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
End Cutting Nippers
Thin-Kerfed Back Saw
Tools To Made The Job Easier But Not Necessary
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
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
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
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 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
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
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
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
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
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.
Aligning Bridge Pin In an Arc Reduces Chances of a Crack
Between Pin Holes
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
glued in place and can be very tough to get out.
If the saddle is from a an older guitar, like a Martin,
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
glues and the above method will not work with those saddles. Use the
following procedure to cut out a stubborn saddle.
Removal of a Stubborn Saddle
First prepare the top of the guitar to protect it from this
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
Next plane the top of the saddle down to the level of the top
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
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.
sand the saddle, if necessary with sandpaper glued to a piece of marble
Fit the saddle so it is secure and does exhibit any wobbling.
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
Ideally the top of the saddle should extend about 1/8" above
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 Replacement
Usually the replacement of a classical guitar saddle is very
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
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.
Classical Guitar Saddle
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.