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Although sometimes overlooked, the guitar bridge is one of the most important pieces of your guitar. Without the bridge, you wouldn’t really be able to play.
The bridge and saddle sit at the base of the guitar and are where the strings are initially placed when stringing a guitar. The saddle is where the strings are secured, whereas the bridge is where the strings crossover before being attached.
The bridge (and saddle) are vital because they provide the strings’ primary support before they pass over the nut. They are also essential for transmitting the vibrations when you pluck or strum the strings, which gives your guitar its sound.
If you are like me, you spend a fair amount of your time looking at new and used guitars. In doing so, you might have noticed that not only are there a multitude of different types and styles of electric and acoustic guitars, but the hardware and components on these guitars are also wide-ranging in style and design. The bridge is no exception.
So, what are the different types of bridges on a guitar?
Electric guitar bridges have fixed bridges, where the bridge is anchored to the guitar’s body, or tremolo bridges that can move to create pitch change in the strings. Acoustic guitars have glued bridges with strings held in place with pins, while on classical-style acoustic guitars, the strings are placed through the bridge and tied on.
Let’s look closer at the different types of bridges on electric and acoustic guitars and how their functions differ.
Bridges On The Guitar.
As I stated in the introduction, you might have noticed several different styles of bridges across electric and acoustic guitars. However, despite there appearing to be many different types of bridges, in reality, there are only a few different types of bridges, albeit with many styles and nuances within those few types.
Understanding the different types of bridges can help you make a more informed purchasing decision. Factors such as genre and style of music, playing style, and aesthetic appeal will all influence the type of guitar bridge that you are most comfortable playing with.
The type of guitar bridge on your guitar (especially electric guitars) will make a huge difference in what and how you can play your guitar.
Below I will separate electric and acoustic guitars, and from there, I will discuss the different types of bridges found on each type of guitar and some of the nuances within those major bridge styles.
Without delay, let’s get started.
Types Of Electric Guitar Bridges
When it comes to electric guitar bridges, there are two main types: Fixed and tremolo. These two main bridge types are further divided into several different styles. Some of these styles are dictated by the type of guitar or the company that produces them.
Fixed bridges, also known as hardtail bridges, are just as the name suggests; they are fixed or set into the guitar, which means you won’t be doing any tremolo arm (whammy bar) playing with this bridge style.
On the other hand, Tremolo bridges, also called vibrato bridges, are designed to have movement. These types of bridges will have some type of tremolo arm that can be used to create vibrato on the notes you’ve played.
Tremolo bridges allow the player to change the pitch of the strings that have just been played by moving the bridge up and down.
Below I have separated the two types of bridges (fixed and tremolo) and provided examples of the different subtypes of styles under each type of guitar bridge.
It should be noted that the bridges listed below are not a completely exhaustive list of the available bridges you may come across. There are so many different types and subtle nuances within these subcategories that I will inevitably miss some. However, the bridges listed below are among the most common that you will encounter and make up most of the bridges currently on the market.
As stated above, fixed bridges are secured to the guitar’s body and do not move. Fixed bridges are a great option for all levels of guitar players. However, one advantage over fixed bridges is that they are often easier to tune the guitar with, unlike tremolo systems, which can sometimes be challenging to maintain tuning.
The first fixed bridge we will discuss is the very popular Tune-O-Matic (TOM) bridge. According to Thomann Music, TOM bridges were first developed by the Gibson company in the 1950s and have stood the test of time, becoming one of the most common styles of fixed guitar bridges.
There are a few different versions of TOM bridges, with two of the most well-known being the ABR-1 and the modern version, also known as the “Nashville” bridge, due to the location of the factory that first started making them. Many other guitar brands have similar style bridges, although under potentially different names.
Most fixed bridges are either slanted or stepped so the distance to the nut can be larger for the thicker strings, which helps improve the string’s vibrational qualities. TOM bridges takes this idea a step further by creating adjustable distances for all of the strings.
The picture below shows my ESP LTD EC-1000 and Epiphone Les Paul Standard Pro, both of which utilize the original style TOM bridge.
An up-close picture of this bridge style shows the tiny screws that can be adjusted for each string
The following picture shows my ESP LTD MH 350 NT, which features a Nashville-style TOM bridge. This bridge has the same idea as the other TOM bridge, with tiny screws that can be adjusted for each string.
However, on this style of bridge, the strings go through the guitar and are initially strung from the back of the guitar, as shown in the second picture.
Hardtail bridges are also extremely common and come in a few different styles. However, despite the subtle differences in appearance, shape, and number of saddles, hardtail bridges are all similar in the fact that they are secured into place and typically has the ability for the saddles to be individually adjusted.
Below is a picture of my ESP LTD TE-200, which features a hardtail bridge with a string-through design, meaning the strings are initially strung through the back of the guitar like the LTD MH 350 shown above.
Another very common hardtail bridge is that found on most telecaster-style guitars. These tend to feature either three or six saddles. Unfortunately, I currently do not have a telecaster of this model, but the video below provides an example of what this looks like.
The last fixed bridge I will mention is the wrap-around bridge, which is very similar in design to the TOM bridge but differs in that it is only one piece versus the two pieces found on TOM bridges. You can think of wrap-around bridges as essentially only being the back part of a TOM bridge, and as the name suggests, the strings wrap around the bridge to help keep them in place.
Unfortunately, I don’t own a guitar with a wrap-around bridge to show you, but the video below does an excellent job of explaining these bridges.
Some issues I have heard about wrap-around bridges is that the tuning stability is not as good as other fixed bridge designs, especially like the stability of TOM bridges. However, since I have never owned one, I cannot verify or deny that claim. Wrap-around bridges are not nearly as common as the other two fixed bridge designs I have discussed in this article.
Tremolo bridges can open up a whole new dimension of guitar playing compared to fixed bridge guitars, as they allow you to do all sorts of interesting vibrato and note-changing moves that can make for a truly innovative and impressive playing experience.
However, tremolo bridges can sometimes be challenging to get the hang of, especially when dealing with tuning issues. Still, despite some of the setbacks, they are lots of fun to play with and work great for many different genres, especially for solos.
As with the fixed bridges, this is not an exhaustive list, but I do provide you with three of the most common styles of tremolo bridges.
Floyd Rose Bridges
The terms Floyd Rose and tremolo are sometimes used interchangeably, but they are different. As stated by Elliot Stent on Andertons website, Floyd Rose is a type of tremolo system, but not all tremolo systems are Floyd Rose systems. What really sets a Floyd Rose apart from other tremolo systems is that it is a locking tremolo system. This system helps to keep your strings in tune while allowing you to do all sorts of epic dive bombs on the whammy bar.
The Floyd Rose locking tremolo system rose to prominence in the 1980s when guitarists like Eddie Van Halen, Steve Vai, and others incorporated them into their epic lead guitar playing.
The Floyd Rose has a double-locking design and can be either pushed down or pulled up to create various pitch changes. The double-locking design gets its name from the lock at the bridge and the nut (as shown in the pictures below of my Jackson-branded Floyd Rose setup).
There are many models and variations of the Floyd Rose, including the Ibanez variations, among others, so finding the right Floyd Rose for you might be a trial and error-process.
I love the way Bigsby bridges look on guitars. Bigsby bridges are often found on hollow or semi-hollow body guitars, such as my Gretsch shown below, but I have seen them installed on solid-body Les Paul and SG-style guitars as well.
The Bigsby is really more of a vibrato system than a tremolo system in that you can’t perform the intense dive bomb type of maneuvers like you can with a Floyd Rose. So if you intend to use a Bigsby for that type of playing, you will be sorely disappointed. However, if you are looking for some subtle vibrato here and there, the Bigsby is the perfect system for you.
One disadvantage the Bigsby (and any tremolo system without a locking nut) has is that it is much more likely to come out of tune than the Floyd Rose system is. I can do all sorts of aggressive dives on my Jackson with the Floyd Rose and not worry about tuning, but sometimes with my Gretsch, I will have to retune after just one song (though that is not always the case).
If you were to put the Floyd Rose and Bigsby on a continuum, the Wilkinson tremolo would fall somewhere in between the two extremes. It features more tremolo than the Bigsby but typically not as much range as a Floyd Rose, and the tuning stability is not as good as the Floyd Rose without having the locking nut.
I do not own a guitar with this type of tremolo system, but the video below provides a great installation and review of this tremolo system.
Types Of Acoustic Guitar Bridges
Acoustic guitar bridges come in a lot fewer styles than their electric counterparts. In fact, there are really only two main types of acoustic guitar bridges that you will encounter.
The first is the traditional acoustic guitar bridge that you will find on virtually every acoustic guitar that you will come across that features a saddle made of wood, bone, or some type of plastic and bridge pins that hold the strings in place in the bridge. The bridge on acoustic guitars is typically made of wood and is generally glued directly onto the guitar’s body.
While the saddle itself might differ slightly in material, angle, or some other minute detail, nearly all acoustic bridges are going to be very similar to this design on my acoustic guitar. There will, of course, be some exceptions to this, but overall this is what you can expect for an acoustic bridge.
If you want to learn more about the difference between a saddle and a bridge in more detail, check out our article here.
The second bridge you will tend to see in acoustic-style guitars are those found on classical guitars. In this type of bridge, the strings actually run through the bridge and are typically tied in place, as shown below on my classical guitar.
Like the other type of acoustic bridge, those on classical-style guitars are typically glued directly to the body of the guitar.
Sometimes the sheer amount of choices regarding music equipment can be overwhelming. Even something as seemingly straightforward as the bridges on guitars can be complex and full of options.
I hope this article has clarified some of that complexity for you and helped you make a more informed decision on what type of bridge you are looking for when purchasing your next (or first) guitar.
Don’t overlook the importance of the bridge and saddle, as they can have huge implications on overall tone and playability. Remember, every piece of the guitar can have an impact on the sound it produces, and this holds true for the bridge.
Until next time, stay creative and keep on playing!
Hi everyone! I have been involved with music most of my life, beginning in grade school with the trumpet. I am a largely self-taught multi-instrumentalist (drums, guitar, bass, and starting the piano and violin). I currently play drums in two bands and write and produce many genres of music in my home recording studio. I am also an avid guitar and drum collector.