Hardtail vs Tremolo Bridge (Differences, Pros & Cons Of Each)

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  • Learn the difference between a Tremolo and Hardtail Bridge
  • Find out if it’s easier to restring a Hardtail Bridge
  • Find out if installing a Tremolo Bridge affects the tonality of an electric guitar
  • Also, check out our post on bridge vs neck pickups!

The bridge is essential to the function of any guitar providing an anchorage point to secure the strings to the body and stretch them across the instrument’s scale length.

The bridge also serves as ground zero for numerous setup tasks, including setting an electric guitar’s action height and intonation.

Outside of this base function, some guitar bridges provide additional features that can inspire new musical ideas and techniques, opening up a variety of new sounds for guitarists to incorporate into their sonic vocabulary as they perform their music in the studio and on stage.

In short, a hardtail bridge sits rigidly across the instrument’s body with no means of movement besides adjustment for the action and individual and saddle heights.

Tremolo Bridges differ in that they pivot up and down against two posts “or some other point of leverage,” providing a pitch-bending “or vibrato” effect across all strings on the guitar. 

The abundance of Guitar bridges currently available on the market can essentially be separated into two groups, Hardtail and Tremolo.

In this article, we will briefly examine the pros and cons of both hardware types for electric guitars and how they can be utilized in your day-to-day music-making and production activities.

Hardtail Bridges

Hardtail electric guitar bridges come in many designs; however, in almost all cases, they are made of metal fixed to the body of the guitar with some form of hardware, “often screws or studs.”

It is commonly believed that fixed bridge guitars often possess increased sustain due to increased string vibration transference to the guitar’s body. 

Hardtail “also called fixed bridge” guitars, are considerably easy to set up due to fewer moving parts in their immediate design structure.

It is also worth mentioning that fixed bridge guitars are inherently easier to restring as there is no requirement to balance the bridge while engaging in this process.

Famous players who have used hardtail bridges throughout their careers include Angus Young, Tony Iommi, Les Paul, Jimmy Page, and Keith Richards.

Pros & Cons

Hardtail bridges generally require considerably less maintenance during initial setup than most Tremolo Bridges.

This factor may make the purchase of a guitar with a fixed bridge a better choice for beginners or even intermediate players who do not have much experience with setting up an instrument.  

A definite con of owning a fixed bridge guitar is that some models, such as the tailpiece found on some Gibson and Epiphone guitars, have set saddles.

This means that the ability to intonate the instrument properly is greatly compromised. This will likely be a dealbreaker for some players, especially those who enjoy playing higher up the neck. 

Tremolo Bridge

Tremolo bridges are more complex than their fixed bridge counterparts. This is due to how they move despite being appointed to the guitar’s top.

The immediate benefit of this arrangement can be found in how these mechanisms introduce vibrato effects across all guitar strings. This is why Tremolo Bridges are also sometimes referred to as Vibrato Bridges.

Generally, Tremolo Bridges will operate via a level or Tremolo Bar inserted into the face of the bridge. A spring arrangement will place tension upon the bridge, which is counteracted by the guitar strings’ tension when tuned to the desired pitch.

This counter tension will cause the bridge to balance against two bridge posts screwed into studs installed into the face of the guitar body. 

Famous players who have utilized Tremolo Bridges during their career include the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Steve Vai, and Dimebag Darrell. 

Pros & Cons

Tremolo bridges can be considerably more tweakable than many fixed bridges due to the increased moving parts in many of these designs.

The ability to fine-tune intonation, adjust the height of each string saddle, and raise and lower the bridge’s height are welcome options for players who like to dial in every aspect of their guitar setup and feel. 

A notable con related to tremolo bridges is the use of floating tremolos.

Floating tremolos are set to both raise and lower the pitch when the vibrato bar is used and if one is to break a string while using one of these designs accidentally, this will render the entire instrument out of tune until the string is replaced.

This could spell disaster for a live set however is not an issue with “decked” tremolo bridges, more specifically, bridges that rest on the body of the guitar and only lower the instrument’s pitch.

Hardtail Bridge: Types

One common hardtail bridge design is the Gibson Tuno-matic, commonly seen on guitars such as Les Pauls and SGs.

This bridge harnesses a tailpiece through which the strings are fed before passing over the bridge itself.

Fender’s Telecaster bridge plate is another famous hardtail bridge design in which the strings are fed through ferrules set into the back of the guitar body. 

A notable modern hardtail design is the Evertune bridge which balances tension for each string individual string providing an unparalleled amount of variance in how the bridge can be set up while providing excellent tuning stability for the player.

Tremolo Bridge: Types

The most notable tremolo bridge is the Fender Stratocaster bridge which has seen numerous revisions throughout its 70-year-plus existence.

The Bigsby vibrato bar is another old design with a cult following today due to its unique feel and sound, often adopted by country and surf players who enjoy its subtle action.

A notable advancement in the design of the Fender Stratocaster bridge arrived in the 80s when Floyd Rose brought forth his patent for the double-locking tremolo system.

This tremolo locks the strings at the nut of the guitar and saddles, giving incredible tuning stability and granting the guitarist the ability to do extreme vibrato effects not possible on previous designs without the instrument going horribly out of tune. 

The Floyd Rose has since spawned many copies and reinventions from other brands, including Ibanez, ESP, Jackson, and Kahler.

Bridge Alternatives

In the modern era, there are a few alternatives to the Fixed Vs. Tremolo debate that may suit your own needs and requirements.

For example, floor pedals such as the Digitech Drop or older Whammy design provide some of the same effects achieved using a tremolo bar while playing a fixed bridge instrument.

Some players will also incorporate other technology into their setups, such as MIDI or software applications that can provide similar effects to those mentioned above.

Suppose someone possessing a Tremolo bridge wishes to make it function as a hardtail.

In that case, they can simply block the spring movement with a piece of wood cut to size or purchase an aftermarket device such as the Tremel-no, Ibanez Backstop, or Stablisier trendsetter.

These devices are good as the entire process is reversible if the user wishes to revert the bridge back to operating as a normal Tremolo bridge should.

Which Is Best For You?

Regardless of which genre you play, a vibrato bridge can work to enhance your musical ideas and vocabulary.

Throughout popular music history, many players have made their mark using a whammy bar from as broad a spectrum as Edward Van Halen to Duane Eddy.

However, you may be the type of player who prefers to bend with their fingers and find that playing the bar itself is more of a hindrance than an inspiration. 

Other players may feel invigorated by a Fixed Bridge guitar’s simplicity and straightforward nature.

Some may even feel that their instrument sounds better due to increased string vibration and resonance imparted by the bridge being fixed to the guitar body in this manner.

Not to mention the peace of mind that a restring is quick and easy in the scenario of string breakage in the middle of that big gig your band has been eagerly anticipating for months.

Ultimately it depends on your playing style, but it will become apparent rather quickly which is right for you upon trying both out. If all else fails, why not adopt one of each, as many players have over the decades?

Before you go, check out our guide to Floating Tremolo vs Non-Floating (Differences Explained)!