You may be thinking, “wow, Matt, a whole article on types of guitar bridges? Isn’t that a bridge too far?”
I can’t blame you. However, this surprisingly complicated topic will impress potential sexual partners when you ramble about it for two hours at a dinner party.
You know a guitar will not stay in tune with a garbage bridge. It doesn’t matter how long you work on intonation. It’s time to take electric guitar bridges as seriously as modern governments do not take bridge infrastructure and repair seriously.
What is an Electric Guitar Bridge?
A guitar bridge is hardware that anchors guitar strings to the body of the guitar.
Located behind the bridge pickup, it directs the strings over the pickups. The best bridges for electric guitars should perform the following essential functions:
Control String Action: an excellent electric guitar bridge ensures enough string height relative to the frets to prevent buzzing and dead spots without being so high as to make your insane sweep picking impossible.
Intonation Adjustment: Provides means to adjust the bridge saddles to fine-tune the intonation. It’s Basically moving strings back and forth so that everything is in tune at the first and twelfth frets.
Control Guitar String Alignment: the bridge aligns the strings over the pickup and allows you to adjust to the neck radius.
Electric Guitar Bridge Types
The bridge is one of the essential parts of a guitar yet often the most understated. It impacts the entire guitar-playing experience. Let’s break down the varietals, or, for the age of COVID, variants.
Tremolo vs. Fixed Bridge
Tremolo bridges get their name because of the effect when in use that causes a rapid shift in the pitch, which technically is called vibrato.
However, since even the manufacturers call them that, the name has stuck. It’s marketing departments causing problems!
These perform the functions of both a bridge and tailpiece and have an inbuilt means through which you can dynamically raise or lower a string’s pitch.
The result of this is an enhanced musical passage that makes your dingle tingle.
A Fixed bridge is also called a hardtail fixed bridge or non-tremolo system. That’s because of its design. It is set in place. It works along with a tailpiece to anchor the strings to the guitar body.
Fixed bridge designs developed from acoustic guitar bridges and are the earliest form of electric guitar bridge types. These feature simple construction and are easy to use and maintain. Once set up, they require little extra attention.
Pros of a Tremolo Bridge
It allows for more creative and comfortable playing.
Double locking tremolo systems allow for more aggressive vibrato with minimum slippage and will enable you to stay in tune more reliably.
Cons of a Tremolo Bridge
A Tremolo bridge is challenging to adjust, hard to use for beginners, and can hurt the guitar’s tone.
It’s fragile, and it’s difficult, sometimes seemingly impossible, to change strings quickly.
Pros of Fixed Bridges
Fixed bridges are a blessing for guitarists with little patience. They provide excellent tuning stability, and they’re quick to maintain.
If you enjoy your instrument but don’t want to put in tons of time for a meticulous maintenance routine, a fixed bridge is an excellent option for you, lazy.
Cons of Fixed Bridges
Fixed bridges limit your creative options. They can be uncomfortable. There is a risk of slippage in several designs.
Types of Tremolo Bridges
Tremolo bridges also come in different categories. The primary division is between floating, and non-floating tremolos, also called roller and rocker bar tremolo bridges.
The difference is in the design and function. The bridge is suspended on the guitar’s body with floating bridges when the tremolo bar is not in use.
Roller bridges are used with Bigsby-style vibrato systems to reduce friction, improve tuning stability, relieve string break angle, and reduce pressure on the strings.
Each saddle contains a tiny roller. Instead of grinding on the saddles and wearing the string away, roller bridges allow for a smoother range of motion when using the tremolo arm. These can be a bit complicated to set up.
A rocker bar is basically a rounded piece of metal inserted into holes slightly larger than the size of the pegs. This bar allows the strings to “go with the flow” and suffer less tuning instability.
Synchronized Tremolo Bridge
A synchronized tremolo bridge is an example of a floating bridge. Its design features strings looping over the bridge and through a tailpiece block.
The block extends through the guitar, and it is held on the guitar’s underside in a bay by three or five springs. The entire bridge is a solid metal piece and comes with six saddles that you can adjust individually.
The synchronized tremolo bridge has an integrated bridge and tailpiece and thus provides movement to both these parts. It has a beveled pivot edge that sits against the guitar’s top.
When you shift the tremolo bar, the whole unit follows accordingly and, in doing so, changes the strings’ length and tension.
Why Use It:
It provides excellent intonation and tuning since its Fender-style bridge adds stability, and the integration of the bridge and tailpiece makes for a richer experience. It offers a superb pitch range.
Since the bridge and tailpiece move, you can change the string tension and length, giving you a wide range to adjust your pitch. It is also much easier to upbend compared to other models like a standard Bigsby bridge.
It allows for easier string tension control. You only need to push or pull the tremolo arm to increase or decrease the tension giving you more flexibility to diversify your sound.
Any attempt at intense dive-bombing will end up breaking the bridge.
Floyd Rose (Tremolo Floating Bridges)
Like a standard tremolo, the Floyd Rose tremolo system works by having the string tension controlled using a pivot fulcrum that manipulates strings, adjusting the strings’ tension.
The main working difference is the addition of the locking nut instead of the standard nut.
This mechanism means the string is fixed in the clamps, eliminating the friction and movements that make the strings go out of tune. The locking nuts also maintain the strings in their correct position at the headstock.
Why Use It:
When correctly set up, they are an invaluable resource to experienced hard rock or metal guitarists. They allow for dive bombs thanks to the presence of springs in the tremolo system.
The locking system brings great intonation. The double locking system keeps the strings in tune. They are highly durable and have excellent build and design quality.
It is complex to install and set up. It is also a challenge to change strings, tuning, and adjust the action. You cannot retrofit on non-tremolo guitars without special body routing.
Bigsby (Tremolo Roller)
The Bigsby is a type of tremolo roller bridge. Its design features a spring-loaded arm that has two bars.
The first bar maintains tension in the springs, while the second is a roller bar (hence the name). The roller bar rolls with arm movement, and it is the part that anchors the guitar strings.
The Bigsby works the way a vibrato would by creating multiple sound effects by adjusting the springs’ length.
If you push down the arm, the roller bridge loosens the strings, and the roller bridge tightens the springs if you lift the arm. When you release it, the springs go back to their normal position and produce a standard tune.
When To Use It:
Bigsby has a classy appearance and strong aesthetic appeal. It is the best choice for a subtle vibrato, with a smooth feel and minimal to non-existent abruptness.
Mediocre tuning stability; requires extra add-ons to achieve desired stability.
Restricted range compared to a Floyd Rose bridge or another Fender bridge system and, as such, is not the best for more aggressive styles.
Changing strings can be challenging.
Stetsbar (Tremolo Roller)
Stetsbar is a roller bridge system that serves as a custom piece to upgrade a guitar system with minor modifications.
It is an innovative design that primarily helps convert the Tune-o-Matic bridge setup to a tremolo bridge setup.
The advantage it offers is providing a vibrato arm without significant changes to the guitar. These changes are not permanent.
Duesenberg Les Trem (Tremolo Roller)
I thought this was a WWI battlefield, but no. Duesenberg Les Trem is similar to the Stretsbar in that it is a roller bridge system and customizing equipment.
Modifies most guitars like the Gibson Les Paul, which have the Tune-o-Matic setup and the stop bar tailpiece.
It has an excellent design and minimizes the need for permanent modifications.
Kahler Style Tremolo (Tremolo Floating Bridges)
The Kahler tremolo system is different from both Fender and Floyd Rose systems because it does not use a pivot.
The Kahler system uses a cam arrangement that raises and lowers the tailpiece. Its biggest attraction is that it is made for flush mounting, meaning you can add a tremolo unit to your guitar without any unique mount.
All adjustment mechanisms are also on top of the guitar unit, unlike the Fender and Floyd Rose systems which require you to go through the guitar’s back should you want to adjust tremolo springs.
This unit provides fine-tuning for each spring. The flash mounting eliminates the need for routing when installing. It has easy access to the adjustment points as they are on top of the guitar.
Difficult to repair. Only available from Kahler USA and authorized dealers.
Types of Fixed Bridge Systems
Fixed bridges have been around longer than Tremolo bridges. Here are some of the popular variations.
The most common type of fixed bridge.
The Gibson Guitar Company first developed it as a precise intonation adjustment device.
It is mounted on the body of the guitar using a pair of studs. It has thumbwheels to the left and right-hand sides, which provide lowering and raising mechanisms.
At the back, some screws allow you to adjust each saddle either frontwards or backward individually. This requires a separate tailpiece. Its main advantage is its precise intonation for each of the tremolo springs.
Provides an easy adjusting mechanism. Allows for precise intonation.
It is easy to use whether it is tuning, restringing, or adjusting action. Easily converts to a floating bridge.
It requires a fretboard with a radius of 12 inches or flatter. While you can fine-tune each guitar string individually, you can only adjust the height universally. It needs a separate tailpiece.
Wrap Around Bridges
The oldest type of guitar bridge has been around since the emergence of modern electric guitars.
They get their name from the design requiring that the strings pass from the front of the bridge and wrap around the integrated tailpiece and saddle unit.
A standard electric guitar bridge design on low-end units as it is easy and cheaper to manufacture.
Modern improvements have seen the introduction of compensated saddles which have the saddles set at more precise intonations.
Others have introduced adjustable saddles, which allow for better fine-tuning of individual strings.
It is cheap and easy to construct. It is the easiest to restring. It is best for learners not familiar with intonation.
Standard and cheaper models lack fine-tuning capabilities. You cannot easily convert the design to tremolo without permanent modifications.
The name describes the design of this type of bridge. The bridge is a single unit incorporating the tailpiece and the bridge. The bridge is then solidly attached to the guitar using two screws, meaning it does not move.
It has six individually adjustable saddles that allow for the up and down, front, and back individual adjusting for each spring.
It has fine-tuning for each saddle, providing excellent intonation. It is easy to use, especially for learners, as restringing is simple. It is easy to replace, thanks to a simple setup.
It lacks the whammy function denying it the tremolo effect. You will need permanent adjustments on the guitar to convert it to a tremolo.
Mastery in Minnesota manufactures the Offset Mastery Bridge. This stainless steel engineering marvel corrects bridge stability issues seen on Fender offset guitars.
While many people loved the Jazzmaster and Jaguar, the original bridge was problematic.
Annoying buzzing, a horizontal swaying movement, and strings popping out of saddles during regular playing caused these guitars to lose popularity. People experimented with DIY fixes for years, but nothing worked until the emergence of the Mastery.
I have a Mastery on my MIM Jazzmaster, and it entirely lives up to the hype. It’s a game-changer.
Deep saddles prevent string slippage. The Mastery can be dropped into place utilizing the two thimble holes on the guitar. There is increased string tension on the bridge, so no swaying.
No more tuning issues, no more string-slipping, and everything sounds fantastic. This is the first of many ways I am like Elvis Costello.
Which Type of Bridge Should I Choose?
There is no bad or good bridge. It all depends on your circumstances and preferences. You want to avoid the cheaper models for durability and tuning quality.
Beginners will appreciate the simplicity of fixed guitar bridges and others which make restringing and maintenance easier.
Advanced guitar players will want more flexibility in fine-tuning and convenience in adjusting intonation.
Look through the pros and cons of each of the best guitar bridges and determine which serves you best.