Wouldn’t you like to know what a guitar bridge is and why it’s so important to the overall tone and feel of a guitar? Then step forth as we show you the way!
Introduction to Guitar Bridges
A bridge is a device that supports the strings on a stringed musical instrument and transmits the vibration of those strings to another structural component of the instrument. This is typically a soundboard, such as the top of a guitar or violin, which transfers the sound to the surrounding air.
Depending on the instrument, the bridge may be made of carved wood (violin family instruments, acoustic guitars, and some jazz guitars), metal (electric guitars such as the Fender Telecaster), or other materials. The bridge supports the strings and holds them over the body of the instrument under tension.
All the parts on a guitar are important, from tuning machines to frets and pickguards. But one of the most important parts of a guitar is its bridge, which can have a huge impact on things like tone, sustain, intonation, and more.
Types of Guitar Bridges
There are multiple types of guitar bridges which will be elucidated upon below:
- Hardtail bridges: one of the most ubiquitous guitar bridge types found in varying degrees of quality throughout the Western world. Guitar bridges don’t come much more simple than this design.
- Tune-O-Matic: it’s hard to say whether the Tune-O-Matic bridge is simpler than the hardtail style of bridge, though suffice it to say that they are both about as simple as guitar bridge types can be.
- Wrap-Around: this is a piece of history, one of the oldest kinds of guitar bridge types to ever grace the electric guitar, acting as the direct predecessor to the Tune-O-Matic, in fact being the reason for its very existence, the latter designed in response to the pitfalls of the former.
- Vibrato Bridges: the addition of the vibrato arm to the bridge was quite simply revolutionary to the way we understand sound in popular music as well as its course throughout the rest of the 20th century. The electric guitars prevailing in the period were installed with six adjustable saddles for the relative intonation of each string.
- There are plenty of variations on this theme, but suffice it to say that they are all trying to do more or less the same thing.
Installing and Replacing a Guitar Bridge
What follows are instructions on how to replace the bridge on an acoustic guitar:
- Unwind and remove the 6 strings from your acoustic guitar.
- Trace around the old bridge lightly with a pencil.
- Place a heating pad over the bridge for 1-2 minutes to loosen the glue.
- Wedge a putty knife between the bridge and the guitar body.
- Lift the putty knife and pull away the dislodged bridge.
- Scrape off the excess glue on the guitar body with a chisel.
- Buy a replacement bridge that is similar in size and shape to the original.
- Line up the new bridge with the traced outline and clamp it in place.
- Set up a bowl of water, a few rags, and a screwdriver on your work surface.
- Apply wood glue to the back of the replacement bridge.
- Press the bridge carefully in place on the guitar body.
- Use the C-clamp to clamp the bridge into place with light pressure.
- Dampen the rag and use it to wipe away excess glue that seeps out.
- Leave the clamp in place overnight so the glue can cure.
- Remove the clamp the next day and restring your guitar.
Adjusting the Guitar Bridge
Of course, our bridge might not need an entire replacement – sometimes, it might just need adjusting, a common part of the process of adjusting the action of a stringed instrument. Here’s how to do it on a Gibson bridge, though adjusting for others should be fairly self-explanatory:
- Measure the action at the 12th fret and determine whether you’d like to raise or lower the string height.
- Adjust the bridge height by turning the slot-head screw on the bridge post or whichever method applies to your bridge style. Always be sure to tune your guitar back to pitch before taking any further measurements.
- Set your treble side action about 1/64th of an inch lower on the treble side but feel free to experiment and find the height that best suits your playing style.
Common Issues with Guitar Bridges
What follows are some common issues that guitarists have been known to experience with their instruments:
- Bridge lift: when the bridge becomes unglued from the guitar’s top.
- This can happen due to a number of factors, including changes in humidity, excessive string tension, or simply the guitar’s age.
- If you notice that your bridge is lifting, it’s important to have it repaired as soon as possible. Otherwise, the bridge could come completely off, damaging the guitar and making it unplayable.
- Bridge saddle wear: bridge saddles are small pieces of metal or plastic that the strings rest on.
- Over time, the saddles can wear down, causing the strings to buzz or rattle.
- To fix worn saddles, you can either replace them or have them resurfaced by a luthier. If you’re replacing the saddles, be sure to choose ones that are the same size and shape as the originals.
- Intonation problems: these occur when the guitar’s strings are not in tune with each other.
- This can be caused by a number of factors, including the bridge being misaligned or the bridge saddles being incorrectly positioned.
- To fix intonation problems, you can adjust the bridge saddles using a small screwdriver. If you’re not comfortable doing this yourself, you can take your guitar to a luthier for adjustment.
- Broken bridge pins: these hold the strings in place on the bridge. If a bridge pin breaks, it can cause the string to buzz or rattle.
- Broken bridge pins can be easily replaced.
- Loose bridge screws: if the screws that hold the bridge to the guitar become loose, the bridge can shift out of position, causing intonation problems.
- Loose bridge screws can be tightened with a screwdriver.
- Corroded bridge: over time, the bridge can become corroded, especially if the guitar is not properly cared for. Corrosion can cause the bridge to rust or tarnish, which can affect its sound and performance.
- To clean a corroded bridge, you can use a mild soap and water solution.
Impact of the Guitar Bridge on Tone
For some, the bridge is an essential link in the tone chain, ranking right up there with your guitar’s pickups and the wood the body is made from in setting the core tone of the instrument, especially if you want to hear deep, harmonically rich resonance throughout the body of the guitar.
Bridges and bridge saddles made from different materials resonate differently and therefore make your guitar sound different. Hence, why it’s important to research which bridge materials are best for you.
Stamped steel (’50s and ’60s) and die-cast Mazac (’70s) Strat bridge saddles sound different; brass, threaded steel, and notched steel Tele saddles sound different; chrome-plated steel and nickel-plated aluminum wrap-over bridges sound different; floating bridges made from rosewood and ebony sound different; and so on.
The Bridge’s Role in Guitar Action
The term ‘action’ refers to the distance between the top of your frets to the bottom of your strings. This distance plays a crucial role in your setup because it determines how easy it is to fret each note and how aggressively you can play the instrument before causing a fret buzz.
When measuring action, you’ll want to keep in mind some target numbers, but ultimately, your playing style and personal taste will determine the string height.
In this way, it shouldn’t be hard to see how the bridge has a direct impact on the overall action of the instrument – the bridge is, after all, one of the major dictators of string height on a guitar!
Selecting the Right Bridge for Your Guitar
Unless you are really looking to get particular about your guitar’s sound and feel, it’s not all that necessary to choose the right bridge for your guitar.
A beginner, though, might do best to go with a wraparound bridge. The first modern guitar bridge to feature on electric guitars, the wraparound gets its name from the way you wrap the strings around the bridge. It’s a simple design that’s great for beginners, offering simple restringing and reliable performance.
Of course, if you want to use a vibration system, then your choice might be elsewhere.
The synchronized tremolo is the most popular type of floating tremolo 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.
In most cases, the quality of a guitar’s bridge is just as important as the quality of the wood the guitar is made of. If a guitar is made of exotic, top-shelf tonewoods, but the bridge is poorly made, the guitar won’t sound nearly as good as it should. That’s the balance you need to try and find when searching for your next guitar.
Hopefully, through reading this article you have been able to find this out for yourself.
FAQs Guitar Bridge
A bridge is a device that supports the strings on a stringed musical instrument and transmits the vibration of those strings to another structural component of the instrument – typically a soundboard, such as the top of a guitar or violin – which transfers the sound to the surrounding air.
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.