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Back in the Saddle Again.

Here's a set of metal-gold over brass on this ES-345. Note the little "shelf" on top. That's what the originals looked like. Modern saddles tend to be a sharp edge on top.

I have an unusual situation with the guitars I have in the closet right now. I’ve got two early block necks-both stop tails, but one has nylon saddles and the other has metal. It gave me a chance to assess the pros and cons of each side by side instead of having to swap out the saddles which is a tremendous pain. Not as bad as trying to get a harness back into a 345 but hard enough. Tune-o-matic bridges are inherently noisy things. They have way to much movement and when a string vibrates against a somewhat loose metal bridge, you get a lot of additional vibration. That vibration is dissipating some of the energy (meaning sound) that should be transmitted to the wood and to the pickups. The Tone Pros guys built an entire business around that fact. They eliminated the rattle between the bridge and the post by adding a set screw and they lessened the amount of rattle in the saddles by screwing the adjustment screws into the body of the bridge. Gibson’s early solution was to simply use a nylon saddle. It would still vibrate but it wouldn’t transmit that vibration to the bridge itself and was thus a bit more quiet. Great. Except that it seemed to muffle the sound a bit. Some of the metallic “bite” you get from a metal saddle disappeared along with the unwanted saddle rattle. So, what happens when you put the metal saddles up against the nylon? I gotta go with the metal. Annoying as the vibrations are, that extra little bit of attack you get is worth it to me. If the rattle bothers you and you want that extra bite, get a Tone Pros replacement. It looks the same and it will be a bit quieter. There are other bridges that achieve the same end made by Faber and Pigtail and probably a few others. Just make sure you hang onto your original bridge. If you lose your vintage ABR-1, you’ll be out at least $300 for a vintage one when you want to cash out of your vintage “investment”. ¬†On the other hand, I don’t gig with my vintage stuff and if a guitar comes to me with nylon saddles, I’m not really inclined to swap them out. I like playing a vintage guitar in its original form and part of the block neck “experience” are those nylon saddles. If you play your block neck without the amp at all, you’ll appreciate the nylon. I know that when I can’t sleep and I get up to play for an hour or two until I’m tired enough, I’ll go to one of the 335s and play without the amp. In that situation, the lack of rattle is a very good thing. One other thing to note and that is string gauge. If you use medium or heavy gauge strings, the downward pressure on the saddles is much much greater. That additional pressure keeps things much quieter so if you use 11’s or larger, metal saddles will suit you just fine amp or no amp. If you string up with 9’s or 10’s, your metal saddle bridge is going to rattle. I could also mention graphite saddles but I’ve never used them because I refuse to pay that much for a saddle. Feel free to add your experiences with them to the comments. Or send me a set that I don’t have to pay $25 for 75 cents worth of graphite.

Here's a photo of some modern plastic saddles. These are Tusq-which is a very hard bone-like plastic material. I'll bet these would sound pretty good and have all the quiet of nylon and some of the bite of brass. Unfortunately they cost around $40 which is a lot for a set of saddles. It's gotten tough to find the old type of nylon saddle.

5 Responses to “Back in the Saddle Again.”

  1. Mike says:

    I was moved to comment on your post about the saddles, as I just did some comparisons myself on a ’69 ES-335. . Mine were between the vintage nylon, metal replacements, AND some ABR-1 String Saver graphites, which I happen to have lying around. I actually went so far as to string the first 3 strings with nylon, and the other 3 with graphite, thinking that might provide a a more “balanced” sound than, say, nylon/metal. To my ear, the nylons actually sounder better than the graphite, and I preferred nylon/metal in that configuration (3/3…ala the Bonnamassa LP). Maybe it’s the bite of the T-Tops, but I don’t find the nylon saddles to be “dull” at all…in fact I prefer their smoother-sounding tone on the un-wound strings in particular. The presence control on the amp takes care of any problem there. I haven’t ever tried the Tusc saddles on anything. It was a fun little experiment, but when all was said and done…didn’t care for the graphites, the metal sounded ok, but the original nylons are back on, and I think they sound perfectly fine. Swapping ABR bridges is easy of course, but having the original bridge in it’s entirety on there is just…better!

  2. OK Guitars says:

    Hi Mike. I wouldn’t be surprised if I tried a different set of nylon saddles that I wouldn’t be happier with them. On balance, however, I’ve played enough of each to have an overall feel for what I like. I’ve played nylons that I like and metals that I haven’t liked. Sagging bridges are also a factor. But when I strung up my 64 with vintage and worn in nickel over brass saddles after playing it with nylon saddles, I thought I heard a difference and now that I have 2 similar stop tails, I have one of each and the metal one just sounds better. Maybe I’ll swap the bridges on the 2 guitars and see how much of the difference has to do with the instrument itself. One is a 64 and the other is an early 65 (“The Mexican”).

  3. Mike says:

    I know your thing is 335’s, but I have to say…I’ve got a ’75 Gibson Flying V that had a different bridge on it when I got it, but I looked for and found a real mid-70’s chrome ABR with the nickel-over-brass saddles. Changing that bridge …BIG difference, and and a definite improvement (I think the aftermarket one wasn’t brass under the plating), so I think that BRASS saddle is the one to have if changing from nylon.

  4. Rich says:

    When I restored my ’63 330, I put an orig Nkl ABR-I on it that had nylon saddles in place. The old ABR-I was chrome & had plated brass saddles that were terribly worn, causing several problems. I thought the transition was an vast improvement sonically. The Nylon saddles smoothed -out the harshness that was more noticeable w/ brass-plated saddles. Also, I thought output got a lot stronger for whatever reason with a very clear sound w/o any associated muddiness in the notes. It was clearly a great upgrade for this ES-330…!

    I have a set of the TUSQ saddles but haven’t yet experimented w/ them. In addition (though not vintage); on my 339 I installed KTS Ti saddles & I thought there was an overall improvement to it’s sound…but ymmv!

    Great Site OK…thx!

  5. OK Guitars says:

    I’ve tried Tusq saddles and they are very close to the original milled nylon saddles Gibson used in the 60’s. A good choice.

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