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.

Related Stories:
The Fender American Design Experience
Fender American Vintage ’62 Stratocaster Reissue

7 Replies to “Tech Basics: The Fender ‘Ashtray’ bridge cover”

  1. Good article, and timely too… my wife just bought an ashtray for her recently-purchased vintage modified jazz-caster thing….and she added a few pinstripes as well. Dressed it up nicely!

  2. Its kind of ironic that they originally thought the bridge looked ugly…so they added a big ugly cover over it!

    I’m pretty sure the bridge looks 100% BETTER without the cover! I guess that’s just a style thing, though…

  3. I kinda think we’re all just used to the cover. I put it on for a few days (that’s what inspired this article) and when you step back and try to look at the guitar objectively (which is very hard to do after, most of us growing up seeing Strats without the cover) the sleekness of the cover seems more in the style of the guitar’s curves than a sudden jumble of metal and springs. But there’s no question that it impedes playability. And if it doesn’t quite fit you have to bend it into shape to stay in place, and even then you can knock it off. Who knows – maybe if they originally designed it with a simple latch mechanism to hold it on, and left slightly more of the strings exposed for muting, we’d all think it was weird to see a guitar without it today.

  4. I always thought it was a hold over from Leo wanting his guitars to sound like Steel guitars. All Steel guitars (Lap Style) had covers. Also on the Tele it makes the pickup react differently like a Lap steel.

  5. I have a 1979 Strat that came with the bridge cover. It is still in the origional plastic bag of case candy in the origional hard shell case the guitar came in. I put the cover one twice over the years but never kept it on for more than 10 minuetes. I am going to play this guitar at a gig this Sunday and I am going to put the cover on for all four sets because I enjoyed this article so much!!!

  6. I have 2 strats, both hardtails. One is a ’03 which was not produced with a bridge cover, I don’t think. The other a ’76, which does not have a bridge cover, and I’m not certain it ever did. I would love to fit a cover to the ’76 (the ’03 too, I suppose, although I don’t intend to hold on to that guitar much longer). If anyone can steer me to a bridge cover item number that is likely to fit the ’76 that would be great. But I thought I’d also mention here, that I do use string damping techniques, but find them easier with the cover than without. I think my over-all right hand (pickhand) technique is probably not technically good. I tend to rest the ‘heel’ of my hand right on or near the bridge, and the cover makes this so much more comfortable. Without the cover, I find I too easily damp the bass strings inadvertently. Just thought I’d share this other perspective.

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