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On a typical stoptail bridge such as the one pictured below, how much does the quality of the tailpice (or "stopbar") affect the overall sound quality of the guitar? What kind of advantages can a guitarist see by upgrading this part of the bridge setup?

For reference, here is a typical two-piece stoptail setup (from Wikipedia):

Typical Tune-o-matic bridge with a stopbar

  • At the risk of sounding like a grumpy old musician (I'm at least 2 out of 3 there :-) ), electric guitars are really nothing more than frequency generators. The overtone series can be manipulated from here to Orion's Belt with a few simple electric circuits (see 'stompbox' and 'effects processor'). The source overtone series matters rather less than most people would like to believe. – Carl Witthoft Jul 23 '14 at 17:01
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    While I have a lot of signal processors and effects for my guitars, I'd have to respectfully disagree Carl. Getting the sound right before you start playing with it is essential. If you start off with poor sound there is only so much you can do with effects. Which is why so many good guitarists have many guitars - they sound different. – Doktor Mayhem Jul 24 '14 at 8:29
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    @DrMayhem I accept your response without reservation, but would like to point out that, on almost any instrument, the quality of the instrument affects how hard the musician has to work to produce a good sound (as opposed to whether a good sound can be produced). I've seen pro violinists get amazing sound out of a 1/2-size child's rental, but they weren't happy about the effort involved :-) – Carl Witthoft Jul 24 '14 at 11:53
  • That is also very true Carl, the effort is a factor i hadn't even mentioned. – Doktor Mayhem Jul 24 '14 at 12:05
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The bridge is the key point of connection between the strings and the body, but the tailpiece is an essential part of this. The main effect of upgrading this will be to change sustain and tone.

You may also notice an improvement in tuning stability - if you are upgrading from a poor quality bridge/tailpiece.

The actual effect varies a lot between an acoustic, semi-acoustic and solid bodied guitar, and also between through-neck and bolt-on guitars, however unless there is a specific sound you are after, I wouldn't see this upgrade as that useful - it is very minor compared to most of the other modifications you could make.

My suggestion: don't do this unless you have a broken or poor quality tailpiece, or want to change the finish. You'd be better off saving for another guitar if you want a different sound.

  • Thanks. I picked up a cheap, beaten-up guitar from a friend that I'm using as a project guitar to get some practice making some less-than-routine modifications (already had to ream out the holes on the headstock to install better tuners, and I'll probably have to sand and refinish the body). I've been upgrading the hardware to make it sound/play a bit better, but I didn't want to dump too much money into it. I figured a new nut, tuning machines, and bridge would do plenty to brighten up the tone and give it some sustain (it sounds "muddy" right now), I just wasn't sure about the tailpiece. – valverij Jul 24 '14 at 12:11

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