For one, the prototype FRT-4s did not have a “Floyd Rose” logo on the base plate. The saddles have a “rounded” recessed shape and rectangular style T-blocks most likely made of stainless steel. Thanks to D.K. for the pictures.
Keep in mind, there are Japanese copies of this unit that don’t feature a logo, but these are not official Floyd products. I discuss these more in “Mystery Floyds“.
The baseplate and fine tuners on the prototypes and official production 4s are one-piece. Note that, like most Floyds made pre-1983, the tremolo arm has the standard nut/washer mechanism.
Like previous Floyd Rose units, the prototype FRT-4 also has T-block inserts to clamp the string and won’t fall out when loosed and turned upside down. These T-blocks look to be made of stainless steel.
The saddles have the recessed oval design. The official production FRT4s did not have the recessed oval design except for one exception seen in the ’83 Fernandes catalog.
Here is a side view of the prototype FRT-4. Note the vertical tuners being one-piece connected to the base plate. You can also see the bottom opening on the saddle for the T-block inserts to hold. Modern FRT-5 designs don’t have this, but some later Fernandes tremolos units, such as the FRT-7, still had these openings even though they used the modern “square” insert blocks.
The prototype FRT4 only had two holes for locking in the saddle intonation. The production FRT4s had three (but in some cases, two are seen). The fine tuners are non-magnetic and not brass, which indicates they are probably made of stainless steel.
Above is a rare Charvel bumblebee clone with what seems to be an FRT-4.
On the top left is what looks to be a prototype FRT4 with an embossed logo. You can tell it’s a prototype by the thinner rectangular insert blocks and “oval” recessed saddles. This is the only instance where I have seen the “Floyd Rose” logo on a prototype FRT4. This picture is from the 1983 Fernandes catalog, which is the only year you will ever see it in.
Here is another picture of the prototype style FRT4 with an embossed logo. They FRT4s were put on the highest grade models of the time, mainly the FST 155 and 135.
If any could translate the Japanese for me, please shoot me an email.
Above is an ad from a May 1983 Japanese guitar catalog. Thanks to J.L. for the photo. It says (translated from Japanese):
“FRT-4 Floyd Rose TREMOLO SYSTEM In addition to the string lock system that strongly supports tuning, the FRT-4 equipped with a fine tuner enables fine adjustment of tuning while the strings are locked. After tuning, the strings are pinched by the upper nut and saddle, and completely fixed to expel the tuning error. However, if the strings are still new, the tuning will be slightly out of sync due to the elongation of the strings themselves. After locking, even if the tuning goes wrong, the FRT-4 can be tuned accurately just by turning the fine tuner knob without removing the upper nut. The FRT-4 is a quick tuning before playing, and the left hand is supported on the neck during playing. You can easily tune with your right hand. It’s a super mecha that is especially effective at live performances.“
Above you see more info from the May 1983 catalog regarding the FRT-4. It was a hefty 58,000 yen, a lot of money to purchase one.
50% off installation.
The Fernandes ST-135 and ST-155 were the first models to feature the FRT-4. The FRT-4 can possibly be seen on Fernandes guitars in late 1982, making them the first guitars to feature a production Floyd Rose with fine tuners.
Analyzing the Production FRT-4
The production FRT4 started fabrication sometime in 1982 in Fernandes Japan. It was only in production for four months, which may make it the most rare production Floyd Rose unit of all time. The only production Floyd Rose units which may come close to rarity are the FRT-1 and the 1983 “5150” FRT-5 whale tail.
The limited production was probably due to the fact that Eddie Van Halen did not like the vertical fine tuners, and the design was slightly modified into the modern FRT5, what you see today, shortly after. Because of this, the FRT4 is generally not well known and most people don’t even realize it was a full production unit intended to be the next big thing.
Above is an official production Floyd Rose FRT4. These had an embossed “Floyd Rose” logo, and the saddles have a “straight” recessed by the insert blocks, as compared to the “oval” recess on the FRT4 prototypes. Also, the T-blocks are of a square design an not rectangular like the prototypes.
The fine tuner knobs are sometimes also slightly different. There have been multiple versions of fine tuners seen on FRT-4s. One is a type of stainless steel as shove above, and another version have them made from brass, similarly to the FRT-7. Thanks to AXN Guitars for the photos.
Like the FRT3 production units, the 4 had the same gigantic steel sustain block which usually had the patent sticker on the front. Also note that the base plate and fine tuner mounts are one-piece, unlike some FRT4 copies that had bolts connecting them.
This particular production FRT-4 has two intonation screw holes, but there are some with three. Also note that the tremolo housing is the standard nut/washer style of the time.
There doesn’t seem to be a patent sticker on this particular unit or may have come off over time.
The embossed logo is a tell-tale sign of a production FRT4. This embossed style logo is only seen on the production FRT4s and the very first FRT5 created. Also noticed the “straight” recessed area on the saddle, which is generally standard on most Floyd Roses from this point on.
The saddles on the production FRT-4s (prototypes are different) seem to be identical to the later Fernandes FRT-5 and FRT-7
Above is an example of a very rare gold production FRT4.
All Japanese Floyds from 1983-1989 had “humpback saddles”. They have a slight half-circle rounded area 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 1983 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.
All Floyd Roses, Japanese and German until 1985, 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.
In hindsight, I think Mr. Rose was correct on the cosmetics of the FRT-4. I like how it looks on all guitars bodies, and it doesn’t take up so much room. Futhermore, the tightening screws don’t need to stick out as far and create an eye-sore, but of course, this is all personal preference. If Eddie Van Halen didn’t complain about the vertical fine tuners, who knows how long this version would have lasted.
For a long time, and even today, most people had no idea the FRT-4V even existed as a production unit. They just thought it was something Eddie Van Halen had for a brief moment of time. In fact, most people have no idea Eddie even had an FRT-4!
Above is D.K. discussing early FRT-4 examples.
Here, D.K. discusses various early production models, the FRT-4 included.
"FRT" Designation Confusion
It’s important to note that the “FRT” labeling system is a Fernandes system used to name the early Floyd Rose units, which I believe is short for “Floyd Rose Tremolo.” NOW, what makes this all confusing is that Fernandes continued to use this FRT naming system on their licensed models even when their Floyd Rose contract ended sometime 1985 (I’ve heard from other sources the contract actually didn’t end until 1987, strangely enough).
Fernandes continued to use the FRT-4 name with their future units which resemble nothing of the original FRT-4 vertical tuner design. I will discuss this more in “Post 1985 Fernandes Licensed” but figured I would give a gallery of later Fernandes FRT units that have the “FRT-4” designation but clearly nothing what I’ve discuss on this page.
Above is a video I made on my youtube channel discussing the aspects on of the FRT-4. There are recent discoveries I wasn’t able to put on the video at that time, but it’s still a good source of information.