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When you pick up different guitar models, you might notice that some of the bridges are positioned differently.
On a guitar like a Fender Stratocaster or Telecaster, for example, the bridge is installed straight across the body, but others have a bridge and/or a saddle that is slanted in one direction. So why are some guitar bridges slanted?
Some makers install their bridges with a slant in order to make sure they have enough compensation to play in tune. The bridge and saddle determine the overall length of the string, which in turn sets its pitch, and you can make small adjustments by moving where the string breaks over the bridge.
Let’s take a closer look at what compensation is, why it matters, and why some guitar bridges, but not all, are slanted.
Why Are Some Guitar Bridges At An Angle?
Before we get too far, it’s worth going over the very basics. Guitars, like most stringed instruments, use a bridge and a nut to set the length of a string, which in turn determines the pitch the string plays.
Because of the way a guitar’s frets are laid out, each string needs to be a specific length to play in tune up and down the neck. This adjustment is called compensation, and it can be done in a few different ways.
Many older acoustic guitars have saddles — most acoustics have a bridge to hold the strings and a saddle installed in the bridge — that are straight across, while most modern ones use a slanted saddle that also has cutouts to further perfect the compensation.
For electric guitars, most have individually adjustable saddles, so the bridges don’t need to be slanted, but there are some exceptions. The modern Tune-o-matic style bridge from Gibson and other makers is usually angled, for example, and we’ll explore why that’s the case later.
Some older guitars, though, especially inexpensive guitars from the 1960s and 1970s, have a solid piece of wood for a bridge, and in many cases, those are slanted to give the right compensation.
On electric and acoustic archtop guitars, floating bridges are common but are normally installed straight across. The saddles carved into the bridge are often compensated, allowing proper intonation that way, but not offering any adjustability.
Should A Guitar Bridge Be Slanted?
There isn’t a hard and fast rule about whether a bridge needs to be angled, other than this: The bridge should be placed in a way that allows the guitar to be correctly tuned and intonated.
That could mean offering a lot of adjustability in the saddles, or it could mean placing the bridge and creating the bridge saddles in a very particular way from the factory. That allows the intonation to be set once when the instrument is built.
The issue with that, of course, is most guitars are made almost entirely out of wood, which grows and shrinks in small amounts with changes in humidity and temperature.
Depending on how large the change in dimensions is, that could create a situation where the guitar doesn’t play in tune up and down the neck. If you’re wondering why a maker would sell a guitar that might eventually not intonate correctly, think of this point.
While correct intonation is the goal, most people can’t tell the difference between the few cents — increments of 1/100th of the distance between two adjacent musical notes — that are at issue.
Whether someone will be able to hear a problem or not depends both on how they hear and how much musical experience they have, with more generally being helpful when it comes to hearing small differences in pitch.
Some of it also depends on construction and the kind of bridge and saddles used. On acoustic guitars, a flat-top saddle might need to be angled more than a saddle with compensation reliefs already carved into it.
And on a nylon string or classical guitar, the lower tension and lower change in thickness from string to string mean less compensation is needed in the first place.
This video looks at how to figure out exactly where the bridge needs to go.
Why Are Tune-O-Matic Bridges Angled?
As I mentioned earlier, in some electric guitars, such as Fender Stratocasters and Telecasters, the bridge is straight, but the strings are on saddles that can be adjusted up or down to compensate as needed.
Other electric guitars, like those that use a Gibson style Tune-o-matic bridge, or other similar styles, install the bridge at an angle.
Things haven’t always been that way. Older Gibsons had the bridge installed parallel to the tailpiece, but modern instruments have the bass strings slanted so they are lower than the treble strings. The change was made so that the intonation can be dialed in.
That’s because the individual saddles, which can be moved in much the same way a Telecaster or Stratocaster’s saddles can be, don’t have enough travel to get correct intonation. The slant allows the strings to be just slightly longer, keeping the correct intonation — or as close as you can get on a standard guitar — up and down the neck.
But as I mentioned above, that doesn’t mean the guitars built with straight Tune-o-matic bridges don’t play in tune. There will likely be some frets, especially relatively high up the neck, where a chord would sound slightly out of tune or sour, but that will bother some people more than others.
Other similar bridge styles from other makers are also occasionally slanted, but many use saddles with longer adjustments to dial things in just right.
It’s very easy to get caught up in the details of things like intonation and compensation, especially if you’re working on the technical parts of your guitar playing. And being concerned with making sure your instrument plays in tune is never going to be a bad thing.
But don’t be obsessed with making sure every note on each string is perfectly in tune. Because of how a guitar’s fretboard is laid out, that’s not going to happen.
Some luthiers have even developed guitars with various fret patterns from slanted to individual bars, to get things exactly in tune.
Apart from a few virtuosos, those systems have never caught on, and it’s understandable. You need to learn a different playing style and your hands have to learn new positions, neither of which is easy for most players.
Instead, most make do with a standard guitar, and so builders have to find the best way to balance playability and intonation.
In many cases, that means making sure the bridge can offer the exact string length needed, whether that’s set up at the factory or user-adjustable, and whether that means a straight or slanted bridge.
I’ve been a musician, particularly a guitarist, for more than 25 years. I love writing about guitars, gear, recording, music in general and more.