Advice for buying your first electric guitar: Bridge types and advantages.
By: Bruno Gonçalves
If you’re already getting exhausted of researching your perfect first guitar, let me help you: in this article, I will break down the 3 main bridge types (fixed, floating and non-floating) so you can narrow down your options based on what you want to play and how much upkeep you want to do regularly.
Let’s start by talking about some commonly found bridge types on the most popular guitar shapes:
Tune-o-matic bridges are present in most Les Paul’s and SG guitars in the market.
String-through-body are more commonly found in V’s, Telecasters and in some super strat guitars (like Ibanez RG line)
Non-floating bridges are widely used on almost all Stratocasters and Jaguars out there, and they have a whammy bar.
The most famous type is the Floyd Rose: it also has a whammy bar. You may remember all the guitar tricks Steve Vai did on the Crossroads movie with it. It’s present mainly on ‘super strat’ guitars like Ibanez (RG, S, Jem…), Jackson (Soloists) and ESP/LTDs M-line guitars.
Remember that not all we talked about here is written in stone. They are only generalizations to make it easy for you to grasp the concepts. There are Les Paul’s with Floyd rose bridges, super strats with fixed bridges and flying V’s with tune-o-matic’s (stop-tail included).
Now that you know some general terms for what type of bridges are out there in the most popular guitar models, we can talk about their characteristics and then compare them to each other in various aspects.
Created by Ted McCarty (Gibson President), the first guitar to use it was the 1954 Les Paul Custom. It was very different from the other bridges going around back then, and that was mainly because it had individually adjustable saddles in order to intonate the guitar properly.
Like said before, the tune-o-matic is a type of fixed bridge commonly found in Les Paul’s and SG models. It rests on two posts and a stop-tail: A metal piece where the strings go through before going to the bridge. The main points about a tune-o-matic bridge: easy to setup, low maintenance and they are very, very stable when it comes to keeping the guitar in tune.
It uses the same tune-o-matic bridge, but the main difference here is that instead of a stop-tail there are tiny holes with metal ‘tunnels’ leading the string (that is inserted behind the body) to the top. Guitars with this variation either have tune-o-matic bridges or tele style bridges:
They are even easier to set-up because there is no stop-tail to adjust the height, and the main benefit is more sustain (notes last longer) because the strings are in direct contact with the wood of the body.
This type of bridge is mainly found on Stratocaster and Jaguar guitars. The main concept is to allow the strings to be down-tuned using the ‘lever’ principle (whammy bar, vibrato bar, etc). It sits on the body, tied by two screws in the front portion of the bridge. They are positioned in that fashion to allow the back of the bridge to be raised when the whammy bar is pressed down. The whammy bar allows for more expressive uses than the fixed bridges, as you can even do vibrato on chords (possible to do on fixed bridges, but harder because you really got to use your hand to reach a good vibrato effect).
The strings also comes from the back of the guitar in strats, but it is not a string-through body but a string-through bridge. The strings go through slots on the bridge block, not on the wood itself like the string-through body guitars. On Jaguars, the strings sits directly on the bridge on the top of the guitar.
Depending on how you want to use, non-floating bridges can give you a little more work to set-up and maintain, but it isn’t hard to learn.
Floyd Rose Guitar (without the whammy bar)
The main difference between a floating bridge and a non-floating one is that the floating bridge does not sit on the body of the guitar, and its construction is entirely based on an equilibrium between the string pull and the bridge’s springs pull.
That makes for a bridge that only sits on two screws, doesn’t touch the body and can also be pulled backwards (to raise the pitch) if the guitar has a cavity for that. This bridge allows all the guitar tricks we talked about earlier, and 80s lovers will probably want one.
Beware: The Floyd rose, while cool in all its uses, can be very hard to set-up, change strings or even tune after breaking one string. It requires lots of practice, time and has a hard learning curve. It also requires high maintenance because of the nut-locking system: In order to increase tuning stability, Floyd Rose guitars are equipped with locking nuts. After the strings are tuned, you lock the nut and tune the strings only by the screws on the bridge. Over time, those screws won’t go any further and you’ll need to unlock the nut, loose the screws, tune using the machine heads and lock it back in place.
Also because of its floating nature, every little problem becomes a catastrophe: even a string break can turn into a nightmare, as the guitar will go completely out of tune and it will take a few minutes to tune it back properly after inserting a new string, because of all the nut-locking and equilibrium we talked about early.
Closing Thoughts and Advice
If you are looking for your first electric guitar, I would highly recommend you to avoid Floyd Rose bridges, at least for now. It can be very frustrating having those kind of problems with the only guitar you got, and it can be even more frustrating if you don’t know how to fix problems or avoid creating them. When you get a little more experience setting up guitars and you want to try it out, buy a new one with a Floyd Rose bridge.
When buying Floyd Rose equipped guitars, run away from the very cheap models. All those problems we talked about can become even worst with cheap hardware. If you can, try going for an intermediate model at least.
I hope this article helped you to sort out the bridge types, understand them and figure out which one will work best for you based on what genres you want to play and how much work you want to have keeping it nice and playable. Keep going, get that guitar and learn to play now! I can’t even begin to tell you how playing guitar has changed my entire life for the better, and I really wish you harness that same power from music on your day-to-day life.
About the author: Bruno Gonçalves is an electric guitar teacher, professional musician and digital effects enthusiast from Ribeirão Preto, Brazil. To find out more about his work or read more articles, you can visit his website.