Saddle Sores

Those are some seriously heavily notched saddles. How you gonna vibrate freely if most of the string is being damped (not dampened) by the saddle?

I spent the weekend out riding the range and boy is my butt sore. OK, I’ve never ridden a horse in my life and we don’t have a lot of ranges to ride here in Connecticut unless you count the Wolfs and the Vikings (both gas and electric). We are going to take a look at the saddles on an ABR-1 to see if that’s what making you sore about your poor tone. I’ve played a lot of 335s (and 345s and 355s)- many more than the 200 or so that have passed through my hands. I keep a mental note of the great ones but I don’t really get down to hard analysis of what I’ve learned. Well, maybe it’s time I took a closer look. There are a bunch of assumptions that are made about 335s (and guitars in general) that aren’t always borne out by experience. There are more myths and assumptions with regard to tone than there are fingers on your hands. I believe that tone comes from a number of places; including from your amp and from inside your head. A really important factor is how freely the string vibrates and how those vibrations (and all the other vibrations that enter into the equation) are translated from mechanical energy into electrical. I’ve gotten a few early 335s that sound pretty dead when I get them but with a few tweaks and perhaps an upgrade or two, they turn into tone monsters. Let’s start with sustain. Everybody likes their guitar to sustain. The big problem I have with newer Gibsons is that they don’t seem to. I’m not sure why. They biggest improvement to sustain comes from making sure the saddles and nut aren’t restricting the free vibration of the string. Over 50 or so years, the saddle notches get worn and become too deep-or they were made too deep to begin with. I recently had a 61 that just sounded dull and lifeless. All I did was swap out the original bridge for a Tone Pros that I barely notched and it sang like a choir of angels. That’s it. The nut can do the same thing. If it pings when you tune the guitar or bend strings, then the slots are too tight. I don’t usually mess with nut files but I do lubricate the slots and that can help as well.  I always put on new strings before I start messing with the guitar. Old strings will sound dull and lifeless no matter great your guitar is. Make sure you keep the original bridge with the guitar or in a safe place because when it comes time to sell, you’re going to want to include it. If you are set on using the original bridge, make sure it isn’t sagging in the middle -just set it upside down on a flat surface and look at it. If the saddles are notched more than half the depth of the string, then you’re going to want to either replace the saddles or file down the tops so the notches are smaller. I use a flat file since the tops of vintage saddles are flat anyway. So, once we have the strings vibrating freely, what else is contributing to the tone? Pickup height is a big element. What about the resonance of the guitar itself? How does that play into the equation?  And what about neck size and tone? We’ll dig into that quagmire in the next post.


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