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WHAT MATTERS IN A GUITAR BRIDGE?

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ADDRESSING T HE S WA M P OF M Y T HS
What’s the difference? myths, assertions and opinions, often triggered I’m not relying on what I’ve heard from
Differences between guitar bridges is one of by tradition or a piece of (dis)information one someone or what I’ve read from books. My
those topics that keeps conjuring up endless has heard from a friend or read online. approach could be described stone cold
debates among players. What are the best pragmatic. I’ll go through in this article a few
I’ll be stone cold pragmatic
materials? How does a trem affect to the sound? common situations in the hope that reading this
The perspective I’m offering you is based on my
Which bridge has the best sustain? Is a locking piece won’t at least leave you more confused than
own experience, having made, repaired and
trem from the devil…? An abysmal swamp of you were before.
played a whole lotta guitars over the last decades.

THE BRIDGE OV ER T ROUBLED WAT ER


Bridge solutions that work any room to balance the height of the low and happen if the fit of the bushings is too loose – or
I’ll start from wraparound bridges for one high strings. This results usually that after if the body wood is soft (like mahogany or
particular reason. This story describes perfectly adjustments the bridge sits leaning forward, in spanish cedar) and the wood compresses over
my approach to guitar design in general. an angled position in the loose stud slots. Not time, making the holes oval shaped. There is a
Practical solutions. Nuts and bolts. Things that cool. constant force of about 60 kilograms pulling the
work. I was reluctant for a long time to offer wraparound bridge forward, so it’s no wonder
What if the wood gives in?
wraparound bridges in any of my guitars. There that sometimes the wood gives in. To me, this
I’ve seen guitars where the bushings of the
were a couple of reasons why so. The traditional has been a turnoff. I’ve felt it’s not designed
wraparound bridge have given in and the whole
wraparound models are mounted with studs that right, and so I’ve steered clear of it.
unit is leaning forward. Or, the bushings have
need to have a pretty loose tolerance so there’s
started to crawl up from their holes. This can

Luthier collaboration understanding mechanics, but he also has the a new wraparound bridge. They sent me a
A few years back I started to design the Unicorn skills to do the metal work. We came up with prototype, which seemed absolutely great. They
Supersonic guitar. I wanted it to have a the idea to lock the bushings through the body. had milled it from a billet of aircraft grade
wraparound bridge – if only those drawbacks A really simple fix to a nasty problem! One of aluminium, and the bridge sounded and felt
were solved somehow. The studs were an easy those moments when we thought that somebody phenomenal. I pointed out a little shortcoming
one. Lari (one of my luthiers) and I were must have figured this out before us. But we about the total height of the unit, and to my
drawing a locking stud that would be easy to use. couldn’t find anything like it anywhere. amazement the guys at ABM were thankful for
Then I stumbled upon the locking studs my my feedback and improved the design before
Lari made the first prototypes in our shop
fellow luthier Jason Schroeder had designed. It launching it.
basement with his 100 years old lathe, and they
was just like my drawing. Jason had gotten there
turned out perfect. It wouldn’t work as an Rock solid wraparound bridge solution
first! I ordered a few of those studs to try them
aftermarket part for vintage guitars though. So now I had the ABM 3024 wraparound bridge
out. The quality was excellent, and the studs did
Why? Because you need to drill a hole through locked in place with the Schroeder studs, and the
exactly the job I wanted them for. We’ve
the body! But with my guitars, I’m free from the whole unit anchored to the body with our own
continued using the Schroeder locking studs
vintage ghosts, so this was the perfect solution Lock-Thru-Body bushings. The most rock solid
ever since, in all the guitars we make with
for us. wraparound bridge solution ever!
wraparound bridge. 
Improving the improved
Lock-thru-body bushings We were so excited about this new bridge
To complete our task we needed a great concept that we decided to started offering it as
The bushings remained a major concern. I
wraparound bridge with the right feel. It would an option for all the Unicorn and the Duke
couldn’t find any ready made solutions for the
need to also meet our strict quality guitars. Download the Guitar Creator app and
problem, so Lari and I started brainstorming the
requirements. I contacted ABM and it turned there you’ll have it!
part. Lari is quite a wizard with not only
out they were right in the middle of developing

THE SECRET OF T WA NG
Why do some guitars have a “twangy” sound? functions as a mounting ring for the bridge the sound improves – while another hears the
The sharp, bright, percussive, mid-rangy, in- pickup as well. The steel plate changes the shape alteration in a negative way. So there are no
your-face type tone that works great to a wide of the pickup magnetic field, contributing to the rights or wrongs here. It’s all a matter of
variety of music, most often connected to t-style characteristic edgy sound of the guitar. personal preference. But – it is certainly useful to
guitars. There are a number of factors be aware of the fact that a steel plate
The magnetic flux changes
contributing to this special tonal character but surrounding a pickup affects the pickup sound
When you change the bridge material to a non-
not many come to think that one of the key due to the change of the magnetic flux.
magnetic material – like brass or stainless steel –
reasons for the twangy sound is the traditional t-
the sound of the guitar changes. One would say
style bridge baseplate made of steel, which

WHAT IS A T WA NG RI NG?
Out of the box thinking solution to not lose the twang even if we install a Since it adds “twang” to a Mojo King, how
When you think outside the box, you sometimes vibrato bridge to a guitar. The twang ring works would it work for example in a humbucker
stumble upon surprising ideas. Even if this little very nicely for this purpose – even though the equipped guitar? I was developing the Unicorn
story is not exactly about a guitar bridge, it is vibrato does always alter the sound of a guitar as Supersonic model at the time, and that felt like
bridge related, so here goes. Based on the well. More about that later! the perfect guinea pig for the purpose. The
aforementioned phenomenon (steel changes the twang ring worked beautifully in it, adding a
The perfect guinea pig
shape of the magnetic field of a pickup), we have slight edge to the humbucker sound. As a nice
After making quite a few Mojo Kings, I asked
developed a little custom part called the “twang side effect, we have now humbucker size twang
myself: Since the twang ring works so well, why
ring”. It is a pickup ring we first started using in rings available also for the Mojo model.
don’t we try it in other types of guitars as well?
the Mojo King model. The idea was to find a

THREE OR SIX S A DDLES ?


Sometimes vintage sucks Bridge saddles matter One way to fix the intonation is to file the
There is another common debate about t-style Eliminating one problem may cause another! saddles individually. This works fine, but if you
bridges that I want to address. It has to do with Changing this particular bridge design to six change string gauge or brand, you might want to
the saddles. Should there be three of them, like it saddles, the sound changes as well – and not for readjust. Not good. Trevor Wilkinson has come
used to be back in the day? Or are six saddles the better. The strings press the saddles up with an ingenious solution to this problem by
better? Stydying the history, I’m assuming the downwards, and with three saddles the pressure developing his WT3 saddle that swivels around
original idea was just to make a very simple is really strong as the saddles are pressed down its axis. The design allows precise intonation
bridge design. A combo that fixes the strings at by two strings each. This way, the bridge is rock adjustment without compromising the string
the body end, mounts one of the pickups and solid. So is the sound. With six saddles, pressure at the saddles. To me, Trev’s solution is
allows to set the intonation somewhat correct. however, the pressure on the saddles is weaker, spot on the same wavelength with my thinking.
The last of the features sucks, though. You just and the sound loses some of its solidity. So… A pragmatic solution to a pragmatic problem,
can’t adjust intonation of six strings with three now we’re back to three saddles..! without compromising the tone. That is why we
saddles that move back and forth. In that regard like to use the Gotoh/Wilkinson WT3 bridge in
A pragmatic solution to a pragmatic problem
– yes – six saddles is indeed better. Or is it? our Mojo guitars.

THE DEVIL IS IN T HE DETA I LS


Functionality comes first strings. This results in less string breakage at the Even the bridge saddle plating matters!
There is an endless debate going on also about saddles. Too soft materials, however, will cause An important, yet often overlooked factor
saddle materials of various bridge types. trouble too. The strings may dig in to the saddles concerning saddles is the plating. Chrome-
Different materials all affect to the tone slightly, causing tuning problems. The sound may be plating is super hard, and this can cause severe
but I’d like to look at this feature from the compromised too – dampened high frequencies string breakage problems to a guitar. If the
practical point of view first. Why? Because the or too soft attack. saddles are made of a soft material (brass, or die-
tonal differences are so very subtle, that the cast zinc), the strings may sink in to the soft
Hardened or not?
practical approach just makes more sense as a metal, but the hard chrome plating won’t flex
In some applications, hardened steel works
starting point. First, the bridge has to function one bit. Instead, the chrome breaks and leaves a
better  than brass. The Gotoh/Wilkinson VSVG
well. Secondly, it needs to be durable. After razor sharp edge right under the strings. And
these points are in order, then it’s time to worry that we use a lot in the Vsop and Aeon models is
then you’ll break strings over and over again…
a vibrato bridge evolved from a vintage s-style
about the slight tonal nuances. This is why I prefer in most cases saddles that
vibrato. This bridge succeeds in eliminating
are either non-plated – or if plated, then the
Brass or steel? some of the vintage design problems without
plating sould be done with a softer metal such as
Brass is a great saddle material for many types of compromising the sound. When the saddles are
nickel or gold. Chrome plating works in a saddle
bridges. It is softer than the strings, but hard made of hardened steel, it is essential that the
in my experience only when it’s applied on very
enough so the strings won’t dig into it if the shaping of the saddle is precisely right.
hard metal and when the string passes the saddle
angle of the string crossing the saddle is not too Otherwise the hard saddle edges will snap off
in a very gradual angle – such as the Gotoh
steep. The relative softness of brass is good, your strings, or easily cause unwanted
GE1996 locking vibrato has.
making the saddle slot edges “gentle” to the resonances.

TREM OLO... OR V IBRAT O?


The effect of vibrato springs with that. Many prefer the vintage s-style long as the rest of the guitar is set up to par with
Let’s look at some vibrato bridges in more detail. vibrato bridge in their guitar. Is there any the bridge, of course.
First the classics. Generally speaking, all s-style sensible reasons why it is so? Or is it the vintage
The problems of old school s-style bridges
vibrato bridges and its descendants require a voodoo, you know, the common myth about the
There are a couple of other details I’m not so
chunk of wood to be routed off from the back of old way being better because… well, it’s old?
much in favour regarding the vintage style
the body. This allows to mount the springs that
The original s-style vibrato mounts to the guitar vibrato, though. I don’t like slack in the vibrato
act as a counter-force to the string pull. This
body with six wood screws. You might think this arm. That’s one of the many reasons we use
construction affects the sound of the guitar for
is old-fashioned and outdated, but I’m one of mostly the VSVG model by Gotoh/Wilkinson.
several reasons. 1) Part of the wood is routed off.
those who like the six-screw mounting a lot. Also, the string spacing of the vintage bridge is
2) Spring mechanism makes a “reverbish” sound
Why? Because this is the only type of non- unnecessarily wide, resulting that the strings are
when hitting the strings. 3) The bridge trembles
locking vibrato where the baseplate front edge too close to the fretboard edges. Another great
slightly as with the strings vibrate. 4) The bridge
rests – and is pressed against – on top of the reason for me to use the VSVG (or other bridges
“gives in” when bending strings.
guitar. This allows the energy transmit from a with improved string spacing).
Is old school better because it’s old..? wider, more solid area of the bridge to the body.
By the way – it’s a vibrato. Not a tremolo. Ok?
All mentioned in the previous chapter is When a bridge with six-screw mount is made
perceived by the player as a natural part of the with high precision of premium materials, the
classic “s-style guitar sound”. Nothing wrong guitar will also keep its tuning very well – as

DOES K NIFE EDGE S TA Y BET T ER I N T UNE?


The knife edge makes a bridge vibrate more example demonstrating the sensitivity is a pieces of equipment that work well and sound
Some players prefer a non-locking vibrato with situation when you rest your picking hand on fantastic.
two posts and knife edge movement. Even if it the bridge. A knife edge type vibrato goes easier
No slack in the vibrato arm, please!
would feel counterintuitive to some, this out of tune (cause your hand presses the bridge)
One detail worth mentioning is the way Gotoh
approach actually requires even higher precision than a vibrato mounted with six screws.
has solved the vibrato arm mounting – none of
from the rest of the guitar in order to maintain
When the player acknowledges all this, learns to their VSVG, 510 or locking vibrato arms have
the tuning in a satisfactory way. It is because the
deal with it, a non-locking knife edge vibrato is slack, and they’re easy to adjust to any player’s
knife edge makes the vibrato more sensitive, just
certainly a great device that can add greatly to taste. Might feel like a small detail but from the
like a locking trem. In other words – when you
the expressive range of the player. For example, practical point of view this makes a world of
play, the bridge trembles back and forth even if
the Gotoh 510 series offers a few outstanding difference as compared to most other vibratos.
you don’t touch the vibrato arm. Another

DIVEBOM BING IN T UNE


A locking vibrato has a very specific role to play The knife edges and their corresponding slots in same time, the Gotoh part is extremely durable.
in a guitar. No other vibrato keeps the tuning as the studs are an important factor in a locking The Gotoh knife edges won’t wear down at all in
well under such heavy use as many shredders vibrato. They have a crucial role in keeping the the way Floyd parts will. The new Gotoh
need for their music. Floyd Rose is in this guitar in tune. Floyd Rose (and many others) GE1996 keeps the tuning with 99,9% precision –
category the benchmark product that others are have approached this detail in attempt to and the situation won’t get worse in time. It is
usually compared with. Unfortunately the eliminate friction at the knife edges. They’ve the best locking vibrato available. A part you and
quality of Original Floyd Rose has spiralled chosen a hard material and shaped the knife edge I can both rely on.
down over the years, and I prefer to use other literally sharp as a knife. In theory, this would be
Details, details, details
versions when possible. The only exception the best solution to the problem.  A brand new
Another point worth mentioning is the way the
would be 7-stringed guitars, as my favourite part Floyd vibrato does keep the tuning extremely
vibrato arm mounts to the body of the vibrato.
is only available 6-stringed. well – but then life steps in! The pressure at the
In a Floyd Rose vibrato the  arm can feel wobbly
knife edges is very high, and after a while (how
Japanese engineering precision even when brand new. And if not, eventually it
long, depends on the player) of extensive vibrato
Talking about favourites. My number one will. Another word of critic about the nut that
usage, the knife edges (and the corresponding
choice among locking whammies has been for a fastens the arm to the plate – when you use the
stud slots) will wear down, or the sharpest edges
long time the Gotoh GE1996. We’ve installed it to arm, the nut keeps loosening by itself. In the
will chip off. The tuning stability deteriorates,
most of the Hellcat guitars ever built, and it is a GE1996, Gotoh has used their proprietary
and it keeps getting worse until you have to
wonderful example of japanese design and mechanism to fix the arm. The same one they
replace the worn down parts.
engineering precision. I’m totally on the same use in the 510 non-locking vibratos. You push
page with how the Gotoh engineers think. A better approach the arm in to a snug nylon bushing in the body
They’ve studied carefully the market leader part, Gotoh has taken another approach. The GE1996 of the vibrato, and the arm has an inner
spotted the weak spots and designed a better knife edge isn’t exactly a knife edge at all. It has a threading that acts as a height adjustment for the
product. tiny radius to it – matched with corresponding arm. You can adjust the tightness of the arm by a
radius in the studs. This means the Gotoh little set-screw. A well designed and excellently
In theory all good… and then life steps in
vibrato has slightly more friction than a brand manufactured part, that can take heavy dives up
new Floyd Rose vibrato would have – but at the and down for years and years.

ECHOES FROM T HE BOWED I NS T RUM ENT FA MI LY


The roots of tune-o-matic perfect and/or the build quality isn’t up to par small factory in Germany, that doesn’t offer any
The roots of the tune-o-matic electric guitar with the design. die-cast parts. Every frame and saddle is milled
bridge lay deep in the history of acoustic archtop from billets of metal. The tune-o-matic we use is
Die-cast or milled?
guitars and the bowed instrument family. When milled from bell brass. The bridge sounds great,
Most cheaper (and some of the expensive ones)
you look at the Duke or the Unicorn from side and the construction is  super rigid. The saddles
tune-o-matic frames are die-cast zinc. This
perspective, you notice that the body, neck, sit in the bridge frame nice and tight without
metal alloy is not very strong, and the typical
headstock, bridge and tailpiece form a similarly slack to any direction. A nice touch in the ABM
problem is that the frame gives in under the
angled shape as in a violin. The strings pull the tune-o-matic is the fact that the saddle inserts
pressure of strings. When that happens, the
stop tailpiece forward and press the bridge have been rounded off so they feel comfortable
radius of the bridge doesn’t match the fretboard
downwards, against the top of the instrument. when resting your palm on the bridge. This is a
radius anymore. This causes a problem to set up
This construction contributes to the sound of detail I haven’t seen in other bridges made by
the guitar right. A die-cast part can be good too,
the guitar tremendously. milling.
though.  TonePros used to make a good die-cast
I’ve used many tune-o-matic variants over the tune-o-matic, but then something happened. Stop tailpiece milled from aluminium
years. I’ve seen new products pop up with great The metal wasn’t anymore as strong as it used to The ABM stop tailpiece we use is milled from
little improvements and become successful fast. be, and other quality problems emerged as well. aluminium. It is lightweight, and contributes
Then the production has been ramped up, We had no other option but to change brand. beautifully to the tonal character of our guitars.
followed by the quality spiralling down. The The build quality of the ABM parts is second to
Bell brass rings like… well, a bell!
tune-o-matic bridge and stop tailpiece may seem none.
like simple parts, but there are a number of Now we’re installing ABM 2054 tune-o-matic to
details that can go wrong if the design isn’t most Dukes and Unicorns we make. ABM is a

THE HEIGHT OF T HE S T OP TA I LP I ECE


How to get the best sustain? technician) was correct in setting the angle more forward with about 60 kg force (with 10-46
One aspect that many players seem to be gradual. But he could’ve as well just raised the gauge strings). That is enough pressure to make
confused about is the height adjustment of the tailpiece higher. I mean… it is adjustable. A the tailpiece construction rock solid without any
stop tailpiece. The most common myth is that difference in tone, you say? Do a blindfold A/B lock screws or other snake oil upgrades. With
the tailpiece must be screwed all the way down. test. We did. Can’t spot any unambiguous this force pulling the tailpiece forward, it’s
Otherwise the sustain of the guitar will be difference. meaningless if the tailpiece studs are screwed all
compromised. the way down or adjusted high enough to clear
Jimmy Page did it!
the strings from the bridge edge. They’re solid
The stop tailpiece is adjustable, too If you adjust the tailpiece too high, the pressure either way! So I would simply adjust the tailpiece
Another popular belief is that the best sound at the bridge will be too weak. If you adjust it too as it was meant to be adjusted. The only sensible
comes from installing the strings to the tailpiece low, the angle will be too steep and your strings reason to screw the studs down and top wrap
in a “top wrap style”. Jimmy Page used to do like will bottom out at the back edge of the bridge. the strings over the tailpiece is that Jimmy Page
this in order to make the string angle more This adds one more friction point to the strings
did it like that! I can buy that. I’m a big fan. Hats
gradual – which helps not break strings and to (bad for tuning stability) – and you’ll be breaking
off to Jimmy.
stay in tune. Well, guess what? Jimmy (or his more strings. The strings pull the tailpiece

DOES BIGS BY A FFECT T O T HE S OUND OF MY G U I TA R ?


Let’s face it – Bigsby looks super cool understand that. In rock music, the appearances maximum potential of that particular guitar
One of the most frequently asked questions I get matter a great deal. tone. When you replace the stop tailpiece with a
is this: “Does Bigsby affect to the sound of my Bigsby, the construction changes. It is inevitable
Worth the trade-off?
guitar?”. The answer is: “Yes – it affects the that some of that solidity of sound will be gone.
Truth be said, other than the looks, Bigsby can
sound and the feel of the guitar a lot”. In exchange you get the vibrato and a slightly
be a challenging piece of equipment. When
different sounding guitar. Once again – there is
There’s no way around it – Bigsby is super cool. thought out and set up well, it will stay in tune
no right or wrong here – it is all about personal
It looks awesome in the same way as old reasonably well and you won’t lose much of the
preference. And don’t get me wrong – I love old
American cars and motorbikes do. For some, full potential of your guitar sound with it. See,
American cars and motorbikes too!
this is the primary reason why they want Bigsby the tune-o-matic style bridge with stop tailpiece
in their guitar. And it’s perfectly ok! I can is a kind of combo that really gives you the

THE LOW FREQUENCI ES OF A BA S S GUI TA R


Bass guitars vibrate a lot! Energy transference from strings to body but it doesn’t transfer the sound to the body.
The low frequencies make a bass guitar vibrate a After a little sidestep, back to bass bridges! It is The musically inspiring and responsive solutions
lot. This vibration needs to be kept under wraps. essential in any musical instrument, that the are not typically the most heavyweight and
Otherwise there would be a lot of fret buzz and energy of the strings is not “wasted” in wrong sturdy ones.
tuning problems – even trouble keeping the type of vibration – but in a bass guitar this is
Sensitivity versus durability
instrument in one piece! even more serious business.
If one seeks sensitivity, the same laws apply to
It’s like the old Harley Davidson bikes: The When I went shopping for the ideal bridge for any musical instrument. A great classical guitar
engine is bolted right onto the frame of the bike my Steam bass, my main priority was to find a top and bracing, for example, are made so
without suspension of any kind. The motor bridge that is capable of transferring as much delicate that they just about hold together
shakes the whole bike so much that one would vibrations as possible from the strings to the without collapsing. The result is a sensitive
think a magnetic rear fender should be an body of the instrument. Contrary to common guitar – and the skill of the luthier determines
obligatory feature to collect all the fallen parts! beliefs, heavy mass is not the solution. If the how well can he/she find the optimal balance
Cool bikes, none the less. bridge is too massive, it may be solid all right, between musicality and durability.

The perfect electric bass bridge? would transmit better from the strings to the swivelling axis design from his WT3 bridge to
I was working closely together with my friend body. his bass bridge design. Ingenious! 
Markus Setzer on my bass design. I listened
I was certain we have to make such a bridge Too unconventional for most
carefully to his experiences and analysis on what
ourselves, but to my great relief and amazement At the time of its launch, this bridge was perhaps
makes a great, transparent sounding bass. Our
I found the Gotoh WB2P, designed by none other too unconventional for most. Maybe the bass
talk shifted from tonewood through pickups to
than Trev Wilkinson. Our paths had crossed makers didn’t realise how great it was. Whatever
hardware. Then it dawned to me – the vintage t-
before and so they did again. the reason, Gotoh discontinued the product
style bridge design philosophy might offer us a
soon after its launch. But I’m the obstinate type.
solution for the perfect bass bridge. I just had to Adapted from guitars to basses
I went to Gotoh and asked if they would be
find a simple, lightweight bridge in which each
This particular bridge has the exact features I willing to make the part for me. They did, as
saddle would be shared by two strings. This way
had listed earlier: 1) Lightweight construction. long as I would buy enough so it made sense to
the pressure of the strings would be massive,
2) Each saddle shared by two strings. 3) Precise them. And so we have ended up at this point of
eliminating the possibility that the bridge parts
intonation adjusting possibility. Trev had solved time as the exclusive bass maker using the
would start moving around with the low
the intonation problem by adapting the WB2P bridge – even if Trev Wilkinson didn’t
frequency vibration. Instead, the vibrations
perhaps plan it that way!

ALDER ARCTIC BIRCH BRIDGE TALK CUSTOM INLAY

EBONY FRETWORK GUITAR FINISH HARDWARE

NUT PICKUPS PLAYABILITY ROCK MAPLE

ROSEWOOD SPANISH CEDAR THERMAL AGEING TONE TALK

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