Over the last 35 years I have routed many a guitar to install Floyd Rose and Kahler trems, quite often on Les Pauls or similar designs. Whether for “vintage correct” reasons or simply because they weren’t using the trem anymore, some of same people have wanted to convert their guitars back to stock. D’oh! With all the products on the market these days, it may be worth a try to see if one of the new non-routing systems will work for you.
The first category takes the place of the tailpiece with a spring-loaded bar and arm and keeps your original bridge. Some of these designs include the Bowen Handle, Les Trem, Bigsby with Vibramate adapter plates, and Schaller. This style is the easiest to install and needs virtually no setup. Many of these designs incorporate a roller bridge, the idea being the rollers will move with the strings when you use the trem.
There is another style where the bridge is included in the trem—bridges like the Wonderbar, Stetsbar, and the topmounted Schaller model. The possible advantage to this is the bridge is usually designed to rock with the movement of the strings, thereby attempting to remove string friction over the bridge. These seem to work a little better. All of these have one thing in common: You are still relying on your nut and tuners to function well. If you have the option to add locking tuners and a low friction nut, your chances of staying in tune greatly increase. If not, be sure to wind your strings on the tuners very securely and without too many wraps. Two to four turns done properly is the best, because there’s less string on the tuner to wind back on itself. No matter what nut material you have, the slots have to be cut correctly for your string gauges, and keeping them well lubed will make all the difference in the world.
The newest option on the market is the top-mount Floyd Rose. It has been in development for many years and it is the second attempt at it. This is the only bridge that you have to cut the ball ends off the strings off as you would on a normal Floyd Rose and use a wrench to lock them in the saddle. It also comes with an optional string-locking clamp that mounts with two screws just behind the nut. If you set up the Floyd as a double-locking system, it will stay in tune even with really heavy whammy use.
So how do you choose? Feel is one consideration, and the Stetsbar may be the most liquid feeling, the Bigsby styles give you a little more resistance, and the Wonderbar can be set up a little stiffer. In terms of whammy street cred, obviously Floyd Rose knows a thing or two about trems. Price and ease of installation are others things to consider. Look your guitar over and read any trem’s installation manual online before deciding. Your guitar may lend itself to one more easily than another. It’s sometimes hard to try one out before you buy, but ask around and see if you can get your hands on something.
Gary Brawer is bald, he’s bad, and he gives a sh*t about your guitar. His many clients include Joe Satriani, Metallica, and Neal Schon.