Understanding Guitar Saddle and Bridge: Differences and Functions

Published Categorized as Guitar Information

Looking to get the inside scoop on what a guitar saddle and guitar bridge are? How are they important to the guitar’s overall feel and tone? How are they different from one another, guitar saddle vs bridge? How does their function affect you?

All this and more today as we explore the guitar saddle and bridge in great detail to dissect what they are both about, how they relate to one another, and how they differ.

guitar saddle vs bridge

Introduction to the Guitar Saddle and Bridge

Unfortunately, guitarists often use the two terms interchangeably, but they are very distinct parts.

Guitar terminology and anatomy can get quite confusing at times, so let’s go over the basics of a guitar bridge vs. a saddle, as well as how both of those can affect the tone of a guitar.

Any guitarist looking to master their instrument needs to have a solid understanding of the hardware that makes their guitar tick.

The guitar saddle and bridge are two really important pieces of hardware responsible for everything from tone to playability and even amplification. Let’s take a look at what makes the saddle and bridge so important.

What is a Guitar Saddle?

Otherwise known as the ‘bridge saddle,’ it is the thin and long piece of plastic or bone that the strings rest on.

Saddles typically run around 70 to 75 mm long with a thickness of either 2.5 mm (3/32 inch) or 3.2 mm (1/8 inch). and saddle height can vary for each individual guitar, even including those from the same factory.

Each guitar, for example, will have a slightly different neck angle, no matter how slight this difference may be. As such, although the factory might set the action at a specified height – they can achieve this through a combination of adjusting the neck relief, nut slot height, or saddle height – replacement saddles often come in taller heights which should then be adjusted for the specific guitar in question.

What is a Guitar Bridge?

Every functional guitar has a bridge, but each guitar bridge type can be very, very different in shape and material. The bridge and the nut are the two parts of the guitar that determine the scale length, which in turn dictates the fret spacing for proper intonation up and down the neck.

Most acoustic guitars have a wooden bridge that is glued to the soundboard, with modern steel string acoustics running the strings through holes in the bridge, holding them in place with tapered pins.

In others, such as nearly the entire Fender guitar line, strings pass over or through the bridge and then through the body to secure them, but some similar bridges can have strings loaded from the top, instead of the back, of the guitar.

Differences Between the Saddle and the Bridge

A mistake a lot of beginner guitarists tend to make when starting out is referring to the bridge and saddle interchangeably like they are the same thing.

When guitarists talk about the bridge, they are usually referring to the large wooden or steel part attached to the body that holds all the strings in place. The bridge houses the saddles and is responsible for taking the string vibrations and running them through the guitar’s body.

Meanwhile, the saddle, while being part of the bridge mechanism, is a separate piece, responsible for keeping your strings tense and held up. It’s one of the two main contact points the string has with your guitar, the other being the nut slot near the headstock.

The Role of the Saddle in Guitar Tone

Saddle material is something that many players also think can have an impact on the sound of an instrument – this will, in fact, be the main factor in a saddle determining the overall tone of an instrument.

Some players believe that different materials, from bone to fossilized ivory to newer synthetic materials like Tusq, can make an acoustic guitar produce warmer or cooler overtones, for example.

Most electric guitars today feature bridge saddles made from some kind of steel, usually stainless steel, though brass was rather popular in the past.

There have been a number of other options that have sprung up on the market, however. Some companies, for example, offer premium stainless steel replacement bridge saddles, as well as ones made from brass and, in some cases, from phosphor bronze.

As with acoustic guitar nut and saddle materials, some players believe that certain materials offer warmer or cooler overtones and slightly more or less sustain than others.

Some, however, are more inclined to believe this is a mere myth.

The Role of the Bridge in Guitar Tone

If you were to ask 20 professional guitarists which bridge offers the best tone, you’d probably get at least 20 different answers. And, if you had the ability to ask those very same guitarists the same question at a different point in time, you’d probably get at least 20 more.

All of this is to say the tone of a guitar is a highly personal thing. Some players hear – or think they hear – subtle differences that others don’t notice at all, something that has a habit of changing constantly and has, in fact, more to do with momentary human subjectivity than anything else.

In general, the main way a bridge can affect the tone of a guitar is when things aren’t properly set up. If a bridge is loose, you’d be likely to hear buzzing sounds or rattles, for example.

Maintenance of Guitar Saddles and Bridge

The main thing you would want to consider here is adjusting the saddle and/or bridge for the purposes of action and intonation. What follows is a very brief guide:

  • 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.

Choosing the Right Saddle and Bridge for Your Guitar

This is an entirely subjective process and, considering the sheer number of variables – different parts and climactic conditions – on each guitar and the context within which you are playing the instrument, it’s quite a feat.

For acoustics, professionals generally favor bone or TUSQ bridges for their inherently musical characteristics.

For electrics, purists will die on the hill of brass saddles, especially the three that once adorned the bridge of old Fender Telecasters.

As with any kind of upgrade that has to do with tone, you are going to need to do some homework for yourself as to whether it makes sense to switch out your bridge saddles, and whether you’ll be able to hear any kind of difference if you did.

Conclusion

If you’ve been talking about your bridge when you should have been saying saddle, don’t worry, you’re not alone. Many professionals make this mistake all the time – you can divide up any part into smaller parts if you really think about it. The most important thing is that you are trying to make changes for the better.

Take this knowledge out into the world and let it fly!

FAQs Guitar Saddle vs Bridge

Do guitar saddles make a difference?

A beginning guitarist may not notice much of a tonal difference. However, intermediate to advanced guitarists will typically hear a difference. Bone saddles almost always sound better than the inexpensive plastic saddles used in less expensive guitars.

What is the saddle on a guitar?

The guitar saddle is a piece of bone or plastic attached to the bridge that lifts the strings to the desired height and transfers vibration through the bridge to the soundboard.

Is it OK to play guitar without a saddle?

Without the saddle the string is suspended only at the nut and tuning is disabled. There is also damage risk to the bridge and plate if the strings are tightened. Normally the saddle rides in a snug slot and is never removed.

By Nate Pallesen

Nate is just your average (above average) guitar player. He's no Joe Satriani, Jimi Hendrix or Jimmy Page - wait this site is about acoustic guitars (sorry) He's no Django Reinhardt, Chet Atkins, or Michael Hedges, wait? who!? He's no Robert Johnson, Eric Clapton or Ben Harper - more familiar? Anyway you get the point :-)

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