Newcomers to the guitar will have noticed that there are two major ways of anchoring the strings to the body of the instrument. But have you ever wondered why and what the difference is? There may also be some people who have been playing for a while who don’t appreciate the differences between them.
So, I’ve decided to take a look at the differences to try to determine exactly what they are, and what difference they make, if any. So let’s have a little competition, String Thru Body vs Stop Tailpiece. Which is best?
They Both Have Associations
The thru-body-stringing guitar system is very much thought of as a Fender thing. Indeed, many of their guitars, including the Telecaster and the Stratocaster, both utilize that system on most models.
But they are certainly not an exclusive feature. I have a Telecaster that is not a string through and a Precision Bass that isn’t either. The very first Precision’s in 1951 had string through, but they then reverted to a fixed bridge until the mid-90s.
And there are plenty of other manufacturers, notably Schecter, who use the string-thru-body system in their guitars.
No Change, Les Paul
Gibson, on the other hand, are noted for their Stop Tailpiece Bridge, have made little changes. They have been making guitars for longer. But with the advent of the Les Paul, they stuck with the same tailpiece bridge and didn’t experiment. But not all manufacturers who “copied” the Les Paul did so. The Samick Les Paul has the string through the body system.
What was the thinking behind Thru the Body?
Leo Fender and the people around him were one of those great creative, forward-thinking teams of people. They come together every now and then. It was decided that the thru-the-body stringing system might be more functional. It was also praised, at the time, for creating extra sustain.
Sustain as we know, allows the notes to stick around a bit longer and improves the resonance. You would have thought that the Les Paul, which needed that extra sustain, might have adopted that system. If extra sustain is what you get, isn’t that what Les Paul would want?
By the end of this, we shall know if extra sustain and the other benefits are a reasonable claim. Let’s take a look at the String-Through first.
The String-Through Design
The idea behind the design is that all the strings are anchored by the body of the guitar as they pass through it. The whole system still has a bridge and a nut, as you will find on other instruments.
Strings are loaded through the holes in the back of the guitar. The ball-end of the string is held in place inside the body by ferrules. The string passes through the body, over the bridge and nut, and is secured at the headstock as usual. So the difference is purely the passing through the body. As I said, all other parts of the stringing system are the same.
Why This Design?
As I have already mentioned, to increase sustain and improve resonance. This is achieved by the strings transmitting extra vibration and thus energy through the body of the guitar. Stop Tailpiece guitars do not have this “extra.”
The result is the pickups collect more of the vibrations from the string. Being solid wood, the guitar then offers a better transfer of energy through the body to the pickups. The result, we are told, is better sustain.
Less Contact. More Energy
To put it simply, there are fewer points of contact for the transmission of energy. This centralizes the transmission in a better way. Fewer points of contact for the string, therefore, make the transfer more effective through the body of the guitar.
Do We Need Sustain?
The modern guitarist certainly does. They couldn’t survive without it. Solid-body guitars are notable in their design to create a better tone when they have more sustain and resonance.
Therefore, sustain and resonance are important assets for a guitar in its basic form. I say basic form because you can surround yourself with a nuclear arsenal of pedals. They will give you that resonance, sustain, and endless other sounds. And, of course, many guitarists do exactly that.
The sustain means notes will be audible for longer as they are held. All guitar players love to have that option. But is this the only way a guitar can generate sustain? Let’s look a bit closer at that one.
More Sustain From String-Thru Guitars?
I am sure you have all had the same experience. You can play a string-thru guitar, and with some, you have not noticed a great deal of sustain. And then, you can pick up a guitar with a stop tailpiece, and it has plenty of sustain.
That indicates that other issues are having an effect rather than just the string-thru system. So, if it is not just the stringing system and the bridge, what else is having an effect?
There are several influences besides the bridge and the design of the stringing.
- The Body – The weight and, to a certain extent, the shape.
- The Woods – The materials that are used and the density of the wood in the body.
- The Neck – Whether it is set or a bolt-on.
- Add on the quality of the build.
- The gauge of the strings you are using.
- The Pickups – Single-coil pickups have a naturally thinner sound than humbuckers.
As you can see, there are plenty of variables involved. Woods and their density, type of body, and construction. But the amount of sustain could even have something to do with how the neck is joined to the body.
One difference that you can recognize is that the string-through design seems to have a higher midrange tonality.
Benefits of The “String-Through”
Endless debates come from both sides on the relevant benefits of the string-through guitar system. Some players think the string-through gives you a bit more attack.
That might be the case with the Fender guitars. But, that might be more to do with the natural top-end sound of the single-coil pickups. It could also have to do with the transfer of the energy of the vibrations being more efficient.
Back To The Sustain
But don’t forget, it was claimed that this design increased the level of sustain and resonance; is that true? The jury is still out on that one. There is, as we have seen, more to that than just stringing through the body. It is something we will have to come back to.
Ease of Stringing?
Through-the-body won’t win too many friends in that area. It has to be said that the stop tailpiece system is easier for stringing purposes.
The “Break Angle”
You will see many observers saying that this system does not incur more string breakages. I am not well-up on the science of it. But any system that includes an extra ‘bend’ in the string must be more vulnerable in my simple logic. There is a break angle on the stop tailpiece, of course, but this can be altered if you choose. With the through system, it is fixed.
One final thing to think about, which many people do not consider, is how it looks. The aesthetics of the guitar are quite important, aren’t they? Does the through-the-body system look better or worse than a fixed tailpiece?
That is all about personal preference, of course. What one person prefers the next might not. I am slightly fortunate in that I have both sitting here beside me.
A ‘90s Fender Precision bass, A ‘68 Gibson EB0 bass, and a Stop Tailpiece Telecaster. Besides those, a through-the-body Telecaster. I have to say that for me, the string through the body just looks neater and cleaner and much more acceptable. And it is even better on a Stratocaster.
The stop tailpiece on the Precision is quite functional but just ugly. Presumably, that is why they stuck a cover over it. But that didn’t seem to help with feedback, so off it came.
The tailpiece on the Telecaster is similarly rather unattractive. The least said about the monstrosity on the Gibson, the better. When it comes to aesthetics of string thru body vs stop tailpiece, the string-through-the-body wins, in my view. But that wasn’t the reason for the design. Let’s move on…
The Stop Tailpiece Design
Let’s now take a look at the stop tailpiece design. Most recognized by many and associated with Epiphone and Gibson guitars. And most notably on the Les Paul.
The Tune-O-Matic Bridge
There is a wide range of Stop Tailpiece design bridges, and the Tune-O-Matic is perhaps the most well-known. It is used to describe the bridge system typically used by Epiphone and Gibson.
You may hear the terms the Nashville bridge and the ABR. The main difference between them is their adjustability and how they are fitted.
I haven’t got space to look too closely at both of them here. But they are both quality options. It is the Nashville bridge you will find in the majority of Gibson and Epiphone guitars.
One of the advantages of a Tune-O-Matic system is that each saddle can be individually adjusted. This allows you to set the intonation for each string separately.
But this isn’t the only benefit of a stop tailpiece bridge. Stringing we have already mentioned. Just place the string through the eyelets and rest it on the bridge. Take it up to the machine heads, and the job is done.
Previously, I mentioned the “break angle.” In order to reduce the break angle, you can raise the stop bar. This will relieve the tension exerted on the string, making it easier for them to bend.
Besides reducing the risk of breaking the string, it makes the guitar easier to set up. Getting the right setup to suit your playing style can be important, especially if you use an aggressive style.
Some guitarists like to “top-wrap” their strings. This involves wrapping the string over the stop bar. They think that gives them an extra feel which is something you cannot do with a string-through system.
There is a school of thought that says that sustain and the general sound can be improved using different materials. The stop tailpiece allows you to use different materials to see what suits you best.
There is a range of options, including brass, copper, and aluminum. Certainly, a higher density material can make a difference. As I have already mentioned, it will better transfer the energy from the vibrations of the string. That should mean more resonance and more sustain.
Two Ways To Go, But Does It Really Matter?
It might do in just one way. There certainly isn’t an outright winner in terms of the performance of either. They both have their advantages and some disadvantages. It will depend on where you set your priorities.
Back To Sustain Again
We seem to keep going back to this one issue. And I am not sure there is such a big difference between them here. Through-the-body stringing can have an effect in some situations. And, if I am honest, I would say that Schecter seems to do better than Fender on the sustain front. But much of that might have to do with the pickups they use more than anything.
One Or The Other
All things considered, I don’t think either one is better than the other in the case of generating sustain. There are too many other factors that are involved to be able to say one system has more sustain than the other.
Each guitar might sound different, and it is really down to the user to sit down and listen for themselves. I have talked about materials, the construction of the woods used, and the pickups.
Even the gauge of the strings can have an influence, along with how the neck is attached. If we are talking about what system generates the most sustain, there is no winner.
How Do You Decide Between Them?
It’s down to what suits your personal needs the best. You aren’t going to buy a guitar based on whether it uses a string-through or a stop tailpiece system. It won’t be what you ask for when you walk into the shop.
If you buy a Fender, a Schecter, or many other similar brands, you may well get a string-through system. If you buy a Gibson, an Epiphone, or a Les Paul look-a-like, you will probably get a stop tailpiece.
As I said, it will not be what you ask for. The main focus will be on the guitar and what it can do. And does it suit your tastes and preferences?
Here is a Squier Classic Vibe 50’s Stratocaster with Thru Body stringing. Or an Epiphone Les Paul Custom Classic Pro with Stop Tailpiece. If you need to replace your bridge, check out this Tune-O-Matic Bridge w/Roller Saddles for Epiphone Les Paul. There are options for all the styles of guitars that have these bridges.
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String Thru Body vs Stop Tailpiece – Final Thoughts
When it comes down to choosing between the two, it will be what appeals to you the most. It is not possible to say one type is definitely better than the other. Maybe you like the style of the through-the-body design or the functional performance of the stop tailpiece. Either way, it will all be up to you.
The Competition Result
I set up a competition at the beginning, which was String Thru Body vs Stop Tailpiece. Which is best? In my view, it is a draw, but, as mentioned, in the end, it is your choice.
Until next time, let your music play.