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Guitars are instruments that rely on vibration of strings to produce the sound. Naturally, these strings need to be fixed to the guitar somehow.
The part of the guitar that is responsible for doing is called a bridge. There several types of guitar bridges available, all with different features and designs.
Generally we separate guitar bridges into two categories – electric guitar bridges and acoustic guitar bridges. Let’s take a look at each type and their respective subcategories.
– Acoustic guitar bridge
An acoustic guitar bridge is a relatively simple device which is made out of different types of wood which all have different acoustic properties. However, when it comes to acoustic guitars it’s not the bridge that matters all to much, it’s the saddle which sits right in front of the bridge.
There are several types of saddles which have different attributes.
Drop in saddle is the most basic type of saddle you can run into. It’s sits in a routed slot and has little to no flexibility. Once its installed, there’s no adjusting it without needing tools and knowledge as it usually requires removing some material from the bottom of the saddle.
Next one is a compensated saddle which allows you to change the length of the strings by adjusting the point of contact on the saddle. These saddles are used to tweak the intonation of the instrument and offer more control to the user.
Lastly there are adjustable saddles which use two screws to control elevation. While these give you some extra control, they are rarely used anymore due to their tendency to provide a questionable tone if not set correctly, or if they wear down.
– Electric guitar bridge
Electric guitar bridges are far more complex than the ones found on acoustic guitars, and they offer more unique features. Electric guitar bridges are divided into two subcategories which are vastly different from one another. There are fixed bridges and tremolo bridges.
Most widespread and simple electric guitar bridge type is a fixed bridge. It’s a simple device consisting of a metal plate that is bolted to the guitar body with six individual metal saddles for every individual string.
It allows you to adjust the length and/or height of the string, and that’s about it. The biggest benefit of fixed bridges is the fact that they can hold a tune really good.
There are two major types of fixed bridges. Fender’s hard-tail which is what you can find on a Stratocaster, and a Tune-O-Matic Bridge made popular by Gibson Les Paul. There are other variations of bridge types, but most of them draw inspiration from these two.
Tremolo bridges are more complicated than fixed bridges due to their ability to shorten or lengthen the strings on demand. This type of bridge is not hard bolted to the guitar, but rather pivots around a mechanism that is hard fixed to the body of the guitar.
There are two popular types of tremolo bridges, the Fender’s synchronized tremolo and the Floyd Rose.
Synchronized tremolo looks like Fenders standard fixed bridge with the only noticeable difference being the tremolo bar sticking out of the base metal plate. This type of tremolo bridge relies on a set of screws and springs to pivot inside the body.
One major drawback of synchronized tremolo bridge is its inability to hod a tune for a long time. All the increasing and decreasing of tension tends to kick the strings out of tune over time.
Floyd Rose on the other hand is a more complex and enhanced version of the synchronized tremolo, which does a great job of locking down the tune of the guitar using a clamp like device at the nut of the guitar combined with a sturdier design of the bridge itself.
Its ruggedness allows the user to manipulate the tremolo bar over a longer period of time without having to worry if the instrument dropped out of tune. The only major drawback is the complexity of the mechanism which make any kind of adjustments or string replacement a very delicate job.
There are more types of guitar bridges than the ones we’ve mentioned. However, these are the most popular and widespread bridge designs you will find today.
Understanding how a guitar bridge works can help you maintain your instrument better, and deal with less issues down the road.