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On this page you will find Tony Bolin's
report on construction of his bridge,
along with some good comments about building your own.

 



(On July 22nd, Tony wrote:)

Hi Red:

I've enjoyed your posts on CoMando concerning the maple bridges. As an amateur luthier, I have a layman's understanding of the way that string energy gets transferred to the top plate, and clearly the traditional Loar-style bridge focuses on the ease of adjusting string height ---at the expense of tone. I think it would be hard to argue otherwise, looking at the design of an ebony saddle, coupled to an adjustable brass wheel/post. No one in the guitar world (well, almost no one) will tell you that better tone will result from a Corian or micarta saddle rather than a genuine bone saddle. I don't see why this type of structural and material integrity would be any less important for mandolin. Remember how badly those '60s Gibson J-45/J-50/J-200 guitars with those metal tune-o-matic bridges sounded?

For this reason, I purchased a Brekke to install on my '98 Dearstone with a coastal redwood top plate. It replaced a Daniel Smith Loar replica I had specified to Ray Dearstone. I was sorely disappointed with the Brekke. It was difficult, at best to conduct an effective A-B test, but it seemed that the mandolin got darker and lost some punch. This is already a very woody mando with a wonderful bottom end and incredible sustain. If anything it needs to be brighter, with a little more cut. Putting the Loar-replica back on, brought back the better qualities of the mandolin--or at least the ones I wanted to hear. I think the Brekke is a great piece of work, but I think it works for some mandos and for others offers little. Just my experience.

So I gave up on that one piece bridge concept, even though I read about Frank Ford's experience on Frets.com. That is until I started reading about your experiments. I took a little bit of a different direction, with a goal of building the lightest bridge possible, but still have full structural integrity. I had some very nice quartered, highly figured maple scrap that had been left from a mando back. I decided to add a thin ebony cap to the top of the saddle to improve the wear. I have a radiussed fretboard so the top of the saddle was profiled to match.



The results? Incremental improvement in loudness. It was already a decently loud mando. But much brighter with better cutting tone. Best of both worlds: great bottom end and a bright top end -----and that great woody tone supporting it all. Same percussive pop to the chop! Thanks for the inspiration to get off my duff and try something new!



tb

These are photos of Tony's first bridge, installed on his mandolin:

picture of bridge on mandolin

picture of bridge on mandolin





(On July 24th, Tony posted comments to the COMANDO list:)

I've been reading Red Henry's posts on maple bridges with great interest. I had tried a Brekke bridge on my Dearstone F-5M a year ago or so, and hadn't particularly liked it. Not better or worse, I just preferred the sound of the Daniel Smith Loar replica. So I had given up on that one piece bridge concept (even though the Brekke is really a two-piece). I read about Frank Ford's experience on Frets.com with a lighter, maple, one-piece bridge, but that still didn't move me to action. That is until I started reading about Red's experiments. I took a little bit of a different direction, with a goal of building the lightest bridge possible, ( with a nod to Frank Ford), but still have full structural integrity. I had some very nice quartered, highly figured maple scrap that had been left from a mando back. I decided to add a thin ebony cap to the top of the saddle to improve the wear. I have a radiussed fretboard so the top of the saddle was profiled to match.

The bridge is 4 1/8" long and each foot is 1 3/8". Sadly, the nice flamed figure in the maple doesn't show, because the bridge's appearance on the mandolin (the bridge turned out to be not exactly traditional-looking after all is said and done), was better with the bridge stained solid black. (Besides, I know the figure is there (g))

The results? Incremental improvement in loudness. It was already a decently loud mando. But much brighter with better cutting tone. Best of both worlds: great bottom end and a bright top end -----and that great woody tone supporting it all. Same percussive pop to the chop!

I agree with Red that more folks should give this a whirl. But I think there are a couple of pre-requisites that should not be overlooked. No bridge will work if poorly fitted to the profile of the top plate. We shouldn't forget the fact that a bridge of this design takes a fair amount of mandolin set-up skills to work well. It's not just fitting the bridge feet to the top, it's optimizing the whole action of the mando, not to mention nailing the saddle offsets for correct intonation. Some of the better "after market" bridges like the Dan Smith have excellent and very accurate offsets on the saddle, but I still find my Petersen strobe tuner necessary to hit the compensation on the money. But I'm picky and my dog is probably the only one that can tell a difference. And he ain't talkin'.

I'm a tweaker by nature, and wanted to do my own set-ups, so I was inclined to develop these skills over time. It's mostly a confidence thing, but also something you just have to try, screw-up, learn from your mistakes and hopefully refine into real skill. I think each mandolin requires that you "dial-in" the set-up that makes the best compromise ( for that specific mandolin) between tone, volume and playability---and it's always a compromise. There's also individual taste involved. So yes, the one-piece bridge design and maple seems to result in beneficial changes in the mandolin's sound, but everything else has to work in concert.

I do support the "Just do it" philosophy, but the bridge installation and set-up are really important steps which can't be minimized. cheers, tb


 


 

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