In this build guide we're going to look at some decent and recommendable Stratocaster bridge upgrades for a few different Stratocaster guitars. These models span both Fender and Squier brands and, generally speaking, are compatible with each bridge mentioned.
Keep in mind, these bridges may not be considered upgrades for nicer Fender Stratocaster models, such as the American or Signature Strat series.
We're looking at guitars that stay in the mid to lower price ranges, which almost always means that the bridge they ship with will be some kind of Fender stock part.
Fender brand is different than Fender "stock." Flickr Commons Image via Anders Ljungberg
They're usually not terrible, but they're not great either. Saddles and trem bar feel loose, the block is light and tuning stability is a major toss-up. Once you start getting into larger price discrepancies, you'll see why the difference is so significant.
As far as Stratocaster upgrades are concerned, the tremolo bridge is the second most common swap after the pickups.
Quickly, here's a listing and table of contents with everything I'll cover.
Benefits of a Stratocaster Bridge Upgrade
First, I don't want to over-sell the benefits of a bridge upgrade for any guitar, particularly as it relates to tone.
It's fair to say that improving a Stratocaster's bridge has less to do with tone and far more to do with functionality and overall value. When a Strat bridge is upgraded, functionality is improved in several areas, but primarily the following two:
- Tuning stability
- Tremolo responsiveness
A nicer bridge will usually help your Strat stay in tune, particularly in regards to using the tremolo bar. Combining a cheap bridge with any tremolo use, that isn't extremely gentle, almost always ends in tuning headaches.
For those who are heavy trem users, a bridge upgrade has more immediate and practical benefits.
Stratocasters that Can Benefit from This Upgrade
While there are a lot of different models we could plug into this upgrade, I've singled out a few Stratocasters that I believe are uniquely good candidates for a bridge swap. They include the following:
Again, this is not to say that you can't get along with the bridges that ship with these guitars. You certainly can in plenty of contexts. However, if you want to upgrade a Stratocaster bridge, these are a few of the models that typically come with the low-quality chrome-style bridges that are cheap enough to make an upgrade beneficial.
Bridges Recommended for Upgrading
We need to identify bridges that will meet a couple criteria.
- The bridge should be a major quality increase over its predecessor
- The bridge should fit in its parent guitar
These points are self-evident, particularly the second one. Note that the bridges I'm mentioning here should all fit in the Stratocasters I've listed. At worst, you might need to do a little modding of the original bridge cutout in the Strat's body. In most cases, even that won't be necessary.
The types of Stratocaster bridges we'll be dealing with can be broken down into two categories:
- Two-Point Pivot American-Style Bridges
- Six-Screw Vintage-Style Bridges
We'll get into more detail about the differences between the two in the upcoming paragraphs.
The bigger issue right now is figuring out which bridges meet a high quality standard and can serve as an actual upgrade over what might already be on your guitar.
Unfortunately, Stratocaster guitar bridges are notoriously cheap.
Take a look at this screen grab from Amazon. It's just a 6-saddle hardtail (no tremolo), but still, extremely cheap.
The "Chrome" hardtail bridge from Fender. (View Larger Image)
I'm not allowed to show pricing from Amazon (since I'm an associate), but I'd advise you to checkout the price of this product yourself. Moreover, just browse around some of the replacement bridges. You'll notice that a lot of them are dirt cheap. Every week I buy two jugs of Orange Juice for my kids and those cost significantly more than this bridge.
My advice would be to avoid bridges like this.
Even the full Fender Vintage-Style tremolo, the one that ships with the Standard Stratocaster, is on the cheap side. Try four jugs of orange juice.
The vintage-style Fender bridge isn't something I'd target as an upgrade. (View Larger Image)
If you look on the product page for Fender's Standard Stratocaster, you'll notice that this is the same bridge the guitar ships with.
This is likely the same, or at least comparable, in quality to what you're getting with the Fender Standard models. (View Larger Image)
While it's hard to say conclusively what kind of bridge is going into each Stratocaster model, my guess is that with most Squier Strats you're getting something similar to these two bridges, if not slightly cheaper since you've got to take into account retail markup.
What bridges should we target if we want a significant upgrade that's worth our time and money?
Generally, there are three I would recommend. Two are available on Amazon and one is from a boutique company called Callaham.
1. The Fender American Series Bridge Kit (two-pivot version)
Fender's American series bridge assembly can be bought as a standalone upgrade. (View Larger Image)
Everything in this kit is steel and just feels really heavy compared to the lower-priced bridges. I also really like the two thick pivot screws that make the tremolo bar a lot more sturdy and less-likely to cause tuning issues.
This is similar (exact in some cases) to the models used in many of the American Stratocasters, which are some of Fender's most expensive guitars.
For any guitar in the Standard Strat line or lower, this bridge upgrade is likely a significant bump in overall quality.
Dealing with the 6-Screw to 2-Point Conversion: compatibility Issue?
You'll notice in this particular bridge that instead of having the six-screw vintage style setup, you've got two larger screws going into bushings. The holes for the two-point system should line up with the two outside screw holes on the guitar's six-screw bridge, which might require some extra drilling to make them large enough.
Once you do that, tap in the bushings or use some kind of epoxy before securing the two pivot points.
Even for guitars that come with a vintage-style tremolo (most of the Stratocasters I mentioned) this transition shouldn't be a major problem.
Here are some more opinions on it from the Strat-Talk forum.
I would also advise checking Callaham's bridge compatibility page.
2. Factory '62 Reissue Tremolo Bridge (6-screw vintage-style)
This is straight off the Fender '62 Stratocaster. Great for vintage tremolo fans. (View Larger Image)
The Fender '62 Stratocaster was a four-figure purchase, no matter how you sliced it.
This bridge is essentially a factory replica of the one that shipped with that guitar, which was solid steel and a fantastic aspect of that instrument. You'll need to measure for a 2-3/16" mounting space, which isn't usually a problem for the mid-range Fender models or even Squier Strats.
Note that some manufacturers, like Callaham, refer to the dimensions as 2-7/32", the difference of which is negligible.
One feature I really like is that the trem bar drops into the block at an angle, instead of straight down.
The block also feels solid and heavy, unlike some of the Kmise and Wilkinson bridges, which I wouldn't recommend.
Note that the saddles are also stamped with the Fender logo, which adds to the authenticity of the part and overall value. Considering the solid quality and decent price point, this is my favorite Stratocaster bridge upgrade.
The video below from JandW Music takes you through the installation process of a vintage-style Stratocaster bridge, which would apply to the '62 reissue version as well.
You can see on the Fender Standard Stratocaster that the '62 reissue bridge would fit just like the stock version that's already there:
The stock bridge on the Standard Stratocaster uses the same six-screw construction, making the '62 reissue an easy swap. (View Larger Image)
Unlike the two-point American Bridge, this swap should be straight forward and shouldn't require any additional drilling or modding.
Again, it's my favorite option of this list.
Callaham's vintage-style Stratocaster bridge upgrade. (View Larger Image)
Though a relatively small company, Callaham is widely recognized as one of the industry leaders in replacement guitar parts, particularly in regards to Fender and Fender-style guitar models. They also have a lot of Gibson and Bigsby replacement parts.
Their six-screw vintage-style bridge is similar to the '62 reissue in quality, though it's made in the United States (the '62 is made in Mexico) in Winchester Virginia, just about 45 minutes from where I live.
For Stratocaster bridge upgrades, I'd recommend any of the Strat bridges on this page, which distinguishes between Mexican, S and V/N model Strats.
Callham's Stratocaster Bridge replacement page. (View Larger Image)
Just like the '62 reissue bridge, these models use a six-screw system that can easily replace most stock vintage-style bridges on Fender and Squier Stratocasters. Callaham has separate pages for American-style bridges with the two-pivot system.
- Calaham's Product Catalog
- American Standard Upgrades
- American Deluxe Upgrades
- Bridge Compatibility Section
While they're a bit pricier than the Fender American and '62 reissue bridges, they're a reliable product, from a hands-on company that you can get in touch with directly.
Particularly if you're local in the Virginia area, like I am, they're a good source of consultation, repairs and parts.
Two-Pivot or Six-Screw?
As you can see, Stratocaster bridge upgrades can generally be broken down into two different categories:
- Two-pivot (American style)
- Six-screw (Vintage style)
The decision about which is better isn't always an objective one. Some people prefer the two-pivot system because they say it's easier to keep in tune. However, my experience is that tuning trouble is more often due to the fact that most cheap Stratocasters come with a cheap Vintage-style bridge that doesn't stay in tune.
The American-style bridges are generally found on only the newer American-series Strats which, predictably, stay in tune better than the cheaper guitars.
If you upgrade with a decent Vintage-style bridge, those should stay in tune just as well.
As a consequence, I wouldn't say there's a major quality difference between the two. Again, it's a matter of how solid the bridge is and how well it's built. If you spend more than $70 on this particular part, chances are you're upgrading value regardless of the American or Vintage distinction.
Cheap and mid-range Stratocasters are great candidates for mods and upgrades. If you know what you're doing, you can take a cheaper guitar and give it a huge bump in functionality and longevity. Pickups are the most obvious starting point for that type of project, but a good bridge swap is the next logical step.
I think a lot of people avoid switching out bridges because they're concerned about compatibility and fitting.
Keep in mind, if you're buying a bridge that's designed for Strats, the discrepancies in shape and size are going to be minimal. Even the two-point and six-screw differences can be easily overcome with some basic modding. If you're replacing a Stratocaster bridge with another Stratocaster bridge, compatibility isn't likely to be a major issue.
Questions about compatibility or selection?
If you have questions about that, drop them in the comments section below. I know the guys at Callaham and can check on this kind of stuff pretty quickly, or at least point you in the right direction.
Flickr Commons image courtesy of Edwin Van Burringen