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Thread: Dead Sounding Strings - Do I have a bridge issue?

  1. #1

    Question Dead Sounding Strings - Do I have a bridge issue?

    This post may be a little long because I have some venting to do. If you want to cut to the chase, here it is:

    I recently had my bridge replaced and now the A and E strings don't to ring true. I've changed the strings and ruled out the nut. Could there be something wrong with the bridge? In particular, could it be that the string slots are cut too deeply? (please see pic below).

    Here's the story if anyone is interested.

    I've been playing mandolin for a year and I have an inexpensive Epiphone MM30. A couple weeks ago the bridge cracked and collapsed. I took it into my local guitar shop (which sells mandolins) for a bridge replacement and setup.

    When I picked it up the tech said, "There's one small problem. There's a bit of a ski slope in the neck so you'll notice a buzz on the G and D strings higher up the neck. If you stay in first position you'll be fine."

    I thought it was an odd decision to render an important area of the fretboard (albeit secondary) unplayable for the sake of better action. While I was a little put off by this decision making I didn't make a fuss because this is an inexpensive instrument and I might just be a weirdo for not minding semi-high action.

    When I got home played for a bit to see if I'd grow to accept the tradeoff, bu after a few minutes I decided to start adjusting the bridge.

    I started to notice more issues. The intonation was off, the bridge was slightly leaning forward, and I could even see a little daylight between the bridge and the surface of the mandolin.

    I fixed these issues, but one that remained was the A and E strings sounded slightly muted. They were brand new, but I decided to take them off and put on my preferred strings (which they didn't have in stock so I bought online).

    The issue still remains. They don't seem to ring true. They aren't as bright as I remember and they don't seem to have the same level of sustain either.

    I'm wondering if the grooves for the strings are cut too deeply. Could this be the source of the issue? The previous bridge's slots were basically just scored onto the surface.

    Anyway, I know these are the things you have to put up with when you don't have a well-crafted instrument, but I was perfectly happy with it before. Any advice on this would be much appreciated.

    Thanks

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  2. #2
    Dan Scullin dscullin's Avatar
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    Default Re: Dead Sounding Strings - Do I have a bridge issue?

    In regard to the second picture it looks as though the E and A slots on the bridge are too wide for the string gauges. I will defer to the experts ( Sunburst etal) as to whether this might dampen the sound . The D and G strings are sitting up nicely in their spot on the bridge. The E and A slots may also be cut too deeply as well. Great pictures BTW.
    Dan Scullin
    Louisville, KY

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Dead Sounding Strings - Do I have a bridge issue?

    the slots my be filed backwards also, slopping in instead of back..
    kterry

  4. #4

    Default Re: Dead Sounding Strings - Do I have a bridge issue?

    Is it possible the new bridge had pre-cut slots and was put on backwards?

  5. #5

    Default Re: Dead Sounding Strings - Do I have a bridge issue?

    Thanks everyone for your replies.

    I don't think the bridge is backwards. It seems to be reversible- the slots are all at the same depth, they don't seem to slope, and the zig-zag of the saddle remains the same whether its flipped or not.

    Though it's possible that the slots were pre-cut. I can't say for certain but cutting the slots seems like something that the guitar tech would do by hand, whereas these look like they were cut by a machine.

    Another theory is that the bridge isn't properly shaped for the curvature of my mandolin and therefore isn't transmitting the vibrations into the body well enough.

    The bridge is being pulled into shape by the string tension. When I remove all the tension it relaxes into a shape that has a lot more curve. However I'm not sure if this is a problem because the bridge does make full contact with the front of the mandolin under tension.

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Dead Sounding Strings - Do I have a bridge issue?

    I concur that the slots for the A and E strings appear to have been cut too wide, and deeper than I like to see them. Also, the slots should angle back towards the tailpiece slightly, in such a manner that they are deeper at the back of the bridge than at the front of the bridge.

    If the bridge was indeed pre-slotted, reversing the saddle might fix the problem. If that is not the case, the slots will have to be filled and re-cut by someone who is a bit more competent and has the correct files for the job.

  7. #7

    Default Re: Dead Sounding Strings - Do I have a bridge issue?

    UPDATE - I took off the saddle and flipped it around. I took a picture while it was off. With my eyes I couldn't tell the difference so I proceeded to turn it around but I can see in the picture that is was actually orientated the right way around. The pic was taken from the perspective of the tail piece, looking towards the neck (if the saddle was still sitting on the mandolin). The slots on the right are a little shallower.

    I'm not entirely sure what to do at this point. I don't want to take it back to the same shop because they don't seem to know what they're doing. But at the same time I don't want to take it to a proper luthier because these "fixes" have already totalled approximately 50% of the mandolin's value and I'm not inclined to spend more.

    Perhaps it's time to upgrade to a better instrument and put this one in the hands of a beginner looking for a starter mandolin.

    (If anyone is wondering what the result of turning the saddle around was, the G and D strings actually sound a bit brighter even though my ear didn't pick up on a problem beforehand. The A sounds about the same and the E sounds worse.)

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  8. #8
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    Default Re: Dead Sounding Strings - Do I have a bridge issue?

    I'm no experienced luthier, but I built a mando and fitted a cheap ebay bridge and it sounded completely dead. Initially i put it down to a first build fail, but then i noticed the bridge had a very thin wax coating on it. I guess protection for when in storage. I washed the bridge in very hot water and put it back on. Bingo, mando came alive. I wouldn't say it was top league sounding, but the difference was astounding! Worth a try?
    Last edited by Hewines; Sep-16-2021 at 1:23pm. Reason: Exclamation mark!

  9. #9
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    Default Re: Dead Sounding Strings - Do I have a bridge issue?

    Quote Originally Posted by MandolinSnow View Post
    ... don't want to take it to a proper luthier because these "fixes" have already totalled approximately 50% of the mandolin's value and I'm not inclined to spend more.
    Yeah but... The main reason that cheap mandolins are, ya know, cheap is because nobody has put the last hour or two of fine handcraft into it. If they had, the same body would have a higher model number and would sell for a whole lot more.

    Between Frets.com & Lutherie.net (different from Lutherie.com) there's a wealth of information that, with a few jewelers files, would let you re-shape that clunker bridge into a truly functional one, probably in less than an hour assuming that the base is already fit to the instrument. (Note that archtop bridge logic is the same regardless of 6 or 8 strings.)

    I'd start by shaving a bit off the top and cutting new slots. While shaving might weaken it too much, the effort would certainly add to the education that you've already accumulated!
    - Ed

    "Then one day we weren't as young as before
    Our mistakes weren't quite so easy to undo
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  10. #10

    Default Re: Dead Sounding Strings - Do I have a bridge issue?

    Thanks again to everyone who has chimed in!

    A few updates. Originally I decided that I'd try fixing the issues myself at some point in the future. However, that changed this weekend after playing the mandolin in the park with my girlfriend. The situation didn't sit well with her so she asked if she could take it back to the store herself, seeing how I wasn't going to.

    Today, the shop took a look at it and said they couldn't hear a problem with it (of course).

    They had some interesting things to say about the bridge. There were two main points I wanted clarified. First was about the slots, second was about the curvature of the foot.

    They said that the bridge was the exact factory replacement for this model of mandolin. They said the slots were pre-cut and that any difference in the curvature would be from humidity changing the body of the mandolin.

    I'm not sure what to make of this. I'll take them at their word that the slots were pre-cut, but this bridge looks nothing like my old one.

    I took a picture of the bridge while the string tension was taken off by about 80%. Does the difference in the curve look normal? If I detune a string I can hear the foot creak as it shifts from the change in downwards pressure. All the other strings will then also be out of tune. The old bridge didn't do this, which implies to me that its curve matched the body significantly better.

    Anyway, my plan now is to try what both Hewines and Ed have said. I'll clean the bridge, and then look into re-slotting it myself.

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    Default Re: Dead Sounding Strings - Do I have a bridge issue?

    Mandolin tops are not all the same, even from the same builder. All bridges need to be fit to the top of the mandolin, yours definitely needs to be fit. If your shop doesn't know this, they do not know how to fit it either. Find someone else to work on it.
    THE WORLD IS A BETTER PLACE JUST FOR YOUR SMILE!

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  13. #12
    Registered User John Bertotti's Avatar
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    Default Re: Dead Sounding Strings - Do I have a bridge issue?

    Bingo! For all appearances, this bridge was never fit to your instrument or strings. Garbage work. Get the mandolin setup pdf from Rob here, there are a few threads on it! If you are a little handy you can handle this.
    My avatar is of my OldWave Oval A

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  14. #13

    Default Re: Dead Sounding Strings - Do I have a bridge issue?

    To add to what pops 1 said, that much gap between the bridge and top will make a massive difference in the quality of the sound. That is not just a little bit wrong. That alone could cause the dead strings. It should be fit so you cannot slip a piece of paper between the bridge and top. That will cause more problem than the slots. Once you get someone to to fit that it will sound like a whole new mandolin.

    It can be done yourself also if you are reasonably handy though it takes a little time.

  15. #14
    Registered User Sue Rieter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Dead Sounding Strings - Do I have a bridge issue?

    You can do it yourself! I did it on my very first mandolin not long after I got it. I worked very slowly, and it took a long time. My issue wasn't poor fit, it was way too high action. My luthier laughed when I told him about it later, but it worked out well and the price was right. I'm a total woodworking newbie, and I felt really good about it when it was done.

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    Default Re: Dead Sounding Strings - Do I have a bridge issue?

    If you still have the base from the original bridge, which I will assume was fitted to the top at least somewhat better than the new base, you can try putting the new saddle on the old base and see if that takes care of your problems. It's easier than re-fitting the new base.

    It is evident that the local music store person is not qualified to work on your mandolin.

  17. #16

    Default Re: Dead Sounding Strings - Do I have a bridge issue?

    Quote Originally Posted by John Bertotti View Post
    Bingo! For all appearances, this bridge was never fit to your instrument or strings. Garbage work. Get the mandolin setup pdf from Rob here, there are a few threads on it! If you are a little handy you can handle this.
    Do you have his current contact info? I emailed the only address that I could find, awhile back and never received a response.

  18. #17
    Registered User John Bertotti's Avatar
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    Default Re: Dead Sounding Strings - Do I have a bridge issue?

    I do not but I would look for the original thread and post in it and send a PM from here. Someone in the builder section may know or have permission to share it.
    My avatar is of my OldWave Oval A

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    Registered User Timbofood's Avatar
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    Default Re: Dead Sounding Strings - Do I have a bridge issue?

    Guitar shops are, “different” from a luthier with mandolin experience. Any shop that refers to the guy as a “tech” should be viewed with skepticism, it’s a very serious job requiring some more specific skills. They just slapped on a bridge out of the bubble pack, never fit it properly and charged you too much. Chalk it up to a learning experience and then get the few things you will need to do it yourself. It’s not hard to do, new skills and a feeling of accomplishment is all you will have amassed when you are finished. Oh, and a couple of handy tools for the next time.
    Don’t go back to that place for work.
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  20. #19
    Registered User John Bertotti's Avatar
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    Default Re: Dead Sounding Strings - Do I have a bridge issue?

    Quote Originally Posted by Parmejohn View Post
    Do you have his current contact info? I emailed the only address that I could find, awhile back and never received a response.
    The junk folder may be caught it and it was missed. His email is in this thread and instructions for the subject. I would try again.

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/t...ighlight=ebook
    My avatar is of my OldWave Oval A

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  21. #20

    Default Re: Dead Sounding Strings - Do I have a bridge issue?

    Hey everyone, this is likely the last update. I went ahead with fitting the bridge myself.

    I spent a couple hours sanding, checking, and repeating. The result: a night and day difference in the sound. My mandolin is alive again!

    As Timbofood suggests, I’m chalking this up as a learning experience.

    Thanks everyone for your thoughts and advice.

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