Guitar Saddle Problems - How to Solve Them
Can't lower your strings low enough? Read through these help articles to find solutions.
Now for a couple of precautions: Do not lower the saddle so much that you do not have any angle of attack left from the bridge pins of an acoustic or from the string tie block to the top of the saddle of a classical guitar.
The illustration below shows an ideal angle that you should have. If this angle gets too "flat" you will loose too much downward pressure on the saddle and compromise tone and volume from your guitar.
Methods to Solve Guitar Saddle Problems
If you have this condition you have three options to consider:
- Shave down the bridge.
- Countersink the bridge pins slightly and form a string ramp up to the saddle.
- Go through the pain of a neck reset.
Shaving a bridge can be a pretty drastic operation on an acoustic or classical guitar. If you have determined that you have enough material left on your bridge after you shave it, then it is a wise alternative to resetting a neck.
In the Bridge Section Illustration above, the bridge thickness shows about 6mm to 7mm, which about average for a good acoustic guitar.
You could take 1 to 1.5mm off the bridge and still have enough structural strength left to support the top.
- Padded workbench
- Good work light
- Sanding Block 120 and 220 grit sandpaper
- Sanding disc adhesive
- Low angle block plane
Illustration board or plexiglas 1/16" thick
- Painters Tape 3/4" wide
- #000 Steel Wool
You don't want your bridge to become so thin that it becomes weak structurally. That would defeat the whole purpose of the operation. I would say you could shave a bridge down to about 3/16" (5mm) as an absolute minimum - at the saddle.
First you have to protect the finish of your guitar. The easiest and quickest way for a one-time operation is to buy illustration board at your local art store.
This is about 1/16" thick and cuts easily with a matt knife. Trace the outline of your guitar on the matt board and cut it out.
Now measure the location of the bridge as a rectangle and transfer it to the illustration board and cut the bridge area out. Be sure to leave about 1/4 to 1/2" beyond the bridge outline.
Test it and adjust as necessary Now use 3/4" painters tape and tape the outline of the bridge right on the guitar top. I like to use a double layer.
Lay the illustration board on the guitar and tape it to the side of the guitar with painter's tape. Secure the illustration board to the perimeter bridge area so it does not stick up at the bridge.
Top Template To Protect Your Guitar Top
A more permanent solution to the above template is to use a piece of plexiglas or lexan.
Again you trace your guitar and cut it out with a band saw. Trace the bridge area and cut that out with a dremel or other small router.
Be sure to sand all edges with 220 grit sandpaper and knock-off all the sharp edges to protect your finish.
If you plan on doing multiple operations on your guitar or will be doing additional bridge work you will want to consider this method. It give you a professional looking template and one that will last for life (lexan especially.
To cut down the bridge you can use either a sanding block or a high-quality, very sharp low angle block plane.
I would suggest the sanding block route if you are inexperienced with wood-working tools and this is your first attempt at lowering a bridge.
The sanding block is easy to make-look HERE to find out how to make your own. Adhere 120 grit sandpaper to the block and start sanding away on your bridge.
Take it slow and easy and check your work often to reveal your progress. Constantly check your bridge thickness and make sure you keep the bridge level across the top of the bridge.
Slip the newly shaved saddle in occasionally to check for proper angle. When you have the saddle sticking out about 3/32" to 1/8" you probably have the proper angle for your strings. (This is also determined by the distance from your saddle to the bridge pins on an acoustic guitar.
Since you shaved down the bridge you will want to provide a countersink for the bridge pins and a string ramp for the string to gracefully reach the pin holes. Refer to the discussion below for this How To.
For a Classical Guitar it is basically the same procedure except you only shave down a small portion of the bridge that holds the saddle. You may need to re-shape this area a bit also to attain its original shape.
Many handmade acoustic guitars have already countersunk the bridge pins as this allows the pins to be better seated in the bridge, lowers their profile and gives that added amount of detail to a quality guitar.
Production guitars may have very little or no countersinking for the bridge pins. This is a rather easy fix for your guitar saddle problem and it also can add a bit of class and detail to your guitar if done properly.
- Dremel Router or my favorite the Festool MFK 700EQ
- Ball-Shaped routing bit
- Router base assembly Note: You can also use a drill press for this operation. Set the speed as high is it will go and be careful to go slow.
Methods to Solve Guitar Saddle Problems
Carefully protect your top as shown in the above section on shaving your bridge to assure you will not damage the top of your guitar.
Chuck you bit in the router or drill press and begin the countersinking operation.
Go very slowly and check your progress often. If you use the router and router base, adjust the base to take small cuts and do all the pin hole and adjust downward to finish up.
Place a pin in the hole and see how it looks. Try not to go deeper that about 1/3 of the pin height. The countersinking should show up around the pin with about a 1/32" to 1/16" border.
Make each countersink exactly the same or it will not look good. That is why I recommend a router base and not doing it by hand - keep consistency.
Now you should allow for string ramps. This will ease the angle the string has to make in transitioning from the pin hole to the saddle.
Many repairmen and luthier's will make them rounding, which is great. You can also choose to angle them, it is up to you.
There are a couple of ways to do these channels. First you could use a small router such as a Dremel and use (3) different sized bits. Small for the first 3 strings Medium for the 4th and 5th Slightly larger for the 6th
Strike a straight pencil line on the bridge approximately 1/8" in front of the edge of the bridge pin hole (or countersink) If you are too close to the saddle, you will have to adjust this to a degree.
This operation is to be done by a steady hand. Start with the small bit and hold the tool at a 45 degree angle and cut down through the bridge and up to your pencil mark.
Finish up by tilting the tool to a vertical position, thereby rounding the portion that feeds into the pin hole. Complete the last 5 ramps and you are finished.
Take 220 sandpaper and sand the entire bridge. Finish with the steel wool to buff the wood and give it a shine. Remove the top protector, tape, insert the saddle and string it up.
You should now have a great playing guitar. If you notice you have an occasional string buzz, not the position and check the fret in front of the fretted buzz with a Fret Rocker.
You may have a slightly high fret that needs to be shaved down. For more details on this visit my complete section on Fret Repair.
If your string action is still not low enough for any of these procedures, you will need to have your neck reset.
This is a major operation and is not something for the beginner repairman or guitar owner.
Because of the constant tension on the guitar neck from the strings, eventually the angle of the neck changes, glues let loose slightly and the neck may warp a bit, required things to be put back to a neutral setting - thus the neck resetting operation. This restores the action and neck angle back to the original position.
For more information on guitar saddle problems and related repair, please visit these articles:
How To Do a Bridge Reset
Guitar Bridge Repair
How To Repair You Bridge Plate
Guitar Repair Tools