SOUND ADVICE: GUITAR BRIDGES & TREMOLO SYSTEMS EXPLAINED

The Options, The Sounds, The Styles

The bridge on your electric guitar is a component that has a tremendous impact on tone and performance. To the extent that particular bridges are only associated with certain styles and genres. Here in lies the beauty of this essential piece of hardware – no bridge is necessarily better or worse than another. It’s all about personal taste. With a rundown of the different types of bridges and their distinct characteristics, Mixdown sheds some light on the perfect bridge for your playing.

HARD-TAIL FIXED BRIDGE

 

This is a simple, basic bridge that doesn’t move and, in turn, requires minimal adjustment once set up.

 

Fender Hard-Tail Stratocaster


 

A Fender-style hard-tail bridge functions with a plate screwed onto the body of the guitar, equipped with six adjustable saddles – one for each string. The string enters the guitar from the back of the body, exiting through the bridge and passing over its allocated saddle. This can be found on hard-tail Strats and some Teles, and offers user-friendly adjustments to string height and intonation.

 

While on Fender’s conventional Telecaster it comes in form of a larger metal plate and three saddles for tweaking string height – responsible for that classically bright, Tele-twang. Though in this form the bridge is limited to broad intonation without the ability to intonate each string individually. 

 

Telecaster Hard-Tail 'Ashtray' Bridge


 

As a bridge that stays in tune, requires little knowledge to utilise and an occasional setup for maintenance, it’s well suited to beginners and the non-fuss guitarist.

 

WRAPAROUND

 

Another fixed bridge, this design utilises a metal bar that’s fixed to the guitar’s body. Here this string passes through the bottom of the bar and wraps around the top. Without the option of intonation – string height is the only adjustable parameter – it requires very basic attention.

 

Wraparound Bridge


 

TUNE-O-MATIC

 

The Tune-O-Matic bridge, while widely used by guitar manufacturers, is the brainchild of Gibson. Introduced in 1954 on the Gibson Les Paul Custom, it comes with individual saddles for each string and two pillars on either side of the bridge that can be heightened or lowered. The product of which is a bridge that can intonate each string individually, but can only adjust string height universally.

 

Tune-O-Matic Bridge


 

This bridge is often accompanied with a ‘stop bar’ tailpiece, with which the strings are anchored, but past designs have similarly used the guitar’s body for this purpose. With a sharp string break it offers exceptional stability and solid sustain: another worthwhile choice for a beginner guitarist or Gibson-enthusiast.  

 

SYNCHRONISED TREMOLO

 

First developed by Fender, the synchronised tremolo system has informed many of the trem systems currently employed by guitar manufacturers.

 

In a similar fashion to the hard-tail bridge the strings are each allocated their own individual saddle and can be adjusted in isolation. In addition to this function, however, this bridge uses a tremolo arm (or whammy bar) to alter the entire pitch of the bridge itself.

 

Synchronised Tremolo System


 

This is achieved with the use of a pivot point – created by the screws that hold the strings within the bridge – and a set of springs, anchored at the bottom of the guitar and used to counteract this tension. With the control of the tremolo arm one can increase or decrease the string tension, altering the pitch of the tone with a simple push or pull.  

 

The pitch-altering capabilities of a synchronised tremolo system are quite appealing to lead guitarists and those looking to diversify their sound. However be wary of their tendency to go out of tune more regularly as a consequence of extra string tension at the nut and bridge saddles. This is an issue that other, more complicated, bridges have been developed to remedy.

 

FLOYD ROSE

 

The Floyd Rose Double-Locking Tremolo was developed in the late ‘70s in response to a lack of tuning stability caused by tremolo systems. As such it’s the choice of bridge for metal guitarists and devoted shredders.

 

Like your standard tremolo bridge the string tension is shifted 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 your standard nut. Here three clamps fix the position of the strings, eradicating the movement and friction that can often lead to the guitar going out of tune.

 

Floyd Rose Tremolo


At the other end of the system the bridge also locks the strings and is positioned for a smoother break over the saddles and decreased friction. By largely eliminating these two points of friction often exacerbated by the use of a tremolo system, utilising this pitch-altering apparatus doesn’t require regular retuning.

 

The complex nature of the system itself and the substantial knowledge and time it takes to setup, or even change a string, ensure that a Floyd Rose isn’t for everyone. However when properly setup it’s a valuable tool for an experienced, metal or hard rock-enthused guitarist.

 

Read more about the Floyd Rose Tremolo system here.

 

KAHLER

 

Kahler tremolos have experienced a recent resurgence after being a viable alternative to Fender and Floyd Rose in the ‘80s. Where they differ from other manufacturers is with the use of a cam system for the altering of pitch instead of a fulcrum.

 

Kahler Tremolo System


 

Instead of the springs being attached to the body they are located in the bridge itself, resulting in a softer, more elastic feel, while also delivering a similar range to that of a Floyd Rose. With their ability to adjust string height, spacing and intonation, they’re a versatile and dynamic bridge. However, a key detractor is the fact that they’re not compatible with all guitars and designs.

 

BIGSBY

 

Bigsby vibratos are as much about style as they are functionality. The vintage design sees strings clamp down and run over a Tune-O-Matic-style bridge, with slightly less sustain and tension compared with a ‘stop bar’ tailpiece. Not designed for any kind of serious tremolo action, their appeal centres upon their simplicity and vintage styling.

 

Bigsby Vibrato


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