The Tremolos of Eddie Van Halen: (1976 to Kramer Guitars Era)
Eddie was the forerunner of the new Floyd Rose prototypes since the early 1980s and is often seen with various one-offs and rare versions. Here, I will discuss the main tremolo units Eddie used on a multitude of his most famous guitars. Keep in mind, it it believed that Eddie had other various prototypes not yet seen in photographs, and much of this information is based on what we’ve seen so far.
1958 Fender Tremolo: Earliest Frankenstrat incarnations
1977. This is the only known picture of the Frankenstrat in its raw wood form.
May 29th, 1977 (above), now painted black.
Fender Trem: Sunburst Strat
Eddie played a Sunburst Strat during this time with, of course, a Fender trem. Some people have confused this sunburst strat with an early incarnation of the Frankenstrat, but it’s not.
Mighty Mite Brass bridge: Frankenstrat, Featured on VH-I Album
Most people often forget that the early black/white incarnation of the Frankenstrat featured a brass mighty-mite bridge as shown on the first Van Halen album cover.
A fender baseplate with brass Mighty Mite “teardrop” saddles was on the Dragonsnake guitar in 1979.
Might Mite Brass bridge: Charvel “Hydra” a.k.a. “Megazone” guitar
The “Hydra” guitar featured a non-brass baseplate with brass Mighty Mite saddles, most likely due to Ed experimenting.
Eddie’s “Music Life” guitar seems to have sported another brass bridge of unknown origin. This guitar was gifted to Eddie from “Music Life Magazine” in Japan during the 1979 Japan tour.
On stage Japan 1979 tour. From left to right: Dragon guitar with Mighty Mite brass bridge, Bumblebee with FRT-1, Frankenstrat with Fender tremolo, Dean V guitar, “Music Life” guitar.
1958 Fender Tremolo: Frankenstrat
Eddie put the 1958 Fender tremolo on again sometime in 1978. Eddie’s black/white guitar, which is one of the earliest incarnations of the Frankenstrat (although not the earliest, as discussed previously) and made of factory reject Boogie Body parts, featured a 1958 standard Fender tremolo. The earliest photo of the Frankestrat striped black/white is September 1977.
1979 with rosewood neck.
1979: Repainted with red, maple neck.
1979: Pickguard off, maple neck put on.
1979: Melted bridge pickup, tele middle pickup, Charvel bumblebee neck. This is the last frankenstrat incarnation with the Fender tremolo.
Fender Tremolo: VH-II Bumblebee
The earliest incarnation of the VHII bumblebee guitar also featured a Fender tremolo before the first Floyd Rose FRT-1 prototype it’s most well known for. These photos are supposedly taken from October 1978.
From the VH-II photo shoot featured the “clear” bobbin pickup and Fender trem.
Early Prototype USA FRT-1: VH-II Bumblebee
Above is Eddie’s early prototype non-fine tuning Floyd Rose, which the Japanese called the “FRT-1.” The Bumblebee VH-II guitar was one of the first guitars to sport an actual Floyd Rose unit. This early prototype version didn’t have good chrome plating unlike later USA and Japanese versions, which were only sold for an extremely brief time (6 months) before the more refined FRT-3 replaced it.
Above is the Bumblebee guitar disassembled in 1981. It wouldn’t be seen again until an Japanese photo shoot in 1992 (featuring a standard “original” gold German Floyd).
Floyd Rose FRT-1: Frankenstrat
(1980- est. May 1982)
Although the FRT-1 most well-known for being on the VH-II bumblebee, a gold and/or chrome version was also on Eddie’s famous Frankenstrat guitar from 1980 to approximately May, 1982.
1980, cream pickup.
1981, 1982 black pickup.
Eddie used the FRT-1 on his Frankenstrat until approximately May of 1982. He seemed to have skipped the FRT-3 on his Frankenstrat and added the gold FRT-4 prototype to it sometime approximately in June, 1982. The magazine cover photo (left) was most likely taken prior to June 1982.
Floyd Rose FRT-1: “Rude” Guitar
Eddie’s “Rude” guitar seemed to have sported an FRT-1 as seen next to his Frankenstrat which also featured an FRT-1. This means the photo was probably taken in around 1980.
Floyd Rose FRT-1: “Star Guitar”
Above is Eddie with his Star Guitar sporting an FRT-1 used during the invasion tour in 1980. Eddie Later replaced the tremolo with a German FRT-5.
Floyd Rose FRT-1: “Unchained” Guitar
In this photo you see FRT-1s on the “Unchained” (sometimes called “Circles”) guitar, Frankenstrat, and Rude guitar. Ironically, on the floor is the Bumblebee disassembled.
There seems to be longer locking bolts on the trem in this photo.
This photo shows some strange one-off non-fine tuning unit, possibly FRT-3 variant. If you have more close-up photos of the unchained guitar, please contact me.
Rockinger Tremolo: Brass Version (1981-1982)
Dennis Berardi of Kramer Guitars would win Eddie Van Halen over to the company in part due to the Rockinger Tremolo system, although Eddie and Kramer would soon partner with Floyd Rose shortly afterwards.
The early versions of the Rockinger were made of brass, which was too soft and didn’t work as well as steel. It was also only single-locking. Eddie is seen with a variety of Kramer Pacers with Rockingers, as well as the famous yellow double-neck Kramer.
Rumoured: Fine Tuning Nut Prototype (Circa 1981)
In this interview with Eddie Van Halen, Eddie seems to be yelling at Mr. Rose for making a tremolo with fine tuners at the nut when Eddie wanted them to be on the bridge (as seen today). Keep in mind, we are only getting Eddie’s side of the story, and Mr. Rose has his own story regarding the invention of fine tuners. Below is an interview by Music Radar asking Eddie about the first Floyd Rose designs:
“Okay, this is a funny story – very true. Three tours in a row, every time we’d play Seattle – I can’t remember if it was ’79, ’80 and ’81 – it had to be ’79 because I never put it in the black and white guitar. So, in ’79, somebody goes ‘Hey, there’s a guy here named Floyd Rose and he wants to show you something’.“He comes in and goes [with cupped hands], ‘You wanna try this?’ [see FRT-1] and I say, ‘Sure, what the fuck, why not!?’ So I gave him one of my guitars and asked him to put it in because I didn’t know how to do it. It was different to the Fender tailpiece and it wasn’t a direct swap.
“So I tried it, once it was ready to go and… it was a pain in the ass! For one, the Allen screws on the neck were very small, and in order to torque it down you’d either strip the Allen key or the screw would strip. But more importantly, when you’re playing the guitar, things bend and they move and the neck shifts a little bit.
“Depending on the temperature of the gig from the beginning to the end, the temperature fluctuates. So between every, fucking, song I had to unclamp and tune! And then Dave and the rest of the guys would be going, ‘Is he ready yet?!’ It was just a pain in the ass. So first I told him, ‘Beef the thing up!’ because I kept snapping shit.
“So he comes back the next year with a beefed-up model. [see FRT-3] But there was still the problem of having to tune between every song, so I told him, ‘Put some fine-tuners on it. I played a little cello and violin when I was in elementary school and those instruments have finger adjustable fine-tuners. Okay?’ So that’s what I meant.
“Then the third year he comes along and goes [cupped hands] ‘I did it!’ and I go ‘No! You fucking numbnut!’ Because now you needed a wrench to fine-tune it! So now instead of three, you’ve got nine, you know? I’m going ‘No, you idiot, I meant fucking finger tuners! You’ve seen ’em before!’ Then he patents the fucking thing behind my back [see FRT-4]. Pissed me off… whatever!”
Mr. Rose patented the FRT-4 design in March 1982. Therefore, it’s estimated this fine tuning nut design was design somewhere in the summer or fall of 1981. The patent pending ESP Mighty Vise may have been a result of this prototype. The Mighty Vise is a rather rare unit found only on certain ESP guitars in 1983. It’s possible Mr. Rose tried to market this design to other companies.
Eddie’s quote “So now instead of three, you’ve got nine, you know? I’m going ‘No, you idiot, I meant fucking finger tuners!” is referring to the six fine tuning bolts and three locking nut clamps (as similarly seen in the pictures above). Of all the research done by early locking tremolo enthusiasts, the ESP Mighty Vise and Fender Nut Lock are the only devices which incorporate this design. Is this a secret relic trying to hide from its past? We may never know.
The ESP Mighty Vise has characteristics of the early FRT-3 and Les Paul Floyds, yet features the iconic fine tuners at the nut.
Floyd Rose, Kramer, and ESP all were highly connected at this point. ESP made all the wooden Kramer guitar bodies/necks. Kramer also had a contract with Floyd Rose to use and market the Floyd Rose tremolo semi-exclusively in the early 1980s. Therefore, the ESP connection makes sense in why you may see this design. ESP also made the very first FRT-5 design copy (ESP Magician). Again, this could be because the strong connection with Kramer and Floyd Rose.
The Fender Fine Tune Nut Lock is another example of this design, which can be seen on certain Fender models in 1983 and 1984. The mystery deepens.
Floyd Rose FRT-4: Gold USA-made Vertical Fine Tuning Prototype (Summer 1982)
Soon after the Kramer contract, The Rockinger was scrapped from the line-up, and a Kramer Guitars made a deal with Floyd Rose to sell semi-exclusively. Eddie played one of the very first Floyd Roses with a fine tuner. Eddie played this version during the summer of 1982 with the Kramer Pacer neck which had the “Kramer” logo sanded off. The Japanese called this unit the FRT-4 and Fernandes Japan supposedly worked with Floyd Rose to design this unit. Fernandes Japan would sell production versions of this for around 4-5 months in the Japanese market that is slightly different than the one Eddie used.
The FRT-4 design was patented on March 15, 1982. Therefore, we can estimate Floyd completed this design between November 1981 – February 1982, and the gold workable prototype was supposedly given to Eddie sometime in May or June of 1982. These dates are educated estimates and not 100% certain.
FRT-5 "ORIGINAL" (Whale Tail, etc.) Variants
The FRT-5, or “whale tail” as others have called it, is essentially the modern Floyd Rose “original” design most people know today. Eddie played many early production and prototype versions. “FRT-5” is a loosely based term referring to the earliest Floyd Rose “Original” variants. The term “Whale Tail” describes how the fine tuner knob location are now bent farther back than the FRT-4, hence, reminiscent of a whale’s (from the ocean) fin tail.
In a way, FRT-5 and “whale tail” technically mean the same thing: the final “updated” design of the Floyd Rose. When people hear the word “Whale tail” in the Floyd Rose community, they usually refer to the FRT-5 created by American Precision Metalworks (APM) that Eddie used on a variety of his main guitars. I recommend reading the entire FRT-5 article to understand this is in more detail.
First Known Floyd Rose FRT-5 Variant: Kramer “Ad” Franky
(August / September 1982)
Although it’s rumored that Mr. Rose collaboratively made the earliest FRT-5 prototypes with Fernandes Japan, and hence, there may be even earlier prototypes somewhere in Japan not yet seen, this is the first documented evidence of the earliest FRT-5 variant. This guitar looks similar to the APM “Whale Tail” Eddie is most famous for playing but seems to be unmarked. Eddie used this “Kramer ad” Franky during the “Hide Your Sheep” and Brazil Tour (September 1982).
This FRT-5 is supposedly from an early Kramer Guitars visit where Eddie is trying out one of the first prototypes. Based on the neck, this seems to be the guitar used on the “Hide Your Sheep” tour in September 1982.
Rumors say that Eddie gave it to his tech, Rudy Lerien. Rudy then sold it to Mick Mars of Motley Crue. In an unfortunate turn of events, Mick Mar’s wife supposedly destroyed this guitar (and many others) in their nasty divorce.
Mick Mar’s wife may have possibly destroyed one of the most important Floyd Rose artifacts of all time. R.I.P. first ever whale tail prototype.
Please choose your spouse carefully.
Floyd Rose “Whale Tail” American Precision Metalworks (APM)
Floyd Rose “Whale Tail” American Precision Metalworks (APM):
Floyd Rose “Whale Tail” American Precision Metalworks (APM):
Rasta guitar – formerly the “Unchained/Circles” guitar
Eddie repainted the “Unchained” guitar to the “Rasta” guitar which featured an APM Floyd Rose on it. Later, Eddie put on a gold German Floyd Rose on it and eventually gifted it to Dweezil Zappa.
Floyd Rose APM Whale Tail: Kramer Neptune Guitar
Above is a video showing the Kramer Neptune guitar at Guitar Hollywood. Notice how the fine tuner knobs have been removed, much like on the early version of the 918V guitar (below).
FRT-5 Variant without Fine Tuners
There have been instances where Eddie is strangely playing what seems to be an FRT-5 variant or German FRT-5 with the fine tuners taken off. The 918V is one example. Later, a German Floyd Rose is seen on the 918V. Whether this is the same Floyd Rose from the earlier photograph is unknown.
Floyd Rose “Whale Tail” American Precision Metalworks (APM):
Later, German Floyd Rose
Kramer “1984” Guitar
The 1984 guitar started out with an APM whale tail (above) and eventually sported a black German Floyd Rose.
The 1984 guitar had FRT-5 on it during the ’84 tour. After the ’84 tour, he took the APM whale tail and original neck off and put a replacement neck on it with a black German Floyd (and hardware). This is what he played “Good Enough” live on with the A Bass string during the 5150 tour. It also went on the OU812 tour, but there is no footage of Ed playing it live from what we can see.
The same Floyd is currently on it, but it has a chrome saddle where the A Bass string saddle used to be.
German Floyd Rose
Kramer “Hot for Teacher”
German Floyd Rose: Bumblebee
Some of the last known photos of the Bumblebee guitar are from a Japanese photoshoot featuring a gold German Floyd Rose sporting the strathead Kramer Pacer neck with a sanded logo (now with black tape on the headstock) that was originally featured on the Frankenstrat during the summer of 1982.
Steinberger Transtrem: Steinbergber GL2T
Eddie most famously played his Steinberger GL2T guitar during the 1986-1987 “Live Without a Net” tour. He used this song to record the following songs: Get Up, Summer Nights, Pleasure Dome, Fire in the Hole, Me Wise Magic. Check out Van Halen News Desk’s article here.
Schaller Floyd: Rasta guitar
At some point, the Rasta guitar was in pieces at Eddie’s house (APM whale tail removed), and Dweezil asked about it. Soon after, Eddie gifted it to him. A gold Schaller Floyd bridge is currently on it. Check out the Van Halen News Desk article.
German Floyd: Frankenstrat
(est. 1997 – Present)
A German Floyd is seen on the Frankenstrat in 2004 during rehearsals and from photos in 1997. It’s unknown the exact date the German Floyd replaced the APM whale tail Floyd. These are the most recent photos of the Frankenstrat from the 2019 exhibit at Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Check out Van Halen News Desk’s article.
TO BE CONTINUED……………..