If you’re curious about rubber-bridge guitars, you’ve come to the right post!
A Rubber Bridge?! What Is That?
So while browsing online, you might have stumbled upon talks of rubber-bridge guitars. If you’re not at all familiar, let’s take a closer look at the concept and clear things up.
The simplest answer is in the name. It’s a guitar with a rubber bridge.
To get a rubber bridge on your instrument, you’ll first need to remove the standard bridge on your instrument. But let’s focus on that later. What we first need to examine is the function of a rubber bridge.
Now, you may already know that the bridge impacts the tone. After all, it’s where the strings are fixed in place and where they break at a certain angle. In particular, we’re looking at the saddle, or individual saddles, which is where the strings make contact.
And by default, we have hard materials for the bridge and the saddles. This goes for both acoustic and electric guitars. This ensures that the strings will ring out freely.
Well, the idea behind a rubber bridge is completely opposite. The strings should ring out, but they’re also muted. As a result, you get a very specific tone with decreased sustain.
The trend presumably started sometime in the late 2000s. The idea was to change the electric guitar tone and make it somewhat banjo-like. However, the sonic results differ depending on the rubber and the type of bridge that you use.
Nonetheless, this idea also spilled into the acoustic guitar world. The same principle with a vintage-like tailpiece and a new bridge was applied here.
The Issue of Pickups That Go With Rubber Bridges
One of the problems with this approach is that the output is, obviously, much quieter. Additionally, a piezo on an acoustic guitar will produce pretty lo-fi-sounding results. It just won’t cut it.
This is why you’ll need to use high-output magnetic pickups, both with acoustic and electric guitars. A medium-output pickup might also work, but you’ll probably need to bring it closer to the strings.
Some have also combined the sound of a piezo and a magnetic pickup. While piezo can’t really work well on its own for rubber-bridge guitars, it can complement the magnetic pickup. This brings out some interesting results.
But overall, you’ll need something more sensitive to pick up the string vibration. After all, we’re talking about an unconventional setup. The string vibration is reduced significantly on purpose. So to get it to sound right, a hotter pickup will get the job done.
From my experience, a combination of a high-output magnetic pickup and a piezo sensor works the best. After all, you’ll also be able to mix the two tones and find the right balance.
What Are They Good For?
Now, the obvious question here is their use. To an average, or even more experienced, guitar player, such a setup would seem weird to say the least. You want your strings to ring out. And you want to be heard and cut through the mix.
Well, the advantage of such a setup is a very specific tone. I could describe it as banjo-like. However, it’s mellower and smoother yet it retains that plucking kind of vibe. An acoustic guitar with a rubber bridge is comparable to a clean palm-muted electric guitar. But I’ll let you be the judge of that. Here’s one example of an acoustic guitar with a rubber bridge and a magnetic pickup.
And here’s one example recorded with a microphone.
The thing is that the tone with electric guitars is very similar. This is because we’re using magnetic pickups in both cases. However, solid-body electric guitars can sound a bit more banjo-like. Here are a few examples. Bear in mind that there aren’t many videos of them online.
And here’s one unusual example featuring an archtop with a Bigsby vibrato system and a rubber bridge.
With this kind of sound, rubber bridges are usually popular among indie rock players. With that said, they’re far from a common occurrence. Sure, you may stumble upon them. But they’re not really commercially available. It’s more of an experimental thing.
Reportedly, such guitars found their way onto Taylor Swift’s “Folklore” album. Other names of musicians who may have used them also include Phoebe Bridgers, Jeff Tweedy, and Ariel Posen among others.
How to Set It Up?
If you like them, but you’re not sure whether you want to modify your instrument, there’s a simpler solution. Here’s an example of a so-called “poor man’s banjo.”
Jokes aside, you could do that to get an overall idea about rubber bridges. But if you really want one, you’ll most likely have to make it yourself. Well, at least some parts of it. This is why I’d highly recommend using cheap guitars for this whole thing.
For this purpose, you could use rubber seal strips. Or just generally thick pieces of rubber. What you’ll want is to create the same saddle shape. You’ll slide it into the saddle slot in the bridge and use it in that form.
But for the whole thing to work properly, you’ll need a tailpiece. For this, may need some minor modifications to the body. Here’s an interesting guide.
However, there are also examples without a tailpiece. Just a rubber saddle in the regular bridge. Here’s what that looks like.
As far as electric guitars go, it may be a bit simpler. You’ll need the right tailpiece, but you won’t need to modify the body. You’ll have to remove the bridge, add the tailpiece, and add a solid piece of rubber instead of a bridge. Now, this piece of rubber should be just the right size. Strings should make contact with it and break at a slight angle. There should also be enough tension on it to tune it properly.
My suggestion would be to try with a regular Gibson-style guitar with a tailpiece. A cheaper Epiphone will do the trick. This won’t require you to purchase an additional trapeze tailpiece.
Rubber Bridge Guitar: Conclusion
I hope this article has helped you think through rubber-bridge guitars and if this modification is one you want to try out!
And if you want to read more about the different types of guitars on this blog, then check out:
- Mahogany Guitars
- Cocobolo vs Rosewood as Guitar Materials
- Cherry Guitar Neck: Does this Material Work?
Lastly, feel free to leave a message in the comments below if you have questions about this or another guitar-related topic!