Tips, tricks and other bridge info
This page has developed as a result of questions from customers
on how to choose a bridge, install a bridge, maintain a bridge etc.
I guess its a type of FAQ page with a little more practical info.
Barrel vs. Rectangle Saddles
The barrel saddles are easier to setup, restring and easier to set the intonation. The downside is that
they are more susceptible to buzzing because the set screws can vibrate loose. I often suggest people
use a little thread sealant in the set screws to prevent the buzzing and that will take care of the
The rectangle saddles are more solid, and I think that translates to better sustain and tone. They will
require a little more time and patience to make sure they are positioned correctly because there isn't as
much travel in the saddle for setting the intonation. You can shorten some of the adjustment screws
so that it will allow for a little more travel. The downside is that they are more difficult to restring as
you have to bend the string and fish it through the opening in the saddle from below.
I like the rectangle saddles on my personal instruments, but will use whatever I have in stock when
building one and the bridge style isn’t specified. Simply put, I suggest the rectangle saddles from a
player's standpoint and the barrel saddles from a technicians standpoint.
Locating and installing a bridge-
To install a bridge, as well as building in general, I find a 2" x 18" grid ruler indispensable. They can be
purchased at most hobby or art stores, but I find the widest assortment and colors at fabric stores in
the quilting section.
Using the ruler, locate and mark a center line down the fretboard. Hopefully, you will have been very
judicious in fitting your neck so that it will be centered on the body. Install the nut, or a temporary
stop, and butt the ruler against the nut. Using low tack tape to protect the top, mark the location of the
scale. This is the point where the average string will rest on the saddle +/- 1/8".
With the saddles on the bridge, unscrew them so that they are fully extended but the springs are still
compressed. Mark this point using a marker, then adjust the saddles back another 3/16". This point
is where the scale should fall, which will allow for plenty of adjustment for intonation. Take the
measurement from the front edge of the bridge to the saddle screws and mark that same distance on
the top of the instrument to show the location of the leading edge of the bridge. The key here is
twofold. First, allow for enough adjustment of the saddles for proper intonation, and two, have the
saddles look balanced on the bridge.
Now, find the centerpoint of the bridge. The centerpoint, see Finding the centerpoint below, will be
dictated by the string holes, not necessarily the saddle screw holes. Mark the centerpoint on the
leading edge and back of the bridge. Place the bridge on the instrument top and align the front of the
bridge with leading edge and the centerpoint in line with the centerline of the fretboard. Ideally, this
should put the bridge right where it needs to be, but sometimes our neck might be off by a hair, or the
bookmatched droptop creeped while being glued on etc. I like to take a string and draw it taught
between the centerpoint of the nut and the centerpoint at the tail of the body and check to make sure
the leading edge and back edge of the bridge fall on that line. Depending how far it is off, I will either
adjust the neck or the bridge.
Finally, mark the screw holes with a center punch or scribe and drill for the mounting holes. The
other thing that I do at this point is to drill a hole for the grounding wire. I use a 1/8" aircraft bit and
will often times use the mounting screw hole as a starting point so the grounding wire makes contact
with the screw.
Finding the centerpoint-
Its pretty straight forward on the bridges with rectangle saddles and the four string bridges, but the 5
string bridges with barrel saddles are offset a bit. The best thing to do is to install the center saddle
and mark the center based on the string slot. I center the 8 and 10 string bridges based on the
How to set the intonation
In setting intonation, we are assuming that the nut is properly adjusted and if the action needs adjusting
it can be done at the bridge. We also recommend using new strings when setting the intonation. We
will usually pre-stretch the new strings prior to setting the intonation.
TUNE: Open tune your instrument (ie. don't fret anything) to the tuning you're planning to play in.
Tune all of the strings directly to the tuner. Tune the entire instrument several times. As the tension on
each string changes it may alter the way your neck is sitting and may alter the tuning of your other
ADJUST YOUR ACTION (optional). If you have any desire to raise or lower your string action (the
distance between your strings and the fretboard) you should do it now. (this means if the string is
buzzing raise it so that it doesn't!) If you alter your action after you complete the intonation setting
process, you may undo all of the work you are about to do. If you do alter your action on any string,
retune your instrument.
ADJUST YOUR SADDLE: Fret the string at the 12th fret, pick the string and note how far off you are
and whether you are flat or sharp. If you are flat then the length of the vibrating string is too long and
you need to adjust the saddle so it shortens the distance between the saddle and the nut. If you are
sharp then you will want to adjust the saddle so it lengthens the vibrating string. After adjusting the
saddle, retune the open string and repeat until the string notes the same on the tuner at the 12th fret as
it does open. Go to the next string.