It's time to learn how to set up the bridge on your electric guitar if there's trouble in Guitarland. Perhaps your new, shiny electric guitar has awful intonation and by the time you reach the top of the fretboard, it's no longer the same note. Perhaps the action is so high it is painful to fret, or so low the strings slap against the pickups.
- There are two main types of electric guitar bridges. There is the "Tune-O-Matic"/"Roller" type, which is found on Gibson, Gretsch and Epiphone guitars. This is usually a removable long oval part sitting on adjustable posts. These posts determine the height of the strings. Another is the "Vibrato"/"Hardtail" type, which is common to Fender and Paul Reed Smith guitars. In this case, bridge and tailpiece are one; there is usually a large, rectangular plate bolted directly onto the guitar with a raised heel which holds the strings and individual string saddles acting as the bridge. These saddles determine the height of the string and can be adjusted individually to create either a flat or arched effect, depending on the type of neck your electric guitar has. According to Chicago Luthiers, "Some just have adjusters that raise and lower the whole bridge, but not the individual strings, and some have both. This applies to guitars with tremolo bars as well as those without."
- The first thing is to adjust height. If you have the first type, you will need a flathead screwdriver. The two posts holding the bridge have flat slotted heads showing at either end. You can turn these clockwise to lower the strings or counter-clockwise to raise them. Find the string height that suits you. For an electric guitar, it will be about 1/4" off of the neck or lower. Get the strings as low as you can for comfort, but be careful that your frets don't start buzzing or that the strings are not coming into contact with pickups or any other parts. If this happens, your strings are too low. If the bridge is the second type, you will need a very narrow Allen wrench to adjust the saddles; you will find the Allen heads on either side of the saddle top.
- Next, you will need to adjust the intonation. In this case, the technique is pretty much the same. You will need a small Phillips screwdriver. On the tailpiece side of the bridge in the first case, or the rear of the bridge in the second, there are screws holding the string saddles in place. Check each note by striking the string at the twelfth fret fretted and then unfretted. The unfretted note is the proper one; turn the screws either clockwise or counter-clockwise until the notes match.
By now, your electric guitar should be ready to play. Plug it in and try it. If your notes are good and the action is comfortable, your bridge is now set up.
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