The bridge on an electric guitar is one of the most identifiable parts on an instrument. Some might say that’s where the eyes go after they’ve just glanced at the more aesthetic elements of the guitar. People can be kind of picky with what electric guitar bridge they get because it can have a significant impact on a guitar player’s overall experience.
For example, some guitarists refuse to use locking tremolos because they think that they bring a lot of baggage with them and are a hassle to deal with, and instead, they opt for something with lower maintenance. Some will exclusively use Floyd Roses and similar systems because they have a reputation for being strong, sturdy, and reliable for performing whammy tricks.
These are only a couple of different ways that people look at guitar bridges, and this article will talk about the various ones that you might come across during your guitar journey. You might see some more than others, but it’s still a good idea to become familiar with all of them so you can understand what they are all about.
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What Electric Guitar Bridge Is Best?
In general, there is no best guitar bridge, and they all offer their pros and cons. Of course, people will have their own preferences and argue that a specific type is the greatest bridge ever created.
However, at the “micro” level, you can say that a particular form of the same kind of design is better than another. For instance, a Schaller Floyd Rose is better than a Licensed Floyd Rose because it is made from better and stronger materials, so it stays in tune more consistently. It is also the original one.
While that is useful information to know, I am going to teach you more about the “macro” level of guitar bridges so you can have a greater understanding of them, and hopefully, decide which kind of bridge you like the most or might be interested in trying out someday.
Fixed Guitar Bridges vs. Tremolo/Floating Bridges
There are many different guitar bridges out there, but their construction can actually be narrowed down to just two types. These are fixed ones and tremolos, which some can also be called floating bridges. In this guide to the different kinds of electric guitar bridges, this is how I’ll be organizing each one for you:
- Hardtail Bridges
- Tune-O-Matic Bridges
- Wrap-Around Bridges
- Synchronized Tremolos
- Locking Tremolos
- Bigsby Tremolos
- Stetsbar Tremolo
Some of these are extremely common, and you’ll find them on numerous instruments and others are a bit more niche, or even rare, but there is a possibility that you still may run into one. Let’s begin by talking about fixed bridges, one of the most basic, but reliable kinds of bridges you’ll find.
In this section, you’ll learn about the different types of fixed bridges. You’ll discover that I appreciate fixed ones because of their relatively low maintenance requirements, and I actually think that they’re underrated at times. Depending on your experience level, you might think so too.
Hardtails are a type of fixed-bridge system and one of the most basic and straightforward designs out there. There is no tremolo arm, and they’re really easy to re-string, which is one of the main reasons why I like this style a lot. In fact, you can learn more about why I love fixed bridges so much here.
You just bring the strings through the back of the guitar (there are holes that you feed them through, and from there, they go over the bridge’s saddles, and then you can tighten them up with the tuning pegs. However, there are also some hardtails that let you simply feed the string through the bridge directly without any holes through the guitar.
You can find these kinds of bridges on many guitars, and they can look and function slightly differently from another. One of the most popular kinds of hardtails is the Telecaster version, which is unique in that it uses 3 saddles.
In fact, the hardtail was the original type of bridge for Fender guitars, until Stratocasters started using synchronized tremolos, which we will discuss later on.
I wish there was more to say about hardtails because I really enjoy their convenience and ease of use. There is a newer type of hardtail bridge out on the market known as the Evertune, which utilizes springs and is designed to keep your guitar in tune for ages which I think is groundbreaking. You can also find reputable hardtails from Gotoh and Hipshot.
If you’ve seen the Gibson Les Paul, then you’ve probably noticed the Tune-O-Matic at some point. It’s a very popular bridge that you still see on most Les Paul-type guitars from other brands as well.
This apparatus often consists of two pieces – a tailpiece that has adjustable screws, and the actual bridge which contains the saddles. However, there are some versions of the Tune-O-Matic that have just the bridge portion of it, and instead of using a tailpiece, the strings are fed through the guitar’s body in the back, kind of like the hardtails. This is sometimes referred to as a String-Through type.
As you may have guessed, these guitar bridges are great for having stable intonation. But only if you have good quality saddles! Some guitars use cheap parts, which don’t allow the design to do its job correctly.
The Tune-O-Matic electric guitar bridge that was created by Gibson is the direct successor to the wrap-around style, which we will talk about next.
The wrap-around design is one of the oldest kinds of electric guitar bridges out there. As mentioned before, Gibson created the Tune-O-Matic as an answer to the wrap-around style. If you’re able to find a really old Gibson Les Paul from before 1953, it has a wrap-around design. A vintage guitar like this is undoubtedly super valuable.
This type of fixture, despite being older, can look a lot like a hybrid between the two parts of a Tune-O-Matic. It has the adjustable slots of the tailpiece while having the saddles of the bridge. The Tune-O-Matic pretty much just separated it into two parts, which improved on some intonation problems.
While wrap-around bridges have a lot of history and have been relegated because of more favorable designs, you can find this type on a lot of entry-level guitars because it is inexpensive to produce.
My very first guitar, which was a B.C. Rich Bronze series had a wrap-around bridge and I thought it very easy to work with. You just insert the strings from the bottom of the bridge, and it wraps around the top of it. I had no problems with it, and I’d definitely recommend it for beginners.
Before we being with talking about these electric guitar bridges, the word tremolo is actually a misnomer in these systems. For unknown reasons, the term has stuck, but the proper effect that these systems produce is a vibrato, which is what you do with your fingers when you wiggle the strings, albeit a different method and sound. For all intents and purposes though, I am just going to call them tremolos for consistency reasons.
These are, without a doubt, some of the most popular types of bridges, especially for metal guitarists. You can thank many guitar heroes for the rise of some of these tremolo systems, which provided a wild, creative, and expressive way to play the guitar back in the 80s. However, you’ll learn that the floating bridge goes even further back than those years, like with the Fender Stratocaster and the synchronized bridge, which is what we’ll discuss first in this category.
The first type of tremolo system we will be going over is the Synchronized type. This kind of system, developed in the 1950s, might be synonymous with “Fender tremolo” or “Fender bridge,” but there are other brands and manufacturers that use a Synchronized design, like Wilkinson. Nonetheless, the synchronized tremolos are most frequently seen on Stratocasters at just about any price range.
These systems can appear somewhat similar to a hardtail bridge, but they work differently, particularly due to the tremolo and the springs required to make it function as intended. When the guitarist uses it, it moves and pivots the fixture, which allows the pitch to be altered. Pressing or pulling on the tremolo arm will bring the bridge forward or back, and that lowers and raises the pitch, respectively. This is essentially what vibrato is if you do it rapidly.
These systems are also some of the first to use the springs, which apply tension and allow the bridge to stay on the guitar. They are needed for balance, and if they are not properly adjusted, it can cause problems. So always get a guitar setup and don’t attempt to make fixes on your own if you’re unsure of what you’re doing.
Synchronized tremolos are also just as easy to restring and work similarly to hardtails. Just feed the strings through the back end, and they’ll come through the top. Overall, I think these are an excellent tremolo system for beginners because they are still relatively painless, but do have some added complexity compared to the hardtails due to the extra parts.
A lot of guitarists have love-hate relationships with locking tremolos, including myself. I think they look cool, but they can be a real pain in the butt sometimes.
How this type of electric guitar bridge gets its name is because of its ability to clamp and hold the strings in place. A single-locking tremolo only does this at the bridge, but a double-locking one will clamp at the bridge and also have a locking nut, which you can tighten and loosen with an Allen key, an essential guitar tool.
Restringing can be one of the more annoying aspects of locking tremolos – sometimes there are small pieces that can get out of place and some require you to cut the ball-ends off the strings. Setting them up also takes more time and effort, which is why guitar techs will usually charge more to work on them.
One of the leading types of locking tremolo systems is the Floyd Rose, and there isn’t just one type of model out there. Here are a few:
- Original, Schaller Floyd Rose (Made In Germany)
- Licensed Floyd Rose (i.e., Jackson, Gotoh, etc.)
- 1000 Series
- Floyd Rose Special
Mr. Floyd Rose came up with his design in the mid-to-late 70s, in response to his Fender’s inability to stay in tune when using the tremolo bar. It was made famous by guitarists like Eddie Van Halen and Steve Vai, who were known to do crazy things with the whammy bar.
The original Floyd Rose did its job very well, and it was endorsed by many guitarists, and until this day, the Schaller Floyd Rose is the cream-of-the-crop of Floyds. However, derivatives were created, and the quality just wasn’t the same.
Licensed Floyd Rose tremolos can refer to different companies that used the Floyd Rose schematics, but not necessarily the same quality of parts. The Japanese Gotoh Floyd Rose is actually one of the good licensed ones, but I can’t say the same for the Jackson-brand Floyds. I used to have a guitar with a Jackson Floyd, and it didn’t stay in tune very well when using the tremolo bar.
Just like there is a variation in Floyd Rose models, there are also different kinds of locking tremolo systems. Two of the most notable ones are Kahler and the Ibanez Edges.
Kahler kind of dropped off the face of the Earth, probably because of lawsuits with Floyd Rose, but it seems they are starting to make a comeback. I have limited experience with these locking tremolos because they are kind of rare to find, but the only time I’ve used one of these was on my uncle’s Charvel from the 80s. I believe it was a Model 4. Nonetheless, I thought it was a cool locking vibrato system, and it worked just fine.
Ibanez’s Edge bridges are a much bigger competitor to Floyd Roses though, and just like Floyds, there is a diverse group of them. Some have been discontinued, but some of the different Edges that have existed are:
- Edge I, II, III
- Lo-Pro Edge
- Edge ZR
- Edge Zero
- Edge Pro
The Edge was born from Floyd Rose’s licensing with Gotoh, and consequently many of these designs were created by Gotoh, but with their own twists. My Ibanez RG350 has an Edge III, which I felt was pretty good, but it is nothing compared to the Edge Pro, which is on my Ibanez Prestige. Like Floyds, there is a difference in quality between Ibanez/Gotoh Edge tremolos.
In my opinion, the Edge Pro is quite competitive to the Schaller Floyd Rose, and it was included on many Prestige models as well as some signature ones. While I don’t regularly use the whammy bar, it stays in tune very well even if used aggressively. Even though I don’t get the most benefit out of it, it’s still a robust electric guitar bridge, and probably the best one that I’ve owned so far.
If you’re buying a guitar with a locking tremolo, try to do some research beforehand, to learn about what kind it is using. If it doesn’t have a good quality one, you might be better off with a more simplistic bridge.
From my experience, you’ll probably be hesitant to use a tremolo if it can’t stay in tune. In that case, it makes a lot more sense to just go for a fixed bridge, because it will be easier to work with (like restringing) and maybe keep intonation more consistently.
The Bigsbys are actually the first kind of tremolo system. They date back to 1951, so they’re even older than the synchronized bridges! This kind of electric guitar bridge has been kind of phased out because of its competitors, but it always has an iconic and distinct look to it, and you can still find it on some new guitars today. It is commonly associated with Gretsch guitars and the rockabilly scene.
The Bigsby design is unique in that it is a type of tailpiece tremolo and thus, it works alongside a separate bridge that has saddles on it. Technically, because of this, a Bigsby isn’t actually a bridge. The spring function is entirely different in that it sits right under the bar, rather than working in the back of the guitar, like our previous types of tremolos. The springs are also much smaller than your traditional ones.
I’ve actually never personally played with a Bigsby before, but from what I understand they’re not meant to be used aggressively and are more suitable for slow bends and vibrato. Nonetheless, this tremolo helped give rock n’ roll from the 50s and 60s that characteristic “warbly” or droning sound that it has and I think it sounds really cool when applied to chords.
The Stetsbar tremolo is a super innovative type of system that actually adapts to the existing hardware of a specific guitar. Originally designed for Gibson, these could fit onto their tailpieces, which then allowed the guitarist to have a vibrato arm to work with.
Later down the road, Stetsbar created models that worked with all kinds of different bridges. For example, there’s the Hard-Tail and T-style ones which mount on the regular and Telecaster hardtail bridges, and the S-Style that works with the Stratocaster’s synchronized system.
It’s not common to find a Stetsbar when looking for a guitar for sale. It seems that they are more of a custom piece for those who want to upgrade or try something new with little-to-no modifications to their instrument.
Instead, you have to pick up one of these separately and attach it to your existing bridge, like how it was designed. If you are interested in learning and understanding more about these further or want to get one, I highly recommend checking out Stetsbar’s official website to find more information about them.
Summary & Conclusion
A bridge can really make or break your experience with a guitar. A poorly made one that doesn’t stay in tune at all is not something that anyone wants, but one that is well-made and serves its purpose is always a pleasure to have.
In this guide, we discussed the major differences between fixed and tremolo/floating ones and also went in-depth about the types of electric guitar bridges that can be categorized within one of the two parent types. These are all of the bridges that we went over in this article:
- Hardtail Bridges
- Tune-O-Matic Bridges
- Wrap-Around Bridges
- Synchronized Tremolos
- Locking Tremolos
- Bigsby Tremolos
- Stetsbar Tremolo
I know that there is a lot to digest with all of these, but hopefully, this guide has helped you understand the distinctions between each of these bridges, and be able to identify them when you plan on buying a guitar.
Additionally, you’ll probably want to know some of the variations within a type of bridge. Does the guitar have a Schaller Floyd Rose or is it a lower-end licensed one? These things might not matter to beginners, but for the more experienced players, it can be a crucial part of choosing a guitar.
A great, solid bridge offers a lot of lasting value to the guitar, and a bad one can quickly make a guitar collect dust and not be played. Choose something that you think you can stick with for a long time and something that doesn’t annoy you. Locking tremolos can be appealing, especially at first glance, but they’re not for everyone. Sometimes a bridge that is more simplistic is the better choice.
If you’ve liked learning about the differences between electric guitar bridges, be sure to give my guide to the three primary types of fretboard wood a read. Because they have different attributes, knowing the various woods can help you pick out the right guitar with the best feel and sound that you are looking for.