“Which bridge?” is always a big question when someone is considering putting a Tele-style guitar together, and rightly so. The right bridge is critical to getting your guitar sounding and playing the way you want, so considering a few choices is time well spent. I hope this article will shed some light on the subject. I’ll cover the bridges I’ve tried (there are many I haven’t), and explain what I did and didn’t like about each one.
First up, seen here on my black alder Esquire, is the popular Gotoh GTC202 ($50-60), which has six separately adjustable steel saddles. OK, this bridge is not so popular if you’re building to vintage spec, because the baseplate is brass instead of steel, and it’s not a traditional three-saddle setup. It sounds a bit darker and smoother than a steel-plate bridge, can be intonated very accurately, and has a clean look. It’s a very well-made piece of hardware, and a solid mid-price choice. It’s also available with brass saddles (GTC201), and in black and gold finishes. More rock than twang with this bridge, and perfect for this guitar.
Next is the Joe Barden bridge ($60 or so), which I used on my pine-bodied Tele. It has great traditional Tele twang and three tilt-compensated brass saddles. I generally need to file the Barden saddles a bit near the screw holes to remove burrs, and the strings sit a bit closer to the saddle height adjustment screws than is ideal. I also had to file small grooves to keep the strings from sliding across the saddles when I play hard. The plate is very nice and has a small cutaway on the treble side, plus holes for two extra mounting screws if you feel you need them (I don’t). This bridge is just a bit pricey, considering the work needed to get it running right. Otherwise, it sets up well, plays in tune, helps a Tele sound like it should, and does what you need it to do.
My Marc Rutters vintage-style bridge ($130) is a beautiful thing, and is installed on my Catalpa Tele (look it up!). It’s the best-performing, most trouble-free bridge I own. Marc’s grooved-saddle design for compensation is elegant and perfectly executed, and the whole assembly is as good as I’ve ever seen. It’s very reasonably priced for the quality he delivers. Mine is a vintage-style model with a slightly thicker (but still very twangy) steel plate and brass saddles. It sets up easily and sounds great. I love everything about it.
More bridges in part 2!