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Who was the first guitarist to fit a Floyd Rose on a Gibson Les Paul? Brad Gillis maintains he started the trend

It truly is one of the guitar world's most hotly debated enigmas: who put a Floyd Rose on a Gibson Les Paul first?

The most likely candidate is Journey man Neal Schon – synonymous with the pioneering gear pairing thanks to his 1977 Don't Stop Believin' Gibson Les Paul Deluxe – who claims to have had his innovative idea of equipping his LP with the tremolo system cruelly taken away from him.

Schon has previously alleged that Gibson were quick to take his ideas and give them to Alex Lifeson – the Rush guitarist who is equally known for rocking an LP/Floyd Rose duo due to his Gibson Axcess Standard – and that he is the rightful heir to the title.

But, as it turns out, a third contender has just thrown their hat in the ring for the mantle of “first guitarist to fit a Floyd Rose onto a Les Paul” – none other than Night Ranger’s Brad Gillis.

Gillis, who is no stranger to a Floyd Rose-equipped Fernandes electric guitar, made the revelation while in conversation with Jeremy White, who brought up Neal Schon’s insistence that he came up with the idea of fitting an LP with the tremolo system first.

“I was the first,” Gillis rebutted. “Floyd just came out with them and I wanted to put one on my Les Paul, and no-one had ever done it before. When I took it to Stars Guitars, they said, 'Hey Brad, we’ve never seen or done this before.’”

The Night Ranger guitarist – who obtained the third Floyd ever produced (the first and second went to Eddie Van Halen and Schon respectively) – then went on to recall a lengthy design process that occurred when the original tremolo system came out, circa 1976.

“I had to get hold of Floyd and he had to send me the right size nut. Floyd had to send me a newly finished schematic for installing in a Les Paul. I got it back and it was great, and then everybody else did it.”

The guitar Gillis claims to be the first-ever Floyd Rose-fitted Les Paul – an early ‘70s Les Paul Custom that he used while touring with Ozzy Osbourne – can be seen in action in the videos above and below.

Of course, Schon may well argue the contrary. On multiple occasions, the Journey guitarist has voiced his disapproval of Gibson supposedly giving his ideas to Lifeson and the Axcess line.

Speaking to MusicRadar in 2011, Schon said, “[Gibson] rubbed me wrong, man. I worked very hard with them on my signature model that we did several years ago, and we got Les's blessing and everything. 

"We changed the heel on the guitar, changed the angle of the neck, showed them how you put a Floyd Rose in a Les Paul without the thing sticking five miles out," he continued. "We did a lot. And they ended up telling me that my guitars wouldn't sell because they were too expensive.

"So they took my ideas and stuck them on the Axcess model, which is a cheaper edition of what was my guitar.”

Neal Schon holding his 1977 Gibson Les Paul Deluxe

(Image credit: Heritage Auctions)

More recently, a number of tweets maintain his standpoint: One, a video of him playing his ‘77 LP, reads, “It’s the first Les Paul to ever have a Floyd Rose installed on!”, while a follow up clip carries the caption, “More from the first original Floyd Rose Les Paul Pro.”

Such claims have been supported by Floyd Rose himself who, in 2010, told MusicRadar that Schon showed interest in the tremolo around the time Eddie Van Halen started championing it in 1977.

“Neal saw it and wanted one put on his Les Paul, and he gave me one that he said he'd never liked the sound of," he said. "I brought it back to him and it became one of his favorites as I'd taken so much wood out of it the sound had changed.”

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As such, the debate rages on, though it will be intriguing to see how things continue to unfold now there’s a new player in town making waves. It seems as though it’s a toss-up between Gillis and Schon, though, right now, we’re unable to say for certain who was the first.

Perhaps the pair should sit down and discuss it between themselves. Heck, they could even have a guitar-off between each of their Floyd Rose-equipped LPs. That would make for one interesting discussion…

Matt Owen

Matt is a News Writer, writing for Guitar World, Guitarist and Total Guitar. He has a Masters in the guitar, a degree in history, and has spent the last 16 years playing everything from blues and jazz to indie and pop. When he’s not combining his passion for writing and music during his day job, Matt records for a number of UK-based bands and songwriters as a session musician.