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Thread: Looking to Replace the Bridge

  1. #1
    Dan Brooks lflngpicker's Avatar
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    Question Looking to Replace the Bridge

    Hi Friends, I love my new 20 year old Ratliff R-5. The tone is wonderful, so are the fit and finish and action. The bridge needs to be replaced, but I want it to be well fitted. Also, it appears to be a taller than usual bridge top.

    Anyone have a good idea what the best way to do this is? Anyone ever send away the bridge to be replaced in order to give the luthier the ability to copy the shape of the foot to match the top? I don't readily have a mandolin luthier around here and want to make sure I do this right. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

  2. #2

    Default Re: Looking to Replace the Bridge

    A Cumberland bridge would be a good replacement. The only way to get a good fit is for someone to have the mandolin and bridge. Any chance you will be traveling for attending a festival sometime soon? You might be able to find someone along the way?

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    Dan Brooks lflngpicker's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking to Replace the Bridge

    Hi Steve, So nice of you to reply! Not planning to travel any time soon, but if it needs to be done by a luthier, then I will try to travel to one I find within an hour or two from our place. I appreciate your suggestion.

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    Default Re: Looking to Replace the Bridge

    Does the whole bridge need replacing or just the saddle. If the foot is fit nicely to the top is it possible to replace the saddle?
    THE WORLD IS A BETTER PLACE JUST FOR YOUR SMILE!

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    Default Re: Looking to Replace the Bridge

    Why does the bridge need to be replaced? In my experience bridges don't wear out. I have replaced them because they were poor quality from the start, replaced them to improve intonation, replaced one because I drilled it out to lighten it which worked until it collapsed, but I've never replaced a bridge that I've been satisfied with for years just because it's old.

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    Registered User William Smith's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking to Replace the Bridge

    Well they do get old and dried out, I've had the saddle split along the rod edge, also they sag in the saddle over a long time with all that pressure.

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  10. #7
    Dan Brooks lflngpicker's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking to Replace the Bridge

    Hi Pops, Mandoplumb and William, Thanks for inquiring and for the responses. Here's the situation. The bridge seems to have been originally well constructed and makes a nice contact with the top. The problem is somewhat as William is wondering: after many years of use, the top portion is leaning at a pretty strong angle toward the fingerboard and after I had restrung and was working on the intonation and string action, it became apparent to me that it was structurally unstable and making it difficult to achieve proper intonation. I reread the section in Bradley Laird's Mandolin handbook about bridge movement and adjustment. I followed his steps to the "t" having become accustomed to setting my intonation on several mandolins over the last number of years. It all came down to the bridge leaning off the screws. Pops1, the foot makes nice contact all the way across and when I saw that I was very pleased. After I changed the strings I was disappointed to realize that the top lean was affecting the screws so it seems most likely that both parts would need replacing.

    I am beginning to look for the nearest luthier that knows mandolins in our region. My wife can drive me a reasonable distance if it is within an hour or so. That will be my backup plan, but I stubbornly want to determine if I am able to find a way to do this myself. Thanks guys for the ideas!
    Last edited by lflngpicker; May-08-2019 at 8:08am. Reason: more details

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    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking to Replace the Bridge

    Loosen the strings. Manually put the bridge in an upright position and tighten a center string to hold it in place. Now bring them all up to pitch. Half the mandolin bridges you'll see will lean.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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  13. #9
    Dan Brooks lflngpicker's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking to Replace the Bridge

    Quote Originally Posted by MikeEdgerton View Post
    Loosen the strings. Manually put the bridge in an upright position and tighten a center string to hold it in place. Now bring them all up to pitch. Half the mandolin bridges you'll see will lean.
    Okay, Mike. I will carefully do this procedure and see how I am able to accomplish this. Then, I can go back to the intonation procedure. Thanks for the info, my friend!

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    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking to Replace the Bridge

    Intonation can be the placement of the bridge or the bridge top (saddle) being reversed. If none of this solves the problems then you may need a new bridge but generally you can get it right. Good luck!
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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  16. #11

    Default Re: Looking to Replace the Bridge

    If the base seems fine maybe do as suggested and just replace the saddle. You should be able to have someone cut the string spacing and should be pretty easy to do.

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  18. #12
    Dan Brooks lflngpicker's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking to Replace the Bridge

    I did successful reset the bridge and rolled thumb wheels all the way down. The top seems to be set at a leaning angle even when the thumb screws appear to roll smoothy and without impediment to seat the top on the foot. As it sits, the bridge is leaning a bit, while the foot fits snugly against the top. I will try to re-intonate and see if I can get it right. If it leans, it leans, but if I fear the bridge will have to compensate too much for the angle at the top. Thanks again, MikeE and Steve.
    Last edited by lflngpicker; May-08-2019 at 11:35am. Reason: added a name for thanks

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    Registered User bradlaird's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking to Replace the Bridge

    Dan, I have had a similar issue with my Flatiron and have had the saddle leaning towards the fretboard (slightly) for 30 years. But it never moves and sounds great.

    All I am saying is that a degree or two lean may not really matter.

    My issue of tilt started when I put a Fishman pickup on it in 86. I didn’t want to refit the feet so I only swapped the saddle portion but the holes were a tad wider and I ran a drill through the saddle holes to get it to fit. It fit but then leaned slightly because the holes were now too big. (I should have plugged and redrilled but I was eager to plug in... which I later gave up on due to tone factors )

    If your leaning is due to holes which don’t match the posts then I suppose they could be plugged and redrilled.

    Could be that the posts are bent. Pretty simple to straighten but they may be weak and end up back where they were.

    Could be that the posts were not installed vertically in the foot to begin with. And it could be the bottom of the foot is just scraped/sanded crooked.

    There are many possibilities but as I said, mine has leaned for 3 decades and at this point I am not messing with it.
    Last edited by bradlaird; May-08-2019 at 10:57am. Reason: Typo

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  21. #14
    Dan Brooks lflngpicker's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking to Replace the Bridge

    Hi Brad, I have so enjoyed your Mandolin Handbook!

    I am grateful to you for your response and as I read your list of possible reasons, I am pretty sure it is one of those three. It is like you are sitting in my living room while I have been getting it set up as best I can after hearing from Mike, and you can see the bridge! I now have it where it is secure, not buzzing too much when fretted at the twelfth, and the intonation is not really where I would like but I think I can live with it for a few minutes. I know me-- I will want to take it to a luthier and get a new one fitted expertly at some point. Maybe even have the high frets filed a bit to allow me to lower the bridge a smidge without buzzing. I love Audey Ratliff's work on this beauty and I know this won't take away from my long term enjoyment of this mandolin.

    Again, I thank you for your expert writing and great advice from your post and your book. It is an incredible resource. Dan
    Last edited by lflngpicker; May-08-2019 at 11:32am. Reason: forgot the words "reasons", "am" and "as"

  22. #15

    Default Re: Looking to Replace the Bridge

    I'd get in touch with Audy Ratliff himself and see what he has to say.
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    Phil Goodson Philphool's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking to Replace the Bridge

    If the posts are actually bent:
    Do there happen to be hex indentations in the ends of the posts, either from the top or the bottom?

    If so, sometimes you can just rotate the bent posts by 180 degrees with a hex wrench, so they lean slightly towards the tailpiece. Then replace the saddle and place everything for proper intonation. If this works, the backwards slight lean is something that many folks do on purpose (not by bending).
    Phil

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    Dan Brooks lflngpicker's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking to Replace the Bridge

    Hi Phil and Br1ck, I appreciate the ideas and suggestions. Br1ck, it is an excellent idea to contact Mr. Ratliff and see what he recommends. Also, Phil, this may be a fix I could implement. Appreciate it, friends!

  27. #18
    Dan Brooks lflngpicker's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking to Replace the Bridge

    I did reach Audey Ratliff as Br1ck suggested. He was very, very nice to talk with and was willing to do the work but worried that I would incur too great a cost in shipping and insurance. He said, as Mike Edgerton indicated, that this is "a fairly common, though frustrating problem". I am seeking out a luthier within a reasonable distance and will work out a new bridge fitting as soon as possible. In the meantime, the suggestions helped me to get it working well enough for now and I can enjoy playing. I will get the MT out most of the time for now. Appreciate all the help!

  28. #19
    Adrian Minarovic
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    Default Re: Looking to Replace the Bridge

    People brought in quite a few mandolins for bridge replacement where all it really needed was some tweaking and / or refitting of the existing bridge.
    My diagnosis would go:
    0. answer te question: do you really need a new bridge for good reason - damaged, too low (may need just taller saddle) etc...
    1. remove strings (mark bass and treble on both parts so you know how they were assembled and notice best position of bridge on top - that's if you project the top of saddle square to rim-edge level without any leaning - don't project square to top arch as often the arch already goes downhill towards neck on 5- style mandolins)
    2. check if the saddle is not flipped (often folks put the G strings slots on what is supposed to be E string side)
    3. check for any cracks in saddle or base
    4. check if the posts hold solidly in the base (no wiggling at all) and are parallel to each other and perpendicular to base both when viewed from side or front (not leaning)
    4. check if the holes in saddle are not too oversized.
    5. check if the thumbwheel threads are not worn (wiggling on the posts)
    6. now put just the base on top in place where it would intonate best (see 1) and look if it stays square to rim level. If the base/ posts lean, try flipping the base if the leaning goes away. Select the position where posts are closer to square to rim surface (especially if the top arch goes downhill towards neck under bridge) or slightly leaning towards tailpiece (when the bridge sits on top of arch).
    7. check for fit against top and refit so the posts are at the angle suggested in 6 (may need refitting especially if you flipped the base for better angle - top arches are rarely perfectly symmetrical).

    If you checked and corrected all above then you should string it and set it up for best intonation and action and enjoy the ride.
    Adrian

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    Default Re: Looking to Replace the Bridge

    Quote Originally Posted by lflngpicker View Post
    I did successful reset the bridge and rolled thumb wheels all the way down. The top seems to be set at a leaning angle even when the thumb screws appear to roll smoothy and without impediment to seat the top on the foot. As it sits, the bridge is leaning a bit, while the foot fits snugly against the top. I will try to re-intonate and see if I can get it right. If it leans, it leans, but if I fear the bridge will have to compensate too much for the angle at the top. Thanks again, MikeE and Steve.
    I don't see how the lean affects intonation. Intonation is set by where the top not the bottom of the bridge is located. If intonation is way off between strings ie E string is correct but D string is way off, I would bet a dollar to a doughnut that the saddle is reversed. Also depending on how much difference in height between 1st and 4th string, string diameter, other factors, bridge may need to be angled slightly,G string futher back than E.

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  32. #21
    Dan Brooks lflngpicker's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking to Replace the Bridge

    Thanks HoGo and Mandoplumb, This little problem has been an opportunity to learn! Wow, I really appreciate the info and suggestions. HoGo this list seems so comprehensive that I should surely be able to run through it and see where I come out at the other side. Also, Mandoplumb, I agree with what you are saying about intonation. The lean may be a reversed saddle -- it never occurred to me because I had no idea of the history. The seller did not play it so he hadn't made any adjustments. Those would have been made by the original owners. I have a new day to go through it again and see what I realize. Thanks for the great ideas!

  33. #22
    Dan Brooks lflngpicker's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking to Replace the Bridge

    The Folk Music Center in Claremont is 50 miles away and they have a couple of luthiers on staff (where Ben Harper heralds from, as he stated on American Idol). They want me to bring the new bridge and they will fit it. I am going to get a pro set up while I am there. Now, to choose the bridge. Thanks so much, again!

    Editor's note: The distance is 26 miles! I am surprised, but maybe because I am used to freeway times in Southern California and think of it as an hour drive. I am admitting this because I didn't realize I had a luthier this close. Although, I no longer can drive, so my sweetheart is kind enough to take me when the bridge comes in...
    Last edited by lflngpicker; May-09-2019 at 7:18pm. Reason: distance correction :)

  34. #23

    Default Re: Looking to Replace the Bridge

    If you're going through the trouble to replace the bridge, get a great one!
    https://cumberlandacoustic.com/product/mandolin-bridge/
    Best,
    Stevo

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  36. #24
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    Default Re: Looking to Replace the Bridge

    Why don't you send it back to Audey Ratliff and have him do it call him at 1-423-357-4381 I have a Mowry and anytime I need work done I send it to Andrew and have him do the work (he added a pick guard for me), same with my Webber I sent them my mandolin for a re-fret. Best if you have the guy who built it do it I am sure he could put on any bridge you'd like and give your Mando a good going over as well.

  37. #25
    Dan Brooks lflngpicker's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking to Replace the Bridge

    Quote Originally Posted by Philsf51 View Post
    Why don't you send it back to Audey Ratliff and have him do it call him at 1-423-357-4381 I have a Mowry and anytime I need work done I send it to Andrew and have him do the work (he added a pick guard for me), same with my Webber I sent them my mandolin for a re-fret. Best if you have the guy who built it do it I am sure he could put on any bridge you'd like and give your Mando a good going over as well.
    Thanks Philsf51, I called Audey yesterday and found him so personable and helpful. He was so willing to do the work and was concerned about the shipping back and forth costs. I seriously considered this and like your thought on this. An extra $120 would be worth it, but a bit too costly for me. Thanks for your post!

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