The ability to dive bomb and create amazing tremolo effects from your guitar is only possible because of the bridge…
Did you know there are 7 main guitar bridge types? This is very important if you want to sound unique and stand out from other guitarists, as each bridge aids your flair and playing style!
What are the different bridge types? The different bridge types include:
- Tune-O-Matic [Fixed]
- Wrap-Around [Fixed]
- Hardtail [Fixed]
- Synchronized [Tremolo Floating]
- Floyde Rose [Tremolo Floating]
- Bigsby [Tremolo Roller]
- Stetsbar [Tremolo Roller]
- Duesenberg Les Trem [Tremolo Roller]
In this article, I will go through the different bridge types in loads of detail to you can understand replacements and overall transform your playing! Lets get started below…
What is a Guitar Bridge?
Before, i go through in detail about the different types of guitar bridges let us first get on the same page and discuss the basics of a guitar bridge.
Simply put a guitar bridge attaches to the body of the guitar with its purpose to anchor the guitar strings to the body of the guitar. The bridge is found on the lower bout of the guitar body and directs the strings over the pickups (for electric guitars) or a sound hole (on an acoustic guitar) before it reaches the fretboard.
Why is a Guitar Bridge Crucial!
I cant stress how important the guitar bridge is. Without it there would be no way to set the intonation and scale length and your guitar would simply not function.
- Fine Tunes Intonation: adjusting the saddle to fine tune your strings and gets rid of dead frets and elevates fret buzz
- Controls Fretboard Action: accurately positioning the strings, a relative height to the fretboard. This controls the gap between the fretboard and the strings
- Controls String Alignment: The bridge partly aligns the strings over the pick-ups and sound hole. Whereby, height and gradient can be adjusted to suit your need
- Creating Tremolo effect: floating bridge systems main purpose is to provide you the functionality to spruce up your playing, giving you the ability to alter the pitch by the use of a whammy bar
As you can see that it’s so important, it might be worthwhile to take a look at the main types of guitar bridges.
Fixed Bridge Vs. Tremolo Bridge
There are many different types of guitar bridges out there. But, when you are talking about any kind of bridge they will fall into two main categories. These include fixed bridge systems and Floating bridge systems (also known as tremolo bridges)
- Hardtail Bridges
- Tune-O-Matic Bridges
- Wrap-Around Bridges
To Note: they are called fixed bridges as the bridge is attached to the body and doesn’t sway. You may ask why you would want you bridge to sway? This would be so that you can get some cool fluttery / vibrato effects in your playing.
- Synchronized Tremolos
- Floyde Rose / Locking Tremolos
- Stetsbar Tremolo
- Duesenberg Les Trem
To Note: They are called tremolo bridges because of the tremolo effect that is created when in action. There are also two types of tremolo bridges, the floating tremolo and the roller/rocker tremolo.
3.3 What Bridge is Right for me? (FAQ)Generally speaking, whether you are a lead, or rhythm guitarist it will somewhat dictate what bridge you would usually go for (theres no strict rules to this). It mainly comes down to what your end goal is.
For example, as you can see from watching the above video, what you decide will form the basis of your tone. For me personally, i am playing alot of jazzy lo-fi at the moment and so i am using a Fender synchronized floating tremolo, as my main aim from my bridge is to add tremolo effect flutters into my playing style.
Some of these bridges are widely used by many brands such as, tune-o-matic and the synchronised tremolos. Whilst others may not be seen as much such as the Bigsby. However, each has their purpose, having their advantages and disadvantages depending what you are trying to achieve.
We will talk about all the individual bridges types below…
1. Tune-O-Matic Bridge
The Tune-o-matic is the first example of a fixed bridge. The Tune-o-matic bridge is the Les Paul Standard, whereby it was first developed by Gibson and used on 1952 Les Paul Custom. Gibson first made this design as a way to improve the precise intonation adjustment.
As you can see from the above image, the Tune-o-matic bridge is mounted to the body of the guitar by two screw pillars. The screw pillars (located on the left and right side of the bridge) allow for adjusting the height of the action. Further, each saddle is also adjustable, by turning a small screw, which gives you flexibility to altering the intonation.
As you can see from the above image, the tail piece and saddle are separate. Meaning that the bridge must be used with an additional tailpiece component (located to the left of my finger in the above image).
The tune-o-matic bridges have a MASSIVE advantage as they are able to intonate more precisely than its counter parts!
…and even if its standard intonation flexibility isn’t enough there are also ways to improve it further!
1.1 The BEST Tune-O-Matic Bridges
Gotoh and Kluson are two brands renowned for quality. However, I personally use Gotoh and so i would recommend those as i have never had a problem with them aging and cutting into the strings (reducing the life).
Furthermore, the KAISH offer the tune-o-matic roller saddles which have both their advantages and disadvantages (discussed below…)!
1.2 Roller Saddles VS. V shaped Saddles
The standard tune-o-matic V shaped saddles have two massive advantages. The first, the saddles can be adjusted individually and second they sustain better. However, over time the standard version can wear down strings as the saddle is positioned as a ‘V’ shape and it cuts into the strings as they get older. Thus, reducing the life of your strings. Whereby, roller bridges are designed to eluviate this problem.
Overall, I would always choose the V shaped saddles.
1.3 Pros & Cons
1.4 Which guitar use the tune-o-matic bridge?
Gibson Les Pauls Models
2. Wrap Around Bridge
The wrap-around bridges have been around the longest of all bridges discussed in this article. Major brands have at some point used these, and still use them today. They get their name ‘wrap-around’ as they the guitar strings thread through the front side of the bridge and wrap around the tailpiece where it rests on the saddle.
The Wrap Around bridge is the last example of a fixed bridge design. As you can see from the below image the wrap around bridge types have the saddle and bridge combined into one solid piece.
Initially, the wrap around was a plate of and did not allow for precise intonation. This idea has long been improved, whereby they now offer individual saddle adjustment. The compact design design is very clever having all the components stored into a single unit. However, they do not intonation tolerance as broad as the tune-o-matics.
2.1 The BEST Wrap Around Bridges?
If you are looking to switch out a wrap around bridge then the above will work just fine. These are generally more expensive than the other bridge types due to the more complex design. However, i personally use the TONEPROs on my custom guitar and it is brill!
If you want to branch out and spend more money then i would recommend the Ghost Loaded ResoMax. These are smoother in functionality and offer rounded V shaped saddles so your saddle doesn’t cut into your strings.
2.2 Pros & Cons
3. Hard Tail Bridge Type
Hard Tail bridges are known as hard-tails as the bridge consists of a sole unit rather than a disjoined bridge and tailpiece. This means the bridge is attached solid to the body of the guitar whereby the bridge doesn’t move. The hard tail bridge is attached to the body of the guitar using two metal screws.
With the below example you can see the hard tail bridge. This type of bridge has six individual saddles that rest on the bridge body, which can be adjusted for fine intonation.
As you can see in this type of hard tail bridge, the strings go in through the back of the guitar. By which the guitar string ball ends (bullets) are anchored by the bridge and helf into place. The ball ends remain anchored by a small hole only wide enough for the string to pass through, where the ball is trapped. From there, they loop over the saddle, across the fretboard and up to the machine heads.
3.1 The BEST Hardtail Bridges
When it comes to replacing guitar equipment you get what you pay for. If you are looking to replace or upgrade your hardtail bridge then I would personally recommend the Gotoh (second option in the above table). The Gotoh brand has a good reputation, and their hardtail bridges are high quality made from solid steel to withstand high amounts of tension and correct possible tuning issues you maybe having.
3.2 Pros & Cons
What are the Advantages of the Hard Tail Fixed Bridge?
3.3 Which guitar use the hard tail fixed bridge?
The types of guitars that use hard tail bridges are mainly Fender designs such as their Stratocaster’s and telecasters.
4. Synchronised Tremolo Bridge
A synchronised tremolo is a floating bridge most commonly seen on fenders.
A synchronised tremolo is one of the common tremolo systems that set motion for both the bridge and the tailpiece, rather than a Bigsby, that only give movement to the tailpiece.
The strings are designed to loop over the bridge and through the part called ‘tailpiece block’ which extends through the guitar, and in a bay on the underside of the guitar the block is held straight by usually 3 or 5 springs.
The synchronised tremolo worked by having an integrated bridge and tailpiece. This had a bevelled pivot edge on the top metal plate, which sat against top of the guitar. When the whammy bar is shifted, the whole unit of the tailpiece block will follow respectively, therefore altering the tension and length of the strings. The bridge is a solid piece of metal, with 6 individually adjustable saddles.
4.1 The BEST Synchronised Bridges
I have only ever used the Fender Design (the above strat is my main Guitar), and i personally love their synchronised tremolo systems. However, I have always been tempted to upgrade to the Gotoh. Either way i don’t think you can go wrong!
4.2 Pros & Cons
4.3 Which guitar use the synchronised tremolos bridge?
- American Performer Stratocaster® HSS
- American Performer Stratocaster®
- Albert Hammond Jr Stratocaster®
- Limited Edition Lightweight Ash American Professional Stratocaster®
- Classic Series ’60s Stratocaster® Lacquer
- Player Stratocaster® Left-Handed
- Eric Johnson Signature Stratocaster® Thinline
- Player Stratocaster® Plus Top
- American Original ’50s Stratocaster® Left-Hand
- American Professional Stratocaster®
5. Floyd Rose Tremolo Bridge
Like your standard tremolo bridge the string tension is changed by a set of springs located within the guitar body, manipulated with the use of a pivot fulcrum. Where we start to see a significant difference is in the design of the nut, which is a locking nut rather than standard nut. The position of the strings is fixed in these three clamps, eradicating the movement and friction that can often lead to the state of going out of tune.
In addition, Floyd Rose enclosed strings with locking nuts, which keep the string in their right position at the headstock.
5.1 BEST Floyd Rose
5.2 Pros & Cons
5.3 Which guitar use the Floyde Rose?
- SO-CAL STYLE 1 HH FR M
- SO-CAL STYLE 1 HH FR E
- PRO-MOD SAN DIMAS®STYLE 1 HH FR E
- SAN DIMAS® STYLE 1 HH HT M
- PRO-MOD SAN DIMAS® STYLE 1 HH FR M
- SAN DIMAS® STYLE 1 HH FR M QM
- SAN DIMAS® STYLE 1 HH HT E ASH
- PRO-MOD SAN DIMAS® STYLE 1 HH FR E ASH
- PRO-MOD SAN DIMAS® STYLE 1 HH FR M LH
- SO-CAL STYLE 1 HH FR M LH
6. Bigsby Tremolo Bridge
The Bigsby is an add-on vibrato for electric guitar designed by mechanical engineer Paul Bigsby in the late 1940s, and is now produced by Bigsby Electric Guitar Company – which is currently a subsidiary of Fender. This type of bridge is usually seen on hollow and semi hollow-bodied guitars, as well as arch top models like the Les Paul. When put on a guitar, this device serves to make the instrument sound differently from original by stretching and shrinking the guitar strings – just like how a vibrato works: changing the length of the strings more or less to create multiple sounding effects. Concerning its physical structure, the Bigsby vibrato has a spring-loaded arm and 2 bars – the first is designed to keep tension on the strings, and the second is called “roller bar”, which rolls with the movement of the arm and is the part to which the guitar strings are anchored.
And here’s how it works: When the player pushes down the arm towards the top of the guitar, the roller bridge will cause the strings to loosen, thus reduce the tension and produce a lowered pitch. As soon as the arm is released, the roller bar will also be back to its position, and the strings will also return to the normal tune. To raise the pitch, the player simply has to lift the arm of the Bigsby.
6.2 Pros & Cons
Guitars that use Bigsby bridge:
- 1959 Les Paul Standard
- Epiphone Casino
- Gretsch Triple Jet
- Eastwood’s Airline 59 3P DLX
- Gibson SG Deluxe
- Gretsch G5191TMS Tim Armstrong Electromatic Hollow Body
- ESP Eclipse-I CTM Vibrato
- PRS SE Custom Semi-Hollow
- Gretsch G6128T-GH George Harrison Signature Duo Jet
- Hofner Verythin Singlecut
7. Stetsbar [Tremolo Roller]
The Stetsbar Tremolo system is a roller bridge system used specifcally to convert tune-o-matic bridge system into tremolo bridge system.
The big idea is that you can install the bridge system without making any permanent modifications to your guitar.
The Stretsbar is aimed at converting your Les Paul tune-o-matic bridge into a tremolo system
8. Duesenberg Les Trem [Tremolo Roller]
Just like the stetsbar the Duesenberg Les Trem is a compact roller tremolo system for guitars such as a Les Paul that use the tune-o-matic bridge and stop-tailpiece.
It’s very cool design allows you to easy install and doesn’t require any modifications such as drilling which could damage your guitar.
The Duesenburg is aimed at converting your Les Paul tune-o-matic bridge into a tremolo system
Parts of the Guitar Bridge?
Before, I can tell you about the different bridge types, there is some important terminology you must understand. If you are already familiar with the terminology then go to the next section, otherwise keep reading…
Okay, so what are the parts of the guitar bridge? Or more so, sometimes referred to the anatomy of the guitar bridge. There are many parts of a guitar bridge. The main pieces of a bridge include a Saddle, Bridge Pin Peg, Bridge Fixture, Springs, Whammy Bar, Fine Tuning Screw and a bridge tail piece.
I will discuss these in more detail below…
The saddle is a very important part of the bridge anatomy as it where the strings sit. Saddles can take many forms, each having there advantages and disadvantages. Types of saddles include:
- Strip of plastic
- Polished bone
- Six individual (depending on the amount of strings) pieces of metal with grooves
- Six individual (depending on the amount of strings) pieces of metal without grooves
- A singular metal tube such as for the Bigsby
Adjustments to the height of the acoustic saddle are possible by shaving (lowering) the saddle though this job is best left to a luthier since any changes will be permanent.
Tremolo springs, also known as vibrato springs are used to counter-balance the pull of the strings. These only apply for floating bridges, and they are an internal mounted system that is located inside a body cavity in the back of the guitar.
You will find these commonly on the standard Stratocaster tremolo or a locking tremolo system, such as a Floyd Rose.
Whammy bars are also known to be called tremolo bars and these are devices that alter the tension of the tremolo springs that make a vibrato/tremolo effect. This is because the whole bridge moves with the whammy bar.
These work by pushing the whammy bar towards the body of the guitar that results in lowering the pitch. When you do this, you will begin to see the strings loosen. You can also push the bar away from the body of the guitar that has the opposite effect. As you are pushing away you will notice the strings tighten which will result in making the pitch higher.
Bridge Tail Piece
Bridge tailpiece can sometime attach to the right ride of bridge and other times be a separate part of the bridge altogether, but still always located to the right side of the bridge.
The tailpiece basically, is a piece of metal that anchors the strings and is where the whammy bar usually attaches.
The bridge plate is a flat piece of timber or in some cases a laminated piece of timber that is glued to the underside of the sound board of the body directly under the bridge.
Its primary function is to provide a strong anchor point for the guitar strings gain the required tension. In other words, it holds the guitar from the underside of the soundboard. Without the bridge plate the bridge would simply come away from the guitar and no amount of re-gluing would keep it on.
For some classical acoustics and Spanish flamenco guitars have a tie block on the bridge. This is located is glued to the lower bout and acts as a string terminator.
Fine Tuning Screw
Fine tuning screw are only specific to Floyd Rose or Similar bridges such as Ibanez Floyd rose equivalent.
The fine tuners do a fine-tuning adjustment located on the bridge instead of using tuning nuts located on the head stock. The idea is that you get your moderate tune using the tuning nuts and then fine tune your guitar using the fine-tuning screw located on the bridge.
Bridge Pin Peg
Bridge pin pegs are only relevant for acoustic guitars by which Bridge pin peg hook the strings’ ball ends to the bridge plate (located under the bridge).
The pins hold each string’s ball end against the bridge plate. The bridge plate and Pin Pegs work together to secure guitar string into the hole. It does this by causing the string to curve around and press the string nuts under the bridge plate.
If a string’s ball end isn’t firmly anchored to the bridge plate, the string will slip and cause the pin to launch out of the bridge. There are 5 main types of materials used for bridge pin pegs. These include the following…
Types of bridge pins include:
- Plastic Pin Pegs: Wears out easily and won’t enhance a guitar’s tone.
- Wood: Improves sustain and tone. However, can be expensive and often requires reaming out the bridge to fit properly.
- Ivory: Increases sustain, produces a warm tone. Very expensive, and often requires reaming out the bridge to fit properly. In addition, difficult to obtain legally.
- Bone: Increases sustain, produces a brighter tone. These a hard to get your hands on, and often requires reaming out the bridge to fit properly.
- Brass: Lasts forever, produces a very bright tone (good for guitars with excessive bass). However, they are also difficult to find, and often requires reaming out the bridge to fit properly. Can be too bright for most guitars.
Hopefully you have a better understanding of the different types of electric guitar bridges and what they can do for you and your sound. If you are still unsure of which bridge is best suited for your style and experience here are a few more pointers.
If you are a beginner, there is nothing wrong with a fixed bridge. You may feel like you need the flexibility of a whammy bar, but really stop and consider if the extra hassle is worth it.
If you plan on using several alternative tunings, consider skipping a locking tremolo. You’ll need to grab a wrench and unlock the strings every time you want to change your tuning.
A fixed or Fender-style bridge will likely be more useful to you. Also, remember that fixed bridges, particularly those with string-through bodies, tend to have better sustain than floating bridges.
Finally, don’t fear the whammy. If you really want a Floyd Rose or other complex system, or even if you think you want to learn to set up a Fender bridge so it doesn’t go out of tune when you go all Hendrix on it, go for it.
Good luck choosing the best bridge for your electric guitar!