15-Nov-2012

brass2I’m going to say right up front that when it comes to comparing one type of metal to another concerning whether your bass guitar bridge is made out of brass or aluminum, one is not better than the other – but – it does matter concerning what type of sustain and tone you’re going for.

Advantages and disadvantages of ALUMINUM bridges

An advantage of having an aluminum bridge is that you will be heard better in a mix, and this is due to an aluminum bridge having a more “punchy” sound. “Punch” is defined as having more initial amplitude at the beginning of the note, which in other words means a note is louder at the initial moment the sound is produced.

In addition, aluminum bridges are very light in weight, so if you were looking to lighten up your bass guitar, using an aluminum bridge is an easy way to do that.

The disadvantage to aluminum is that notes decay faster, commonly described as “having less sustain”.

Advantages and disadvantages of BRASS bridges

You’ve probably heard many times from many people that brass bridges have great sustain. Do they? Yes, they do. You can get nice long note decays when using a brass bridge, however there are a few tradeoffs to this.

Brass is a dense and heavy metal as it is made of copper and zinc (and possibly a small amount of tin depending on brass type). As such, most of the string vibration stays within the bridge and is not transferred out to the body because of its high mass content. The advantage is that you’ll get great sustain for your notes, but the disadvantage is that your tone won’t have as much punch in a mix.

Practical application

You’ve been told over and over again that it’s all about SUSTAIN! SUSTAIN! SUSTAIN! with bass guitar. And yeah, brass bridges do promote sustain. Big time. But ask yourself this: Do you really need a note to sustain for 13 full seconds? Probably not.

If the goal is to be heard above all else, aluminum is the better choice. If on the other hand the goal is to have long sustaining notes, brass is better.

Another factor to take into consideration is the tonewood your bass guitar body uses. Generally speaking, it’s true that lighter woods such as alder, swamp ash, basswood and poplar are already “punchy” concerning the tone they produce and might be better suited for a brass bridge. Denser woods such as walnut, bubinga (commonly referred to as African rosewood), bocote (commonly referred to as Mexican rosewood) and maple could be better suited for aluminum bridges because the bridge can add in the desired punch.

It’s also important to note that there neither bridge metal type will be a cure-all for giving you both monster punch and monster sustain. Your choice of bridge metal type is determined by whether you prefer more punch in a mix or more sustain for longer note decays.

Check out some of our brass and aluminum bass bridges here for options and styles to choose from.

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16 Responses to “Brass vs. Aluminum Bridge – Which Is Better?”

  1. Steel is the best anyway
    (just kidding)

    November 16, 2012 at 7:17 pm - Reply or Post a new comment
  2. i found more to like brass bridges, the old dimarzio’s for example… punch can be given by the fingers and enlighted by electronics =)

    November 16, 2012 at 7:34 pm - Reply or Post a new comment
  3. I find brass enjoys a little more acceptance perhaps because it’s more traditional, but aluminum has the clear edge when it comes to making the note “pop” more. Brass is more even and I find the lows seem a little more focused. Depends on your wood choices more than anything else.

    November 16, 2012 at 7:41 pm - Reply or Post a new comment
  4. As someone whose Main Basses are primarily made up of both light as well as dense woods (Alder backs & Zebrawood tops, others are Alder/Maple & Swamp Ash/Maple) I’ve found that Aluminum Bridges “help” in giving me the punch and high-end I’m looking for when coming up with “My Sound” both unplugged & amplified (I’m a “Chimey Piano Note” steel string type o’ guy anyway). And as they’re of bolt-on construction, *all* the woods used as well as electronics (Nordstrand Big Singles & Aguilar OBP-3), all are factors that contribute to a fast attack and punchy note vs. the slower but more sustained note from your “typical” Neck-Through Basses (which I used 100% for 5 years, so I feel I have a good sense of the general differences between the two). And given that I’m usually playing with 1 if not 2 loud, distorted guitars, I’ll take the trade-off in sustain for attach and punch any day of the week… and twice in sessions. ;-)

    November 16, 2012 at 7:56 pm - Reply or Post a new comment
  5. I have a third alternative. I have a KTS Titanium bridge on my bass that produces what I can only describe as a very transparent tone. Cuts through the mix and is great if your going for a bright, round wound tone.

    November 16, 2012 at 8:55 pm - Reply or Post a new comment
  6. My bass has the best of both worlds. A Tone Pros Bridge with brass saddles!

    November 16, 2012 at 9:16 pm - Reply or Post a new comment
  7. How about Titainium?..Im working on this concept with my brother who is in the Ti business…Illlet you know.

    November 16, 2012 at 11:15 pm - Reply or Post a new comment
  8. I changed the zinc and brass bridges on my basses for aluminum Hipshot type A bridges. It really opened up the tone. Before they were darker and kind of congested sounding in the midrange. Now they have a tone that is more acoustic sounding. But brass is good for overly bright basses. or if you like more fundamental than harmonics.

    November 17, 2012 at 1:41 am - Reply or Post a new comment
  9. I believe your custom hand-built bass guitar shops have this figured out to where you can have the dense tight woods and brass bridge, but they have their preamps specially designed to get that punch & grit dialed in or the warm smooth crystal piano type tones if you want it. Basses can be versatile in our modern day. Certain “Boutique” builders had this figured it out back in 1978.

    November 17, 2012 at 2:32 pm - Reply or Post a new comment
  10. When I ordered my last few custom basses I went with brass Hipshot bridges. Brass bridges are used by Ken Smith, Alembic, Sadowsky, and many others. Shortly after receiving my custom Kinal with brass Hipshot B-Style bridge, I was considering switching it out to an aluminum bridge. When I consulted with the builder, Mike said he’d recommend keeping the brass bridge for the fretted bass, and that he only uses aluminum for fretless. He claimed that aluminum would make my bass brighter sounding, and lose low end and sustain. He said to think why so many people switch to Badass bridges on their Fenders or whatnot. So, I’ll probably stick to his advice, as a swamp ash body and ebony fingerboard are bright enough already. On the other hand, I have a custom made Linc Luthier bass. On it I went with RMC piezo saddles (which are aluminum) in the custom Hipshot A-Style plate, made of brass. I’ve often thought that my semi-hollow bass could benefit from more resonance which would be added by lightening the bridge plate. Unfortunately the way the bass is made, it would require major electronic surgery to change the bridge plate via unsoldering the piezos. There just isn’t a quick fix, but it’s obvious that the brass plate is sucking up some of the vibrations on that particular bass.

    December 1, 2012 at 7:56 am - Reply or Post a new comment
  11. One big thing that is always overlooked: Construction. Let’s suppose you could grade your tone from 1 to 10, in sustain, punch, clarity, richness, etc and then average the grades to an overall value. I’d say that the strings play the major role: A fresh set sounds bright and live in almost ANY instrument, and an old, dull set of poor strings can literally ruin the tone. For the sake of comparison, “string variations” can swing the “grade” of your tone from -let’s say- 2 to 10. Big variation. Pickups also account for big tonal differences. Neck joint quality, pickup attachment and overall structure also affect tone, maybe up to 2 point variation. Regardless of the metal, a well designed bridge may give you a +0,5 point or so. We are talking details already. Changing the base metal of the bridge, from steel to aluminum for instance, may change your tone in 0.001 point steps… too small variation to consider. Do you seek better tone? Go for a good setup,
    firm neck joint, thin finish, good pickup adjustment, and a superbly well designed and built bridge, with no rattles nor gaps, with a good seating in the body, and good anchoring for the strings. A bridge that won’t waste your hard-earned tone in muddy saddles, or wobbly screws. It doesn’t make sense to worry about the brass alloy type without considering first things first.

    January 7, 2013 at 10:43 am - Reply or Post a new comment
  12. Fretless Fender P Bass — aluminum bridge, brass nut. Flatwound strings, maple neck. Just bright enough, yet mellow enough.

    I LUUUURVE MY BABY

    But seriously, I love everyone’s feedback.

    June 10, 2014 at 1:09 pm - Reply or Post a new comment
  13. Aluminum sounds most like bent tin, which is a good sound. Hipshot B allows rapid string changes (slotted).

    June 10, 2014 at 7:24 pm - Reply or Post a new comment
  14. I’ve got a brass bridge on a solid walnut body. I play Motown finger style so I don’t particularly worry about “punch.” What I do have is sustain for days . . .

    June 11, 2014 at 2:39 pm - Reply or Post a new comment
  15. You say that with a brass (versus less dense aluminum) bridge “most of the string vibration stays within the bridge and is not transferred out to the body because of its high mass content” but that’s not really the case. The pickups sense the movement of the string. Energy, i.e. string vibration, transferred to the bridge, body or neck decr
    eases sustain and can affect the tone as some frequencies are attenuated more than oth
    ers.

    A brass bridge sustains longer than aluminum because it has more mass, therefore more inertia, so it tends to remain at rest and less string vibration energy is transferred (lost) to it. The string keeps more energy and vibrates for a longer time, as it slowly loses energy to friction with the air, etc.

    This is also why headstock weights cure dead spots in the neck. If the neck resonates
    at the frequency of a certain note, that note’s volume will be diminished as the stri
    ng loses energy to make the neck vibrate. The headstock weight adds inertia (very effectively I might add, since it’s at the far end of a lever) that reduces the neck’s te
    ndency to vibrate with (i.e. suck energy from) the note.

    It’s true that wood can’t affect the magnetic field of a pickup. It may be that tonewoods lend their character to the sound by selectively absorbing (subtracting) a specific “profile of frequencies” from the string vibration and what they leave behind sounds nice. Most likely there are woods that sound bad, maybe we just don’t use them.

    or so I’ve heard, ymmv, …

    June 12, 2014 at 3:41 am - Reply or Post a new comment
  16. It’s not just about the material. It’s really more about the engineering. Since 1951 most of the bass bridges have transferred vibration from the saddle to the bridge plate the same way: through a couple of small allen screws. Bass bridge “innovators” surmised that weight would compensate for this. Those ideas were OK for their time but the boat-anchor bridge is a cave drawing.

    June 16, 2014 at 11:33 am - Reply or Post a new comment

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