There’s a lot that goes into choosing the perfect electric guitar. While brand, pickup and body type might be on most musician’s minds, an electric guitar’s bridge is just as important. Effectively, there are two main types of bridges that you’ll have to choose from; the non-tremolo bridges and the tremolo variety, such as the popular Floyd Rose system. When it comes down to it, making the choice between the two types of bridges is essentially a matter of personal preference, although they each have their pros and cons.
Guitars with tremolo bridges give players direct control over the pitch of the strings and can be used to create a much more diverse range of sounds as compared to the standard, non-tremolo bridge. Taking a look at the history of tremolo guitars, the single most common type guitarists have been using up until recently would be that of the non-locking variety, and most any guitar before the late ‘70s would have had a tremolo bridge of this type as well. But things changed with the advent of the Floyd Rose locking bridge in 1977 with many more similar locking bridges following thereafter. By taking a look at the differences between these two types of tremolo bridges, we can better understand what each can bring to the table.
Non-Locking Tremolo Bridge
The non-locking tremolo bridge was used throughout the early years and growth of electric guitar-centered music and allowed for effects similar to bending of a string. It is still quite popular today with several professional modern artists although it must be said that – in general – these type of bridges tend to come with less expensive guitars.
As far as how these work, the strings of the guitar are attached to the bridge which can then be moved using a springed tremolo arm to increase or reduce the tension of the strings, thereby affecting the pitch when that string is played. While this might be a nifty addition, the non-locking tremolo bridge is not without its problems. First off, strings can lose their tune pretty easily the more the tremolo effect is used as the stretching and releasing of the string will cause a small amount of stretching in their length, thus bringing it out of tune. Second, trying to retune this a guitar with this type of bridge can be a much tougher and longer process than with a non-tremolo bridge, especially if the player is a tad bit inexperienced with this type of bridge.
But even with that said, if you don’t mind these drawback there are plenty of fantastic guitars and guitarists that regularly sport this type of bridge for one reason or another. Notable players of non-locking bridge guitars include some of the biggest names in rock such as Paul McCartney, Keith Richards, and Mark Knopfler.
Locking Tremolo Bridge
This type of bridge is essentially an amalgamation of both the tremolo and a standard guitar bridge, looking to bring players a nice balance of both. Guitars that use this type of bridge setup have become very common, especially with a good number of bands in recent years. The reasons for their popularity is that they typically hold their tune more consistently and longer than a non-locking tremolo bridge but still offers the player the ability to have control over the pitch and tension of the string which might be integral to their sound.
As far as mechanics go, locking tremolo bridges work by clamping the strings into place and thus reducing the loss of tune that can happen with the non-locking variety. Floyd Rose – the guitarist and jeweler who’s invention bears his name – created this type of bridge in the late ‘70s which then led to a substantial change in guitar playing throughout the ‘80s as players were able to utilize the effects of the tremolo bridge without having their guitars go out of tune as frequently. Notable users of the locking tremolo bridge include Frank Zappa, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani and Eddie Van Halen, among several others. Ever since the invention of the successful use of the Floyd Rose locking bridge, there have been a great number of variations which have now been widely adopted.
There are a few reasons why a guitarist would prefer a non-tremolo bridge. First off, they are better at staying in tune simply because there is less movement on the bridge end. You’ll still suffer the normal amount of detuning when pulling off crazy solos but essentially, a guitar with a non-tremolo bridge will generally stay in tune longer and require less frequent retuning. Next, they tend to be easier to restring because the fixing points aren’t movable like they would be on a tremolo bridge. Musicians that tend to play in a number of different alternate tunings also tend to prefer non-tremolo bridges since the fixed positioning offers easier and more accurate tuning on the fly. And finally, the sound transfer from the strings to the body of the guitar tends to be better with non-tremolo bridges. So with that said, if you’re not too interested in tremolo effect but would rather play in different tunings or not have to deal with retuning your guitar after every couple of songs, the non-tremolo setup might be the right way to go.
Which one is right for you?
Like most everything else, the choice between the two major types of guitar bridges essentially comes down to your personal preference along with what would best benefit your playing style. It’s always a good idea – if possible – to spend a good amount of time playing with both options and see which one feels more comfortable. Unless you’re absolutely sure you have no interest in the tremolo effect, a ‘hardtail’ non-tremolo bridge might be your best bet but in general, a locking tremolo variety tends to offer the perfect balance.
Your Turn to Sound Off!
What type of guitar bridge do you prefer?