Tech Basics: The Fender ‘Ashtray’ bridge cover
For almost twenty years, all Fender Stratocasters came with a chrome bridge cover. When the Strat was first designed, the bridge itself was considered kinda ugly, so it made sense to cover it up and make it appear smoother and more sleek. The cover has a small notch on one side so that the whammy bar can still do its thing, and when it’s in place it gives the Strat a slight Cadillac vibe.
But players found the cover to be a little restrictive, especially those beginning to explore palm muting techniques. So typically the cover was removed, and many players quite literally used it as an ashtray instead! And even if the cover was spared from this most dusty and smelly of fates, it was easily lost, since most players took it off and chucked it in a draw, under the sofa or in the bin. So it’s pretty common for vintage Strats to be sold without the cover.
These days the bridge cover is packaged with the American Vintage series and the occasional Fender Custom Shop instrument. It doesn’t fit every Fender bridge type, but if you have a vintage-type six-screw bridge, the ashtray bridge cover can probably fit it.
I say ‘probably’ because sometimes they need a bit of finessing to get them to fit. The cover is supposed to simply slip onto the bridge and hold onto it by compression. There is no actual latch or anything to ‘click’ it into place: it just hangs on for dear life. So if your guitar came with an ashtray bridge cover (or has a bridge type that the cover is compatible with) and your cover isn’t simply staying put when you place it over the bridge, there’s an easy fix: just push the sides in a little bit by pressing the cover against a hard surface such as the edge of a table (don’t try this with a valuable antique table!). It’s fairly tough, so don’t be worried about breaking the cover. Just bend it enough on each side that it will grip onto the edges of the outermost bridge saddles.
The Strat wasn’t the only Fender to have covers like this: the Telecaster had one before the Strat did, and it covered the entire bridge plate. The Jaguar and Jazzmaster also had a cover for their bridge, as did the Precision Bass (the 51 version and later) and the Jazz Bass. They’re not entirely practical for today’s playing styles, they add a lot of vibe and I like to pop mine onto my Strat every now and then just for kicks. It forces me to play in a certain way due to the inability to palm mute, and it’s kinda fun to challenge yourself like that every now and then.