Bridge (instrument)

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On a cello, the strings are attached to the tailpiece and are held above the soundboard by the bridge. Cello study.jpg
On a cello, the strings are attached to the tailpiece and are held above the soundboard by the bridge.

A bridge is a device that supports the strings on a stringed musical instrument and transmits the vibration of those strings to another structural component of the instrument—typically a soundboard, such as the top of a guitar or violin—which transfers the sound to the surrounding air. Depending on the instrument, the bridge may be made of carved wood (violin family instruments, acoustic guitars and some jazz guitars), metal (electric guitars such as the Fender Telecaster) or other materials. The bridge supports the strings and holds them over the body of the instrument under tension.

Contents

Explanation

Most stringed instruments produce sound through the application of energy to the strings, which sets them into vibratory motion, creating musical sounds. The strings alone, however, produce only a faint sound because they displace only a small volume of air as they vibrate. Consequently, the sound of the strings alone requires impedance matching to the surrounding air by transmitting their vibrations to a larger surface area that displaces a larger volume of air (and thus produces louder sounds). This calls for an arrangement that lets the strings vibrate freely, but also conducts those vibrations efficiently to the larger surface. A bridge is the customary means for accomplishing this. The bridge conducts the vibrations of the strings to a hollowed out chamber in a number of instruments (e.g., violin family, acoustic guitar, balalaika).

On electric guitars and electric basses, the bridge conducts the vibrations to the body, but the vibrations of the strings are typically sensed by a magnetic pickup, so that an electric signal is created, which is then connected to a guitar amplifier and a speaker enclosure to produce the sound the performer and audience hears. On electric pianos, the player presses or strikes keys, which cause hammers to strike metal tines. A magnetic pickup senses these vibrations, using the same approach as with an electric guitar (amplifier and speaker).

Positioning

Typically, the bridge is perpendicular to the strings and larger surface (which are roughly parallel to one another) with the tension of the strings pressing down on the bridge and thus on the larger surface beneath it. That larger, more acoustically responsive surface may be coupled to a sound chamber—an enclosure such as the body of a guitar or violin—that provides resonance that helps amplify the sound. Depending on the type of stringed instrument, the resonant surface the bridge rests on may be made of:

Construction

A violin bridge blank and a finished bridge. Violin bridge blank and finished.jpg
A violin bridge blank and a finished bridge.

Bridges may consist of a single piece of material, most commonly wood for violins and acoustic guitars, that fits between the strings and the resonant surface. Alternatively, a bridge may consist of multiple parts. One common form is a bridge with a separate bearing surface, called a saddle, that supports the strings. This is often of a material harder than the bridge itself, such as bone, ivory, high-density plastic, or metal. Some acoustic guitar bridges have multiple materials, such as a bridge support and "feet" made of wood and a plastic or bone "ridge" where the strings are positioned against.

A classical guitar saddle sits loosely in the hardwood bridge, held in place by string tension. Strings pass through shallow grooves in the saddle, at least for the treble strings, which prevents them moving around during hard playing.

Yet another type of multi-part bridge is common on instruments with a curved sound plate, such as an arch-top guitar or mandolin. Such instruments often have a bridge with a base and separate saddle that can be adjusted for height. On classical and flat-top guitars the bridge is glued to the top. A bridge held on to the top by string tension, as in banjos and archtop jazz guitars, is called a floating bridge, and requires a separate tailpiece to anchor the strings. Electric guitars typically have a metal bridge, often with adjustable intonation screws.

Bridge pin

Bridge pins or string pegs are used on some musical instruments to locate the string precisely in the horizontal plane, and in the case of harpsichords to affect the sustain of the strings. They are usually made of steel in modern pianos, of brass in harpsichords, and bone or synthetics on acoustic guitars. Electric guitars do not usually have bridge pins as with guitars, they are used to transfer the sound from the strings into the hollow body of the instrument as well as holding the strings in place.

In pianos the pins are set precisely in line with the edges of the notches of the bridge. The precise and firm setting of the pins is a critical element of the piano's quality. Loose or inaccurate pinning commonly produces false beats and tonal irregularities.

In harpsichords there tends to be a significant distance instead. This enables control of sustain and tone in harpsichord design (as per external link).

For the larger, deeper violin family instruments, the bridge pin may have an extendable "endpin" which raises the instrument up.

Tie block

The bridge of the classical guitar does not use bridge pins. In this instrument the strings are tied to the part of the bridge called the tie block. Strings run over the bridge saddle, through drilled holes in the base of the tie block, loop over the top of the tie block, loop under the strings and are tied on. A variation called the 18 hole bridge [1] uses three holes per string and eliminates the need to tie the string down.

Operation

A guitar's bridge holds its strings fast to the instrument; its saddle (white) raises them above the bridge and conveys their vibrations to the bridge. The black fasteners are called string pegs. The black fasteners are "loose"--held in place only by string tension. Guitar bridge.jpg
A guitar's bridge holds its strings fast to the instrument; its saddle (white) raises them above the bridge and conveys their vibrations to the bridge. The black fasteners are called string pegs. The black fasteners are "loose"—held in place only by string tension.

The bridge must transfer vibration of the strings to the sound board or other amplifying surface. As the strings are set in motion (whether by picking or strumming, as with guitars, by bowing, with violin family instruments, or by striking them, as with pianos), the bridge bends to and fro along the string direction at twice the rate of the string vibration. This causes the sounding board to vibrate at the same frequency as the string producing a wave-like motion and an audible sound. Instruments typically use a hollow, resonant chamber (violin bodies, guitar bodies) or a pickup and an amplifier/speaker to make this sound loud enough for the performers and audience to hear.

Bridges are designed to hold the strings at a suitable height above the fingerboard of the instrument. The ideal bridge height creates sufficient angularity in the string to create enough down force to drive the top, but places the strings sufficiently close to the fingerboard to make noting the strings easy. Bridge height may be fixed or alterable. Most violin-family bridges are carved by a luthier; as such, the height can be changed, but only by taking the violin into the repair shop. Many acoustic guitars have fixed bridges that a regular player cannot adjust. Some jazz guitars have a "floating bridge" which the player can reposition themself for different sounds and tones.

In addition to supporting the strings and transmitting their vibrations, the bridge also controls the spacing between strings with shallow grooves cut in the bridge or its saddle. The strings sit in those grooves, thus are held in their proper lateral position. The nut, at the opposite end of the instrument from the bridge or tailpiece (typically where the head holding the tuning pegs joins the fingerboard), serves a similar string-spacing function. As well, like the bridge, the nut's height determines how high the strings are from the fingerboard.

Electric guitar bridges

Bridges for electric guitars can be divided into two main groups, "vibrato" and "non-vibrato" (also called "hard-tail"). Vibrato bridges have an arm or lever (called the vibrato arm, tremolo arm, or "whammy bar") that extends from below the string anchoring point. It acts as a lever that the player can push or pull to change the strings tension and, as a result, "bend" the pitch down or up. This means that this type of bridge produces vibrato (a pitch change) rather than actual tremolo, but the term "tremolo" is deeply entrenched in popular usage via some manufacturers (starting with Fender Stratocaster in 1954 [2] ) naming their vibrato systems as "tremolo".

Non-vibrato bridges supply an anchoring point for the strings but provide no active control over string tension or pitch. That is, there is no "whammy bar" or lever. A small group of vibrato bridges have an extended tail (also called "longtail"). These guitars have more reverb and sustain in their sound, because of the string resonance behind the bridge. The Fender Jaguar is an example of such a guitar.

All bridges have advantages, and disadvantages, depending on the playing style, but, in general, a non-vibrato bridge is thought to provide better tuning stability and a solid contact between the guitar body and the strings. A whammy bar bridge is important in some heavy metal music styles, such as shred guitar.

Vibrato bridges

A licensed Kahler vibrato system on a '87 Gibson Les Paul Standard. Note that the "whammy bar" lever is not attached in this photo. Kahler tremolo system.JPG
A licensed Kahler vibrato system on a '87 Gibson Les Paul Standard. Note that the "whammy bar" lever is not attached in this photo.

Generally, the more contact the bridge has with the body (i.e., the lower the position), the better the sound transfer is into the body. A "warmer" sound with increased sustain is the result. Vibrato bridges usually must be suspended in some way, which reduces contact. Most vibrato system designs use a group of springs in the guitar body, which oppose the tension of the strings. Some players feel that the vibration of the springs affects resonance in a way that makes the guitar sound better, but others disagree. Many electric guitar playing styles require a vibrato system, either "locking" or "non-locking".

Non-locking tremolo/vibrato systems

Non-locking (or vintage) tremolos are the bridges found on guitars manufactured prior to the advent of the Floyd Rose locking tremolo in the late 1970s and many (typically cheaper) guitars manufactured thereafter. For many playing styles, vintage tremolos are a good choice because they are easy to use and maintain and have very few parts. Some people[ who? ] feel that they can also provide a better degree of sound transfer, especially with tailpiece type tremolos such as the Bigsby lever used on vintage instruments. However, the "Synchronized Tremolo" type found on the Fender Stratocaster is balanced against a set of screws in much the same manner as a locking tremolo. Given that this type of tremolo is installed on solid body guitars the degree to which sound transfer affects the sound that the instrument produces is minimal.

Also, keeping a guitar with a non-locking tremolo in tune can be difficult. The most common types of non-locking tremolos are the "Synchronized Tremolo" type and an almost endless stream of copies. The Bigsby vibrato tailpiece is another option.

Locking tremolo/vibrato systems

A locking tremolo uses a bridge that has a small clamp in each saddle to hold the strings in place (usually adjusted with an Allen key). The nut at the end fingerboard also clamps the strings to hold them in place. This arrangement is especially useful for playing that requires tapping or heavy "bending" playing styles, such as shred guitar "dive bombing" effects. Locking tremolos provide excellent stability, but their fulcrum points provide minute contact with the body, which might disturb sound transfer.

Non-Tremolo/vibrato bridges

Badass Bridge on a Martin EB18 Bass guitar C.F. Martin & Company BadassBridge1.jpg
Badass Bridge on a Martin EB18 Bass guitar C.F. Martin & Company

It is generally thought[ by whom? ] that non-tremolo bridges offer better transfer of string vibration into the body. This is due to direct contact of the bridge to the guitar's body. These bridges bolt directly to the guitar body. Assuming the bridge is of good quality[ clarification needed ], it limits longitudinal string movement, providing tuning stability. The improved transfer of string vibration into the body has an effect on the sound, so guitars with this type of bridge have different characteristics than those with tremolos, even when removed. There are no springs in the body or a cavity to accommodate them, which also affects resonance.

See also

Related Research Articles

Electric guitar Electrical string instrument

An electric guitar is a guitar that requires external amplification in order to be heard at typical performance volumes, unlike a standard acoustic guitar. It uses one or more pickups to convert the vibration of its strings into electrical signals, which ultimately are reproduced as sound by loudspeakers. The sound can be shaped or electronically altered to achieve different timbres or tonal qualities, making it quite different from an acoustic guitar. Often, this is done through the use of effects such as reverb, distortion and "overdrive"; the latter is considered to be a key element of electric blues guitar music and rock guitar playing.

Guitar Fretted string instrument

The guitar is a fretted musical instrument that typically has six strings. It is held flat against the player's body and played by strumming or plucking the strings with the dominant hand, while simultaneously pressing the strings against frets with the fingers of the opposite hand. A plectrum or individual finger picks may be used to strike the strings. The sound of the guitar is projected either acoustically, by means of a resonant chamber on the instrument, or amplified by an electronic pickup and an amplifier.

Violin Wooden bowed string instrument

The violin, sometimes known as a fiddle, is a wooden chordophone in the violin family. Most violins have a hollow wooden body. It is the smallest and thus highest-pitched instrument (soprano) in the family in regular use. The violin typically has four strings, usually tuned in perfect fifths with notes G3, D4, A4, E5, and is most commonly played by drawing a bow across its strings. It can also be played by plucking the strings with the fingers (pizzicato) and, in specialized cases, by striking the strings with the wooden side of the bow.

String instrument Class of musical instruments with vibrating strings

String instruments, stringed instruments, or chordophones are musical instruments that produce sound from vibrating strings when a performer plays or sounds the strings in some manner.

Floyd Rose

The Floyd Rose Locking Tremolo, or simply Floyd Rose, is a type of locking vibrato arm for a guitar. Floyd D. Rose invented the locking vibrato in 1976, the first of its kind, and it is now manufactured by a company of the same name. The Floyd Rose gained popularity in the 1980s through guitarists like Eddie Van Halen, Neal Schon, Brad Gillis, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, and Alex Lifeson, who used its ability to stay in tune even with extreme changes in pitch. Its tuning stability comes through the double-locking design that has been widely regarded as revolutionary; the design has been listed on Guitar World's "10 Most Earth Shaking Guitar Innovations" and Guitar Player's "101 Greatest Moments in Guitar History 1979–1983."

Fender Stratocaster solid body electric guitar

The Fender Stratocaster, colloquially known as the Strat, is a model of electric guitar designed from 1952 into 1954 by Leo Fender, Bill Carson, George Fullerton and Freddie Tavares. The Fender Musical Instruments Corporation has continuously manufactured the Stratocaster from 1954 to the present. It is a double-cutaway guitar, with an extended top "horn" shape for balance. Along with the Gibson Les Paul, Gibson SG and Fender Telecaster, it is one of the most-often emulated electric guitar shapes. "Stratocaster" and "Strat" are trademark terms belonging to Fender. Guitars that duplicate the Stratocaster by other manufacturers are sometimes called S-Type or ST-type guitars.

Bigsby vibrato tailpiece

The Bigsby vibrato tailpiece is a type of mechanical vibrato device for electric guitar designed by Paul Bigsby and produced by the Bigsby Electric Guitar Company. The device allows musicians to bend the pitch of notes or entire chords with their pick hand for various effects.

Archtop guitar Type of steel-stringed acoustic or semi-acoustic guitar

An archtop guitar is a hollow steel-stringed acoustic or semiacoustic guitar with a full body and a distinctive arched top, whose sound is particularly popular with jazz, blues, and rockabilly players.

A vibrato system on a guitar is a mechanical device used to temporarily change the pitch of the strings. Instruments without a vibrato have other bridge and tailpiece systems. They add vibrato to the sound by changing the tension of the strings, typically at the bridge or tailpiece of an electric guitar using a controlling lever, which is alternately referred to as a whammy bar, vibrato bar, or incorrectly as a tremolo arm. The lever enables the player to quickly and temporarily vary the tension and sometimes length of the strings, changing the pitch to create a vibrato, portamento, or pitch bend effect.

Variax is the name of a line of guitars developed and marketed by Line 6. They differ from typical electric and acoustic guitars in that internal electronics process the sound from individual strings to model (replicate) the sound of specific guitars and other instruments. The maker claims it is the first guitar family that can emulate the tones of other notable electric and acoustic guitars. It also provides a banjo and a sitar tone. The Variax is currently available as an electric guitar, but modeling acoustic guitars and modeling electric bass guitars have been available in the past.

The Fender Bass VI, originally known as the Fender VI, is a six-string electric bass guitar made by Fender.

String (music) Sound producing musical instrument component

A string is the vibrating element that produces sound in string instruments such as the guitar, harp, piano, and members of the violin family. Strings are lengths of a flexible material that a musical instrument holds under tension so that they can vibrate freely, but controllably. Strings may be "plain", consisting only of a single material, like steel, nylon, or gut, or wound, having a "core" of one material and an overwinding of another. This is to make the string vibrate at the desired pitch, while maintaining a low profile and sufficient flexibility for playability.

Vibrato unit

A vibrato unit is an electronic effects unit used to add vibrato to the sound of an electric instrument, most often an electric guitar. Vibrato units may be individual stomp boxes or built into multi-effects units, but are traditionally built into guitar amplifiers. Vibrato units are particularly used in surf music.

A nut, on a stringed musical instrument, is a small piece of hard material that supports the strings at the end closest to the headstock or scroll. The nut marks one end of the vibrating length of each open string, sets the spacing of the strings across the neck, and usually holds the strings at the proper height from the fingerboard. Along with the bridge, the nut defines the scale lengths of the open strings.

Outline of guitars Overview of and topical guide to guitars

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to guitars:

Violin construction and mechanics

A violin consists of a body or corpus, a neck, a finger board, a bridge, a soundpost, four strings, and various fittings. The fittings are the tuning pegs, tailpiece and tailgut, endpin, possibly one or more fine tuners on the tailpiece, and in the modern style of playing, usually a chinrest, either attached with the cup directly over the tailpiece or to the left of it. There are many variations of chinrests such as clamped to the body in the center, on either side of the tailpiece as with a Guaneri style chinrest or to the left of the tailpiece.

A solid-body musical instrument is a string instrument such as a guitar, bass or violin built without its normal sound box and relying on an electromagnetic pickup system to directly detect the vibrations of the strings; these instruments are usually plugged into an instrument amplifier and loudspeaker to be heard. Solid-body instruments are preferred in situations where acoustic feedback may otherwise be a problem and are inherently both less expensive to build and more rugged than acoustic electric instruments.

Electric guitar design is a type of industrial design where the looks and efficiency of the shape as well as the acoustical aspects of the guitar are important factors. In the past many guitars have been designed with various odd shapes as well as very practical and convenient solutions to improve the usability of the object.

Stetsbar

The Stetsbar Tremolo system is a vibrato bridge system for the electric guitar. Eric Stets developed the device in the late ‘80s, and patented it in 1995. He originally designed the device to provide a stable vibrato system that could retrofit to “stop-tail” guitars such as the Gibson Les Paul with no permanent modifications to the instrument.

Stoptail bridge

A stoptail bridge used on a solid body electric guitar or archtop guitar is a specialized kind of fixed hard-tail bridge. Hard-tail bridged guitars use different bridges from those guitars fitted with vibrato systems.

References

  1. Mottola, R.M. (1 January 2020). Mottola's Cyclopedic Dictionary of Lutherie Terms. LiutaioMottola.com. p. 2. ISBN   978-1-7341256-0-3.
  2. Owens, Jeff (2016-11-01). "Pitch or Volume? The Difference Between Tremolo and Vibrato". www.fender.com. Retrieved 2019-03-10.