When you buy an electric guitar, the choice between a fixed bridge and a floating bridge is a major factor. It determines the access you have to particular sounds, styles and ease of use when looking after your instrument.
Here’s what we’re going to compare:
- Changing strings
There is no one bridge to rule them all. The choice comes down to preference and your personal experience with each type. There’s also a lot of subsections within bridge variations and we’ll touch on these too, as different manufacturers employ unique techniques.
Also known as hardtails, fixed bridges are screwed into the body of the guitar and keep the strings in place resting on saddles. Each end runs from the body up to the headstock.
Strings come standard with ball ends, so naturally, the fixed bridge will accommodate their functionality. The ball ends are kept in place by a small hole only wide enough for the string to pass through – located either at the bridge tailpiece itself or from the back side of the guitar body. From there, they loop over the saddle, across the fretboard and up to the machine heads.
The very first Telecaster used a three-saddle bridge and set the trend for guitar design to modern day. From there, they developed into six saddles – one for each string. These are suitable for any style of music and are considered the ‘standard’ choice when choosing a guitar.
Fixed bridges allow for simple restringing for the most inexperienced of players – you really can’t go wrong sliding a string through a hole and up to the tuner. They also make for easy intonation fixes as you can adjust the saddle position with a screwdriver.
The bridge limits longitudinal movement of the string, meaning the strings maintain stability when performing bends and vibrato. With a reliable bridge from the likes of Hipshot, Fender, Fishman, Gotoh or Evertune, your guitar will stay in tune extremely well.
No matter how good your bridge is, you’ll need tuners and a nut of the same quality. They rely on these to limit string slippage. In many cases, guitars with fixed bridges will also have locking tuners, which keep the strings in place at the headstock. If you have a guitar with cheap hardware, it won’t stay in tune for very long.
Some hardtails are hit or miss in terms of comfort. You might find ashtray bridges, almost used exclusively with Telecaster shape guitars, will dig into the side of your hand. Bridges that also sit quite high above the body can become uncomfortable after a long time playing.
Lastly, you don’t get the same creative tremolo options as you do with a floating bridge – but more on that later.