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Here are 18 mandolin bridges made from different woods.

The tonal results from 18 different woods are compared here. 10 bridges of different woods are described at the top, then 3 more below them, then bridges of century-old "Timeless Timber" of two different varieties, and finally, the 3 latest woods at the bottom of the page.


 

Here's a scan of the first 10 bridges after they were all finished and played for a while:

picture of ten bridges

Up until now, with all the bridge research I had done, I had never made an exhaustive examination of all the different kinds of wood I could get my hands on. It was a lot of work, but now it is done! Thanks to my friends Mike, Steve, Bob, and Randy for giving me samples of all these excellent and (in several cases) rare woods.

Here are the first 10 woods, with the weights when the bridges were finished and tried:


In the left column:


Bridge #83. Ebony, 10.5 grams

Bridge #85. East Indian rosewood, 7.5 g.

Bridge #84. Brazilian rosewood, 8.9 g.

Bridge #67. Bloodwood, 10.4 g.

Bridge #66. African Blackwood, 8.7 g.


In the right column:


Bridge #89. Extra-heavy maple, 7.1 g.

Bridge #90. Teak, 7.6 g.

Bridge #88. Satinwood, 10.1 g.

Bridge #91. Persimmon (American Ebony), 8.7 g.

Bridge #92. Honduras mahogany, 6.4 g.


 

Procedure:



The African Blackwood sample was sent to me already cut for a bridge. From each of the 9 other blocks, I cut a bridge blank, approximately 4 1/4" long, 1 1/8" high, and 5/16" thick. When possible I cut the blank quarter-sawn from the block, but this was not possible in a few instances, as noted.

From each blank, I then cut a bridge of my favorite pattern (Bridge #28), making all of the bridges as alike as possible, in order to reduce the comparisons to a single standard bridge form. Thickness of each bridge was 5/16" at the base and 1/4" at the top.

The bridges were all fitted and tried on Randy Wood mandolin #3, my standard testbed mandolin. The action of each bridge was made to suit my playing, at about 7+/64" on the bass side and 6/64" on the treble side, at the 12th fret. I fit each of the 10 bridges to the mandolin in turn, and recorded the results, which follow.


 

The Results:

Left side:


83. Ebony: Good volume and sustain, but not exceptional. Bass quite solid, but not as deep as with the best maple bridges. Overall tone very clear, but somewhat restrained. Good "chunk" in the lower positions, but the chunk gets a little harsher up the neck. Treble volume and richness somewhat muted.

84. Brazilian rosewood: Good volume but a slightly tubby sound. Low end good, but high end is rather thin. Up-the-neck chunk has good volume but is a bit sharp-sounding.

85. East Indian rosewood: Fair volume. Pretty good bass, but midrange and highs pretty weak. Definition not good even on bass notes. Up-the-neck chunk harsh. Sound flabby overall. (Cut about 45 degrees to the quarter.)

67. Bloodwood: Good volume. Bass solid, but lacks a little in richness. Midrange good, but highs a bit thin.

66. African Blackwood: Fairly good volume, but low end a little dull. More body in the high end. Better up the neck than either of the rosewood bridges.


Right side:


89. Extra-heavy maple: An extremely satisfying bridge. Rich highs and lows, plenty of volume, evenness, and sustain. A great sense of "immediate response" from the mandolin. There seems to be only a small difference in response between this bridge and my very best maple bridges, but perhaps it is due to the fact that due to the grain in the block, I had to cut this bridge about 40 degrees from the quarter.

90. Teak: This wood was quite heavy and had the general appearance of mahogany, except that it was darker. The bridge gave plenty of bass but without as much definition and richness on the low notes as with the maple bridges. The mids and highs were fairly well balanced but a little weaker than with maple. Still, this was a pretty satisfying bridge.

88. Satinwood: A really good bridge! Rich bass, good low-end chunk, and smooth highs with plenty of body up the neck. This is all a nice surprise, especially since the bridge had to be almost slab-cut from the small block I have. More experiments with satinwood are indicated, especially if I can get some of it thick enough to cut a quarter-sawn bridge.

91. Persimmon (American Ebony): Not as much "body" to the sound as maple or silkwood, and highs a bit thin. Still, quite comparable to ebony and better than average in this group.

92. Honduras mahogany: A surprisingly good bridge! This bridge and #88 (silkwood) were the only two in this test which were really comparable with maple. This mahogany bridge had resonant lows, well-defined highs, and good sustain. I plan to do some follow-up work using this wood.


 

A few observations:



I undertook this project to "narrow the field," so to speak, among all the woods to which I had access. Various kinds of maple still seem to give the best and most consistent bridge results, but this 10-bridge project revealed a few other kinds of wood that have good possibilities, especially satinwood and Honduras mahogany. Both these bridges gave excellent results and require some follow-up in my future bridge comstruction.

Up to this time I had made few successful bridges that weighed much over 7 grams, and in this group only the satinwood bridge, turned out really well at a heavier weight, 10.1 grams. As a material for mandolin bridges, satinwood is apparently an exception to this general rule.


 

Now for three more woods: cherry, madrone, and manzanita.

Here's what these three bridges looked like when finished and played
(Top to bottom: cherry, madrone, manzanita):
picture of three bridges

And the results:

Cherry: This was a really good bridge! The volume, richness, and sustain were all comparable to maple. This deserves more experimentation to see for example what, if any, changes in the bridge design would be best for bridges made of cherry.

Madrone: A good bridge, comparable to some of my maple bridges. Good volume and richness. A satisfying bridge.

Manzanita: This bridge looked good but gave a thinner sound. Volume was okay, but the bass was a little weak and the highs were a little sharp.


 

Two bridges of "Timeless Timber"

A friend kindly sent me two different bridge blanks of Tony Pass's old maple.
This wood is over a century old

picture of three timeless timber bridges

And the results:

The lighter-toned, less dense blank: a typical good maple bridge. Pleasing response from the instrument, but the bridge did not stand out compared to other maple.

The darker-toned bridge with strongly-marked grain: A good bridge! exceptional volume, richness, and sustain. Whatever this variety of maple is, I wish I had some more of it.

I spoke to Tony Pass at the IBMA convention, and may be able to obtain a few more blanks from him.


 

And now, three more new woods: osage orange, wide-grained cherry, and cornel



picture of three mandolin bridges



(February, 2005): The last three bridges compared on this page are (from top to bottom) osage orange, wide-grained cherry, and cornel. By this time, as you may notice, I had progressed to the newer 6-hole bridge design. However, these results should still be quite comparable to those above.

The osage orange was a bit weird to work. It's the yellowest wood I've worked with, and it gave off a strange odor when cut. It worked fairly easily, though. As a bridge, it gave very good volume and pretty good low end, but was a little thin in the treble.

Next is a bridge of wide-grained cherry. I have had good results from some northern cherry, which had a rather close grain. This bridge of wide-grained cherry, however, had a fairly thin and disappointing sound. Not recommended.

The cornel bridge, shown at the bottom, was one I had hopes for. In color and consistency it resembled some madrone which is described above, and the madrone made a pretty good bridge. But to my disappointment, the cornel bridge was rather weak and thin-sounding. The wood itself is even, close-grained, and clean-cutting (though its smell when cut is like a dirty dishrag) and a cornel bridge blank rings well when it's dropped on a table, but the cornel bridge just didn't have much sound.


 

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