The differences between a fixed bridge and a floating bridge play a major factor in your choice of electric guitar. Not only do they look strikingly distinct and change the overall aesthetic of the instrument, but they determine the access you have to particular sounds, as well as affect the tuning stability and maintenance.
Here’s what we’re going to compare:
- Changing strings
There is no one guitar bridge to rule them all; this choice solely comes down to your individual preference and needs. There’s also a lot of subsections within bridge types and we’ll touch on these too, as various manufacturers have their own unique takes on bridge design.
Also known as hardtails, fixed bridges are screwed into the body of the guitar and keep the strings resting in place on saddles – see below for example. This simplistic bridge design is considered a standard appointment on electric guitars outside of the Fender Stratocaster.
Ball ends come as a standard on guitar strings, so naturally, the classic fixed bridge will accommodate their functionality. Keeping the ball ends in place in this system are small holes 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 tuners.
The very first Telecaster featured a three-saddle bridge, which set the trend for guitar design into the modern day. Fender and Gibson later adopted a six saddle bridge – one saddle for each string – allowing players to adjust intonation on a string-by-string basis. Gibson’s Les Paul Tun-O-Matic (TOM for short) meant they didn’t even need to drill holes into the body of the guitar; instead, you slide the string through a tailpiece mounted on top of the guitar body and then onto the saddles.
Fixed bridges allow for simple restringing even for the most inexperienced of players. You really can’t go wrong sliding a string through a hole and resting it on top of the saddle. They also make for easy intonation fixes as you’re able to adjust the saddle position with a screwdriver.
The bridge limits longitudinal string movement, meaning the strings maintain stability when performing bends and vibrato. This is especially useful for playing styles of music with lots of extreme pitch-changing techniques. A reliable bridge from the likes of Wilkinson, Fender, Fishman, Gotoh or Evertune, will see you in good stead.
No matter how good your fixed bridge, you’ll need tuners and a nut of the same quality to limit string slippage. In many cases, hardtail guitars will also be equipped with locking tuners to keep the strings tightly in place at the headstock. If you have a guitar with below par hardware, it won’t stay in tune very long – no matter how good your bridge.
Some hardtails are hit or miss in terms of comfort. You might find ashtray bridges, almost paired exclusively with Telecaster shape guitars, may dig into the side of your hand. Bridges that also sit quite high above the body may become uncomfortable after a playing for extended periods of time.
Telecaster Ashtray Bridge
Lastly, you don’t get the same creative tremolo options as you do with a floating bridge – but more on that later.