Since you’re reading this, chances are you’ve shopped for an electric guitar before. And you’ll realise quickly enough that these instruments are nuanced and personal things. A small facet of the instrument can make a significant difference to the sound and overall feel of the instrument.
Today, we look at an important and sometimes under-appreciated factor to consider when buying an electric guitar – the bridge.
The bridge to greatness
An electric guitar bridge has the job of supporting and keeping in place the strings, and transmitting its vibration along the entire instrument – in this case, the top of the guitar. The bridge also holds the saddles in place. These saddles give you the ability to adjust your guitar’s intonation, action and overall set up.
Bridges come in all shapes and sizes and types. They’re not all the same, and each bridge type will provide a different playing experience. Your choice of bridge determines the access you have to particular sounds and playing styles – you’re not going to be able to do Eddie Van Halen’s Eruption on a Les Paul note for note!
The type of bridge also significantly affects the maintenance and playability of the instrument – an important factor to consider if you want to spend more time playing, rather than troubleshooting problems.
The types of fixed electric guitar bridges
Like its name implies, fixed bridges are attached to a guitar’s body in a fixed manner. Simple, effective and safe. But don’t turn your nose away these bridges, many great guitars and players favour the fixed guitar bridge for those very reasons. Less is more.
Hardtail Guitar Bridge
The hardtail is the most basic and straightforward bridge on the list. Fixed bridges are screwed into the body of the guitar and keep the strings in place resting on saddles. Once well set-up, intonated and action adjusted, you won’t need to adjust fixed bridges much after. They are reliable, easy to maintain and are a breeze for changing strings.
Unlike their floating counterparts, fixed electric guitar bridges don’t move or budge, and they generally stay in tune really well. They may not have the flair and guile that a floating bridge can impart onto your playing, guitarists like Paul Gilbert and Misha Mansoor, who are known for their flair in playing, have favoured the sheer reliability of the fixed bridge for their signature guitars.
While the first instance of the hardtail appeared on Fender guitars, the simplicity of the design has proven to be very popular with guitarists. Now, multiple brands such as Ibanez, Jackson and many more have multiple great offerings that come in the hardtail configuration.
Telecaster Guitar Bridge
The granddaddy of them all – the Telecaster was the first mass produced solid body guitar. Its bridge was a rudimentary design and an early ancestor to all modern hardtail bridges. The Telecaster bridge also doesn’t mechanically move. The main difference? The presence of an integrated pickup mounting ring. The Telecaster bridge pickup is mounted to the bridge rather than directly into the body of the guitar,. And this directly contributes to the Telecaster’s unmistakable twang.
The original Telecaster design had three brass saddles (two strings per saddle), so intonation can sometimes be tricky. Although many Telecaster designs today have adopted a more modern six saddles for easier setups, just take one look at the Telecasters of today, you’ll realise that the original bridge design still has plenty of fans.
Tune-O-Matic Guitar Bridge
Ever seen a Gibson Les Paul or a Gibson SG? If you have, then you’ve probably noticed the Tune-O-Matic bridge as well. Designed by Gibson’s legendary Ted McCarty, the Tune-O-Matic made its debut in 1953 and has gone on to be the gold standard for carved top electric guitars today.
The Tune-O-Matic bridge is normally complemented with a tailpiece – usually a stopbar tailpiece, or more commonly seen on hollow body guitars, a trapeze tailpiece. The Tune-O-Matic solved the problems of past bridges with its movable saddles for each individual string, so players could intonate their guitars better.
You won’t only see Tune-O-Matic bridges on Gibson-style guitars – they’ve also found their way onto more modern designs. You’ll see variations of the Tune-O-Matic that have their strings fed through ferrules in the guitar’s back instead of a tailpiece, increasing the already impressive sustain on these guitars.
Having a whole hardware piece dedicated for just intonation adjustment works wonders. These guitar bridges are great for having stable intonation. Some prefer the flatter feel of the hardtail, whereas you might find the angles on the Tune-O-Matic to be more comfortable.
Wrap-around Guitar Bridge
One of Gibson’s first innovations for their solid body electric guitar, the wrap-around bridge has been around longer than most. Before the Tune-O-Matic became a reality, Gibson Les Pauls had wrap-around bridges.
The wrap-around bridge is simple to use – just insert the strings from the bottom of the bridge and wrap them around the top of it. That’s it. The simple but crude design had its advantages, with incredible resonance and sustain, but they were clearly lacking in the intonation department. And for that very reason, it drove Ted McCarty and Gibson to design the Tune-O-Matic bridge.
There are many builders who still favour the wrap-around tailpiece for the many strengths it has. Many of them feature compensated saddles to get around the problem of intonation. These type of bridges have notches at carefully selected locations for each string, which help every string stay intonated.
The absolute, best way to find out what kind of fixed bridge suits you best, is to try the guitars out for yourself. Head down to your nearest Swee Lee store, and our friendly staff will be more than happy to guide you along. We have multiple locations in Singapore and Malaysia that you can head on over to.
If you want to shop in the comfort of your home, you can check out the full range of guitars on our online store.
Fixed bridges are just the start! There are many more types of electric guitar bridges out there, and in the next blogpost, we’ll enter the dive bombing, seasick inducing world of floating bridges.