What Is a Hardtail Stratocaster?

Strats are perhaps the most popular guitar model out there.

With many different iterations and newer takes on it coming every year, it’s not hard to get them all messed up.

HSS, hot rod, super strat, the list goes on.

And perhaps when reading an article or watching a video about different kinds of Start you came across the term “Hardtail Stratocaster”.

But what is actually a Hardtail Stratocaster?

A Hardtail Stratocaster is a Strat model with a fixed bridge instead of the traditional tremolo floating one. Many players who prefer more simple guitars with fewer moving parts gravitate towards these instruments because of their improved tuning stability, intonation, and sustain.

In this article, I will go in-depth about what it takes for a Strat to be considered a hardtail, why some players prefer them, and what are other alternatives at your disposal.

After leaving this page you will have a clear characterization of Hardtail Stratocasters and you will be able to identify them in the wild. 

Also, you will know everything important about them and have the tools to decide if they might be a nice choice for you based on your preferences and playstyle.

Are you ready to get started?

Let’s go!

What is a hardtail guitar?

Hardtail guitars can be defined by opposition to tremolo or floating bridge instruments. 

To be more specific: A guitar is considered a hardtail if it has a fixed bridge.

Since the most popular strat versions have tremolo bridges, it is natural to differentiate those with non-floating bridges with the hardtail designation.

However, for instance, you wouldn’t use this denomination for Les Pauls, where the norm is them having fixed bridges.

What kind of bridges do hardtail guitars have?

Hardtail guitars have fixed bridges, this is bridges that are secured to the guitar body and have no moving parts.

Depending on the instrument, and the preferences of the player there are a lot of different designs from these kinds of bridges, for instance, those that drive the strings through the body, or those where the strings are stopped at the tailpiece.

It’s important to note, that hardtail guitars can incorporate tremolo systems, such as a Bigsby, but these are contraptions that work at the tailpiece stage.

What’s the difference between tremolo and hardtail Strats?

The main difference between tremolo and hardtail Strats is the types of bridges they have installed.

But this particular contrast is not as trivial as it sounds, actually the playability, tuning, intonation, and even sustain of the instrument can be noticeably different.

There are some players that swear by one model or the other, and they all have their reasons to do so.

Are hardtail stratocasters better?

Hardtail Strats are not necessarily better, they are just a different flavor of a guitar we all love.

They might be better for certain players, that for instance change tunings a lot, and wouldn’t like to be tweaking the floating bridge so it stays in a usable position.

Also, hardtails are just simpler instruments, with fewer moving parts, and I can see how many players would prefer them.

Why would anyone prefer a hardtail strat?

Apart from their simplicity and straightforwardness, hardtail Strats have a few features that some players might favor.

For starters, the lack of a tremolo system will naturally increase the tuning stability of the instrument. 

Strings will stay at a constant tension, and there are no risks of them getting stuck at the nut when springing back into position, which is the most common issue with floating bridges.

Another advantage of a fixed bridge is an easier experience when tweaking the instrument for intonation issues. Bridges that stay in place are just simpler to work with.

There can also be an argument made that the springs from floating bridges can suck up a bit of sustain from the overall instrument, and many players avoid them because of this.

Finally, and as a very personal note, there are natural slight tonal differences between a tremolo Strat and a Hardtail, that perhaps might not be enough of a deciding factor for most players, but something very important to some.

You really have to play and listen to them to deeply understand these differences, but these are just pointers for what to look at.

Can you transform a tremolo Strat into a hardtail?

Transforming a tremolo Strat into a hardtail is not an easy task, because the fixed bridge required for the mod would sit just exactly where the floating bridge is in place.

When you remove the floating bridge and block you will end up with a hole in the center of your guitar, and nowhere to anchor the new bridge.

There are certain things a nice luthier or guitar tech could do to accommodate a fixed bridge, like gluing some extra wood in place, but these are not the most common ways around it.

What most players that want a fixed bridge on a floating bridge Strat do is just block the tremolo mechanism.

This is a rather easy way around it, that will get you pretty close to a hardtail, and are a lot of tutorials on how to do it online.

Can you transform a hardtail Strat into a tremolo?

There’s no way of transforming a hardtail strat into a tremolo strat without doing some serious destructive work on the guitar’s body.

However, for those who dig a subtle vibrato effect, the best alternative might be adding a tailpiece tremolo unit such as a Bigsby.

Players that use hardtail Stratocasters

I’d argue that most well-known Strat players have at least one hardtail in their arsenal, however, here are some of the most famous hardtail players:

  • Mark Knopfler
  • Steve Winwood
  • Jimmy Vaughn
  • Buddy Guy
  • Randy Bachman
  • Stephen Malkmus
  • Kenny Wayne Shepherd