Which is the best guitar bridge?
For me, it is a very easy question. But in order to be accurate, we have to take something into account: your opinion as a player. Yes, as the artist on the stage, your opinion as the player is the only one that matters. So from the three main options regarding bridges in the Spanish guitar world, you should choose the one that suits you better. I will give you all the information I have from a luthier point of view so your choice is an educated one, based on facts. So there we go, I hope you like this article and find it useful!
The traditional 6 holes bridge. The classic, the most used one. It is very likely your guitar will feature this type of bridge.
Two main pros: Super easy to tie and the simpliest to build for the luthier.
Everything else is a con: Due the nature of this knot type, this is a bridge with a more limited life because the string friction tends to elongate the holes irretrievably. Strings here dent and hide partially the decoration at the tie block so it is mandatory to add reinforcements on the block edges. Also this is the worst performing bridge in terms of feedback when using under saddle pickups.
It is worth to mention that, whithin the same size, this bridge provides an inferior breaking angle and drives less power into the soundboard. This is not a negative point per se, but if it were possible to build to identical instruments, this bridge will be the least efficient in terms of energy transfer, sustain and volume. This just a physical fact, but it doesn't affect the quality of the instrument, being the proof some of the world's best sounding instruments feature 6 holes bridges.
12 holes bridge. The perfect balance.
Shares the big advantage of the 6 holes bridge: the tie is very easy. Another pros are the higher breaking angle capabilities and the fact that it avoids over tension in the output of the string main holes.
Very few and subjective disadvantages. Should you like to have a clean tie block decoration, better not to use this system. Despite the fact the tie operation is very easy, if you make a mistake and the string get loose, the whip effect will guaratee a big gouge on the soundboard, for sure.
This bridge has a moderate erosion in the string holes, since them are only exposed to the normal tension of the string, not the additional tension created by the knot in the 6 holes system. As a wrap up, this is a very well balanced bridge both in terms of aesthetics and acoustics.
18 holes bridge. For those who want everything.
Just one drawback, it's the hardest for the luthier. As player, you lucky! It is not your problem! In theory, it looks complex to tie, but in reality any player used to this bridge can change a string in the blink of an eye.
Aside from that, all advantages:
On the visual side, this is the only system that allows for a clean view of the tie block decoration. If you like a complex design here and don't want to be distracted by the strings, this is your bridge. Acoustically speaking, it provides higher braking angles that cannot be achived on a 6 holes bridge. It is the most efficient bridge in terms of energy transfer and has the lowest Coulomb dampening on the knot.
The star feature of this bridge is the self-protection against holes erosion because the knot itself pushes the string downwards agains the bone, reducing the friction by two thirds in the main output string hole and the most important: it keeps the braking angle unaltered, no matter how many years because the hole cannot be elongated by the string friction.
Beside that, only this type of bridge will allow to mix all systems in one. You have all options here: 6, 12 and 18 holes in one bridge. You need to decide this in advance because edge reinforcement is needed if you plan to use it in several configurations. It allows one of the cleanest knot system, the 12 + 6.1/2 that you can see on the pictures in the 12 holes section.
Finally, although just a marginal benefit, this is the best performing bridge when under saddle pickups are used.
The bridge choice is up to you, it is a personal decision. Should you have any questions, just ask your luthier.
If you are in design stage of your bespoke guitar with me and I linked you to this web page, bear in mind that is your opion what really counts, you ways and your previous experience. For me, as a luthier, there is no preference. I like all of them and I enjoy hand making all of them, and honestly think there are no easy or difficult bridges. Of course, no extra charge no matters which bridge you choose.
Now let me share a couple of videos showing you how to make the 18 holes bridge knot system: