Guitar Saddle Replacement: Follow this handy tutorial on repairing and replacing a saddle

Guitar Saddle Replacement

The Saddle Plays A Paramount Role In Transferring Sound From The Strings To The Tonewood

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Guitar Saddle Replacement - When Should I Consider it?

Often there is confusion as to what is the bridge and what is the saddle? The bridge is the wood component and is usually Ebony or Rosewood. The saddle is a thin piece of plastic, bone or ivory that is "inset" into the wood saddle.

Tools Needed For This Repair:

    1/8" Wood Chisel
    120 Grit Sandpaper
    400 Grit Sandpaper
    Oversized Bone Saddle Blank

    Feeler Gage

    End Cutting Nippers

    Thin-Kerfed Back Saw

Tools To Made The Job Easier But Not Necessary

    Finger Planes
    Block Plane(s)
    Dremel Router tool + attachments

There are basically (4) types of acoustic and classical  guitar saddles used for quality acoustic guitar construction.

  • Captured Saddles: A captured Guitar Saddle, or "drop-in" saddle set in a groove routed in the bridge. It is surrounded by the wood of the bridge. Captured saddles are often friction fit with no additional adhesive utilized. Sometimes luthier's make compensating saddle from captured saddles buy the use of a wider saddle material and changing the contact point on each string.
  • Set Saddles: These are long saddles that extend through the crown of the bridge and extend into the "wings" of the bridge. Usually a set saddle is glued in place.
  • Through Saddles: This type of saddle is typically used in classical guitar construction and runs the entire length of the bridge and is flush with the edges of the raised portion of the bridge.
  • Metal Compensating Saddle: The saddle is make entirely from metal and has adjustment screws for compensating the intonation of each string individually. These are great for adjusting your intonation but are horrible with tone production.
  • Guitar Saddle

    Captured Saddle

    Guitar Saddle Replacement Materials

    I have seen guitar saddle replacement made of all kinds of materials over the years, from wood to ivory, bone, plastic and metal. Overall the best saddle materials are either bone or ivory. Do not consider the use of plastic, wood and certainly not metal.

    The saddle in the photo above shows the ideal placement of the saddle in relation to the bridge pins, it is placed back from the front edge of the bridge adequately and the string angle in ideal.

    Things to consider in Guitar Saddle Placement:
  • Location: The saddle should not be placed too close to the leading edge of the bridge. It should be set back between 1/8" and 1/4". If the saddle slot is too close, the bridge could split at the slot from the forward pressure place on the saddle from the strings.
  • Relationship to Bridge Pins: The bridge pins should be placed the correct distance back from the saddle slot - usually about 1/4" is correct. This will allow for correct string "attack", which is the string angle from the bridge pin to the top of the saddle
  • If the "attack" is too sharp you risk a lot of string breakage and this places a great deal of forward pressure on the saddle and undue pressure on the bridge itself. If the "attack" is too shallow, there will not be enough pressure placed on the saddle from the strings to produce a quality tone. Often guitars will a shallow attack exhibit weak sound and volume and experience buzzing.
  • Saddle Channel Depth: Too shallow of a channel and the saddle will tend to lean forward from string pressure. This could cause the saddle to snap off or the saddle to break the bridge. The correct depth is about 1/8" to 3/16" or about 1/2 to 3/4 of the depth of the bridge. Also the bridge thickness should not be less than 1/4" for an acoustic-type bridge. Any thinner and the bridge could crack between the bridge pins and the saddle could split the front of the bridge.
  • Saddle Contour: Quite often the top of the saddle mimics the shape of the fingerboard radius. If the fingerboard has a radius, the saddle follows the radius. If the finger board is flat, the saddle is flat across the top as well.
  • Saddle Top: The top of the saddle should be rounded and not flat on the top. This will allow for the strings to curve over the top of the saddle more gently and not rest on a sharp surface, thus reducing string breakage.
  • Acoustic Guitar Saddle

    Aligning Bridge Pin In an Arc Reduces Chances of a Crack Between Pin Holes

  • For more information on Bridge Replacement see my article on Replacing a Guitar Bridge. Also refer to articles on Adjustment of Guitar Action and Replacing a Guitar Nut.
  • Saddle Removal
  • Drop-in or captured saddles are very easy to remove. Since they are not glued-in you can take a reshaped End Cutting Nippers and pull straight up to remove the saddle.
  • Through Saddles for Set Saddles are another story. These are usually glued in place and can be very tough to get out.
  • If the saddle is from a an older guitar, like a Martin, manufactured prior to 1965, you can usually remove the saddle with heat, because of the type of glue that was used, is not heat resistant. Place a soldering iron on the saddle and wrap it with a wet cloth. Slowly move the heated iron across the length of the saddle. The glue will re least and you can remove it with your nippers.
  • Modern through saddles are glued with waterproof and heat resistant glues and the above method will not work with those saddles. Use the following procedure to cut out a stubborn saddle.
  • Guitar Through Saddle

    Through Saddle

    Removal of a Stubborn Saddle
  • First prepare the top of the guitar to protect it from this operation. I usually use scrap polystyrene plastic about 1/16" thick for this. I have a piece with a bridge-shaped hole already cut out of it. Simply tape the fixture in place so you won't dig into the top with the hand saw.
  • Next plane the top of the saddle down to the level of the top of the bridge. You can do this with sanding sticks, a small hand-held Dremel Router or a very sharp Finger Plane.
  • Once the saddle is level with the bridge, take a sharp Thin-Kerfed Back Saw and cut a slot down the middle of the saddle, all the way to the bottom of the saddle. Be careful not to dig into the bridge wings with the saw.
  • Now take a small instrument makers Chisel and chip the remaining saddle material from the sides of the saddle channel. I usually use a chisel that is 1/8" wide, 1/16" thick. The saddle will completely chip out and be careful not to chip any of the wood bridge material in the process.
  • Shape the New Saddle
  • Now shape the New Saddle to fit the slot of the old saddle. Thickness sand the saddle, if necessary with sandpaper glued to a piece of marble for stability.
  • Fit the saddle so it is secure and does exhibit any wobbling. It should be a tight friction fit. Check to make sure that the saddle extends all the way to the bottom of the channel and sits flat of the bottom of the channel. Also check the bottom of the channel to ensure that it is deep enough.
  • Ideally the top of the saddle should extend about 1/8" above the surface of the bridge. Any more than this and your string angle of attack will be too great. Any less and the pressure placed on the bridge will not be adequate.
  • Refer to my article on Setting Your Guitars Action to fine tune your saddle height. For this you will also need a set of Feeler Gages.

    Now round-off the top of the saddle and round the edges so that you have no sharp edges to come into contact with the players hands.

    Classical Guitar Saddle

    Classical Guitar Saddle

    Classical Guitar Saddle Replacement
  • Usually the replacement of a classical guitar saddle is very simple to do. For the most part the saddles sit in the saddle channel by friction fit only and you can slide it out with your fingers of a small tool
  • If you find one that is glued in you will have to resort to the same measures explained about in replacing a through or set saddle.
  • Also check that the saddle channel for the classical guitar is set deep enough, especially if you are replacing a lower profile saddle with one higher in profile. Again, keep the string angle of attack in mind when replacing a saddle.
  • Now remove the nut and mill down the top until you have left about 1/2 the string diameter or less of the slots left. Also at this time, final shape and fit the nut. Sand the nut with 400 grit sandpaper and preferably buff it on a stationary buffing wheel if you have one.
  • Put a couple of drops of Tight bond glue to hold the nut in place and let dry. String the guitar up and enjoy!

    Additional Guitar Repair Articles You May Be Interested In:

    Additional Repair Tips you may be interested in: Adjusting Your Guitar Nut, Guitar Saddle Adjustment, Adjusting Your Guitar Action and Guitar Bridge Problems.