When LA-based luthier Reuben Cox began fitting acoustic guitars with rubber bridges – a unique mod that, especially when accompanied by flat-wound strings, gives guitars a muted, almost deadened sound – he probably couldn’t have imagined just how far the rubber bridge would go.
By the dawn of the 2020s, though, the rubber bridge sound had begun making its way onto some of alt-rock’s biggest releases, from which it then caught the ears of a number of pop’s biggest stars.
In an almost word-of-mouth fashion, with one artist eagerly adopting the mod after hearing or seeing another use it, the rubber bridge has spread like wildfire since – via some of Cox’s most high-profile clients – the public became aware of it less than a decade ago.
In fact, the rubber bridge craze became so widespread, it even inspired a number of guitarists on TikTok to invent a low-budget version of the mod using rubber bands.
For the uninitiated, a rubber bridge serves to somewhat mute a guitar’s dynamics, especially its higher-end frequencies. What it dampens on the higher-end, however, it makes up for in low-end, adding a percussive element to the guitar that's perfect for singer-songwriters – especially those playing solo or without a drummer. Its deadened sustain frees up sonic space for vocals, too.
Both acoustic guitars and electric guitars can be modified with rubber bridges, and best of all, it’s totally reversible. We have guides on how to fit an acoustic guitar rubber bridge and how to install an electric guitar rubber bridge, if you want to try it yourself.
To showcase the mod’s versatility, and how deeply it’s embedded itself into guitar music in just a few years’ time, we’ve gathered together 10 stellar tracks that prominently feature a rubber-bridged guitar, and utilize its sonic qualities in different, fascinating ways.
1. Phoebe Bridgers – Garden Song
Arguably the biggest exporter of rubber bridges other than Reuben Cox himself has been Phoebe Bridgers, who’s made the mod an absolute cornerstone of her hugely influential sound.
Garden Song, the lead single from her star-making 2020 LP, Punisher, is driven by a guitar that’s so deadened it’s as if it’s coming to your ears from underwater. It’s a song that sets the scene for the album that follows, and – though it was impossible to predict at the time of its release – would have a huge impact on guitar tone trends for years to come.
2. Christian Lee Hutson – Talk
Christian Lee Hutson – who co-wrote and played on a number of tracks on Bridgers’ Punisher album – also utilized rubber bridge six-strings on his own 2020 effort, Beginners.
The fingerpicked riff that slithers its way through album standout Talk is sublime in its own right, but its fascinating dynamics – courtesy in part of the aforementioned bridge – keep you coming back.
3. Taylor Swift – Champagne Problems
Though not a chart-topper, Punisher was definitely one of 2020’s most in-vogue albums, and came to the attention of arguably the single biggest pop star on the planet, one Taylor Swift.
Swift’s two 2020 albums, folklore and evermore, marked a seismic shift in sound for the world-conquering singer-songwriter, finding her – with some help from the National guitarist Aaron Dessner – creating hushed, almost lo-fi songs that bore more than a touch of Bridgers’ influence, and were more fit for a cabin in the woods than a football stadium.
Champagne Problems is one of the best songs of that era, with all the storytelling gifts that made Swift a household name, and supple acoustic work from Dessner that – with the aid of the deadening bridge mod – makes for the perfect supporting character.
4. Olivia Rodrigo – Hope Ur Ok
The rubber bridge’s invasion of pop did not begin and end with Taylor Swift, however. Having shown up on two of 2020’s most listened-to records, it also made a prominent appearance on 2021’s most-streamed album, Olivia Rodrigo’s Sour.
Though most famous for its soaring ballads and pop-punk scorchers, Sour’s impressive all the way around. The tender hope ur ok is one of its highlights, and is given its pulse by a simple riff made more solemn by the bridge’s dynamics – giving Rodrigo’s moving lyrics all the room they need to breathe.
5. Ariel Posen – Tumble Away
Also aboard the rubber bridge train is virtuoso and noted tone hound Ariel Posen. You can hear (and see) him brilliantly utilize the tool on his radiant instrumental, Tumble Away, in the performance video above.
Posen came to the rubber bridge sound via Cox, who affixed a rubber bridge to Posen's ’50s-era Kay acoustic.
“He [Cox] takes these old guitars and puts a rubber bridge and flat-wounds on them and a pickup inside,” Posen explained to Guitar World earlier this year. “It gives you this really different, interesting sound.”
6. Wilco – An Empty Corner
From the dizzying variety and amibition of their 1996 double-album, Being There, to their volatile, experimental 2004 masterpiece, A Ghost is Born, Wilco aren’t strangers to uprooting their sound on a dime.
During sessions for the band’s stellar 2019 album, Ode to Joy, Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy became enamored with the unique sound rubber bridges created, and how they worked with his vocal approach. The band’s rubber bridge-powered sound on Ode to Joy reflected well in its closer, An Empty Corner, a slow-tempo stunner with a solemn atmosphere that’s perfectly and vividly defined by its slow-marching, deadened acoustic rhythm parts.
“I used them [rubber bridge guitars] on the record [Ode to Joy], and they sound sort of like a ukulele and classical guitar,” Tweedy explained to Guitar Player in a 2019 interview. “They’re terrible old ’40s stencil cowboy guitars or cheapo beginner guitars, but you put a rubberized bridge on them and they have this crazy quality that just leaves so much more room for my voice. I don’t have a real sustaining voice so I tend to like guitars that aren’t showing me up.”
7. Perfume Genius – Slip Away
Tweedy, for his part, discovered rubber bridges via the work of Perfume Genius (the stage name of singer/songwriter Mike Hadreas), an artist who has long been under-appreciated for both his songwriting and penchant for wrangling fascinating tones out of his guitars.
Rubber bridge detractors may feel that they do too good a job at muting a guitar's naturally rich dynamics, but the euphoric Slip Away – from the 2017 Perfume Genius album, No Shape – shows just how creative you can get with them. The bridge gives an incredible tautness to Slip Away's restless rhythm guitar part, perfectly priming the song for its eruption after the first chorus.
8. Corook – If I Were a Fish
One of 2023’s most unexpected hits is a sweet, unbelievably catchy campfire folk-pop tune by the name of If I Were a Fish. Authored by Pittsburgh native Corook, the song became a bona-fide TikTok sensation, and made its writer a budding star.
If I Were A Fish is powered by the parlor-sized PRS P20E acoustic, a guitar Corook bought so they could “make a rubber bridge guitar out of it.”
“You can hear it’s kind of dead,” Corook said of their guitar sound on the song in a Total Guitar interview earlier this year. “I have a piece of rubber where the bridge is and I put flatwound strings on it. Rubber bridge guitars are really popular in the songwriting community right now. It makes it really percussive, which is fun to work with.”
9. Madison Cunningham – Sara and the Silent Crowd
Madison Cunningham uses the rubber bridge to terrific effect on Sara And The Silent Crowd, the engrossing, brilliantly arranged closer of her acclaimed 2022 album, Revealer.
10. Blake Mills – History of My Life
Veteran singer/songwriter and session man Blake Mills was the very first prominent guitarist to publicly wield one of Cox’s rubber bridge mods. In fact, watching Mills wield a banjo with a rubber bridge was what inspired Cox to try it on a guitar in the first place.
With the dampness and almost lo-fi quality of the rubber bridge applied to its chord progression, Mills' Bob Dylan-esque solo tune, History of My Life, sounds like it could have been recorded during the sessions for Dylan's Basement Tapes album.
In a 2022 Guitar World interview, Cox pointed to Mills’ use of the bridge on a banjo as being a significant moment in the mod’s history.
One night, Cox said, “[Mills] sent me some pictures and the next day I assembled some random parts and my daughter, Rowan, and I jumped in the car and drove that guitar [featuring a rubber bridge] over to Blake. He started playing it and those videos on Blake's Instagram – from, I guess, 2016 – feature the very first rubber bridge guitar.”