Amongst all the various models of electric guitars, there are actually a surprisingly limited number of bridge types. Though bridges are an aspect of the guitar which is often overlooked, the type of bridge and how it fits on a particular guitar can make a real difference in how you play. The tone, variation in tuning stability, and tremolo potential, all create variety which is better suited to some and not as much to others.
The point of a bridge is fairly obvious – in one way or another, it keeps the strings in place on the body of the guitar. In its basic form, the bridge can be quite simple. If you think of an acoustic guitar for example, the bridge is merely a piece of wood with holes and pins to hold the strings down inside them. But on an electric guitar, it can get a bit more advanced.
It’s first helpful to understand the individual aspects of an electric guitar bridge. Electric guitar bridges are metallic pieces which the guitar’s strings run over. Most bridges have saddles on top of a bridge plate. The plate refers to the base of the bridge, while the saddles are individual, adjustable pieces on the top which usually correspond to each string. Thus, most bridges on six-string guitars have six saddles. However, original Telecaster bridges, for example, have three saddles—two strings go over each, and certain old-school bridges didn’t have saddles at all (this was proven to not be very effective, which you can read more about later on).
In addition, some guitars use both a bridge and a tailpiece. The distinction in this schematic is that the strings run over the bridge which essentially guides them and the tailpiece secures the end of the strings.
Electric Guitar Bridge Types
If you want to properly classify electric guitar bridge types, you can first break them down into two major categories—hardtail and tremolo.
The hardtail bridge is one which is secured to the body and not capable of moving. The tremolo, by contrast, is designed to allow the player to move the bridge to some degree to create additional effects and dynamics in the guitar’s sound. Some guitars have a hardtail bridge, but a tremolo tailpiece. The distinction is functionally minor, but can be important.
Many famous models from many popular brands feature both types of bridges, and the variations that come with them. To understand the value in each, read on.
Hardtail or Fixed Bridge
The fixed or hardtail bridge is the “basic” bridge. It’s been used on electric guitars since the beginning of time…or at least the beginning of the electric guitar. The metallic bridge piece is screwed into the body so it does not move and guides the strings across the pickups. The stability of the fixed bridge allows for consistency in tone and tuning.
With a hardtail bridge, the strings can be secured by the bridge itself, strung over the bridge and through the body, or used in conjunction with a tailpiece. Regardless of the setup, most bridges allow you to adjust the individual saddle height for each string for increased intonation accuracy.
When coupled with a tailpiece, the tailpiece secures the end of the strings, while the bridge itself assures they are correctly positioned. With that setup, though the bridge is fixed, the tailpiece can be a tremolo.
Though the concept of a hardtail bridge is simple, it can be executed in a variety of ways.
Hardtail Bridge with String-Through Body
Perhaps the most basic bridge configuration is the hardtail with a string-through body. A hardtail bridge can act on its own to securely guide the strings down through the body of an electric guitar. Most bridges of this nature have individually adjustable saddles so you can modify the intonation as needed.
Most Fender Telecasters have this bridge configuration, usually with three barrel saddles and two strings running over each. Some Fender Stratocasters also have this bridge configuration, though with six saddles. While you don’t have the option to make interesting vibrato and tremolo sounds by moving the bridge, you can rest assured this guitar will have excellent tuning stability and sustain.
Hardtail Top-Loaded Bridge
The hardtail top-loaded bridge acts in a similar fashion to the hardtail bridge with a string-through body. It also has a secured, non-tremolo, metallic bridge piece, but the strings are secured right to the bridge itself, not through the body. Some Fender Telecasters have this. There are also “Strat-style” guitars that make use of the top-loaded design, with six individual saddle pieces.
Sometimes found on Les Paul or Paul Reed Smith guitars, the wraparound makes use of a single metallic piece to hold the strings and provide the proper positioning. The strings are threaded through the front-bottom part of the bridge i.e. the part closest to the pickups, and then wrapped around the top of the bridge and back across the guitar neck. Early productions of this type of bridge did not have individual saddles so no adjustment could be made, but many have since fixed that.
Tune-O-Matic Bridge with String-Through or Stop Tailpiece
The Tune-O-Matic bridge is an oblong metallic piece which has individually adjustable saddles for each string. The Tune-O-Matic came about because the wraparound bridge, originally without individual saddles, did not allow for accurate intonation. With this configuration, the strings run over the Tune-O-Matic bridge and through the body or to a tailpiece, where they are secured. When found on Les Pauls, this type of bridge is mostly coupled with a stop bar tailpiece.
This bridge type and tailpiece combination is very common across brands and models. Many other guitars replicate the Tune-O-Matic with stop bar combo and some have mild variations. For instance, some guitars making use of this style of bridge may have a trapeze tailpiece—a long, wiry, trapeze-like metal piece which is attached to the end of the guitar body and pulls the strings over the bridge.
Evertune is both a company and a bridge type. The company has created an advanced hardtail bridge model which keeps your strings in tune for the life of the string, no matter what. While that seems like a lofty claim, the Evertune system requires custom routing and uses a radical design which many have attested really works. While it’s only available as a hardtail at the moment, Evertune is developing a tremolo system as well.
Tremolo or Floating Bridge
The second major bridge type, the tremolo bridge, enables players to make use of the not-completely-secure bridge to create interesting sonic dynamics. Some of the most prodigious guitar players of all time used the tremolo bridge to make their sound their own and wow everyone listening.
The potential to move the bridge can bring with it some issues as far as maintaining tuning stability. Changes in the tension of one string will affect changes in the others to some degree and use of the tremolo itself may cause the strings to go out of tune. There’s also a bit of a tonal change when you thread an additional piece of metal (the tremolo arm) into the bridge.
As you’ll see below, some manufacturers have successfully addressed these challenges.
Synchronized Tremolo Bridge
We can all thank Fender for creating the earliest iteration of the synchronized tremolo bridge, beginning with production of their now legendary Stratocaster model. Fender’s wildly popular synchronized tremolo bridge is a string-through with individual saddles. It’s secured on top by six screws and pulled on the other end by springs within the body. This creates a tight tension which allows players to wiggle a tremolo arm screwed into the top and make a lovely vibrato sound.
Some later versions of Stratocasters feature a two-point “deluxe” style bridge. The concept was exactly the same, except the bridge was secured to the top of the guitar with just two large screws. Arguably, this gives the bridge a bit more wiggle and makes it easier to move it with just your hand.
Floyd Rose Locking Tremolo Bridge
The Floyd Rose tremolo system is such an iconic creation it turned one gentleman’s name into a musical term-of-art. Attempting to solve the all-too-common issues associated with tremolos, Floyd Rose came up with this innovative design in 1976 and it has been appreciated by guitar players ever since.
The province of Floyd Rose tremolo systems are that they lock the strings both at the point of contact on the bridge and at the nut to prevent them from going out of tune. The screws on each individual bridge saddle are tightened to secure the strings. At the nut, each clamp secures two strings, assuring they won’t move on that end. The Floyd Rose bridge also lets you adjust the tuning just slightly with the knobs on the saddles, so the small amount the Floyd Rose does go out of tune, you can correct it.
Tune-O-Matic Bridge with Tremolo Tailpiece
With a few guitars that use a Tune-O-Matic style bridge, you might also find a tremolo tailpiece. One of the more famous tailpieces, the Bigsby is an old-school tremolo, common on many Gretsch models. Similar to the trapeze, the Bigsby is secured to the end of the guitar and the strings are attached to it. However, the Bigsby makes use of a roller bar, which pulls the strings around it, and a built-on tremolo arm, to work its magic.
Another similar variation on this configuration can be seen on some Fender Jaguar, Jazzmasters, and Mustangs. The bridge on these models is a variety of Fender 6-saddle adjustable, anchored to a top-loaded tremolo. There’s a hole to the right for a tremolo arm and this style of tremolo gives you just a little lift to improve your vibrato dynamics.
Clearly, bridges come in different varieties. While some may suit the guitar, they should always suit your playing. If you change tunings a lot or want to re-tune as little as possible, you’ll want a hardtail bridge, or perhaps a Floyd Rose. If you’re a generally subdued player or someone who just adds a little vibrato to a few notes, any trem style will work for you.
And if you’re feeling bold, you can even swap out your existing bridge using one of the bridges we sell individually.
Check out samash.com to see all the guitars we have to offer and their diverse bridge styles.