Tune-O-Matic and wrap-around bridges are two of the most common designs and are famously used on Gibson Les Paul guitars, but which is the better design? In this article, I’ll compare the pros and cons of each type of bridge so you can decide which is the best option for your guitar.
The Quick Answer
Tune-o-matic bridges have a separate tail-piece whereas wrap-around designs combine the bridge and tail-piece into a single unit. Tune-o-matic bridges make intonating the guitar easier, however, wrap-around bridges make it easier to re-string the guitar and can help to increase sustain.
|Tail-piece and bridge are separate pieces
|Tail-piece and bridge are combined into a single unit
|Makes intonating the guitar easier
|Makes re-stringing the guitar easier
|Tremolo arm can be added
|More comfortable for palm-muting
|Usually sounds warmer
|Helps to increase sustain and attack
|Very common design used on most Les Paul guitars e.g. Standard, Modern, Classic
|Less common design which is seen on some Les Paul guitars e.g. Tribute and Special
Tune-O-Matic bridges were first introduced by Gibson in 1953 and is the most popular bridge design seen on the Les Paul. The tune-o-matic bridge consists of two parts: the bridge itself and the stop-tail.
- The stop-tail holds the strings in place and keeps tension on it. The height can be adjusted by turning the screws on either side to ensure it is correct in relation to the bridge.
- The bridge is located closer to the pickup and has 6 individual saddles (one for each string). Each saddle has an associated screw which slides it either backwards or forwards to adjust the intonation. On each side of the bridge you’ll find a thumbwheel which allows you to adjust the height which in turn adjusts the action of the strings.
Check out this diagram which demonstrates each important aspect of the tune-o-matic bridge design.
The wrap-around bridge is an older design compared to the tune-o-matic bridge and has a simpler construction. You can still see the wrap-around bridge being used on some Les Paul models today such as the Junior and Special. Wrap-around bridges combine the tail-piece and bridge into a single piece.
There are two main types of wrap-around bridge:
- Where the tailpiece is a plate and does not have individual saddles.
- Where the tailpiece also has individual saddles.
The first design is more common and makes intonation adjustment difficult compared to the second design where you have individual saddles to adjust the intonation of each string. Check out the diagram below to see an example of a classic wrap-around bridge without individual saddles.
Wrap-around bridges generally sound a bit brighter with more attack and sustain compared to tune-o-matic bridges which sound a bit warmer. The tune-o-matic bridge will leak the string vibrations more due to all the separate parts whereas the wrap-around bridge transfers the energy to a single piece of metal so the energy is not lost.
However, this topic is widely debated and the difference in tone to some players is described as huge, and others can barely notice it.
Check out this YouTube video to hear a comparison of tune-o-matic style and wrap-around style bridges on the same guitar.
The tune-o-matic bridge was invented to make intonating each string an easier process. Having individual saddles which can be adjusted very easily using the screws is a big advantage of this bridge style.
However, it does not mean the intonation is better, just that it’s easier to make it perfect. It’s possible to get perfect intonation with both wrap-around and T-O-M bridges if you know what you’re doing.
Also, some more modern wrap-around bridges also have individual saddles located on the tail-piece, making the intonation process very similar compared to the T-O-M.
Many players find wrap-around bridges to be slightly more comfortable for palm-muting compared to tune-o-matic bridges. The larger design and the fact it feels smoother makes it a bit more comfortable to rest your palm on.
This is definitely a personal preference kind of thing though and I’d encourage you to try out both types of bridge in a guitar store using the palm muting technique to get a gauge of which design feels the best to you.
Wrap-around bridges make it easier to re-string the guitar compared to tune-o-matic bridges. With a wrap-around bridge you simple insert the strings at the bottom and then wrap them around the top, making it a fairly straight forward process. Tune-o-matic bridges, although not as complicated as floating bridges, have an additional step since you have a separate bridge and tail-piece.
Check out these YouTube videos to demonstrate the re-stringing process for both bridge types.
Wrap-Around (With Individual Saddles)
One of the benefits of a tune-o-matic bridge is that you can easily add a tremolo, unlike with a wrap-around bridge. Tremolos allow to to achieve a vibrato effect (despite the name!) which means you can adjust the pitch of the strings by pushing down or pulling up on the tremolo arm. This adds some unique functionality to the guitar and many players find see it as an essential part of their playing style.
As long as the guitar is intonated properly, there won’t really be any difference in terms of tuning stability between a tune-o-matic and wrap-around bridge. Tuning instability is much more likely to originate in the nut or tuning machines so I wouldn’t consider tuning stability as a factor when deciding between these two bridge designs.
What is Top Wrapping?
Top-wrapping can be performed on a tune-o-matic bridge and involves bringing the strings through the front of the tailpiece and wrapping them over the top. Usually, on a tune-o-matic bridge the strings go through the back of the tail-piece instead.
The purpose of top-wrapping is to reduce string tension which helps to improve sustain by ensuring the strings can vibrate more freely. You can view this as a compromise between the traditional tune-o-matic and wrap-around bridge and it’s a good option to look at if you are struggling to decide between the two designs.
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