A guitars bridge can either be a tremolo bridge or a stop tail bridge. A tremolo bridge’s construction features springs and a tremolo arm. The arm which is sometimes referred to as a ‘whammy bar’ is moved by the player either by pushing down, pulling up or by ‘wobbling’ it to change the tension of the springs and therefore the pitch of the strings. The tremelo arm should really be called a vibrato bar as the word vibrato is derived from the Italian word ‘vibrare’ which means to vibrate. This is essentially what the guitarist is doing to the notes produced when using the ‘whammy bar’. This means the word tremolo is incorrectly used as this can mean a single note that is rapidly picked (tremelo picking) or a tremolo effect which is when the volume of a note is raised up and down suddenly creating a cool effect. A stop tail bridge doesn’t feature a tremolo arm. The strings are either strung through the body in the same manner as a Fender Telecaster or strung through the bridge in the way as most Gibson’s.

Tremolo Bridges

This Stratocaster tremolo has appeared on Strats since the guitars introduction in the 1950’s. It features 6 saddles which are adjusted in height via allen keys. The guitars intonation is adjusted via screws located at the back of the bridge.

The strings are threaded through holes in the guitars back plate. The strings themselves are kept in place via strings balls which are attached at the end of the string.

The tension of the bridge on a guitar featuring a tremolo is kept in place via springs, as seen in the picture below. The springs are moved via the guitarist using the tremolo arm. This is how the pitch of the notes are changed and how the vibrato effect is created.

Telecaster Bridge

The telecaster has a fixed bridge. The original bridge had a metal cover which resembles an ashtray and was appropriately nicknamed the ashtray bridge. These covers completely restrict the ability to palm mute the strings which is very limiting therefore haven’t been used for a long time. Vintage and certain reissue telecasters have 3 saddles (as shown below) for pairs of strings. More modern telecasters use 6 individual saddles (same as a stratocaster) one for each string therefore allowing more accurate adjustments to the guitars setup.

Tune-O-Matic Fixed Bridge

The Tune-o-matic/Stopbar bridge is standard on most Gibson guitars. In this system the strings are threaded through the back of the Stopbar. The strings are then placed onto the saddles of the bridge which have grooves for each string. The bridge part of this setup is called the Tune-a-matic. The height of the bridge can be adjusted via two thumb wheels. The intonation can be adjusted via screws which are located on each saddle. There is another method for Tune-o-matics where the Stopbar isn’t used and the strings are strung through the guitars body.

Archtop Bridge

The kind of bridges on all archtop Jazz style guitars are quite simple. This particular guitar is a Gibson ES175 which has a ‘Zig Zag’ tail piece and a movable rosewood bridge. The strings are strung through the tail piece and the bridge is moved by hand to achieve the best intonation. The height of the strings can be raised by the thumb wheels on the bridge.

Bigsby Tremelo

The Bigbsy was the the first tremolo system to be installed on an electric guitar back in the early 1950’s. The Bigsby features an arm that is spring loaded and also has a pivoting metal bar. The strings are wrapped around the pivoting bar, when the tremolo arm is depressed or raised the string tension changes therefore changing the pitch of the strings. This Gretsch shown below has a rocking bar bridge which can me moved to adjust the guitars intonation.

Floyd Rose/Locking Tremelo

The Floyd Rose was designed in 1977 and is a double locking tremolo system. The strings are clamped down at the nut as shown in the picture above. These locking nuts make the tuning peg/machine heads unavailable for tuning whilst the nuts are locked down so fine tuners located on the bridge are used to tune the guitar. The ball end of the strings are locked in place via the saddle blocks. This kind of bridge is a floating tremelo with the ‘whammy bar’ capable of large changes of pitch with the bar moved either upwards or downwards. The Floyd Rose like all bridges has various pros and cons. One of the main benefits is the double locking system helps with the guitar tuning stability and as mentioned the large changes of pitch available when using the tremolo arm. As the Floyd Rose is a full floating unit with springs keeping the tension of the strings in place a string break changes the balance of the bridge and therefore makes the guitar out of tune. Floating tremolo bridges also make alternate tunings very difficult. These are obviously a few negative characteristics but for many players the pros out weigh the cons.