Frustrating String Saddle Issue

Frustrating String Saddle Issue

Postby wolftigerrosebud » Sat Mar 10, 2012 7:13 pm

Alright, this isn't specifically a "Jerry Tone" issue (though it is on the guitar I use for Jerry tone), but there's really no subforum on this forum for general guitar troubleshooting, and since it's going to be misplaced wherever it goes, I figured I'd at least put it where it'll get the most exposure. So, here goes:

On the high E string, and on the B to a lesser extent, I constantly get this high-pitched pingy, sitar-like sound emanating from the string saddle that varies from being barely audible below the 8th fret or so to being really awful sounding when I get up to fret 12. It's at its worst when I bend the string more than a half step, which I do with relative frequency. I've taken this to two guitar techs over the last year, three different times for the first one and twice for the second, replaced the entire bridge two times, and I still have this damned problem as bad as ever (even worse than before in some respects).

There are obviously no guitar techs I know of in my area who can even hear the problem well enough to diagnose and fix it, and I'm wondering two things specifically: (1) is this a problem anyone here is familiar with? And, (2) if so, is it the kind of problem I could teach myself how to fix if I just bought a file and a new bridge and did a little practice?

Because I'm tired of throwing hundreds of dollars at these people and having them both treat me condescendingly and either not fixing the problem or creating a new problem of the same kind in a different place in the saddle when they fix the initial problem. I have very good fine motor skills and a good enough ear to know what I want it to sound like (not like an awful-sounding sitar with no sustain, lol), so it seems like a possibility to me if it's not one of the harder things to learn how to do on a guitar.

Thanks for reading.
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Re: Frustrating String Saddle Issue

Postby milobender » Sat Mar 10, 2012 8:02 pm

That sounds to me more like you have a fret issue... have you had the frets done and the neck adjusted, nut checked... all that?

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Re: Frustrating String Saddle Issue

Postby wolftigerrosebud » Sat Mar 10, 2012 8:08 pm

Yeah I paid this luthier a couple hundred bucks for a full fret dressing and setup. The sound doesn't seem come from the frets, though -- it sounds like it's coming from the string saddle. Now that you mention it, though, the effect is kind of consistent across all the strings, although it's most clearly audible on the high E and B strings. God, that'd be an enormous pain... hadn't even considered that possibility. Is there any way I could check that theory?

Also, I could make a demo video to show what the problem is exactly if anyone thinks that'd help.
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Re: Frustrating String Saddle Issue

Postby milobender » Sat Mar 10, 2012 8:19 pm

Well there are a number of things to check... what kind of guitar is it? Bolt on neck? What kind of bridge? Were the saddles filed? I've very rarely had to mess with a saddle nut before... I don't suppose you are anywhere close to Southeastern Wyoming? :D

The best way is to use a slotted straight-edge to check the actual neck, a regular straight edge to check the frets, radius gauge to check the radius, and string height gauge to check the nut. You can use a short straight edge to look for a single fret, or two, that might be loose and too high, by 'rocking' the straightedge over them. You can check that too, by holding down each string, on each fret, and pushing down on the string above the fret, to see if there is clearance of the next higher fret... if that makes sense... it's hard to discribe techniques and trouble shooting without the instrument, and photos...
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Re: Frustrating String Saddle Issue

Postby TI4-1009 » Sat Mar 10, 2012 8:40 pm

I just had a similar issue. Mine was doing the sitar thing on the high E at all frets. Check that your bridge saddle is not perfectly level, you want to have only one point that the string rest on. That is how the sitar gets its buzz- there is a plate next to the bridge that the strings just barely touch, and they vibrate on that plate and zzzzzz.

I filed my slot just slightly to angle it down towards the tailpiece so the string rested only on the highest spot- facing the neck. Worked for me.
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Re: Frustrating String Saddle Issue

Postby PaulJay » Sat Mar 10, 2012 8:42 pm

Try process of elimination, First check the slots in the nut, try lubing them. Then check each fret to see if any are loose. Pinpoint exactly where that sound is coming from. See if any strings are fretting out, etc. If you replaced the bridge a couple of times how could the problem reappear? , Paul
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Re: Frustrating String Saddle Issue

Postby milobender » Sat Mar 10, 2012 8:46 pm

TI4-1009 wrote:I just had a similar issue. Mine was doing the sitar thing on the high E at all frets. Check that your bridge saddle is not perfectly level, you want to have only one point that the string rest on. That is how the sitar gets its buzz- there is a plate next to the bridge that the strings just barely touch, and they vibrate on that plate and zzzzzz


Definately... and the nut has to be done the same way or you'll have similar issues. The strings sitting too deeply in a 'slot' will cause similar noise and sustain problems.

Did you use the same model of bridge each time? a photo of the guitar would be nice :-)
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Re: Frustrating String Saddle Issue

Postby hippieguy1954 » Sun Mar 11, 2012 5:08 am

Yes, knowing what kind of guitar and bridge or pic would help. Also, a quick way to tell if the problem is frets/action, just raise the action high on the e and b to see if that will illiminate the problem. If it does not and you are positive the strings are not vibrating on the frets, then it is something with the bridge.
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Re: Frustrating String Saddle Issue

Postby wolftigerrosebud » Sun Mar 11, 2012 7:59 am

Alright, this is awesome information and I just want to say thank you before I continue. I tried to answer all the questions asked.

Guitar is a Hamer Artist with a set neck. The bridge is an All Parts bridge that I got from the person at KMC Music (they bought out Hamer in '08 I think) who's handling warranty stuff. This is the third bridge -- presumably, the first was the same as this one. The second was a Nashville Tune-O-Matic. I'm not sure how to answer the question about the saddles being filed; do you mean were they filed in the slot? Or filed across the top to make the entire thing lower? They were filed in the slot, I know that much. I tried filing some lead and lubing the nut but that didn't make a difference. Frets aren't loose. Pretty sure the sound is coming from the saddle; I've spent the last year, roughly, holding my ear to the guitar and listening for the sound. Searching for the sound, maybe?

About raising the action, interestingly when I raise the action the sound gets worse. That feels like it should be an indicator of something, but I don't know what. About the bridge saddle being level, how would you recommend I check that? I wouldn't even know where to begin.

Unfortunately, though I have a normal straight edge, I don't have a slotted straight edge. A quick Google search revealed that they're not hard to make by oneself. Still, I have no radius gauge or string height gauge. My mechanical engineer friend suggested I use a set of feeler gauges (which are, of course, much cheaper than the string height gauges they sell online) and I think that'll work ok, though correct me if you think I'm wrong, but that leaves me with the radius gauge. Again, a little research shows there's a PDF printout that can serve as a replacement, but that's the only one I'm not really confident about. Paper cutout? Would that work?

I'm in Miami, for those wondering about my geographical proximity to knowledgeable repairmen in their areas. Always wanted to visit Wyoming, though... lol.

Here are some pictures. If there are any angles or other pictures y'all would find helpful, don't hesitate to ask. Based on what you were telling me, here's my best guess at what angles and closeups would help. Nothing like taking macro shots to make me want to yank out the dust rag...

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Re: Frustrating String Saddle Issue

Postby milobender » Sun Mar 11, 2012 8:36 am

From what I see in the photo, I'd say the first thing I'd do is take the tops of the saddles down so that 1/2 the diameter of the string is above the saddle... and make sure, as TI4-1009 said, that the string is not resting on a flat surface. The string should never be down in a 'slot' like that. All you need in the saddle, is a divet, not a slot. I don't have a photo of a saddle dressed properly, but I will get a photo of a brass nut I just did, and you can see what I mean.
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Re: Frustrating String Saddle Issue

Postby milobender » Sun Mar 11, 2012 8:48 am

Here's the best pic I have to show you... you pretty well see how half the diameter of the string is above the top of the nut.
I would also print out the pdf radius gauges and check to see if you got the e string too low... without a gauge, and cutting the saddles that far, it would really be hard to be accurate. Your low e looks to be almost the right depth, into the saddle... I'd be willing to bet you are getting that noise and lack of sustain because of the deep slots on the high end, and possibly a 'flat' cut as TI4-1009 suggested. Oh, and feeler gauges will work, it's just alot harder to be accurate... especially on the D and G strings.

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Re: Frustrating String Saddle Issue

Postby wolftigerrosebud » Sun Mar 11, 2012 9:06 am

Alright, I see what you're saying, and it all makes sense. The guy obviously ground this thing in too far. Also, you can see in the fifth picture down where the string is resting against the bridge in addition to the string saddle, presumably because it was cut too deep.

So, I've got a few questions to determine where I go from here: I know I can adjust the string saddle forward and back for intonation, but is there any way to raise the height of the saddle without replacing the bridge, or does a new one need to be cut at this point? It sounds as if I have no alternative but to start with a new bridge, since I can't replace material that's already been removed. It's beginning to seem that this is a job I'm going to want to do myself, if what it involves is drawing a file along the saddle and carefully observing.

If I did have have a real string gauge, do you think it'd be possible to make the notches in a new bridge for this to work correctly? Also, is there a particular kind of file you prefer? Are there particular bridges that you have liked working with? Are there other tools you'd suggest? I really appreciate your time and knowledge.
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Re: Frustrating String Saddle Issue

Postby milobender » Sun Mar 11, 2012 9:14 am

I didn't notice the string riding on the bridge too... that's definately a problem, but can be fixed if the tail piece can be raised a bit.
You don't have to get a whole new bridge, just replacement saddles for the high end.
For the small strings especially, you need very thin files. You can get nut files that work great from Stew Mac. You should have a radius gauge for sure, but you can just make one from the printout using stiff paper, poster board or card stock, or better yet, thin ridged plastic.
You just want to set the strings to the radius of the neck, by filing the saddles, then use the bridge itself to make the strings higher or lower. Many bridges I've used come with a 12" radius already and don't need slotting unless you need a different radius, or are haveing some sort of problem.
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Re: Frustrating String Saddle Issue

Postby TI4-1009 » Sun Mar 11, 2012 10:31 am

But note that Irwin/Brower had Tiger's slots pretty deep- go to the Herb Greene photos. Particularly the higher strings are "way down in there", so as long as they're not rubbing or "skimming" that's not a problem in itself.

If the buzzing is there on most or all fingered frets then start with the bridge. If it's only there when fingering some frets then it could be a fret or three rubbing. You can raise the bridge on one or both sides with the adjustment screws, but you can't go up on an individual saddle once it's been cut too deep. If you don't have nut files you can use a set of welding tip cleaners to angle the saddle or nut away from being too flat (here we're talking about the bottom of the slot- the part that the string is resting upon, not the top of the nut or saddle). Cheap, and the set contains about a dozen raspy wires of just the right sizes. Check your local welding supply shop.

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Re: Frustrating String Saddle Issue

Postby milobender » Sun Mar 11, 2012 10:45 am

You are absolutely right, as long as the slot is 'v'ed just right so it still conforms with the lower half of the diameter in contact with the nut. I leave my high strings deeper than the lower ones also, you can just see it in the photo... You just don't want the sides of the 'slot' to be vibrating against the upper side of the string, like the sitar plate. It's not easy to get a just-exactly-perfect shape in the bottom of the slot.

That nut probably took 3 days to do!

Definately just raise the bridge first, and the tailpiece if it's adjustable.

Thanks for the tip about the tip cleaners, that sounds great! The smaller files are flat, so you get a flat bottom slot... the miniature round files sound perfect, also for finishing the bottoms of the lower/larger string slots. :hail:
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