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  1. #1

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    It is my suspicion that much of the loss of sustain and volume in the very high frets may come from suboptimal slots. High up the neck the strings are fretted at a more acute angle. That would require that the front of the slot not wedge the string at the lowest part of the slot (the bottom of the V).

    I notice a string to string variability in sustain, tonal richness and volume when fretting the highest fret.

    I had been focusing on whether there was a fretboard extension vs. a solid block under the highest few frets. That can't explain what I've observed.



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  3. #2

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    I have definitely observed what you are writing about, but I haven't analyzed the variables closely.

    FWIW, it seems that Johnny Smith, Heritage and other archtop guitars with full top contact under the fingerboards seem to note more clearly on the upper frets than do other archtops. However, I bet you are right about bridge slots.

  4. #3

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    Wouldn't taking the string out of the slot and placing it on the flat part of the saddle prove or disprove your theory?

  5. #4

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    My luthier Brian told me the depth of the bridge slots on a wooden bridge should be no more than 1/2 the string diameter. Just enough to hold the string. He told me most of my guitars had slots that were too deep. And the slots absolutely deadened the strings. And the bridge top should follow the contour of the neck radius, at a certain fret, I forget which one.

  6. #5

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    both nut and saddle slots are notorious tone killers, when poorly cut or of the first things that need to be checked whenever any fret buzzing is involved..basic protocol is to check trussrod, bridge height(action) and nut & saddle slots..if those pan out, then look into individual fret heights and lifted frets etc

    nut and saddle care is very is the material ie bone, brass, tusq, etc..not cheapo plastic!!


    ps- a saddle with no slots (or too shallow) will let the strings slide or pop out..and throw intonation well as string spacing

    too deep and you start to get buzzing and sitaring effects..

    a very delicate operation!!

  7. #6

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    IMO, the nut slots should be about half the depth of the strings, although the thin plain strings can be up to the string depth. There really should be no slots on the saddle, only shallow depressions just deep enough to hold the strings in place. I make the slots by tapping the strings into the saddle after finding the proper spacing, if there are none already there, but there usually are some already in place. I sometimes remove the slots by planing/sanding the top of the saddle if the slots are too deep or the radius isn't correct. It doesn't take much of a depression to keep the strings in place, either on the saddle or the nut. Deeper slots affect tuning by binding the strings, as well as intonation.

  8. #7

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    The only good thing about too deep saddle slots is that they are easy to fix when compared to bad nut slots.

  9. #8

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    I always assumed that as the string gets short on the higher frets, it doesn't vibrate as freely as it does on the lower ones. Just my own thought...

  10. #9

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    What I'm referring to is a more abrupt change in volume and sustain at the highest fret. If it were simply an issue of length of the vibrating string, there would be a more gradual trend.

  11. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by Matt Cushman
    The only good thing about too deep saddle slots is that they are easy to fix when compared to bad nut slots.
    Matt, how do you slot the saddle? I'd love to know.

  12. #11

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    When slotting a new saddle I first establish the location of the two E strings. I start by marking the location of the two E strings so that there is a distance of 5/32" between the outside edge of the string and the edge of the fingerboard at the last fret. I then use gauged slotting files that match the dia. of the string to cut the notch depth about 1/3 of the string dia. After the E strings are set I measure the space left between the inside edge of each string. From this space I subtract the total width of the four remaining strings and divide the remaining space by five and that will be the amount of space left between each of the strings. I use a fine line mechanical pencil to mark the location of the center of each notch that is needed. I then use the proper gauged files to cut the remaining notches.

    If you have a saddle with notches that are too deep but with correct spacing I remove material from the top of the saddle with a file and sandpaper leaving behind a trace of the location of the string. Then I recut the notch to a depth of about 1/3 the dia. of the string. The radius of the saddle top should be a few degrees greater than the radius of the fingerboard to compensate for the bass strings larger dia. The notches should be cut with a slight angle towards the tailpiece.
    Last edited by Matt Cushman; 04-02-2020 at 12:08 PM.

  13. #12

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    Quote Originally Posted by Matt Cushman
    The notches should be cut with a slight angle towards the tailpiece.

    To be clear, you mean the top of the slot is toward the neck and the nadir is toward the tailpiece?

  14. #13

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    The bottom of the notch is cut slightly angled down towards the tailpiece so the high point of the notch is on the neck side and the low point is at the tailpiece side. This slight angle assures that the final contact point for the string will be the forward most point of the saddle. The contact point of the string and the saddle is important and can be a source or buzz or rattle.

  15. #14

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    Excellent. I thought so.

    This should also any dampening effect when playing on the highest frets.

    I noticed that some guitars I've played had the high point in the slot seemingly randomly placed. Some slots were flat and some even had the apex toward the tailpiece. Not good.

  16. #15

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    most of the time that saddle slot angle will eventually occur naturally just from the tension/angle of the string coming from the dont over do it


    ps- another shortcut version is to do the slots evenly and then slightly sand the saddle top edge lengthwise on the tailpiece side

  17. #16

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    Another “in a pinch” is if you don’t have access to a proper set of slot files, truck on down to the hardware store/welding supply shop (or Amazon) and get a set of welding torch tip cleaners. It’ll cover everything but the E strings, and it’s typically under $5.

    Bridge Slots Issues-img_0038-jpg

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  18. #17

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    On an archtop floating bridge, How do you slow or stop strings from cutting into the bridge wood? Is there a way to harden the wood ( rosewood )? Specifically my E & B strings are cutting into the bridge.
    Last edited by epilover; 08-03-2019 at 10:45 PM.

  19. #18

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    The wooden bridge is a proven concept. String slots compress a fraction under string pressure, but then become gradually denser and harder. After many years of use, a wooden bridge may have to be re-slotted, a standard maintenance procedure.

    The tendency of a guitar string cutting into the wood depends on:

    1. Wood hardness: "Rosewood" refers to any of a number of richly hued timbers. The timber trade will sell many timbers under the name rosewood due to some outward similarities. Although generally considered "hardwood", some species are softer and more porous than others.

    Excessive use of oil makes the surface softer. If you use oil to make the bridge look dark and shiny; only use proper products and wipe it off carefully.

    2. String pressure: A steep string break angle increases the cutting force. Check the setup.

    3. String gauge: light strings are sharper, but heavy plain strings have higher tension. Only use a wound G-string for a wooden bridge.

  20. #19

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    JCat, thank you for the reply. I suppose its a combo of using 13 gage strings and time (20years), that are the culprits. I was considering ( at next string change ) trying to what is referred to as "boning" the surface, but for that to be of any benefit I would have to sand down past the existing slots. I also considered applying a dab of superglue to the slots, thinking it would soak in and make the wood harder or at least more resistant to the pressure of the strings.

  21. #20

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    you could use true oil or tung oil on the bridge but for it to completely cure takes a lot of time. All I ever do with my floating Bridge when the strings cut to deep into it is to take my Radius sanding block and sand the bridge down until the string cuts are shallow again. Using the radius block insures the bridge radius stays the same as the fret radius.

  22. #21

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    Quote Originally Posted by epilover
    On an archtop floating bridge, How do you slow or stop strings from cutting into the bridge wood? Is there a way to harden the wood ( rosewood )? Specifically my E & B strings are cutting into the bridge.
    Rosewood is pretty hard assuming what you have is real rosewood, but ebony is better. In the end it is somewhat routine to have to sand and re-radius the slot, I have not had to do that to my own guitars but most all have ebony. Many once in 20 years of playing. If is really cutting in fast I might wonder about the quality of the wood itself. Easy enough to get a new saddle and start over getting a good quality rosewood or ebony. I personally prefer ebony but rosewood is fine,

  23. #22
    Might consider a parchment, like what is used on violin bridges. The E string slot will often have a tiny piece of parchment attached to prevent it cutting into the bridge.

  24. #23

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    Rick, thanks for the suggestion, I watched a few vids of violin bridge parchment being installed. This could be an option to consider.

  25. #24

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    I have a set of those cleaners, and they work for burnishing the slots after they're cut, not so well for actually making the slots. Another thread reminded me of a reason to keep some old used strings - a piece cut to a few inches works as well as the torch cleaners for burnishing slots, both nut and saddle. At least the wound strings, plain strings don't do much IME. If the slots are left rough after filing, they tend to bind the strings, and burnishing helps prevent that.

  26. #25

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    So much of the tone, sustain and overall feel depends on the bridge saddle/saddles and the slots:

    The slots are supposed to be U-shaped (not V-shaped) and not deeper than need to be for proper string radius. Bridge radius is a somewhat tricky subject that has great impact on the overall feel of the guitar. The bridge radius would typically be greater than the fretboard radius. Ultimately it's an individual choice, but most players don't even know the actual bridge radius. (They think "It's what it is" even though it could greatly affect boundaries of setup and general performance).

    Slots that are worn or poorly cut could ruin the guitar; short sustain, dead spots, fretbuzz forcing bridge too high, dead resonance, sitar-sound, friction that prevents the guitar to stay in tune etc.

    But when addressing your issue, there's more to it;

    The setup parameters you have chosen, neck relief, nut height, bridge radius and bridge height as well as the neck angle and tailpiece height will determine what happens when you press down a string on the highest frets. Also how hard you press as well as intonation. (Intonation may affect effective bridge radius by the way).

    I sometimes come across a guitar that is more or less unplayable in the high register the way it's set up. The string break angle over the bridge is too steep, the pressure on top of the bridge is too high and the strings are choking out. Sometimes it's due to a neck angle problem, most of the time it's just a poor set up.

  27. #26

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    The g strings on my ES 175 start developing weird overtones after a month or so use. I just noticed that the saddle slot groove is not filed smooth. There is a sharp sliver of metal that can be felt right at the end of the slot. I'm guessing that's causing some damage on the string or may be contacting the string during the initial attack.

    Has anyone experienced that?

  28. #27

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    I haven't experienced it since I removed all the TOM saddles from my guitars. Burrs in the saddle is a common problem with TOMs, and can cause all sorts of issues.

  29. #28

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    Hi Everyone,

    I have an Epiphone Emperor Regent. About a year ago, I had the radius on the bridge reset so it fits the next profile while I had the frets dressed. I noticed the slots are deeper and it looks like they were cut with a nut file: This shop rarely deals with archtop guitars. Would sanding off the top of the bridge to remove material to where the slots won’t be so deep be a good idea? The slots themselves are already cut properly radius wise. Will I need a radius block to do this?

    my bridge is similar to this

    WD Musique Ebony Archtop Bridge | Fruugo FR

    I’m hésitant to have a guitar tech to get this done. Most guitar techs in the area are insistant on a full set up to do even the most basic work and prices in Seattle are high for work. Whenever I get someone else to set up my guitar up I end up changing it once I get home to my tastes.
    Last edited by jjang1993; 05-22-2020 at 12:29 AM.

  30. #29

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    I would be inclined to do as you suggest and sand it down (gently/slowly)
    position your strings and push down to mark the right placement.

  31. #30

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    As long as the guitar intonates properly and performs well with no binding/tuning issues, the depth of the saddle notches does not matter at all. No need to worry.

  32. #31

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    It's not really a serious issue. You can certainly sand the saddle down if you want, and no jig is necessary. Just sand to the approximate radius, or use a fine rasp or file. But the depth of the slots doesn't really matter, as long as there is no binding of the strings. At least that's my opinion. I tend to leave them very shallow when I install one, but often the radius is too flat, and the outer slots have to be cut deeper to get all the strings the same distance above the fretboard. Sometimes I resand the entire saddle, sometimes I don't. It depends on how it looks and how much time I have on my hands.

  33. #32

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    i'll add have a better chance of strings binding or buzzing/sitaring with a too deep saddle slot!...really not ideal...and so easy to gingerly sand the top of the saddle, to lessen the slots depth...just go slowly and keep the radius of the saddle intact...not difficult


    Last edited by neatomic; 05-22-2020 at 05:40 PM. Reason: add-

  34. #33

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    How would reducing the amount of wood above the string (without changing the string's height above the frets) solve a string buzz problem?

  35. #34

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    was careful to write ^, it's all about potential...preventing problems down the line...the possibility of the string moving within the too deep slot...with a lightly traced slot on an ebony saddle , the string just sits possible long as deep enough so string spacing is maintained

    no need for deep slots..does nothing for setup or tone!

    the difference between walking on hard soil vs mud


  36. #35

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    Sometimes it is necessary to make some slots deeper than others, because the saddle radius doesn't always match the fretboard radius. The simplest way to fix that imbalance is to deepen the slots that keep the strings higher than others. IME the bridge radius is more often flat than too curved, so it's usually the outer strings that need to have deeper slots. Slow and careful work will yield a saddle that has all the strings at the same height above the fretboard. Whether or not the saddle now needs the top reworked to take it down to an even height above the slots is a matter of judjement. It depends on how deep the slots have to be cut, how much work is involved, the time available, and one's anality score. As I said before, for me that varies, because like everything else, multiple compromises are necessary. Yes, it's better to take the saddle top down, but that can sometimes involve a considerable depth, and to make it look right requires taking down the entire saddle top, which may be more work than it's worth. At least to me. Everything about an archtop guitar is a compromise of some sort, and everything affects everything else. Just removing 1/8" of material from the top of a saddle can change the tone, both acoustic and amplified. Whether that's a risk worth taking has to be considered.

  37. #36

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    I havee used a Radius block to sand down the top of the bridge so it matches the fret radius. I did it to move the strings over a little and didnt want to take the chance of them moving back to the other slots which where to deep after 16 yrs of use.

  38. #37

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    Thanks for the input guys. When I had the slots cut to fit the radius I didn’t know he’d cut them so deep. I did notice a change in tone on the open strings. I wish more guitar techs knew about the intricacies of setting an Archtop up. There’s a luthier who builds Archtop guitars in town, but he doesn’t do too many repairs.

  39. #38

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    It's possible that the change in tone is because the strings are slightly too low over the first fret. That can be caused by the nut slots being too low, or by not quite enough relief in the neck. The easiest fix in the short run is to raise the bridge saddle just a smidgen. I would start by raising the adjustment wheels maybe half a turn, or even less, and seeing if the sound changes. You can continue until it sounds better or you're convinced it won't. This will raise the action, but not my much. If you can live with what you get, fine. If not, you can check the relief by fretting at the first fret and the (probably) 14th fret simultaneously, and seeing if there is any gap between the string and fret at the mid point. This is easier with a capo at the first fret, but possible without it. Most people want to see just a slight gap, some more, some less. I like a perfectly straight neck for electrics, but I leave some relief for acoustics that I plan to play hard. If there is no relief, or not enough, you can loosen the truss rod just a little. I seldom turn it more than the amount that moves the wrench from one string to another, less than an eighth of a turn, at a time. Then let it settle for a few hours. If you're afraid of doing this, that's fine, raising the bridge may be enough for you. If you don't like the action that results, you can just turn the thumbwheels back down to where they were.

  40. #39

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    Ah ok. I have the neck pretty straight and the action is very very low how I like it. I’ll see if I can find that sweet spot with the neck and saddle to see if I even have to sand the top of the saddle.

  41. #40

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    A lot of good advice in the previous comments. I would just very carefully sand it down to where you want it checking the sound of the guitar as you go just to be sure all is going as you want it to. If it all turns bad it is not that big a deal to drop in a new nut . This is something you can do yourself. You wont need a tech to do that and you can set it up to exactly where you want it to be. A $10 string gauge will get you set to the correct heights on the fretboard. I too like low actions.

    cheers Glenn