If you’re curious about the differences between hardtail vs tremolo guitar bridges, you’ve come to the right post!
So which bridge type is better?
I’ll unpack this more in the sections below.
Electric Guitar Bridges Explained
Every guitar needs a bridge. Without one, it’s not really a functional guitar. But although we might not pay that much attention to it, the bridge makes a world of difference.
There are, of course, many different types of bridges. In fact, there’s really a whole world of guitar bridges to explore. However, for this article its it’s important to know that the bridge’s main function is to keep strings in place.
It will also help keep the string tension and intonation. And on electric guitars, you may also notice individual string saddles on the bridge. They’re adjustable and can help you keep the intonation of each string.
There are, of course, plenty of different bridge types for electric guitars. However, some of the most common ones are:
- Tune-o-matic with a stopbar tailpiece
- Fender-style tremolo
- Fender-style hard-tail
- Tune-o-matic with a Bigsby-style vibrato tailpiece
- Fender-style vintage floating bridges
- Floating bridges, including Floyd Rose and Kahler
Hardtail Vs Tremolo
Sure, all this info may seem confusing to someone who’s just starting to play guitar. But one of the biggest distinctions between bridges is whether they are hardtail or tremolo. So what are the fundamental differences between these two bridge types?
Hardtail Bridges: What Are They?
A hardtail refers to any type of fixed bridge. This means that the strings and the bridge stay in their place. In other words, the bridge keeps the strings fixed in place. They could either be at the point of the bridge or behind it. In some cases, they also go through the body.
These are the fixed bridges types:
- Tune-o-matic with a stopbar
- Tune-o-matic with strings going through the body
- Stop bar bridge
- Fender-style hardtail bridge
- Vintage Telecaster bridge
The most common ones are the tune-o-matic with a stop bar tailpiece and Fender’s classic hardtail.
The tune-o-matic one is usually found on Gibson and Gibson-style guitars. On these bridges, the strings rest on the individual saddles and the bridge is height-adjustable on each of its two sides.
The stopbar tailpiece extends the whole bridge and keeps the strings in place. You can also adjust its height to control the tension.
Here’s a video showing what tune-o-matic bridges are like:
Additionally, you can move each saddle towards or away from the headstock. This allows you to keep precise intonation on each string all over the fretboard.
The Fender-style hardtail bridge consists of a fixed L-shaped plate with individual string saddles. The strings here go through the bridge and the body. You can adjust each saddle’s height and fine-tune its distance from the nut. However, you can’t adjust the height of the bridge itself.
Old-school Telecaster bridges are simpler. It’s a metal plate with three saddles. Each saddle holds two strings. However, it’s much harder to do precise string height and intonation adjustments on them.
Stopbar or wraparound bridges are the simplest ones. You see them on guitars like Gibson’s Les Paul Junior and SG Junior. It’s basically just a slightly modified tailpiece. Although super-simple, it’s not a very practical solution as you can’t do any intonation adjustments.
The tremolo or vibrato bridge also comes in many variants. The most common and the most practical is the Fender-style synchronized tremolo bridge.
Leo Fender came up with this back in the early 1950s. The bridge is just like Fender’s hardtail one in appearance. However, it’s accompanied by a cavity on the backside of the body. In it, we have up to five springs holding the bridge in place.
When you push the tremolo arm down, you pull the bridge towards the neck. This effectively lowers the pitch.
In the cavity, we also have the tremolo block. Strings pass through this rectangular piece of metal and are kept securely in place.
Here’s a video look into these bridges:
Bigsby-style vibrato tailpieces are an older variant. They come with a tune-o-matic or a so-called roller bridge. The tailpiece has a metal bar that holds the strings. As you move the vibrato arm, you roll this bar and effectively lower the pitch. These are not as common as Fender-style synchronized tremolo bridges.
If you want to know more about them, this is a solid guide for Bigsby vibrato bridges:
So-called floating bridges allow you to both lower and raise the pitch. The oldest variants include Fender’s design for the Jazzmaster guitar. There’s also a somewhat similar Dynamic Vibrato concept, but these aren’t that common.
More common are Fender-style synchronized floating tremolo bridges. They also come with an additional body cavity and are positioned to allow two-way action.
Locking bridges are the most advanced ones. These also come with a locking nut mechanism that keeps the strings in one tuning. Additionally, the bridge comes with a fine tuner on each saddle.
The most common ones are made by Floyd Rose and Kahler. In short, they have a much wider range, going both up and down in pitch. And they’re also very complicated for maintenance and restringing.
But once you set them, they stay in tune. Unless a string breaks. Then all other strings go out of tune.
Here’s more info about how the restringing process goes on Floyd Rose bridges:
How Do They Compare in Practice and What Should You Choose?
There’s one simple rule to follow here. If you don’t plan on using a tremolo bridge that much, it’s best to get a guitar without one. Otherwise, it’s just an unnecessary investment.
Additionally, tremolo bridges require more maintenance and setups. This is especially the case with locking tremolos, like the ones by Floyd Rose. If you’re a beginner, I think you should avoid them.
But if you really want a tremolo bridge, then go with the classic Fender synchronized tremolo. They’re also pretty common on Squier guitars, which are more than a great deal for beginners.
Just bear in mind that tremolos also require practice. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not just about pushing and pulling the tremolo arm. This kind of bridge can be a very useful expressive tool. And setting it up for your needs will also further enhance it.
Meanwhile, fixed bridges are much simpler. Although they allow no active change in pitch, they are usually more stable. They’re much more reliable when it comes to tuning stability. Additionally, they’re much less of a headache to maintain. And guitars with fixed bridges usually tend to have better sustain.
Hardtail Vs Tremolo: Conclusion
I hope this article has helped you understand some of the differences between these bridge types and which might be better for you!
And as usual, feel free to message me in the comments below if you have questions about this or another guitar-related subject!