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Compensation (bridges)

Three things affect the pitch (frequency) of a string:

1. gauge (diameter)
2. length
3. tension

When one frets a string, the finger stretches the string down to the fret, thereby increasing tension. As tension goes up, pitch goes up. To compensate for the sharpening effect of fretting, the string is made longer by the "compensation" built into the bridge.

Different gauge strings stretch more or less as they are fretted, with larger gauge strings needing more compensation, hence the "stair step" shape of common bridge saddles.

Why are the bass strings compensated differently than the treble strings?

When fretted, a wound string behaves as though it were the diameter of the core wire. Thus, a wound string, though a higher gauge, may have a core wire smaller than an unwound string of a smaller gauge. In that case, the wound string will need less compensation than the plain string despite its larger gauge.

Authored by: John Hamlett

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