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An interesting new design: the fine-fitting bridge

picture of mandolin bridges

Above is a scan of a standard winged bridge along with a fine-fitting bridge, for comparison.

This bridge has been developed from experiments in an alternate bridge design, and is intended especially for f-hole mandolins with unusual bracing patterns: X-braces, unusually narrow tone bar arrangements, and so forth. After normal fitting to the top with sandpaper, the bridge feet will actually be "self-fitting," as a series of holes or compressible voids, located just above each bridge foot, allow the bridge itself to make a very fine foot-fit when the string pressure is applied. The idea is paying off in good sound.

This design was prompted by the installation of a standard winged bridge on a friend's Paganoni mandolin. To my surprise, after a few days the bridge foot-ends lifted slightly, which had not happened with my bridges before. Upon inspection, we discovered that the Paganoni's tone bars were set closer together than usual, and this may have been the cause of the problem. To overcome the difficulty, my friend suggested a banana-shaped bridge with holes along a center arc, with large holes in the center and small ones toward the bridge-ends. I made a few bridges this way, but then I thought of a way to make the string tension improve the foot-fit instead of disturbing it: put a series of large holes just above the bridge feet, so that the feet would adjust themselves and the foot-ends could not come up at all.

To my surprise, the sound was quite a bit better with the larger holes relocated outboard and only small holes left in the center.

I have tried this "self-fitting" design in European and American maple, fitted on f-hole and oval-hole mandolins. A summary of the results:

This design, when constructed of European maple and fitted on an f-hole mandolin, produced surprising richness and sustain, but especially a rewarding "body" of sound in the bass and midrange. This fullness of sound makes the mandolin especially satisfying to play. The volume produced is about the same as with a good winged bridge.

This design made of hard American maple, and fitted on an oval-hole mandolin, can produce exceptional clarity, sustain, and volume. Not every instrument, however, responded equally, and on some instruments a winged bridge still produces better results.

Tentative conclusions: These "holey" self-fitting bridges are capable of very full, rich, sustaining sound. They do not seem to be for every mandolin, however, and more experimentation is needed to define their applicability to mandolin-family instruments.

I invite others to do further research on these and other mandolin bridge designs. To email me: click here.

Red Henry.

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