Welcome to the Maple Bridge Development Page!

Maple mandolin bridges - Information and links



These new one-piece maple mandolin bridges feature several advantages over the traditional two-piece bridges. These advantages usually include more volume; a wider harmonic range with deeper, more resonant bass and clearer, bell-like highs; increased sustain; easier and more stable tuning; and an increased tendency for the mandolin to play in tune with itself.

These advantages result from the violin-bridge-like functioning of a well-designed maple bridge. A maple bridge can resonate and process the sound much more than the conventional designs, and the two fairly short bridge feet then apply the vibrations to the top with the efficiency of a violin bridge. All in all, a good one-piece maple bridge can bring more tone, volume, clarity, and sustain from most mandolins.

These bridges are simple and easy to Between 2002 and 2009 I made and sold about 700 bridges, for many different mandolin-family instruments (mandolin, mandola, mandocello, banjo-mandolin, and octave mandolin or bouzouki, as well as a few for archtop guitar). But first, and also in ongoing experiments, I've made over 100 experimental bridges, of about 40 different designs and over 30 different woods. This page, and the links to it, summarize what I and other bridgemakers have learned.



Recommended maple bridge designs and a "make your own" link follow the Table of Contents, below.




Some recent bridge research projects:

Seven bridges of unusual woods

Ten more bridges of different woods

Shorter bridge feet, set wider apart, yield more sound!

18 bridges of different woods

An experiment with "Crescent" bridges

What Gibson left undone in their ebony bridges

Red's recently-completed mandocello conversion

Click here for an overview of early maple bridge development: Bridges #1 through #15

Scroll down for the Table of Contents.



First, here are writeups and photos from many other successful maple bridgemakers. Together, they represent a wealth of experience in making mandolin bridges!

Here is an excellent page from Hollis Easter, about mandolin bridges.

Here's a great report from Al Smith on his maple bridges

Here are new bridges Brett King has made from maple and bamboo

Here's a good-looking and good-sounding bridge by Rick Lindstrom

Excellent results on octave mandola and *resonator guitar* bridges by Mike Clement!

Curt Roseman's very successful bridges on his mandolins and mandola

A series of creative bridge experiments by Robert Schuweiler

A maple bridge made by John Patterson for his flat-top octave mandola

Andy Barnhart's maple bridge for his Rogue mandolin

Experiments by Hank Lawton: bridges for flat-top mandolins

Two new bridges made by Peter Holmes-Ray

Kris Kalanges' new bridge for his Epiphone mandolin

Bill Dailey's maple bridges for mandolin and mandocello

Stuart Larson's very successful maple bridge for his import

"The Wave" bridge by Teri LaMarco

Here's Bob Peelstrom's report and photos of his exotic bloodwood bridge.

A bridge report and photo from David Childers

Information and a bridge photo from professional mandolin builder Peter Coombe.

A writeup and photos of Steve Tourtellotte's maple bridge, **now commercially available!**

A good-looking bridge made by Matt O'Brien.

A bridge completed by Mike Black.

A report and description of Mike Conner's maple bridge, along with construction hints.

Tony Bolin's report and comments on his own bridge.

A report and photo of Cameron's bridge.

Keith Newell's maple and ebony bridge writeup and photos.

A link to Alan Dunwell's own maple bridge page, with photos and description of his bridge development.

Here's Dennis Elliott's report on the mandocello he made from an old Kay archtop guitar. Several photos included.


 

Table of Contents

1. Recommended maple bridge designs and woods

2. Making your own maple bridge

3. The Bridge for The Mandolin, Randy Wood #1

4. Eight bridges: an experiment with seven kinds of maple, plus walnut

5. Mandola bridges

6. Mandocello bridges

Click here for an overview of early maple bridge development: Bridges #1 through #15

 




1. Recommended maple bridge designs and woods



These maple bridges work quite well in a variety of styles. Here are four designs, developed after making and trying out well over 100 experimental bridges. These bridges are all shown before fitting and compensation.



a. The 11-hole bridge

 

picture of bridge


Comments: This design, my favorite for sound, offers exceptional volume along with excellent richness, yielding a pleasing bass/treble balance along with remarkable clarity and sustain. This design is highly recommended as a first choice for bridges 3/4" inches high or more, and it sounds good in a wide variety of woods. 





b. The 6-hole bridge

 

picture of bridge

Comments: Developed after a long series of experiments, this design can yield not only volume but also clear highs, resonant lows, and excellent sustain, with a very satisfying "fullness" of sound. For oval-hole instruments, there seems to be little difference between the 6-hole and 11-hole designs. This design can also be used where there is insufficient vertical space for an 11-hole pattern. (This type works well in low profile bridges (below 5/8").




c. The winged bridge:

picture of bridge



Comments: This design was my standard for two years. The typical sound features very good volume, a resonant low end, very good sustain, good clarity in the high end, and excellent projection. Overall volume may not be quite as good as with some 6-hole and 11-hole bridges, but these winged bridges have an advantage over the 6-hole type in richness.
 




d. The "crescent" bridge

 

picture of bridge

Comments: Developed at the suggestion of David McLaughlin, this bridge offers a different aesthetic along with a sound between that of the winged and 6-hole bridges. This design delivers a very satisfying, full-bodied sound from the mandolin, but the 11-hole design above will usually deliver a bit more overall response.
 




Recommended maple and other woods to use:



The 11-hole design will work well in many different maples and in a variety of cuts. Several other woods seem to sound good also. After making and fitting a great many bridges, these seem to work the best:

For f-hole mandolins (For example, Gibson F-5s, F-12s, postwar f-hole A-models, and most domestic or imported F-5 and A-5 copies with solid tops): European maple seems best.

For oval-hole mandolins (For example, prewar Gibson A models and F-2s and F-4s): Hard American maple seems best. American maple also is recommended for bridges on f-hole instruments which already have a bassy sound, and also for laminated instruments of all types.

The bridges will work fine with slab-cut wood, but try to obtain quarter-sawn wood if you can. The quarter-sawn maple seems to add richness and low end in any bridge design.

Additional woods to try:

After trying a great many kinds of wood, I have obtained satisfactory results not only from maple but also from satinwood, apple, yew, madrone, cherry, and mahogany.

The sound from satinwood was much the same as with maple, although I did not have a quarter-sawn sample to try. Cherry gave a tone between that of American and European maple.

Yew gave a sound much like hard American maple, as did apple.

Madrone also sounded much like hard maple, although with a very plain appearance.

Mahogany makes very rich-sounding bridges, but is too bassy for most well-balanced mandolins, making them sound muffled. It is useful to help re-balance some very trebly or harsh-sounding mandolins.

Ebony is satisfactory, but it seems to lack quite the highs and lows that a maple bridge yields. However, an ebony bridge can sound quite good. See the What Gibson left undone page for the difference in sound between a well-designed ebony bridge and the old Gibson ones.

Of other traditional mandolin bridge woods, strangely enough, neither East Indian nor Brazilian rosewood seems to make a great bridge. I have tried multiple bridge designs in both woods, and all were disappointing.

Very dense burl walnut yielded excellent up-the-neck response, but somewhat less response on the open strings and less bass than maple. Straight-grain walnut makes very thin-sounding bridges, although I've tried several pieces between 35 and 200 years old.

Southern American maple is sometimes satisfactory, but use hard northern maple for more consistent results. If you use Southern maple, the 11-hole design is definitely recommended.

See the "8 bridges" experiment below to see some results obtained from various kinds of maple.

Check out the 10 bridges of different woods experiment to see some of my work trying out different kinds of wood, including several exotic or rare species.



 




2. Making your own bridge

Here is a page with some suggested bridgemaking instructions and hints:

picture of bridge

10 steps to making your own maple bridge.





 

3. Bridges for The Mandolin, Randy Wood #1



Bridge #27 finished, ready to install
picture of bridge



One major goal of my bridge-building activity has been to make a superior bridge for Randy Wood mandolin #1, a superb Bluegrass instrument and my favorite mandolin of all time. Along with unsurpassed volume and projection, which are very useful in jam sessions and on stage, this mandolin has a tone which is eerily similar to Bill Monroe's, and I like it more than any other mandolin I have ever played. Since all mandolins are different, and since this is an especially important mandolin to me, I wanted to find the very best bridge I could.

The following bridges were all successful on this mandolin to some degree:

Bridge 16, European maple, large wings (similar to Bridge 14): Good bass but treble a bit muted.

Bridge 17, European maple, slab but, medium wings (similar to Bridge 7, as modified): Excellent v olume, tone a bit too dry.

Bridge 26, European maple, small wings (Similar to those of the "Eight Bridges" project, but with truncated wings): This bridge gave excellent volume, tone, and bass/treble balance, but was a bit peculiar in appearance due to the way it had to be cut to accomodate the low treble side and high bass side required on this particular instrument.

Apparently, I needed to design a bridge just for this mandolin, and Bridge 27, made on October 16th, 2002 from American maple, was that bridge.

Results: A growling, powerful sound with lots of impact. The best thing about this bridge is that it preserves the similarity of this mandolin's sound to Bill Monroe's. More recently, I have tried 6-hole and 11-hole designs on this instrument, but although those designs offered a little more volume, none of them brought out that superb bluegrassy sound from this mandolin quite as well as this bridge does.


 

4. Eight bridges: an experiment with seven kinds of maple, plus walnut


(Late summer, 2002) This is an sample of the experiments I've made, in trying to develop a better mandolin bridge.

These eight bridges were made as alike as possible, but from different woods, in order to study variations in sound from bridge to bridge. All are pictured here with the feet fit and the tops cut and compensated, ready for their first trial installation:

This design was intended as a "median bridge" or compromise between the my early, plain bridges, which gave great treble clarity, sustain, and volume, and the bridges with large wings , which offered more bassy richness but usually less treble response. I was looking for a response reminiscent of Bridges #8 and #12 on the early maple bridges page, but even better, if possible.

The overall idea was to design a bridge which was easy and simple to make from several kinds of wood, primarily maple, and which would sound good on a wide variety of mandolins. All these bridges were left thick enough at first (about 5/16" at the bottom and 1/4" at the top) that they could be thinned down later if desired, but as it turned out, this thickness was in the middle of the optimum range.
 


picture of eight bridges

 

The eight bridges


Bridges #18 through #25 were as identical to each other as possible, but made from different types or cuts of maple (walnut for #25), in order to study the effect of the different woods on the bridges' sound. The woods used were as follows:


(On the right in the above photo, top to bottom:)


Bridge #18: Slab-cut Northern maple.

Bridge #20: Quarter-sawn plain European maple, reddish in color, at least 30 and possibly 40 to 50 years old. This wood was possibly intended for violin bridges. (I have an EXTREMELY small supply of this wood, so I badly wanted the bridge to work!)

Bridge #19: Slab-cut Southern maple.

Bridge #21: Quarter-sawn Northern maple, a few traces of curl, at least 30 years old.


(On the left in the above photo, top to bottom:)


Bridge #22: Birds-eye maple, slab-cut, at least 20 years old.

Bridge #23: Violently curly maple, probably European, quarter-sawn, several decades old.

Bridge #24: European curly maple, close moderate grain, quarter-sawn, at least 30 years old.

Bridge #25: Dense, multi-colored burl walnut, at least 30 years old.
 

The eight results

Bridge #18 (slab-cut Northern maple): Lots of volume, good bass-treble balance, less sustain than Bridge #8 and less bass richness than #15, but still a very satisfying bridge.

Bridge #19 (slab-cut Southern maple): Good mid-range volume but less high end and low end than #18. Overall response somewhat less than #18.

Bridge #20 (quarter-sawn reddish European maple): An extremely rich sound with great volume. Slightly less treble than #18, but about the same sustain. This bridge was EXTREMELY satisfying to play, with a rich bassy impact which I had not heard before on this mandolin. I liked this bridge so much that it was an effort to take it off and try the next one.

Bridge #21 (quarter-sawn Northern maple): Another great bridge. Startling volume with solid bass and smooth treble. More treble than #20, but slightly less bass impact. Excellent sustain and silky treble which remind me of #8, but bassier. Slightly more cutting power than #20. I used this bridge on stage, and liked it a lot.

Bridge #22 (Birds-eye maple): This bridge was not successful. It gave a fairly dull sound with less richness, volume, and sustain than any of the first four bridges.

Bridge #23 (Strongly curly maple, quarter-sawn): This bridge gave great silvery richness of tone and excellent volume, reminiscent of #8 but with more bass and greater overall substance to the sound.

Bridge #24 (European curly maple, quarter-sawn): A bit more volume than #23, although with less silkiness of tone.

Bridge #25: (Very hard burl walnut): A surprising bridge. Very good volume and sustain, much like the slab-cut maple bridges #11 and #12. Very good up the neck, but not so good down the neck. Less bassy richness than #23 and #24.
 

Some tentative conclusions


Most of these bridge woods gave satisfactory results, but both the American and European quarter-sawn maples all yielded a slight advantage in richness over the slab-cut maple and the walnut.

At the same time, the difference between the different type of maple was fairly minor (except for the unresponsive birds-eye maple and southern maple), and Bridge #25, even though it is walnut, was a fairly good bridge. The only real dud was birds-eye maple.

I urge others to make some similar comparisons between bridge woods, in order to draw some more definite conclusions about which maple is best for mandolin bridges.


To email me: click redhenry@visuallink.com
 


 

Here are three mandola bridge designs, any of which will make a really good bridge.



picture of three mandola bridges



My 1917 Gibson H-2 mandola, which had always had excellent tone and volume, became disappointing after I played my mandolins with their new bridges-- so I had to make a mandola bridge. I made about a dozen bridges in developing the three shown in the scan.

Let's call the three designs bridges A, B, and C. These are all made from hard American maple.

Bridge A, a stretched-out version of mandolin bridge #27, gave surprising volume along with a very deep richness of sound.

Bridge B, the same design with two more round cutouts added, opened up the sound a bit more with additional clarity while retaining that excellent bass response. This design seems to be, overall, the best of the three. (Also, omitting the two short wing sawcuts for a 6-hole wingless bridge yields even more response than with this bridge, though with a bit less bass response.)

Bridge C, patterned on the crescent-shaped mandolin bridges, gave good clarity and volume. The overall response was a bit less than with a regular 6-hole bridge.

In late 2004, I installed a 6-hole bridge, essentially a slightly enlarged version of the 6-hole mandolin bridge, and it seemed to sound at least as good as the previous types. Altering this bridge to an 11-hole design yielded little difference in sound.

Another note: The mandola's sustain, which was impressive to begin with, increased amazingly with all of these one-piece bridges.

I would recommend American maple for any of the oval-hole Gibsons (H-1, H-2, H-4). For f-hole mandolas, try European maple if available. As with the mandolin bridges, use quarter-sawn wood if you can get it.

One more note-- Several people have obtained excellent results on octave mandolas or bouzoukis with bridges similar to these mandola bridges. Bouzouki bridges often have room for one row of holes, which could be 6 or a few more. (Often, adding more holes seems to add response.)


 


 

Results of mandocello bridge trials

1. A bridge for my Randy Wood mandocello

 

mandocello bridge



I originally made a 6-hole bridge for my Randy Wood mandocello, and was very pleased with the sound. As soon as the bridge was shaped I put it on the mandocello without any compensation cuts or even string slots, and just laid the strings across the bridge top and tuned them up. To my surprise, the strings stayed in place and the mandocello played in tune, so I just left it that way. I kept that bridge on the instrument for a year and a half, until this year's winter weather caused the action to sink far enough that I wanted a taller bridge. Here's a scan of the new bridge before installation. This is an 11-hole bridge, but otherwise it is nearly the same as that first bridge:


 

2. A bridge for the mandocello conversion (Fall, 2003)


Even before the mandocello conversion was finished, I had prepared two bridges for it: one of European maple, and one of American. The bridges were designed as a "stretched" version of mandola bridge #3, a winged bridge, my favorite design at the time. I anticipated that the European maple would work best on this f-hole instrument.

First thing when the 'cello was strung up, I tried out both bridges. To my surprise, the hard American maple bridge gave much better response than the European maple bridge. Apparently this laminated guitar body was so "boomy" that it just needed that harder maple to sound right.

I needed a fairly low bridge to fit this instrument. Here's a scan:

mandocello bridge



Bridge length: I made a bridge like the one shown, and began altering it to discover the results. First I reduced the size of the bridge wings a little. This gave more clarity but less richness in the sound. Next, I tried reducing the length to find out what it would sound like. At its original length of 5 1/2" inches the sound was best. At 5 1/8" long, the bridge gave quite a bit more clarity to the A, D,and G strings, but the low C string sounded pretty dead.

Then I made the bridge actually shown above, which was originally about 6" long, and tried it out while reducing the length. The sound really came into it at about 5 1/2" length. Apparently, the bridge length on a mandocello is important, and 5 1/2" seems better than longer or shorter lengths.




...and so that's all about these bridges so far! Will answer any questions if I can. To drop me a line, just click here.

Red Henry.

 






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