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One of the key components of a guitar's sound and playability is its bridge. This single piece of hardware is responsible for tuning stability, tone, and comfort. A good bridge can make your guitar sing with rich tones and smooth bends. A bad bridge can ruin your playing experience with buzzing, intonation problems, and poor tuning stability.
There are two main types of guitar bridges, floating and fixed. Each has its own unique benefits and characteristics. In this article, we will be uncovering the key differences and how they impact one's sound, playing style, and overall experience with their guitar.
Before we begin, it's important to note that there is a huge variety of guitar bridges available in each of the following categories and they are not all created equal. Different materials and manufacturing techniques have a large impact on the functionality, durability, and tonal qualities of a guitar bridge.
For example, the Nova Guitar Parts bridges in our shop are all CNC machined from aircraft grade aluminum and feature brass and stainless-steel hardware for superior reliability and sound quality. Some manufacturers use lower quality diecast metals and parts that lack the same level of quality control, but at the end of the day the most important factors in a guitar bridge are how it feels and what it sounds like.
Fixed bridges, also referred to as hardtails, are the classic type of bridge that you'll find on most electric guitars. Fixed bridges are mounted directly to the guitar's body, and as the name would suggest, they are fixed and unable to move. With a fixed bridge, you'll get a ton of sustain and stability, making it great for players who want a punchy, tight sound.
One of the biggest advantages of fixed bridges is that they're incredibly easy to use - simply tune your guitar and you're good to go. They are also less prone to breakage, as there's fewer moving parts. However, if you're looking to experiment with dramatic vibrato or want to add some super unique expression to your playing, a fixed bridge might not be the best option.
A standard string-through fixed bridge design
A string-through hardtail is a fixed bridge design which requires the strings to be fed through the body with the ball ends securing to ferrules at the back of the guitar. Some people believe the string-through design offers better sustain because of the way the strings continue through the guitar body, but there's really not much evidence to back up that claim.
String ferrules on the back of a string-through guitar
A top-loading hardtail bridge does not require the strings to be fed through the guitar body. Instead, they are locked into the bridge itself through a variety of mechanisms.
Nova Guitar Parts top-loading hardtail bridge
Also known as floating bridges, these bridges have a lever or bar that allows you to manipulate the pitch of your strings. This is similar to a regular bend but is done through the process of lifting and lowering the bridge. The bridge itself is typically attached to springs on the underside of the guitar. These springs balance out the string tension and leave the bridge suspended on pivots, allowing it to be pushed and pulled in order to change the string pitch.
Traditional tremolo spring and claw system
There are many tremolo techniques that can add expression to your playing. However, heavy use of the tremolo can make it difficult to keep your guitar in tune and it's crucial to use a high-quality floating bridge and well-constructed nut to keep your strings from slipping or getting stuck.
Floating bridges can be amazing for incorporating interesting dynamics and movement to your playing. From adding vibrato, hitting dive bombs, or bending into notes, you can develop new sounds and an original playing style with the freedom you get from a floating bridge. On the downside, tremolo bridges can be a bit finicky to set up and maintain, so they might not be the best option for newer players.
The signature Floyd Rose design features a double locking system where the strings are clamped at the bridge and at the nut, offering excellent tuning stability for heavy-handed tremolo use. This design also includes fine tuners located on the bridge so that you can adjust the tuning after the strings are locked in at the nut.
Floyd Rose tremolo
The synchronized tremolo is the most popular type of floating bridge. Originally used on strats, these tremolos can now be found on nearly every style of guitar. Similar to a string-through bridge, the strings are fed through the tremolo block located on the back of the guitar and up through the saddles.
These are a more modern design where the tuning machines are mounted directly onto the body of the guitar instead of having a separate headstock. This gives you improved balance and sustain, but it's not as common as the traditional bridges. The advantage of a headless bridge is that it gives you improved access to the upper frets, as there's no headstock to get in the way.
Additionally, because the tuning machines are mounted directly onto the body, you get improved resonance and sustain. Headless bridges typically have better tuning stability as the strings are shorter and are locked in on both ends. Most headless bridges are designed to be used without a nut which can further improve tuning stability as the nut is often a problem area for strings catching or slipping.
Check out our line-up of innovative headless hardware from Nova Guitar Parts.
Nova Guitar Parts headless bridge
These are specifically designed for multi-scale or fanned fret guitars, which have a longer scale length at the bass end and a shorter scale length at the treble end. The longer scale length on the bass strings increases string tension, allowing for better tone and intonation with lower tunings. However, because the scale length on the treble strings is shorter, you don't sacrifice the ability to bend the strings or move across the fretboard like you would with a baritone guitar.
This design gives you better string tension and improved playability, especially for players who like to play fast and demanding styles of music. Multi-scale bridges, like Nova's 7-string multiscale bridge, are great for players who want a balanced and responsive instrument, as they help to distribute the tension of the strings evenly across the neck.
IS Guitars' multi-scale design utilizes a headless multi-scale tremolo from Nova Guitar Parts
I hope this article has been helpful in understanding the fundamental differences between guitar bridge types. There are many choices for bridges out there and the ideal bridge is really a subjective matter, but regardless of your playing style or preferences, there's a type of bridge out there that will suit your needs. If you want something simple and reliable, a fixed bridge is the way for you. If you want to experiment with unique sounds and set your playing style apart, you might consider trying a floating bridge. The key is to try it all if you can!
Brett, the owner and founder of Ploutone, is a modern guitarist on a mission to create a sustainable future and build a thriving community through the power of music. Brett founded Ploutone to celebrate independent artists and foster connections among guitarists worldwide. With a vision of spreading positivity and promoting sustainability, Brett hopes to inspire others to push the boundaries of their instruments and contribute to a better world.MEET THE OWNER