Wham, Bam, Thank You Man! Gibson & Floyd Rose®
Few gadgets have divided guitarists quite like the Floyd Rose® bridge. Call it a tremolo, call it a whammy bar, call it a wiggle-stick – under whatever name you choose to use for it, that little bar and the hefty bridge it attaches to has created some brilliantly tender – and some woefully overwrought – performances. And although Gibson guitars might not be the first instruments that come to mind when you think of the Floyd Rose® (that honor probably goes to Kramer, who secured the first Floyd Rose® distribution deal back in the early ’80s), there have been several Gibson models throughout the years that have paid tribute to this most whale-sound-inviting of guitar gadgets.
Perhaps the ultimate in a Floyd-equipped Gibson is the Gibson Custom Les Paul Axcess Standard. On the surface this instrument appears to be a regular Les Paul with a Floyd in place of its traditional bridge/tailpiece combination, but it features several crucial player-friendly accoutrements: a reshaped neck joint created to provide a “heelless” feel with unimpeded access to the 22nd fret, and an improved “belly scarf” (ribcage contour), and exposed-coil super hot 496R and 498T humbuckers with dedicated series/parallel coil splitting. Actually, these “other” upgrades are revolutionary enough on their own that the model is available in a fixed bridge version as well, which is championed by players such as Joe Bonamassa and Styx’s Tommy Shaw.
The Axcess serves as the springboard for Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson's Gibson Custom model, which incorporates GraphTech™ Ghost® piezo bridge saddles to select or mix between electric and acoustic sounds.
Zakk Wylde is not averse to the occasional Floyd Rose® freakout. In addition to a succession of Epiphone Graveyard Disciple models with custom finishes, the Black Label Society frontman also regularly hoists a mighty, bullseye-adorned V beast. The guitar features Zakk’s choice of EMG-81 humbucker in the bridge position and an EMG-85 at the neck. With black speed knobs in the classic Les Paul layout, this guitar is a true hybrid.
If bullseye graphics and active pickups aren’t quite your style, check out the Gibson Flying V Tremolo, which takes a somewhat straightforward Flying V – mahogany body and neck, 496R and 500T ceramic humbuckers – and adds a Floyd Rose® tailpiece and locking nut. If the Explorer is more your speed, the Explorer Tremolo offers similar features but in the legendary Explorer shape and neck profile.
Launched at NAMM this year, the SG Diablo Tremolo adds a Floyd Rose® and two more frets to the classic SG configuration while stripping the controls down to single master volume and tone pots. Combined with the lack of a pickguard, the look is a little more sleek and aggressive than the traditional SG layout. It’s joined by a Les Paul cousin, the Gibson Shred Les Paul Studio, which includes a 22-fret fingerboard crafted from Richlite®, a fabricated material composed of cellulose fiber and phenolic resin, which offers the constructional and resonant properties of fine hardwood, but with improved durability.
There are a few collectible discontinued models with Floyd Rose® tremolos too, including the M-III. While most Floyd Rose®-equipped Gibsons have been based on established classic models like the Les Paul and Flying V, the M-III was a bold attempt at a double-cutaway, 24-fret shred-oriented instrument with humbucker-single-humbucker pickup configuration. Unfortunately its release coincided with the end of the golden era of shred, and while the model stuck around for a while before finally being discontinued, the early ’90s just wasn’t its time.