Making An Acoustic Guitar Saddle

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Making An Acoustic Guitar Saddle

What Is An Acoustic Guitar Saddle

The saddle is a crucial part of an acoustic guitar. The thin white strip protruding from the top of the bridge serves several functions. Not only is it responsible for transmitting the vibration of the strings to the guitar top, but it also helps to control the instrument’s string action and intonation.

The saddle can be made of many different materials. Some of the most popular options are bone, Tusq, and Micarta. We have written in greater detail about these materials in our article about string nuts. Much of the information is relevant to both nuts and saddles.

When To Replace An Acoustic Guitar Saddle

The saddle pictured below has likely been replaced previously and is a textbook example of many of the reasons a saddle can require replacement. 

Example of an extremely poorly fit saddle

Any of the symptoms listed are typically grounds for replacement on their own.

Proper setup will not be possible until this saddle is replaced

For common sizes, a prefabricated saddle can often be shaped and fit to an instrument. However, if the desired sizing and material are unavailable, one must be cut by hand. 

We are going to upgrade it with a hand cut, compensated bone saddle. What follows is broad overview of the work involved. Hopefully you will walk away with a better understanding of the meticulous work involved.If you enjoy this post, you might also like our article about making a bone string nut.

How To Make A Bone Saddle

Measuring A Blank

We begin with a suitable bone blank that is sufficiently oversized relative to the existing saddle slot. 

Using a caliper to measure the length of the saddle slot we then transfer this measurement to the saddle blank.

Once drawn, the saddle is cut roughly to length.

Fitting The Saddle To The Slot

Next we carefully sand both sides as well as the bottom of the blank to make sure that they are straight and true. 

Any remaining material is then removed as required until the piece is fit in the saddle slot. 

A correct fit should be snug, but not excessively difficult to remove. 

Instruments with under saddle pickups require a slightly looser fit in order to ensure that it is able to make solid contact with the transducer.

Radiusing The Saddle

A  radius gauge is used to draw the profile of the fingerboard onto the saddle. 

Then it’s over to a disc sander to put a matching contour on the saddles top. 

Had we been making a traditional saddle, without string compensation, the top would be rounded over at this point to produce a crown before proceeding to set the final height. Since we are compensating this one, there is an extra step.

Compensating The Saddle

Compensation is a term to describe adjustments made to the functional length of the string in order to fine-tune the intonation of the instrument

To accomplish this, we first mark the saddle between the second and third string since this marks the switch from plain to wound strings in a standard acoustic set.

Then we draw two lines diagonally across the length of the saddle. These will serve as a guide of where to file. We then shape the top of the saddle, removing material on either side, until the desired compensation has been achieved.

Setting The Saddle Height

Back over to the guitar, we install the outer two strings to take an action measurement.

The saddle will then go back to the sander to have the excess material removed from the bottom. 

Once the proper height has been achieved, we use a machinists block to true the saddle bottom, ensuring that it sits evenly along the bottom of the saddle slot. This ensures the best sound transmission to the top.

Polishing The Saddle

Once the action and intonation have been set, we use sand paper to polish any tooling marks before switching to a dedicated buffing wheel to polish the saddle out to a high shine. 

This leaves the saddle looking great and provides a burnished surface for the string to rest against. 

With that completed, the saddle is ready to go. It’s time to finish the setup and make some music.

Compensated Saddle Installed

About Guitar Repair Long Island

Guitar Repair Long Island is the area’s premier destination for fretted musical instrument care and maintenance. Led by owner/head technician Erik Salomon, the shop is dedicated to providing quick, honest, and reliable service. Our vast experience in all aspects of instrument repair ensures that we can help with whatever your needs are. Contact us with any questions or book your appointment today.

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