Round-up: 4 Floyd Rose-equipped electric guitars

1st Mar 2010 | 15:15

Round-up: 4 Floyd Rose-equipped electric guitars
4 Floyd Rose-equiped electric guitars
From L-R: Dean ML Knight, Jackson DKMG Green Swirl, ESP LTD MH-401QM and Washburn WV40V Pro E

The influence Floyd Rose’s double-locking electric guitar vibrato (tremolo) bridge system has had on rock music can’t be overstated. To understand just what it can do, you’ll need a suitably equipped guitar and, as long as it’s set-up well and is of a given build quality, a Floyd Rose has the potential to open up all sorts of unexplored musical avenues.

To the initiated, the squeals, bombs, whinnies and shimmers that embellish the music of Vai, Satch and EVH aren’t empty effects designed to fill space until the chorus comes around, they’re a result of the integration of a Floyd (or derivative) with each player's own distinctive style. If you end a standard four-bar rock solo with a spiralling dive-bomb, you’re probably not using the unit to its full potential: if we’re honest, we’re hardly guiltless in this regard either.

Modern guitars at all price points are available with Floyd Rose-branded bridges of wildly differing qualities and, of the four guitars here grouped in the £690-£830 bracket, one features a Floyd Rose Special and another an original Floyd, with the remainder each loaded with their own licensed versions of the design.

EMG pickups

As we’ll discover, there are other facets of the spec that distinguish the guitars still further and a even quick glance at the pictures here proves that it’s not all about shock tactics when opting for such an instrument - subtlety can be just as striking an option too. That said, we’ve decided to simplify our choice of models on test here by including the additional requirement that they all feature EMG pickups and, to that end, each is loaded with a set of 81/85 active humbuckers.

These pickups are capable of so much more than simply providing an incendiary rock tone - much like the Floyd, it’s the application that counts - and we’ll endeavour to show that any of the quartet can be used in virtually any musical arena you desire.

First up: ESP LTD MH-401QM price and spec

Round-up: 4 Floyd Rose-equipped electric guitars
ESP LTD MH-401QM price and spec

Spec

Price: £829

Origin: Indonesia

Body: Mahogany with quilted maple top

Neck: Maple, set

Fingerboard: Rosewood, 24 extra jumbo frets

Hardware: Floyd Rose Special double-locking vibrato, Grover tuners, all black nickel

Electrics: EMG-81 (bridge), EMG-85 (neck), three-way lever pickup selector switch, volume, tone

Options: The hardtail MH-401QM NT is £799. Other options include the MH-250QM (£599), MH-100QM (£399) and MH-103QM (also £399)

Finishes: See-thru red (as reviewed), see-thru blue

Next: ESP LTD MH-401QM build and features

Round-up: 4 Floyd Rose-equipped electric guitars
ESP LTD MH-401QM build and features

Build and features

An example of ESP’s more subtle side, could this guitar be the perfect mix of understated style and tonal substance? The gorgeous translucent haemoglobin red hue of our example proves beyond doubt that rock guitars don’t need to appear to have been hewn from solid asphalt to give off a palpable vibe.

In fact, all parts of the guitar - headstock, neck and body - have been so finished and the combination with the black nickel hardware is certainly flash without ever being cloying. A thin yet genuine sliver of quilted maple shines through nicely, and the body is a rather complex mix of mahogany flares surrounding a further block of the tonewood that follows the path of the maple neck up to the heel.

It’s not a through-neck in the true BC Rich-sense of the phrase, but it should nonetheless bode well for sustain. At a mere 3kg, it is easily the lightest of the four protagonists here.

Utilising a Floyd Rose Special bridge - a cast and plated version of the double-locking mechanism - the LTD is again unique here in that it possesses an additional string-retaining bar behind the usual 42mm locking nut.

The neck offers everything a speedy soloist would require, with perfect action, huge frets and a nice wide feel. The binding, although a tad untidy in places, is complementary to the entire package.

Next: ESP LTD MH-401QM sounds, pros and cons

Round-up: 4 Floyd Rose-equipped electric guitars
ESP LTD MH-401QM sounds, pros and cons

Sounds

The basic rock tone here is tight and focused, leading to what’s close to the perfect cutting sound for solos and pinched harmonics under heavy gain. For meaty chugs, however, there’s not as much depth as you’d get from a Les Paul, for example, and also when compared to the remainder of our quartet.

ESP has plenty of offerings for that - this is about precise leads.

Bridge pickup:

Both together:

Neck pickup:


Pros
: The classy look; slinky neck; great set-up.
Cons: The binding is a tad untidy in places

Verdict: Modern, classy and a great player, the MH-401QM rocks hard. Oh, and it’s not black!

Next: Jackson DKMG Green Swirl price and spec

Round-up: 4 Floyd Rose-equipped electric guitars
Jackson DKMG Green Swirl price and spec

Spec

Price: £819 (inc case)

Origin: Japan

Body: Alder with carved top

Neck: Maple, bolt-on Fingerboard Rosewood, 24 extra jumbo frets

Hardware: Floyd Rose-licensed Jackson JT580 double-locking vibrato, Jackson tuners, all black

Electrics: EMG-81 (bridge), EMG-85 (neck), three-way lever pickup selector switch, volume, tone

Options: Solid finish versions of the DKMG start at £729. The USA DK-1 range starts at £2,049.99, the Pro Series DK2 range at £599.99, and the JS30 Series DK at £379.99

Finishes: Green swirl (as reviewed), metallic black, trans red, trans black, satin black, black forest green, black

Next: Jackson DKMG Green Swirl build and features

Round-up: 4 Floyd Rose-equipped electric guitars
Jackson DKMG Green Swirl build and features

Build and features

This is an eye-popping example from the company that started the hot-rodding and custom shop obsession. Seeing as probably the very first production ‘superstrat’ featured the words Jackson/ Charvel on the headstock, it’s exciting to see a guitar that has a genuine custom shop feel and doesn’t cost a fortune.

Although available in many traditional finishes, the hand-applied Green Swirl crowns a truly handsome guitar. Reverse headstocks do polarise opinion and playing such a guitar does make something of a statement.

Without a locking nut in place, upside-down six-a-side pegheads usually mean a subtly looser feel on the treble strings - nice for solos - and a slightly tighter bass side. Clamp that nut down, though, and the whole lot feels marginally less tensioned than it otherwise would.

The maple neck’s profile is just about our favourite and is wider and flatter than that of the LTD, and those subtle cutaway contours have both aesthetic and practical benefits. Loaded with a Jackson branded Floyd Rose-licensed vibrato, the guitar plays beautifully and we should mention that, for the £819 asking price, you get a roadworthy hard case thrown in.

Next: Jackson DKMG Green Swirl sounds, pros and cons

Round-up: 4 Floyd Rose-equipped electric guitars
Jackson DKMG Green Swirl sounds, pros and cons

Sounds

The guitar’s construction gives this Jackson the most trebly tone of our foursome. Add that low action into the equation and you do find that, as the gain rises, it’s almost impossible not to contract Zakk Wylde disease and pull off pinched harmonic after pinched harmonic.

That said, of all the guitars here it is closest in design and lineage to the seminal superstrat format - alder body, bolt maple neck. As such, its sounds are best suited to anyone looking to rock up from a Strat-derived axe. Like EVH on EMG steroids, in fact.

Bridge pickup:

Both together:

Neck pickup:


Pros
: Custom shop vibe; finish; great neck; hard case.
Cons: In practical terms, not a great deal.

Verdict: The DK is the ideal mix of custom shop exclusivity with mainstream playing requirements.

Next: Dean ML Knight price and spec

Round-up: 4 Floyd Rose-equipped electric guitars
Dean ML Knight price and spec

Spec

Price: £749

Origin: Korea

Body: Mahogany

Neck: Mahogany, set

Fingerboard: Rosewood, 22 jumbo frets

Hardware: Floyd Rose-licensed double-locking vibrato, Grover tuners, all black

Electrics: EMG-81 (bridge), EMG-85 (neck), three-way toggle pickup selector switch, two volumes, tone

Options: The more affordable MLs start with the MLXM (£199), while one of the nicest, the Time Capsule, goes for £2,679

Finishes: Satin black only

Next: Dean ML Knight build and features

Round-up: 4 Floyd Rose-equipped electric guitars
Dean ML Knight build and features

Build and features

A moody, none-more-black version of the classic Dean shape of yore, but will this dark Knight be chivalrous player? All-black guitars certainly have their place in our hearts, and this means a satin black version of the classic ML makes a refreshing change from the sometimes overly vulgar litany of Dimebag models we’ve seen: we’d choose this over a Dime- O-Flame every time!

One advantage of shaped guitars over their more staid brethren is that they need extra wood and the Knight weighs in at a whopping 4.4kg of what is mostly mahogany. More wood equals fatter tone? Not always, but it certainly seems to be the case here.

The neck is a clever compromise between the demands of the more modern player - it’s wide, flat and thin - with that lauded ‘V’-shape of late-seventies Deans. It suggests a very rounded apex to the profile where the neck nestles between the thumb and forefinger.

There are also 22 frets and a spread of classy abalone inlays. Three very smooth pots and a three-way toggle control the EMGs, and the trem is a Floyd Rose-licensed model that’s been set-up a treat.

Next: Dean ML Knight sounds pros and cons

Round-up: 4 Floyd Rose-equipped electric guitars
Dean ML Knight sounds pros and cons

Sounds

The ML, as ever, is perfectly balanced when played standing and is without doubt a more substantial beast than either of the previous instruments. As we’ve said, this seems to equate to a monster tone and, for chunky rhythms and searing solos, the ML really has it all.

In fact, the tone cleans up wonderfully to give a more subdued rock or blues sound that anyone would be proud of, proving the versatility of those EMGs with aplomb.

Bridge pickup:

Both together:

Neck pickup:


Pros
: The moody satin finish; comfy neck; nicely balanced tone.
Cons: As with all shape guitars, a case would have been a useful inclusion.

Verdict: We’ve reviewed a few MLs in our time and this is one of the best looking. Sounds great too, and is easier to play than you’d assume.

Next: Washburn WV40V Pro E price and spec

Round-up: 4 Floyd Rose-equipped electric guitars
Washburn WV40V Pro E price and spec

Spec

Price: £689 (inc gigbag)

Origin: Indonesia

Body: Mahogany

Neck: Mahogany, set

Fingerboard: Phenolic resin, 24 extra jumbo frets

Hardware: Original Floyd Rose double-locking vibrato, Grover tuners, all black

Electrics: EMG-81 (bridge), EMG-85 (neck), three-way toggle pickup selector switch, volume, tone

Options: The WV40V goes for £425.50, with the Floyd-equipped version costing £499. The version of the WV40V Pro E with a tune-o-matic is £689, while the Scott Ian signature WV40VASI is £586.50

Finishes: Black with red pinstripes (as reviewed), white with black pinstripes, red with black pinstripes

Next: Washburn WV40V Pro E build and features

Round-up: 4 Floyd Rose-equipped electric guitars
Washburn WV40V Pro E build and features

Build and features

Does serious amounts of mahogany equate to an awesome tone? Here, the answer would be yes! There’s very little chance of playing this exotic creature while sitting; even thrusting your thigh into the cutaway behind the bridge is forestalled by locating the jack socket there.

More grizzled readers may well take one look at the hand-painted pinstripes and body shape and remember the Jackson Roswell Rhodes, and we’d agree that there’s a connection or two. Here, though, replacing the aluminium of the RR is a huge slab of mahogany, married with a set mahogany neck that, as is usually the case with modern Washburns, features the Buzz Feiten Tuning System.

The WV is the only guitar here to feature a full-on original Floyd Rose, which adds to the tone due to its machined parts and, with a breath of genius, Washburn has also incorporated a phenolic resin fingerboard into the spec. Reminiscent of ebony, it’s very durable and is speckled with very smart pearl and abalone markers.

Next: Washburn WV40V Pro E sounds, pros and cons

Round-up: 4 Floyd Rose-equipped electric guitars
Washburn WV40V Pro E sounds, pros and cons

Sounds

All of those features give the guitar what is easily the fullest and fattest tone of all here. Fans of metal and rock rhythms will revel in the glorious breadth and depth of the sound on offer: it’s chug-tastic!

It has a slightly higher action than the others and offers something of an arm-wrestle, especially when bending the high E above the 12th fret.

Still, so good is the sound that it’s well worth it and it doesn’t seem to matter that you have to stand in order to rock here: the sound had us jumping around like kids.

Bridge pickup:

Both together:

Neck pickup:


Pros
: Tone; shock factor; original Floyd Rose; gig-bag.
Cons: Impossible to play sitting down; could be too hot for some…

Verdict: We can’t say this enough: this sounds great! Close your eyes and open your ears. It’s excellent value for money too.

Next: The Verdict - which guitar is best?

Round-up: 4 Floyd Rose-equipped electric guitars
The verdict - which one is best?
From L-R: Dean ML Knight, Jackson DKMG Green Swirl, ESP LTD MH-401QM and Washburn WV40V Pro E

Verdict

It always interests us that guitars which are, on paper, of a very similar spec can perform so differently - and long may that continue. In a nutshell, the two Strat-inspired guitars give a basic sound that’s full of overtones and rich, trebly harmonics, while the pair of mahogany shapes provide huge tones that are ideal for wall-of-sound rock styles.

We must say that we’ve jammed all four of these guitars together and in pairs, and if your rock or metal combo has a pair of guitarists, you should seriously consider combining either the LTD or Jackson with the Dean or Washburn; what a wonderfully balanced sound you’d have.

We really have to raise our collective hats to Washburn’s WV40V. Not only does it look amazing, it has the best sound by a margin too. And let’s not forget that, for just £689, you get an original Floyd Rose and a shaped gig-bag - value for sure. Okay, so you can’t really play it in a seated position, but you’ll soon forget about that when you plug it in.

The satin black Dean ML really does look great too and, although not as all-powerful as that Washburn, it provides a lovely rich tone alongside a neck that takes the best bits from Dean’s illustrious history.

We’d be hard-pushed to pick the best player between the Jackson and LTD, as both guitars feature very modern necks, the LTD going one step further with its nearly-through construction. The Jacko’s custom shop vibe is further pressed home with our example’s cool Swirl finish, while the MH-401QM’s lovely red hue implies quality and luxury in the same way a red carpet can.

Note too that the Jackson includes a pro-standard hard case for its £819 asking price.

Floyd Rose + EMG pickups = ???

Of course, each guitar represents just a small part of that company’s roster and we’re under no illusion that a guitar fitted with both a double-locking Floyd and a pair of EMGs isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea.

However, ignoring the benefits of such an instrument would be somewhat blinkered. The only thing that’s going to make any guitar from this price point sound substandard, one would argue, resides behind the guitar and in front of the strap. So why not give any of these a go?

Each is perfectly stable and provides its own tonal variance on what are supposed to be one-trick pickups. To be honest, if we could squeeze the Washburn’s magnificent tone out of the Jackson, we could go home very happy bunnies…


Liked this? Now read: How to service a Floyd Rose-style vibrato

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