Fixed Bridge vs Floating Bridge – Which Is Better?

Everyone has a preference when it comes to a type of guitar bridge. Both floating and fixed variants have their pros and cons - exactly why we’re going to explore what the best choice is for you.

Cian Hodge

Cian Hodge

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:

  • Sound
  • Reliability
  • Changing strings
  • Comfort
  • Price

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.

Fixed Bridge

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 bridge

Pros

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.

fixed bridge

Cons

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.

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Floating Bridge

Floating bridges were first introduced on archtop guitars way back in the 1920s. The Bigsby became the first commercially successful vibrato system until the Fender Stratocaster standardised the design in the mid-fifties.

It provides players with a way of achieving vibrato (minor pitch waves) without bending the strings through your fingers. It also allows for larger pitch changes as you press or raise the tremolo arm, adding another expressive tool to your arsenal.

Advanced double locking tremolos such as the Floyd Rose became popular in the late ‘70s and ‘80s, as rock and metal went through their ‘hair’ phases. Guitar virtuosos like Steve Vai, Joe Satriani and Eddie Van Halen utilised these to their full extent, as they needed extreme ways to alter the sound of their solos.

floating bridge

Pros

The obvious use of a floating bridge is the ability to expand on your creative playing. With basic trem bridges, you can add unique accents and smooth vibrato.

Bulkier double locking systems allow you to use vibrato more aggressively, performing divebombs as you push the arm all the way down, or sharp pitch flutters if you quickly hit the tremolo arm. The strings are locked in place not only at the bridge but at the locking nut too, so slippage is minute or non-existent.

Most floating bridges are extremely comfortable for your picking hand, as they have flatter surfaces to rest the side of your palm.

Double locking tremolos will keep your guitar stable and in tune almost for as long as you use the strings. If they do slip slightly out of tune, they have fine wheel tuners at the bridge which allow you to microtune.

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Cons

Their basic floating bridge counterparts are a little more fragile. You can’t do big bends without them going drastically out of tune, especially on guitars with poorly made hardware – much like fixed bridges.

They can also be a nightmare when changing strings, especially for beginners. Fender-style bridges and double locking terms use springs to keep the system suspended. The best method is to change strings one at a time but makes cleaning the fretboard difficult.

Bigsbys also take a little bit of getting used to as the strings are susceptible to falling out the holes when you pull them up to the tuner. Check out our article on how to change strings on a floating bridge guitar if you’d like to find out more about the inner workings.

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Should You Buy A Guitar With A Floating or Fixed Bridge?

The simplest way to determine the ideal bridge for you is to try out as many as possible from a range of brands. As with most things in the guitar world, highly rated systems are usually pricier. Because the bridge is such a major part of a guitar, you’ll have to pay considerable sums for the best.

You’ve got to weigh up the ease of use of a fixed bridge against the creative possibilities you can get from a floating bridge. Do you really need one?

If you enjoyed this read, check out our other Labs articles!

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Cian Hodge
Cian Hodge
Cian is a copywriter for the Andertons web team. He shares his birthday with Muse frontman Matt Bellamy and believes he will one day reach the same level of stardom. Cian is a big prog/modern metal fan so naturally loves Bare Knuckle pickups and headless or pointy guitars.

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