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Thread: Should I learn to make bridges while I'm at it?

  1. #1

    Default Should I learn to make bridges while I'm at it?

    I'm trying to determine if it would be worth my time to learn to make bridges. As a novice, I have bought the "standard" ebony adjustable bridges and saddles from StewMac...and in trying to fit them properly have ruined at least two. So that's sixty dollars down the drain... (How did I ruin them, you ask? Vigorous sanding to reduce the height combined with similarly vigorous sawing of string slots.)

    I've read that many builders buy bone from the pet store to make nuts, and that bone saddles offer a desirable sound. This would require making a bridge for them to sit in, obviously. I've also seen examples of all-wood custom bridges (like that featured on Frets.com that is maple with ebony tops).

    My intent is to become as good a builder as I can and eventually offer mandolins to professional musicians. So I assume making custom bridges is a skill that I would need to learn at some point? Right now, I've only completed one instrument, and I have three others mid-build. I know there are several very reputable bridge manufacturers our there. And perhaps it is widely accepted that makers just outsource their bridges to folks like them. If so, that's fine. I'll just have to learn be more careful.

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Should I learn to make bridges while I'm at it?

    It won't hurt to learn.

    It costs $26.50 + shipping for a CA bridge saddle. I have a lot of ebony scrap lying around. Sometimes, I don't feel like doing the work. Sometimes, I think "What's the big deal" and start carving away. If it's a customer instrument and I order a saddle, the supplier gets the money and I get the job done faster. If I make the saddle, I get the money but it takes longer. If it did more of them, I would probably learn how to make them much more quickly.

    I've added bone tops and deer ivory tops to standard bridge saddles. I've carved whole saddles from ebony, rosewood, aluminum, and deer ivory. I've made replicas of early Gibson, Martin, and Vega solid bridges. About the only thing I haven't done is carve an adjustable bridge base from scratch, and I suppose I'll do one of those sooner or later.

    Bone from the pet store is fine if you've got the tools to saw it into blanks. If not, most luthier's supply houses sell bone blanks. Some places have considerably lower prices than others. My old bone and wood supplier has retired, so I'm having to change sources. I avoid buying bone from Stew-mac. Their prices are too high.

    When you've chewed up enough saddles, you'll learn when to move from the belt sander to the hand tools, and using files instead of a saw to cut your string slots.

  3. #3

    Default Re: Should I learn to make bridges while I'm at it?

    I look at the bridge the same way I look at the rest of the hardware. I wouldn't think of making my own tuners or tailpiece. Same with the bridge. I just buy one. They haven't changed much in a hundred years -- there are basically two designs that everybody uses, with a few exceptions. That being said, some bridges are more nicely made than others.

  4. #4

    Default Re: Should I learn to make bridges while I'm at it?

    Hi, I've been looking for a good source for CAD bridges. Can you tell me where you are getting your's from? Will they duplicate a specific bridge?

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    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Should I learn to make bridges while I'm at it?

    Several years ago forum member Darryl Wolfe uploaded a file that contained the specifications and dimensions of 1923 style Compensated Adjustable Bridge top. I can't find the thread but I can provide a pdf of the file.

    If you're interested in building your own bridges this might come in handy. There are also some past threads that can get you pointed in the right direction:

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/t...ridge-building

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/t...ustable-bridge
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails Dimensions for 1923 Compensated Adjustable Bridge Top.pdf  
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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    Registered User amowry's Avatar
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    Default Re: Should I learn to make bridges while I'm at it?

    I started making my bridges because I was having to alter pre-made bridges too much to get them how I wanted them. I would say it's worth it if you're going to be building a lot of instruments. If you're just making a few, not so much.

    One thing I would stress is be sure to adjust the compensation empirically after the instrument is strung up, i.e. don't just assume that the Gibson compensation will be correct, because it won't be

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    Registered User Charles E.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: Should I learn to make bridges while I'm at it?

    Making your own mandolin bridges will be a lesson in patience if nothing else.
    I have made a number of non-adjustable bridges, of my own design, for my own instruments and enjoyed the process.

    Here is an example of my "Baroque" style bridge...
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    Charley

    A bunch of stuff with four strings

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    Default Re: Should I learn to make bridges while I'm at it?

    Coincidentally, only today did I start to make a couple of bridges after sorting through my ebony scraps.I bought the thumbwheels a few weeks ago from China, so today I cut out 2 bridge blanks and 2 saddle blanks to approximate dimensions and drilled and tapped the holes in the relevant places, as I thought it would be easier to drill the holes at this stage while the blanks are squared up. Tomorrow will be a day of shaping and filing.
    I am a hobby builder with experience of building guitars, ukes, banjos and stick dulcimers and now I'm in the process of building my first mandolins. I like to make everything I can during a build that I can and only buy hardware such as tuners, fretwire and bone bridge pins. Basically anything that's wood I'll try and make and wouldn't be happy with myself if I couldn't say I'd built all the instrument. It's probably easier and in some cases cheaper to buy a completed bridge, especially guitar bridges, but I've made bridges for every guitar I've built, even pyramid bridges which a little more difficult. For me, this is what a building hobby is all about, "building". But this is just me and I'm not suggesting everyone should do the same, but I would encourage you to try as the satisfaction will be enormous.
    good luck. Mike

  12. #9

    Default Re: Should I learn to make bridges while I'm at it?

    Tooling for making mandolin bridges gets specific. For one, a decent drill press with a vice that holds the saddle blank. Those holes for the screw studs must be dead on. If I was going to try to make my own bridge, I would make a template for the hole spacing (and probably redo it several times before I got it dead on). You also need a vice with tall, thin jaws for holding the blank while you work on it (you may already have one for making nuts). The pieces of ebony are small and a lot of facets are involved. Sharp chisels and small files get a lot of use in adjusting intonation.

    I can tell you from experience that if you have a decently built instrument the bridge, once fitted correctly, makes more difference in the sound than you would imagine. The first time I put a Cumberland Acoustics bridge on one of my mandos, I was impressed with the improvement in tone. For my subsequent builds, I was happy to shell out $60 for a quality bridge. I know he pays close attention to the quality of his wood and grain orientation as well as precision machining. Of course, with my old eyesight, I'm also content to pay Luthier's Merc for a preslotted fingerboard too. Good luck on your building endeavors.

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    Adrian Minarovic
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    Default Re: Should I learn to make bridges while I'm at it?

    Quote Originally Posted by putnamm View Post
    I'm trying to determine if it would be worth my time to learn to make bridges. As a novice, I have bought the "standard" ebony adjustable bridges and saddles from StewMac...and in trying to fit them properly have ruined at least two. So that's sixty dollars down the drain... (How did I ruin them, you ask? Vigorous sanding to reduce the height combined with similarly vigorous sawing of string slots.)

    I've read that many builders buy bone from the pet store to make nuts, and that bone saddles offer a desirable sound. This would require making a bridge for them to sit in, obviously. I've also seen examples of all-wood custom bridges (like that featured on Frets.com that is maple with ebony tops).

    My intent is to become as good a builder as I can and eventually offer mandolins to professional musicians. So I assume making custom bridges is a skill that I would need to learn at some point? Right now, I've only completed one instrument, and I have three others mid-build. I know there are several very reputable bridge manufacturers our there. And perhaps it is widely accepted that makers just outsource their bridges to folks like them. If so, that's fine. I'll just have to learn be more careful.
    I think you should slow down a bit and do some extra work out on your handtool skills. IF you intend to become a good builder you should work patiently and carefully. Each stroke of the tool (or even sandpaper) must be intentional and precise. If you ruined two bridges while fitting them there is something really wrong in your technique that needs to be sorted out. You are likely working too hastily and forget to check progress regularly and thoroughly. There are correct ways of holding workpiece or sandpaper or file or whatever tool that will give you the best results both in effectiveness and in precision. You need to train that on simpler project that are less likely to waste your money.
    I make my own bridges but mostly because I have lots of ebony offcuts form fingerboards that I don't want to throw away and they are just about correct size for bridges. Making nice ebony adjustable bridge and fitting it requires more skill and precision than many other steps of making so I would minimize that as beginner and try to focus on the more important steps first.
    Adrian

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    Default Re: Should I learn to make bridges while I'm at it?

    You might take the effort to learn how, then buy them.

    Would you make tires or spark plugs for your car?

    Parts are parts.

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  18. #12

    Default Re: Should I learn to make bridges while I'm at it?

    I was considering saying something like what Adrian (HoGo) said but could not come up with a nice way to put it. Learn to hit the ball before swinging for the fences. I have been building some adjustable bridges recently because there were a couple of things I wanted to try that are not on commercial bridges.

    One thing I have learned is that $60 let alone $30 is not very expensive for a bridge if you put any value on your time at all. Think through each part and how you would go about making them, specifically what operations you would do, how you would hold the part at each step and do it accurately. That alone should make you think hard about whether you want to do it.

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    Registered User j. condino's Avatar
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    Default Re: Should I learn to make bridges while I'm at it?

    I sometimes make my own.

    I sometimes buy them from Cumberland Acoustics.

    I sometimes repurpose old ones.

    If your goal is to become a lifetime builder, then they are all skills you will need to learn. If you only need one or two right now, 'better off to buy them than spend 100+ hours and $xxx getting sidetracked learning to become an expert mandolin bridge builder instead of what you really want to accomplish.

    It sounds crazy, but you could easily burn up a year of free time and $2500 in tooling to produce a tiny little bridge that mimics the traditional production style. I can do the same thing with a $15 Swiss army knife; it just takes longer for an individual piece.

    In the end there is a very high chance that you'll wind up with something very similar in mass and size as a traditional Loar style bridge as those specs work very well...
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails Click image for larger version. 

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    Default Re: Should I learn to make bridges while I'm at it?

    I recommend building your own bridges if only to explore different tones and volume as well as the physics of bridges. It's fairly straight forward to build a functional one-piece bridge. Like every other part of the mandolin, your bridges will look better with practice. Check out Red Henry's methods at https://www.murphymethod.com/index.c...t&contentId=87 and also http://www.holliseaster.com/p/making...ndolin-bridge/ for tone comparisons with adjustable bridges.

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    Mandogenerator Mike Black's Avatar
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    Default Re: Should I learn to make bridges while I'm at it?

    I do a mix of making my own. I buy the studs, thumb wheels and the top saddle and make the base. Especially since I prefer a full contact base and that way I can also make it exactly the right height for the mandolin too.

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    Default Re: Should I learn to make bridges while I'm at it?

    I have bought bridges, but usually make my own saddles, if that is all I need. Once you have done it a few times it's not that hard. Thinking the next one I make I'll change from traditional to the nice curve that I have seen others do.
    THE WORLD IS A BETTER PLACE JUST FOR YOUR SMILE!

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  27. #17

    Default Re: Should I learn to make bridges while I'm at it?

    Rob Roy states that a bridge is very important to better sound. Hildreth says ‘parts are parts’. In my admittedly outsider view, other than good contact and intonation, I can’t see where there is much subtlety in a mandolin bridge acoustic design, especially one resting on two little screws.

    The important issue is really whether or not it’s vital to have a hand in all the processes that go into making a product. The obvious first hurdle is the overall design: make something that closely copies, or innovate with either reason or a desire to innovate. The market makes that choice for most people. Beyond that, is handing off the instrument for a specialist to apply finish really wrong, affects personal satisfaction or marketability? Is a CNC router impersonal? How about hand-made tuners, hand drawn and wound strings? Electroplating?
    The balance is clearly different for hobbyists and folks earning a living, and somewhere in all of this is music. Fascinating.

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    Default Re: Should I learn to make bridges while I'm at it?

    "Parts are parts . . ."
    Well, yes and no.

    The bridge is the primary medium that transfers string vibrations to the body of the mandolin.

    If the bridge is made of good materials and the workmanship is accurate, it will do a better job of transmitting vibration than one that is made of poor or mediocre materials, is poorly designed, poorly fitted together, or poorly fitted to the instrument. This is what keeps Cumberland Acoustics in business, and is one of the things that makes the difference between a good repair person and a cobbler.

    Good, dense ebony is getting expensive and harder to find. Save your scraps, and use them.

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    Adrian Minarovic
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    Default Re: Should I learn to make bridges while I'm at it?

    Some of you cannot see the forest for the trees. Putnamm is aspiring maker and as that there are MUCH more important lessons he needs to take. There's no real need for him to spend hours and hours and expensive materials to biuld bridges. If he wants to build he needs to build and spend time learning to sharpen, to draw, cut, join, bend, carve wood and create instrument that will follow given set of measurements. Details like handmaking bridges are far away down the list and the acoustic measures of the bridge even further. Just forget the tiny details for now and start building.
    You can read this pic blog that show things in order as taught at one of the better violinmaking schools...
    https://fixitwithshading.com/csvm-construction-log/
    Adrian

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    Default Re: Should I learn to make bridges while I'm at it?

    Perhaps.

    It seems to me that Putnamm could afford to improve his skills with hand tools.
    If he were to hand carve a couple of saddles, he would learn more about using those tools, and also learn something about the nuances of fine detail work in dense wood.
    I don't think spending a few hours on a couple of saddles will impede his learning processes at all.
    No one is suggesting that he should become a full time bridge maker.

    And, should he ever open an instrument shop, he will have to be prepared to handle all kinds of jobs. That might include making a bridge for several different kinds of instruments, such as an ornamental bridge for a 3 point F-4 or upper model Vega, or a pyramid bridge for a Martin 00-28, or making replicas for missing saddles on an early 'teens F-4 or even a lowly A-1.

    Many years ago, I bought an early Martin style C mandolin with an ornamental ebony bridge. Around that time, I acquired some large blanks of Sambar stag horn ivory. I started to wonder what that mandolin might sound like with an ivory bridge. So I carved one. It's not the best carving job I've done, and if I do another one, it will be better. But I learned a lot from taking on the job. And by the way, the mandolin sounded noticeably better with the ivory bridge, which is still on it to this day.
    Last edited by rcc56; Jun-23-2020 at 3:56pm.

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    Registered User Aaron Bohnen's Avatar
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    Default Re: Should I learn to make bridges while I'm at it?

    Many experienced voices have contributed to this thread already. Since I'm a novice for sure, for new instruments I'd advocate buying bridges over making them. Cumberland bridges are obviously excellent, and Bruce Weber at Montana Lutherie also offers his bridges and they're great too. Doubtless there are others of similar good quality available.

    The Weber and CA bridges are great, worth the $ and saving of time in my (novice) opinion. I think it's tough for someone starting out (with a small shop maybe?) to make precision parts like these at the same consistently high level of workmanship available from CA, ML and others. Of course that's not to say it wouldn't be valuable to learn to do so, but that effort could develop into quite a detour from the main goal of making instruments.

    Enjoy!
    Gavin Baird F4 & F5, Weber Octar, Gibson K-1, Guild D50, Martin D35, Yairi DY-84, etc...

  34. #22

    Default Re: Should I learn to make bridges while I'm at it?

    One approach that might have a better return on both time and financial investment might be to make mockup bridge bottom blanks of maple scrap or something similar rather than ebony. They could be rectangular blanks about the same size as the bridge bottom or even whole bridge. Cut a bridge bottom profile in that, then use them to figure out how to fit the bridge saddles. That way you do not destroy new bridges or expensive wood and would be less demanding than making bridges from scratch. Your time would be focused on something that you really need to learn either way and you could take one bite at a time rather than swallowing the whole cow at once.

    There is a bridge print in the Siminoff book. Most people do not remember that because the commercial bridge makers do such a good job of making nice bridges at a price that makes it difficult to justify making your own on a purely economic basis. The only real justifications are the desire to experiment and try something different or learning for its own sake.

  35. #23
    Adrian Minarovic
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    Default Re: Should I learn to make bridges while I'm at it?

    I f you really want to learn bridge work I would suggest getting some cheap beater mandolins and fit or replace new cheap bridges to them. After you do some good setup you can probably even sell tem with small profit... I would buy some cheap ebay bridges for that - there are some sellers of quite decent bridges for few $ apiece. You need to do the research what sellers are worth buying from, I believe some folks reported here on MC...
    Adrian

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  37. #24

    Default Re: Should I learn to make bridges while I'm at it?

    I really appreciate all of the suggestions and comments here. Thank you all.

    As an experienced woodworker, I feel my fundamentals are fairly good. Sharpening, pattern and template making (and following), basic hand tool use, milling and preparing materials, joinery, simpler and more common finishing techniques, etc. I've applied these to many different projects over the years including furniture, boxes, bowls, utensils, even toys small carvings for my children. And over the past three-ish years I've begun teaching myself (with the help of the Internet) some of the basics of instrument making such as wood bending and plate carving--but I am still absolutely a novice in this area. Regarding the two ruined bridges: This was due mainly to my lack of understanding of how string tension affects the bridge and string seating and my resulting attempts to correct my prior errors... I don't think it was a lack of woodworking skill but a lack of familiarity with the bridge-string-nut relationship of stringed instruments.

    I have a number of woodworking friends who have very nice collections of tools, a great passion for the hobby and yet they do not endeavor to make anything more complicated than cutting boards or bookshelves because they question their own abilities and out of fear of "ruining nice wood." I am not one of these people. I tend to dive in, try things I've never tried before, and if I screw it up move on to the next one. This is largely how I ended up trying to make mandolins in the first place. (1) I wanted to learn to play the mandolin, so (2) I decided first to learn how to make a mandolin.

    Reading all of the great responses, I suppose I could have phrased my original question better. So here is another go: Anticipating the possibility that I may screw up additional bridges, would learning to make my own bridges be a good idea--from both an economical standpoint and also as an educational exercise?

    It sounds like making bridges properly and accurately is an extremely delicate and complicated process. So learning to do it properly would take a great deal of time. I don't mind that, but it would also perhaps further delay my learning more fundamental parts of the overall building process. It also appears that the cost of more common, mass-produced bridges is reasonable compared to making one's own when taking in to account the cost of the materials (Ebony is not cheap, certainly.) and the "time cost" of making them myself--especially since I am new to the process but even if I did it perfectly.

    Still, I do like the idea of custom parts that perfectly fit each instrument that I make. In the even that I end up--many years from now...--an expert builder I may prefer to pair my instruments with their own bridges made specifically for them in my shop.

    I have plenty of maple as well as Siminoff's and other templates for bridges. So I think I will maybe start there...and also make sure that, going forward, I am much more patient and careful in preparing and fitting any bridge that I use.

    Thanks, everyone.

  38. #25
    Adrian Minarovic
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    Default Re: Should I learn to make bridges while I'm at it?

    Sorry if my posts offended your skills. From your few posts I jus assumed you are novice just like many others who ask queastions here so I wrot from that perspective (and expecting that few more folks will read this in the future and may help them too).
    But even if you are experienced woodworker which is really good start, luthiery has lots of fine skills of it's own as you already found out without which even the best cabinetmaker would not be able to get good results as luthier. The best strategy to learn it is first to study methods of other luthiers , which is easy these days with all the information on internet (do not work with just one source, especially the Siminoff book), and then select few that might work best for you (given your own set of skills, tools etc) and just plainly do it. General rule is that among students of violin making first instruments is expected to be just VSO, and perhaps after five or ten they will start showing some professionality.
    Some of the finer points of luthiery are better left to time after that stage.
    Adrian

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