Guitar tailpieces come in all different shapes and sizes, and are basically the main component that hold the strings at the bridge of the guitar.
What is a tailpiece on a guitar? A guitar “tail piece” is a metal unit that is found on the body of the guitar, right behind the bridge, where it holds the strings to the bridge.
In this article, we will go through guitar tailpieces in more detail and look at the different types that are available on the market.
1. What Are Guitar Tailpieces?
As discussed, the tailpiece is at the end of the guitars body and is used to hold the strings to the bridge of the guitar.
This works by the strings being thread through or over tailpieces where they are held.
2. Why Are Guitar Tailpieces Important?
Tailpieces are important as they serve the main function to anchor the strings to the body of the guitar. Because of the constant tension on the strings the tailpieces has to be strong enough to withstand the combined tension of the strings to hold a solid tuning.
If there is any weakness in the tailpiece then the guitar will struggle to stay in tune for a long period of time. If this is the case even just picking the guitar up and moving it could reset the tuning.
3. The FOUR Different Types of Tailpieces
There are four common types of tailpieces on a guitar. These include:
- Stop tailpiece
- Trapeze tailpiece
- Tune-o-matic bridge
- Wrap around
These are four classic tailpiece designs that are found on most guitars; let us discuss these in more detail.
4. Stop Tailpieces
A stop tailpiece is a metal alloy bar that has two sleeves that fixes to the guitar at each end by latching onto two metal bolts. These sleeves and the bolts are held together by the tension of the strings and so when you change your strings, by completely removing the strings the stop tailpiece can fall out of its sleeve. This can be a problem because the bolt can scratch the finish.
Stop Tailpieces Materials
Stop tailpieces are mainly made from aluminium, zinc or brass depending on whether you are purchasing vintage or premium.
- Aluminium tailpiece – aluminium tailpieces are common for premium brands such as Gibson. Gibson is known for using aluminium on all their older equipment. Because of this association, many players prefer these today so they can capture the vintage aesthetics. Furthermore, aluminium is also recognised for being light in weight, it is actually the lightest out of all metals used for tailpieces. Obviously, this can be a benefit if you carry your guitar around. Finally, some guitar players believe that aluminium allows the strings and the guitar’s body to connect very well for a better resonance.
- Zinc – A Zinc tailpiece sounds nice on a guitar that has a thinner sound. Zinc is a heavier metal and will fatten the sound making it sound less harsh.
- Brass – Brass emphasises the highs and lows making it perfect for dull sounding guitars and it will brighten the sound up. However, for already bright sounding guitars this could be too much.
Stop Tailpieces Bridge Type
Stop tailpieces also come paired with two bridge types. These two bridge types can be observed by brand: either the Fender design or Gibson Design. The Fender stop tailpiece will pair the tailpiece with the metal bar and groove design whilst the Gibson will use a tune-o-matic bridge type.
- Bar with grooves – The Gibson design stop tailpiece is simply a wooden or metal bar that has grooves that hold the bridge to the body with bolts. Strings will pass through these and the tension will hold the bar in place.
- Tune-o-matic bridge – Tune-o-matics work the same but they have adjustable saddles for each string. This means the intonation can be altered individually for each string.
5. Trapeze Tailpiece
Trapeze tailpieces are a bit more stylist than the stop tail piece as they extend from the bottom of the body right up to the bridge. This design is much bigger, prominent, and used with the intention to look glamorous with its aesthetics.
The trapeze tailpiece was the original design Gibson ever sent to market with their Les pauls. But, now they are the common design for the hollow body and semi-hollow body guitars.
The Trapeze has an advantage in terms of resonance. This is down to their design, being anchored to the bottom of the guitars body means it takes the tension away from its body and transmits that tension evenly across the sides. This more evenly distributed tension allows the guitar to resonate better. The Trapeze tailpieces are the hardest of the tailpieces to restring. Just like the stop tailpieces they are held by tension, however, the strings can fall out of their slots until the they are at the required tension to hold the tailpiece into place.
6. Vibrato Tailpieces
Vibrato tailpieces also come in different shapes and sizes and have changed over the years. In 1930, an inventor Doc Kaufman was the first to develop the first vibrato tailpiece, which was mounted to the bridge with an arm that moved side-to-side.
In today’s more modern vibrato tailpieces, the vibrato arms move up-and-down. This includes examples like top-mounted Bigsby, and various types of through-body such as the Kahler and Floyd Rose. In this modern design of vibrato tailpiece also comes with fine-tuning to compensate for any detuning that the vibrato tailpiece may produce.
Just like the trapeze tailpieces, the top mounted vibrato tailpiece also transfers the string tension to the side of the guitars side which improves the string resonance. Whereas, embedded vibrato tailpieces, which are embedded unit such as the Vibrolas (found on Gibson Flying) do not do this. The tension remains central to the guitars body.
Using the more modern vibrato tailpieces will require heavy-handed guitar players to have more of a light touch. This is because the newer more advanced vibrato systems are very sensitive. It is known that Kahler, Steinberger and Floyd Rose can cause notes to drift in and out of tune by simply resting your palm on the tremolo.
7. Wrap Around Tailpieces
Wrap around tailpieces are strings that wrap around the metal bar. This works by the strings being fixed to the tailpiece from the front and then they pass around the back and then over the top before making their journey up to the neck.
This system creates less string tension as the string coil around the metal bar.
In this article, we went through the tailpieces of the guitar and discussed the four main types available on the market. It is also important to note that all types of tailpieces will perform well and hold the tuning fine so long as your guitar is set up well. But, what makes these different is their feel, playability and maintenance.
The stop tailpieces are by far the simplest, making them easier to maintain. Whereby, they also feel most comfortable in my opinion, and tremolo bridges can be a pain to maintain and I guarantee you will have some tuning issues at some point with this design. However, experience is the best answer as it is down to personal preference, and your technique might play part in which one feels better for you.