Hands-On Review:Floyd Rose Discovery Series
Floyd Rose Discovery Series
Lightning-fast string changes and rock-solid tuning.
Ever stop to change a broken string in the middle of a song then jump back in, perfectly in tune, by the next chorus? Floyd Rose has now made that a very real possibility. Featuring the revolutionary SpeedLoader vibrato system, Floyd Rose Discovery Series guitars feel great, sound great, and sport the kind of innovative design ideas that made Floyd Rose a household name.
Beginning of an age
In the 1970s Floyd Rose was an obsessively driven guitarist who, like many before him, sought to increase the instrument's expressive range by slamming, yanking, wobbling, and twisting the whammy bar with violent abandon, invariably leaving the instrument totally out of tune. He also had a nasty knack for breaking the bar completely off the guitar. Having determined that a sticky head nut and movement around the tuning peg were the enemies of stable tuning, Rose invented his revolutionary vibrato with a heavy bar, locking head nut, and fine tuners on the bridge.
Rose's new system was virtually impossible to throw out of tune with rough handling. With Eddie Van Halen as its star user, it took over the world of modern guitars and fostered a whole new style of no-fear, extreme playing. Unfortunately, the new system also created a new career slot—the guitar tech—because the locking head nut greatly complicates the string changing process.
The second revolution
In 1991 Rose started research and development on a way to get around the cumbersome string-change issue. Twelve years later the SpeedLoader system was introduced to the world. Starting with strings that have bullets on either end and are controlled for length down to two-thousandths of an inch, the new system avoids the whole tuning-pegs-locking-head-nut ball of wax.
The first guitars to appear with the SpeedLoader system last year would set you back a couple grand. But the new Discovery Series guitars allow players who are still working day gigs at minimum wage to get their flying fingers on the next great revolution in guitar technology.
A slacker's dream
Yesterday morning, I received a gleaming red Discovery guitar with a clearly stated directive to "thoroughly test and review the instrument." The freedom implied in that phrase sent shivers up my spine.
With no experience at all, starting with the new strings still in their packages and not particularly hurrying, it took me exactly one minute and 33 seconds to pull off the old strings and put on new ones. In another minute and 29 seconds the guitar was solidly in tune. This was astounding; the same process has been known to take me half an hour on a locking-nut guitar.
To pull off a single old string (I couldn't manage to actually break one), get a new one out of the package, slap it in, and get it in tune took all of 35 seconds. What a freeing feeling—none of that poking and bending and winding and cutting. Just pop the new string in and it will be in tune within a half turn or so of the one it's replacing. The fine tuners are the only tuners. But won't the string stretch? you ask. No. Just pop it in, push down with your thumb at the nut and bridge, do a couple of normal stretches, and tune up. That thing will stay totally stable and will need only very minor tuning adjustments until the next time you change strings. (If by Herculean effort you manage to permanently stretch a string beyond its elastic range, there's a tiny Allen screw for each string on the bridge to extend the range of the tuner.)
A fine ride
When I plugged this baby into my stack and went to ripping at it, I was floored. The super-hot humbucker at the bridge pumps out big, chunky tone with great definition and distinctive character. The single-coil pickups up front are also super hot with a scratchy bite that'll take your scalp off. The maple neck feels fast and fabulous with just the right radius on the rosewood fretboard, perfectly groomed frets, and a no-stick satin finish on the back.
This guitar is obviously not just some generic vehicle for the SpeedLoader. It's a truly smokin' axe in every other respect as well. I called up the company to get the back story on this obvious fact and suddenly found myself speaking with Mr. Floyd Rose himself.
"I decided if I was going to do this I'd fix everything I didn't like about the guitars out there and add some enhancements of my own," Rose said. "We got rid of the tone knob—since nobody I know actually uses the thing—and used the extra space to get the pickup selector out of your way. Then we set the volume knob in the best place we could find for pinky access and added a circuit to it that rolls off the treble for the single coils during the top quarter turn without affecting the volume much. We went with a 12" fretboard radius for maximum comfort and minimum fret outs."
"What's up with that headstock?" I asked. "I first made one without the headstock and it looked all wrong," Rose said. "You have to have that visual balance for a guitar with a normal-sized body. Plus, you'd be amazed how much you depend on peripheral vision to determine where the head is. My hand was sliding right off the end of the neck of the prototype." I found the head's also cool because I can hang it on my coat hook.
Conclusion: Floyd Rose obviously still has it going on. This is the coolest new guitar I've played in years!
Feautures & Specs:
All Discovery series guitars come in blue or red with chrome hardware, or black with black hardware.