Early Pre-Schaller Copies (1982-1984)
Discussed in this article:
1. ESP Mighty Vise
2. Double Eagle Model 15 (FRT-4 copy)
3. ESP Magician
4. Mystery FRT-3
5. Double Eagle FRT-5 copy
Floyd Rose copies have been literally been going on since production of the FRT-3 it seems, but it’s very difficult to identify copies made before 1984 due to the fact that licensing agreements didn’t seem to exist at that time.
Here, I will discuss some rather interesting early Pre-Schaller FRT-3, FRT-4, and FRT-5 copies. There are many theories about these tremolo copies, but no one really knows who fabricated some of them.
ESP Mighty Vise (1982/1983)
The ESP Mighty Vise is a mysterious FRT-3 style variant only seen in the 1983 ESP Export Catalog and is the only model of the era to have fine tuners placed on the nut.
This model was short-lived, and there are theories that the ESP Mighty Vise may have been a result of a highly experimental prototype made by Floyd D. Rose before he made the very first vertical fine tuning (FRT-4V) prototype.
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. Pissed me off… whatever!”
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 is the only tremolo which incorporates 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 as discussed later in article). Again, this could be because the strong connection with Kramer and Floyd Rose.
Double Eagle "Model 15" FRT-4 Copy (Late '82/early 1983)
The Double Eagle “Model 15” FRT-4 copy was created before licensing agreements and may have been the very first Floyd Rose copy with fine tuners. These are lower-quality copies of the official FRT-4 that have been seen on early ESP, Aria, and (ironically) Fernandes guitars. Because the metal used on these is rather weak, some saddles are often times replaced. Interestingly enough, these do have T-block inserts, which is unique on all the mystery pre-Schaller copies.
The Double Eagle Model 15 was made in Japan and could actually be found in early Veneman Music Emporium catalogs from 1983. The picture above is from the 1983 Fall/Winter catalog.
The above picture are from the 1984-1985 Fall/Winter Music Emporium catalog, which is the last time you see the Model 15 in any catalogs. I have heard from readers of this website that you could also buy these from certain music stores in the USA.
Clearly, the official production FRT-4 of 1982/’83 (LEFT) has many differing characteristics of the Double Eagle copy (right). The saddles and T-blocks on the copy seem to be varying sizes, which is strange.
A real 1982/1983 FRT-4’s base plate (left) is all one-piece connecting the fine tuners. The Double Eagle copy (right) has three bolts connecting the base plate and fine tuners.
Here you can see the Double Eagle Model 15’s fine tuners as a separate piece from the base plate and required bolts from the bottom.
The sustain block is made of brass and is slanted near the end, a characteristic that it’s possibly of Gotoh/Double Eagle origin. That being said, this Model 15 style has also been seen with a cheaper die-cast sustain block.
This FRT-4 copy seems to have been somewhat poorly made, but people sometimes mistake these for an actual ’83 FRT-4 or FRT-4 prototype, which it definitely is not.
ESP Magician (Summer 1983)
The ESP Magician, based on the research myself and others have done, may be the very first “original” FRT-5 style copy ever made.
It features characteristics of the famous “5150 Whale Tail,” and being that it was made for ESP guitars, makers of Kramer Guitar parts, there could be some relationship between the two. It features T-block saddles and other early trem characteristics of the time. Thanks to J.L. for the photos and information.
The ESP Magician tremolo is first seen in the 1983 August ESP catalog (left) and the September 1983 catalog (right). It was around this time that Floyd Rose was making their “original” FRT-5 tremolo for Kramer during this time, as the deal was recently struck. The FRT-5 whale tail design was recently invented in late 1982/early 1983, and therefore, the Magician bridge may be the first copy/licensed version (“licensing” the Floyd Rose didn’t technically exist until a few years later, which is why I’m calling them “copies.”)
Fourlife ad listing ESP Van Halen model – seems like it has the FRT-5 Magician. In Young Guitar magazine – July 1983. The Magician most likely was in stores by early June 1983.
Translation from the “something new” section in the same magazine as above: “If you want to add a tremolo, I recommend this. Pro = ESP Fine tuner lock saddle tremolo MAGICIAN ¥50,000 This magician has a Freund rose type tremolo unit with a fine tuner. Since the saddle is equipped with a fine tuner that can be finely tuned, you can play without disturbing when playing mute, and you can play with high reliability. This tuner can be tuned in place by simply turning it with your finger. In addition, the arm is made of stainless steel and has a robust diameter of 8φ, and the specially processed plate has improved durability.”
Review of the Magician 7/1983.
Mystery FRT-3 (1982?)
FRT-3s are the most difficult to understand because they have the most “prototypes” and variations of any Pre-Schaller Floyd Rose model. If you’ve read the FRT-3 article, you are perhaps familiar with this FRT3 prototype I’m about to discuss.
What makes this FRT-3 prototype different than the others is the slight half-circle recess on the saddles and solid brass sustain block that’s angled at the end. Pre-Schaller FRT-3s with no logo and slanted sustain blocks are associated with very early prototypes and possibly even made by Floyd Rose in the USA (depending on other factors).
I have been told this is an official Floyd Rose product which is believable because it’s nearly identical in every way to a standard Pre-Schaller FRT-3 besides the saddle difference and brass sustain block.
An older photo (above) from Abalone Vintage shows the same bridge, in better condition, claiming it to be an original 1979 Floyd Rose. However, the year is incorrect because FRT-3 style saddles weren’t even developed until sometime in 1982. Again, it was rather confusing to know these details back then, especially the FRT1/3 details. Most people even today still call all Pre-schaller Floyds prototypes, which hopefully from reading this website, you know is far from true.
As seen in the FRT-3 article, this mystery FRT-3 looks to have been made from the same mold as the prototype in the middle.
The mystery FRT3 on left has the slanted sustain block like the prototype in the middle. HOWEVER, the Mystery FRT3’s sustain block is made of brass and not steel like the Pre-Schaller FRT3s at the time.
Why does this matter? The FRT-4 and 5 copies shown next sport the same slanted brass block (but thinner). The FRT-4 and 5 mystery copies you’re about to see are rumored to have been made by Gotoh or a company called “Double Eagle.”
It’s interesting because unlike the mystery FRT3 above (that has good built quality), the FRT-4 and 5 copies have little resemblance to their official Floyd counterparts and seem to be lower-cost versions with inferior saddles.
Double Eagle (?) Mystery FRT-5 (Mid-1980s)
Like the Double Eagle Model 15 FRT-4 copy, these have the thinner (when compared to the mystery FRT3), slanted brass sustain block and have been seen on Aria, ESP, and Fernandes guitars. And typical of these early copies, a saddle has been replaced, either from breaking a T-block or cracking the cast saddles.
Above is the mystery FRT-3 (left) and mystery FRT-5 (right). Notice they both have a slanted brass block, although the FRT-3’s version is thicker.
Although the mystery FRT-3 maintains very high quality equaling the production FRT3’s, the FRT-4 and FRT-5 copy do not seem to match the quality of their official Floyd counterpart during the time.
So who made them? We will never know, but as mentioned earlier, the FRT-4 and 5 copy are rumored to have been made by Gotoh or Double Eagle, but nothing is for sure. The Mystery FRT3 seems to be an official Floyd prototype but deviates with the other prototypes with its sustain block and saddles.
If you have any information on these Pre-Schaller mystery tremolos, please contact me.