When it comes to electric guitars, two types of bridges are usually compared, hardtail vs. tremolo. As these two types are generally used by guitar manufacturers, there are always questions that typically come out, like, what are the advantages of using a hardtail or tremolo bridge, or what is the primary reason why manufacturers use them? As a musician and a guitarist, we must know why guitar companies put them on our guitars and how they can help your guitar to be playable.
So, what is a hardtail bridge, and what is a tremolo bridge? A hardtail bridge is a type of bridge that is used in an electric guitar as it anchors the strings at or behind it and is securely fastened to the top of the electric guitar.
On the other hand, a tremolo bridge or also known by many as a vibrato bridge, is another type of bridge in an electric guitar that enables the guitar player to alter the electric guitar’s pitch by using mechanical methods, which gives some room for creativity to experiment with.
Now, let us check the advantages and disadvantages of using hardtail and tremolo bridges on electric guitars, and let us also see the most famous guitars that come with the said bridges.
Hardtail Guitar Bridge
When talking about the history of the hardtail bridge, the first hardtail bridge that was introduced in the market was in 1950, as it comes to the Fender Broadcaster, also now known as the Telecaster. Up to this day, it still has the same design, although there are already different guitar manufacturers that have made some variations to the bridge.
Fender’s version of a hardtail bridge has a flat base plate that is bent vertically at the back. In Telecasters, the bridge pickup is also mounted directly to the guitar’s bridge. Telecasters are known for their unique guitar sounds, which makes them one of the most beloved guitars of all time, and one of the reasons why they have that kind of tone aside from their pickups is because of their bridge.
There are also some sub variations for this type of hardtail bridge, and one of them is the top-loading, while the other is the string-through version. Top-loading bridges have the guitar strings fed through the back of the guitar’s base plate and over its saddle, while the string-through has the strings fed through the guitar’s body from the guitar’s back, through the guitar bridge’s base plate, and lastly, over its saddle.
Another type of hardtail bridge that you frequently see in an electric guitar is the famous Tune-a-Matic bridge. It is a type of hardtail bridge that was invented by Ted McCarty when he was still an employee at Gibson in the early 1950s. The company introduced the design in the market in 1953, and to this day, it still is one of the most used designs for guitar bridges.
Typically, Tune-o-Matic guitar bridges come in a separate bridge and tailpiece. The tailpiece is a bar made of metal with six holes that are drilled from its front to the back. It is mounted onto two heavy studs that are screwed into the guitar’s body, and it sits behind the guitar bridge as the strings are anchored into it.
The last type of hardtail bridge that you usually see in electric guitars is the Wraparound. Similar to a Tune-o-Matic, it was introduced by Gibson in the early 1950s and used in their Les Paul Junior and Special models. The guitar strings are fed to the front of the guitar’s bridge and then looped over its top towards the guitar tuners.
Advantage Of Using Hardtail Bridge
The first advantage of using a hardtail bridge is that changing guitar strings can be very easy. One problem with tremolo bridges is that changing the guitar strings using one is more difficult than using a hardtail bridge. On hardtail bridges, you just have to slip the strings through it, tighten the tuning pegs, tune the guitar, and you are good to go.
Another advantage is that they tend to have better tuning stability compared to tremolo bridges, especially those high-end ones. The third is easier to switch your guitar tunings. They help a lot if you are playing in a band you usually play in different types of tunings, and having a hardtail bridge is really a huge help.
The fourth reason is that repairing and upgrading it is cheaper and easier than the other type of guitar bridge. Bringing your guitar to a luthier for repair or maintenance can be costly, and having a tremolo bridge adds up to the price you are going to pay. Buying a new hardtail bridge is also a cheaper option if you need to replace your old one.
Tremolo Guitar Bridge
Every time you hear the words tremolo bridge, the first thing that usually comes to mind is that the electric guitar is specially made for playing metal and rock, and though partially true, guitars with tremolo bridge can be used in different genres. Having a tremolo bridge really gives you the ability to be more creative with your playing and tone, as it can also change your guitar’s pitch.
When it comes to the first tremolo bridge, many historians and musicians considered the Fender tremolo to be the one that started it all. First used in Stratocaster guitars, its bottom rests on a fulcrum allowing it to pivot from front to back. It is the inspiration for why the famous Floyd Rose tremolo bridge was invented. The only problem with this tremolo bridge is it falls out of tune easily.
The next type is the Floyd Rose tremolo. Made with a major upgrade from the Fender tremolo, it uses a locking nut to hold the guitar strings into their positions, so in theory, they will come back into their perfect tune after the tremolo arm is released. It also has a double-locking feature, which prevents the guitar string ball ends from sliding out the back when the tension from the tremolo arm is let go.
The third type of tremolo bridge you typically see in guitars is the Kahler-style tremolo. Unlike the other two, it uses a cam arrangement that elevates or lowers the tailpiece section of the guitar bridge when the tremolo arm is raised or pressed.
Advantages Of Using Tremolo Bridge
One advantage is that you can do some things if you have a tremolo bridge, which a hardtail cannot give you. With a tremolo arm attached to the bridge, you can temporarily change your guitar’s pitch, like doing dive bombs.
The second advantage is you also have the option to fine-tune each of the guitar strings. Guitars with tremolo bridges are also more comfortable to play with, especially for your picking hand, as they are designed to have a flatter surface so that you can rest your picking palm hand.
So, hardtail vs. tremolo, which is better? When it comes to simplicity and affordability, you should always go for a guitar with a hardtail bridge, but if you want to have a guitar where you can have more creativity, then you should go for one that comes with a tremolo bridge.