Guitar bridge covers, also known as the “ashtray” bridge cover, were a very popular add-on to Fender Stratocasters and Telecasters for nearly 20 years. Although it’s not as common as it was back in the day, we still see them on some guitars, and some shops still sell bridge covers.
But what exactly is a guitar bridge cover, and what does it do?
An “ashtray” bridge cover is a name given to a type of guitar bridge cover that originally covered the vintage bridges of guitars like the Fender Telecaster and Stratocaster back in the day. Thus, the ashtray bridge cover is the original chrome bridge that came with these instruments. Nowadays, they can be used to cover guitars with vintage-style bridges.
What is a Guitar Ashtray Bridge Cover?
Many years ago, the Fender Stratocasters and Telecasters that were manufactured within a period of close to 20 years all came with a guitar bridge cover. This guitar bridge cover was a chrome bridge cover.
The word “Ashtray” is a slang term used to refer to these metallic chrome covers found over the bridge of some guitars, particularly the Fender Telecaster and the Stratocaster. These guitar bridge covers looked like ashtrays. Due to this, the term “ashtray” became associated with them.
Although these covers were mainly found on Fender Strats and Teles, some Jazzmaster, Jaguar, Precision Bass, and Jazz bass guitars also had bridge covers.
These guitars with old-style bridges such as the Telecaster had their bridge assembly raised at their sides. This allowed bridge covers to be fixed on the bridge.
Nowadays, most of the guitar models produced by Fender do not come with bridge covers. Many modern guitar bridges are flat and do not come with a bridge cover. This includes modern Telecaster guitars as well.
Thus, if you want to add a guitar bridge to these guitars, you must purchase them separately. Unfortunately, finding an original guitar ashtray bridge cover is very difficult to do.
However, vintage guitar ashtray covers should not cost more than 30 dollars. Only some American Vintage series and a few Fender custom guitar instruments come with pre-fitted bridge covers.
What Is The Purpose of the Guitar Ashtray Bridge Cover?
The purpose of the guitar bridge cover was to improve the guitar’s appearance. This is because the first few models of the Stratocaster were tagged as having ugly bridges. Due to this, the bridge cover was designed to cover the bridge, thereby giving it a more attractive and sleeker look.
Unfortunately, having a guitar ashtray bridge cover on your guitar restricts the playing ability of guitar players. It makes it impossible to perform palm-muting.
Due to this, most guitar players used to remove the chrome bridge covers from their guitars.
When these bridge covers were removed, most of them ended up on top of tables, where they were eventually turned into ashtrays. Most people believe that was how the term “ashtray” became associated with guitar bridge covers.
The remaining bridge covers that were not turned into ashtrays usually ended up being lost since their owners, who had no use for them, lost track of them. This is why most of the vintage Stratocasters and Telecasters sold do not have their chrome bridge covers on them.
Unfortunately, having a guitar bridge cover on your guitar is not practicable for modern guitar playing styles. In addition, having a guitar ashtray bridge cover on your guitar restricts playing ability and makes it impossible to perform palm-muting and other playing styles.
It restricts players from being able to go further back towards the guitar’s saddles to generate tighter chicken picking sounds from their strings.
Nowadays, guitarists who add ashtray bridge covers to their guitars do this mainly to achieve an old-school or vintage look with their guitars.
Do Guitar Ashtray Bridge Covers affect ToneTone?
Guitar bridge covers can affect the ToneTone of your guitar. Having an ashtray on gets in the way of your picking hand. Thus, it forces you to pick closer to the neck pickup.
Picking in this position generates a slightly warmer and 3-dimensional tone. Therefore, a guitar ashtray bridge cover indirectly influences the ToneTone generated from guitars when playing them.
Also, adding a guitar ashtray bridge cover to your guitar increases the mass of the metal at the bridge area. This ultimately affects how the strings will ring and vibrate when plucked.
Thus, most guitarists have noticed that putting on the ashtray cover takes away some of the treble bites from guitars. Therefore, a guitar with an ashtray cover fitted on sounds different from one without an ashtray cover. However, this difference might not be noticeable to some.
Apart from these original ashtray bridge covers, some of the modern bridge covers that are manufactured are known to affect guitar tones as well. For example, bridge covers such as the Gotoh Modern Bridge for Tele chrome are known to influence guitar sounds by giving them a more full-bodied sound.
How To Install A Guitar Ashtray Cover
If you have a guitar ashtray available, how do you install it or get it to fit your guitar? To cover your guitar bridge with its chrome ashtray bridge cover, all you have to do is to slip the cover onto the bridge and hold it into place by compression.
This is no different from how it was done back in the day. Unfortunately, back then, this mechanism did not have any form of latch or lock that secured it in place. Due to this, guitar ashtray bridge covers usually came off lose on their own.
However, if you currently own a guitar with an ashtray bridge cover that has no screw holes, there is an easy hack to get it to stay in place. To do that, press the cover against any hard surface to push the sides of the bridge cover in a little bit.
The goal of doing this is to bend the bridge cover slightly on its sides so that it can grip your guitar bridge saddles firmly. Alternatively, you can bend the bridge cover using a pair of pliers.
Some bridge covers are quite tough; thus, bending them might be hard to do. For such ashtray bridge covers, you can stick a couple of rubber stickers to the narrow waist on the inside of the ashtray to help keep them in place.
It is worth noting that some of the guitars with vintage bridges may have bridges to be quite broad. You need to press the ashtray very hard against the bridge to get it in place for such guitars.
As I mentioned earlier, guitar ashtray bridge covers tend to fall off while playing. If you are unfortunate, you may even end up scratching your guitar as it falls off. That is why most of the alternative bridge covers manufactured nowadays come with screw holes where you can screw them tight to your guitar.
How To Remove A Guitar Ashtray Cover
The ashtray bridge cover is very simple to remove. That is why guitarists of old could easily remove it from their guitars when they found it to be impeding their groove and play.
For guitar ashtrays that do not come with screws, all you have to do is to slide them off the bridge, and you are good to go. To remove guitar ashtray covers that have been screwed to a guitar, you have to unscrew the screws from the guitar body. Doing this will leave you with an unhinged ashtray cover that you can slide off the bridge with ease.
Can An Ashtray Be Fitted on All Guitars?
No, an original guitar ashtray bridge cover cannot be fitted on all guitars. An original guitar ashtray bridge cover can only be fitted on guitars with vintage-designed bridges. As you may have observed, all guitars do not have bridges of the same size and style.
Thus, an ashtray can only be fitted on guitars with standard box bridges. However, original guitar ashtray bridge covers can be fitted on AO and AV series of United States guitars and the Mexi-made classic series of guitars as well.
Since an ashtray bridge cover cannot be fitted on all guitars, it means every guitar has a particular bridge cover it is compatible with.
Therefore, I recommend that, before you decide to acquire a guitar bridge cover in general, you should do some amount of research to help you acquire a bridge cover that will provide a perfect or marginally perfect fit for your guitar.
Guitar ashtray bridge covers are the metallic chrome plates that served as bridge covers on vintage Fender Telecaster and Stratocaster guitars. Other guitars, such as some Jazzmaster, Jaguar, Precision Bass, and Jazz bass guitars, also had ashtray bridge covers.
They used to be popular many years ago. However, since Fender stopped producing guitars with ashtray bridge covers, their popularity has waned.