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  1. #1

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    I have a Gibson on its way and want to replace the ABR-1 tune-o-matic with a fixed ebony or rosewood compensated saddle. The guitar's an L-4CES with a spruce top and laminated maple sides and back. So it's brighter than the model with mahogany sides and back, which is my preference. (I'd rather start with a brighter sound and darken it than start with a darker sound and brighten it.) I think a wood saddle would be just the ticket to split the tonal difference between the laminate and mahogany models. Or maybe there's another option I haven't considered? Any recommendations or insights are greatly appreciated.

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  3. #2

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    Another option is a TOM with nylon saddles. That will darken the sound for sure. You should get a few different saddles and experiment. At the end of the day you might even prefer the original TOM.
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  4. #3
    I had thought about nylon saddles. Worth a shot. If I understand correctly, they won't necessarily soften the attack, which is fine by me. Same definition but less brightness? I don't mean to hurt anyone's feelings, but I don't think the ABR-1 is the greatest design in the world. Saddles seem to shift over time and the retaining wire can be subject to mechanical vibration. This is only my experience, not a condemnation. Interesting that a wood bridge would not necessarily be more "woody." You know, sometimes we have a tendency to listen with our eyes.

  5. #4

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    From what I know the thumb wheel stud spacing for TOM and Nashvilles will be slightly narrower than the rosewood and ebony bridges that are readily available. I bought some Indian bridges and filed the holes out a bit so that I could still use the wooden bases that came stock on my ES-165 and Epi Zephyr Regent. I didn't see a need to tape sandpaper to the guitar top and sand down the bases that came with the Indian bridges. Really inexpensive and effective solution IMHO.

  6. #5

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    Listening with our eyes is ALWAYS an issue .... it's so easy to fool us with a nice grain in the wood, some extra bling, a friendly nod to the great builders of the past etc. ...
    The retaining wire only serves it's purpose when you change strings - THEN it can prevent the saddels from falling out and disappearing in the floor cracks ...
    I personally prefer the TOM bridge on my Super-400 since a) it makes fine-tuning easier and b) adds a little sustain. In contrast : my lam-top Baker and Trenier guitars (17" and 16" bodies) sound "better" with their original wooden (ebony) bridges in place.
    I have no clear notion of what people really mean when they say "woody" in a guitar-context so I usually don't use words like to describe a sound. Some more objective adjectives might be : bright, dark, muffled, loud, mellow, bass-heavy, nasal, .... take your pick.

  7. #6

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    Quote Originally Posted by ptchristopher3 View Post
    Ostentatious, presumptuous, owl-flavored, intrusive, bumptious, persnickety, elbow-centric, Windex-y,...

    I definitely take your point regarding adjectives used for tone being somewhat useless.

    But seriously, the Nashville T-O-M is glassy.

    (“Windex” ist eine americanische Marke für Glasreinigungslosungen)
    Maybe some easier words to get our heads around are thin and shrill. I think they mean about the same thing as glassy. There must be people out there who like the sound of tunomatic bridges. I am definitely not one of them.
    My CD "Bare Handed" is available as a download at Bandcamp.com
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  8. #7

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    I personally like the look and sound of pure jet black ebony. To me it sounds the best and is the hardest wood used on a guitar and one of the hardest in the world. It buffs nicely to a shine if you want it be that way. Now that said, sound is in the ears and it pays to experiment for sure could be other material sounds better to your ears. I sort of go along the lines of Jimmy D'aquisto who said ebony, spruce, and maple are the best for guitars at least archtops. I am sure there are other points and takes but real ebony is just so cool to me.

    I occassionaly use ebony to make cleats in cracks on certian guitars it sure adds a healthy dose of dense material to hold things together. I once had a Gibson J 45 with a fair number of cracks and splits behind the bridge seems the player let things go and it all got worse. Rather than a replaced top which would have been too expensive I cleated it up with a combination of spruce and ebony cleats. The ebony cleats were larger and I worked then into the places that needed the most holding power. I swear the guitar sounded better than when it was built, at least according to the owner. EBONY good stuff.
    specializing in repair and setup, does your guitar play like it should?

  9. #8

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    All I can say is my Compton Brass bridge (hollow version) is far superior sounding than the Ebony bridge my Elferink Tonemaster archtop came with
    I have tried several times to go back to the original Ebony bridge,and I always end up putting the Compton Brass bridge back on.
    Also the intonation is spot on!

  10. #9

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    Forum member Matt Cushman will make you a custom wood bridge top to the intonation of your TOM, post spacing, height, radius, etc. He does great work.
    Beauty is as close to terror as we can well endure. -Rainer Maria Rilke

  11. #10

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    Stewart MacDonald?

  12. #11
    Quote Originally Posted by geogio View Post
    Stewart MacDonald?
    Definitely a possibility, especially for the price. However the radius is 13" and the guitar's radius is 12".

  13. #12

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    Quote Originally Posted by geogio View Post
    Stewart MacDonald?
    Matt Cushman:

    Matt Cushman custom bridges

    He’s doing an ebony saddle for my L5 CES. And, he’ll carve them from a photo of your TOM.

  14. #13

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    Quote Originally Posted by buduranus2 View Post
    Definitely a possibility, especially for the price. However the radius is 13" and the guitar's radius is 12".
    You probably can file it and file the string slots to get the right radius. If I had a really expensive guitar I would take the suggestion of having Matt Cushman make what I need. As is I was handy enough to deal with what I could get rather inexpensively that still had some quality to it.

  15. #14
    Quote Originally Posted by Mark M. View Post
    Matt Cushman:

    Matt Cushman custom bridges

    He’s doing an ebony saddle for my L5 CES. And, he’ll carve them from a photo of your TOM.
    Got it. Arrives tomorrow. I'll take a few days to bond with it, then make a decision. Many thanks to you and all other responders.

  16. #15

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    A good option is graphtech resomax ... lighter and very close to rosewood bridges, with the intonation facilities. I tested her on two es175 compared to one rosewood bridge and one ebony bridge! ps: forgive me for the "google translator english" heh

  17. #16

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    Quote Originally Posted by caue amaral View Post
    A good option is graphtech resomax ... lighter and very close to rosewood bridges, with the intonation facilities. I tested her on two es175 compared to one rosewood bridge and one ebony bridge! ps: forgive me for the "google translator english" heh
    I have one of those that I put on an Epi Casino Coupe that I just sold. I kept the bridge though. I am thinking about putting it on my ES-390 the next time I change strings. They do work as advertised and tamp down the high frequency spike that you can get on attack. No fussy retainer wire either. Good piece of kit.

  18. #17

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    The bridge actually needs to have slightly less radius than the fretboard. As the strings go from the nut to the bridge, they fan out, getting further apart, and if the radius of the bridge is the same as the fingerboard, the middle strings will be a little higher above the frets than the E strings, especially the D and G. It's not really a lot, but it's there. The same radius can work, but it's not totally ideal. IMO a 13" radius bridge for a 12" radius fingerboard generally works pretty well. Mostly what I see is much flatter bridge saddles, which make the E strings high when the D and G are just high enough to not buzz. I just file the saddle slots to fit, because that's the easiest way to deal with it.

  19. #18

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    Some guitars like ebony, some sound better with brass TOM.

    I dig both in my ES175 VOS. Few months with ebony and few with TOM. Easy and cheap way to get almost a new instrument!

    Gibson ABR TOM is not the best brass bridge, that’s true. I have German ABM made TOM bridges in my Les Pauls and that ES175 when I get bored in ebony. ABM bridges are tooled bell brass, not cast, and at least my ears can hear the difference. And it has no wire!
    YMMV.

  20. #19

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    Quote Originally Posted by sgosnell View Post
    The bridge actually needs to have slightly less radius than the fretboard. As the strings go from the nut to the bridge, they fan out, getting further apart, and if the radius of the bridge is the same as the fingerboard, the middle strings will be a little higher above the frets than the E strings, especially the D and G. It's not really a lot, but it's there. The same radius can work, but it's not totally ideal. IMO a 13" radius bridge for a 12" radius fingerboard generally works pretty well. Mostly what I see is much flatter bridge saddles, which make the E strings high when the D and G are just high enough to not buzz. I just file the saddle slots to fit, because that's the easiest way to deal with it.
    I think you meant less curve, or flatter radius? Your example actually ally has a larger radius bridge than fingerboard. I am asking for clarification because I have a 14” radius on my Hamer Special, and the Graphtec wraparound resomax bridges are 12”. I emailed them asking about having them cut the saddles to a 14” radius (I was willing to pay them labor) and the Graphtec technician said I wouldn’t be able to feel the difference. But that doesn’t seem right to me and I think he was just trying to make a sale.

    So by your reasoning, I would be better off with a 15” radius bridge? Do you have a source? I’d like to read more on it.
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  21. #20

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    I was assuming a 12" radius fretboard. That's the most common for archtops, IME. The geometry is the geometry. The strings fan out and get higher as they go from the nut to the bridge. So yes, they get 'flatter'. A Graphtec saddle may be hard to file, but I've never dealt with one. You may or may not feel any difference. When the action is adjusted, the D and G strings will be slightly higher than the outer strings, but that might not bother you. It won't be a lot, just not quite ideal. The saddle slots also affect this, so it's impossible to say what would be ideal for your guitar. With a perfectly cut nut, IMO the bridge should be a slightly flatter radius than the fretboard, but it's not a big difference, and sometimes close is good enough.

  22. #21

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    I suppose the source is Euclid. We are talking about cone segments.

    The E strings lie on lines that eventually meet some distance out past the nut. At that point the radius is zero inches.

    *********

    Assuming we picture the E strings at a given height, the D and G would be less than .5 mm higher at a 12” radius than at a 14” radius at the bridge. This is WELL within the usual variations of saddle notching, so easily adjusted by the notch depths.

    But wait...

    Definitely in principle the bridge would have a larger radius than the FB, for two Euclidean reasons actually.

    One is that it is farther than the FB from the zero radius position where the E strings would meet in space.

    The other is that the bridge lies on a cone segment that is farther than the frets from the center line of the cylinder segment formed by the constant radius FB (which is its own imperfection being a cylinder segment vs. a cone segment.

    It would be odd, but likely perfectly playable to have a 12” radius bridge on a 14” radius neck.
    Last edited by ptchristopher3; 08-24-2019 at 11:50 PM. Reason: Added, “but wait”

  23. #22

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    Oh hell, let me calc this...

  24. #23

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    Inches are silly, but we use them for guitars.

    Assuming a 25 inch scale to keep it simpler:

    If the E strings are 32/16” apart at the bridge (+25” position from the nut), and they are 23/16” apart at the nut (0” positon) then the strings converge 1/16” every 2.78 inches.

    25/2.78 = 8.99 close enough to the 9/16 difference in E string spacing from the bridge to the nut.

    They will meet 63.94 inches past the nut (-63.94 position).

    23 X 2.78 = 63.94

    So if the radius at -63.94 is zero, and we call the 12th fret our reference point for the FB radius, we first note that the FB is an incorrect cylinder segment when it should be a cone segment. Life goes on nonetheless.

    So at -63.94 we have zero radius and at +12.5 (the 12th fret) we have a 12” radius. Then the radius increases .157 inches for each inch along the scale.

    63.94 + 12.5 = 76.44

    12” is our radius at the slightly capriciously declared 12th fret location for this measurement.

    12/76.44 = .157

    At +25 (the bridge) we have, in principle, a radius of 12” plus .157 for each of the added 12.5 inches from the 12th fret to the bridge.

    .157 X 12.5 = 1.96

    12 + 1.96 = pretty darn close to 14”

    So arguably a 14” radius at the bridge would be a better fit than a 12”.

    And actually it would be a bit over 14” because the cone segment of the bridge is “above” the cylinder segment of the fret crowns.

    For bonus points:

    Assuming a 12” radius at the 12th fret and a 25” scale, what should the radius at the nut actually be?

    Free set of 6V6 matched tubes to the correct respondent.

    The math is already done above - just work backwards.
    Last edited by ptchristopher3; 08-24-2019 at 11:32 PM.

  25. #24

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    Ooops, wait. I made a big mistake on string spacing at the nut. I will go back and fix it.

    ******

    OK, all fixed.

  26. #25

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    Probably better to just summarize:

    In principle, the idea of a constant 12” radius on the FB and the bridge is not actually the ideal. This is because the strings are not parallel.

    More accurate would be to have a 10” radius at the nut, 11” radius by about the 8th fret, 12” radius at the 12th fret, slightly less than a 13” radius around the end of the FB (assuming a 22 fret FB), and a 14” radius at the bridge.

    The numbers behind all this are in the long post earlier.

    But the actual absolute errors of a simple 12” radius everywhere are very very small, so it works well enough.

  27. #26

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    Sometimes close enough is good enough. It's a lot of work trying to make the neck and fretboard a cone with the perfect shape, and a cylinder isn't that far off, so that's what we usually get. Everything in the design and production of an archtop guitar is a compromise of some sort, and changing one detail affects many others. The fretboard we're familiar with works well enough. Personally I prefer a tighter radius (smaller) over a flatter one for the bridge, because for me the center strings are somewhat easier to fret, and I like the e and B action to be as low as possible. I'm not every guitar player, though, and my preferences are not those of anyone else. Chris has done the math, which I wasn't willing to do. My answer to his question about the radius at the nut won't win the prize, but it's my opinion. I think it should be the radius of the fretboard, because the more important factor there is getting the string as low as possible over the frets, all of them, without buzzing. I like low action, and the nut slots affect that over the entire fretboard. The calculations are moot, because the fretboard is not a cone, so the cylindrical shape has to be taken into account in some areas, and I believe this is one. I have zero need for any tubes.

  28. #27

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    No tubes for you!!!

    But yes, agreed in your general point for certain.

    Over the years I have preferred gradually tighter radii (radius-eses) and taller frets as my knuckles got lumpier. Curving the index finger retracts the knuckle bumps and makes many things go better.

  29. #28

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    One assumption is that a conically shaped fretboard is preferable to play over a cylindrically shaped fretboard. I have tried both for enough time to decide my preference. It is cylindrically shaped. That would mean that (although the difference will be extremely small) the bridge should not be as flat as one that would be more appropriate for a conically shaped fretboard. The bridge should still be flatter than the neck radius, but not by much. An extreme example would be something like a Byrdland that has a neck width that is nearly constant from the nut to the last fret. With that the strings wouldn't follow a conical pattern to the bridge as they would with a conventional cylindrically shaped fretboard or conically shaped fretboard, so the bridge should be the exact same radius as the fretboard. All that said, I agree that close is good enough. I just changed out two TOM's for rosewood and both were for 12" radius fretboards. Supposed the bridges I used are 13" radius. They work.

  30. #29

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    Quote Originally Posted by ptchristopher3 View Post
    Assuming a 12” radius at the 12th fret and a 25” scale, what should the radius at the nut actually be?

    Free set of 6V6 matched tubes to the correct respondent.

    The math is already done above - just work backwards.
    I got 10.12” at the nut using the same .157 x 12 and subtracting that from 12 itself.
    Redeemed, Husband, Father, Veteran. Thankful for all four!

    I play a customized Godin 5th Avenue, Córdoba GK Studio, and a Hamer Korina. I also play a Kala uBass on occasion

  31. #30

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    Quote Originally Posted by zcostilla View Post
    I got 10.12” at the nut using the same .157 x 12 and subtracting that from 12 itself.
    Ah,

    But the scale length is 25” in our ‘guitar of the mind’, so the radius change would be .157 X 12.5 from the 12th fret to the nut.

    But of course the difference is now far beyond absurdly insignificant.

    If you actually use 6V6’s in something, I have a matched pair of Mesa/Boogie branded tubes to send.

    They are a little later in breakup and combined with an added midrange control and Weber speaker can make that Princeton Reverb a mini Twin.

    PM with details.

  32. #31

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    So I went to look up 15-inch radius wraparound bridges, and found this tidbit about Taylor Guitars using a SMALLER radius bridge on a 15-inch radius fingerboard, because of the difference of string heights from E to e off the fingerboard.

    Fender(R) Forums • View topic - Fretboard radius vs bridge radius
    Redeemed, Husband, Father, Veteran. Thankful for all four!

    I play a customized Godin 5th Avenue, Córdoba GK Studio, and a Hamer Korina. I also play a Kala uBass on occasion