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Trials of 10 new bridges of different woods

June, 2005

Here's a new trial of ten woods, some scarce or extinct.


My friend Charlie Smith recently gave me ten samples of high-quality woods to compare, many of which were grown here in northern Virginia.

First, here's a scan, reduced in size, of the ten bridges. Each bridge is made to my current 11-hole bridge design, which produces excellent volume, richness and balance, and each is about 4 1/8" long::

picture of ten mandolin bridges

I first made and fit all ten bridges, and then tried them out on the mandolin, one after the other. Here are the results:

In the left column:

Bridge #509, Cherry. This was fairly wide-grained cherry, from a storm-damaged tree on a farm near Flint Hill, Virginia. This was a good bridge! The volume, balance, and richness were all comparable to many maple bridges.

Bridge #510, Hard maple. This was from a very old tree in Rappahanock County, and was a very good bridge. The volume was excellent, and the richness and clarity were also.

Bridge #511, Ash. I had not tried ash before, but I can see now why so few instrument builders concern themselves with it. The volume was not so good, and both the highs and lows were lacking.

Bridge #512, White Oak. This was a fairly disappointing bridge. The sound was rather thin overall, and was especially so in the low end and richness.

Bridge #513, Chestnut. As is to be expected, this piece of very old, extinct wood had a few wormholes in it. However, that did not prevent it from being a very sweet-sounding bridge. The volume was not comparable with maple, so I would not recommend chestnut for a bluegrass bridge, but the sweetness and sustain of this bridge were remarkable.

In the right column:

Bridge #514, an unidentified pink exotic wood (perhaps some of you can help me identify it). This bridge gave exceptional volume, with a very solid high end. Richness was less than with some other bridges, but this wood might be comparable to hard American maple on some instruments.

Bridge #515, Soft Maple. Previous soft American maple bridges had not done too well for me, but this one was an exception. The volume was somewhat reduced compared to the hard maple, but the balance was good and the sound was good overall.

Bridge #516, Burl White Oak. I had never tried a bridge of this material before (in fact, I had never seen any wood like it), but to my surprise, this was a really good bridge. The volume was fairly impressive, and the bridge was well-balanced. This would probably make a good bluegrass bridge.

Bridge #518, Old Mahogany. This bridge, made from very light, dry, 150-year-old wood, was the greatest surprise of the batch. The volume was surprising. The bassy power and richness were impressive, while still retaining plenty of highs and sustain. This wood would make a good "prescription" bridge for problem mandolins with weak low ends or a thin or harsh sound.

Bridge #525, English Walnut. As with previous walnut trials, I did not get good results from this bridge. The volume was lower than with any of these bridges except the chestnut, and this bridge lacked the balanced sweetness of the chestnut one. However, the sustain was good.

I'm much indebted to my friend Charlie Smith for supplying the woods for this experiment. To email me: click here.

Red Henry.

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