Today I’d like to shine a light on a problem that many steel string acoustic guitars have, yet most people don’t notice: worn out bridge plates. The bridge plate is a flat piece of wood that sits inside the guitar, underneath the bridge, which helps support the top and is where the string’s ball ends anchor. Over time, the metal ball ends wear through the bridge plate, causing the strings to sit a lot higher in the bridge. Oftentimes, the looser windings at the string’s end wind up resting on the saddle, causing intonation problems, uneven action, and tonal weirdness. While the bad news is that a lot of acoustic guitars suffer from this malady, the good new is that it’s a rather simple thing to repair, and isn’t that expensive to fix. Check it out:
This guitar belongs to my friend Kip, who drove this guitar all the way from Tyler, TX to get fixed up. A couple of weeks ago I blogged about how I repaired his bellied top and bridge, which turned out beautifully, but his guitar also needed a bridge plate repair. The tell tale sign is that the strings were sitting very high in the bridge, and some of the loose windings were sitting on top of the saddle:
Upon closer inspection, using a mirror and some lights, I saw that the bridge plate was pretty worn out:
This bridge plate had seen better days, and definitely needed to be repaired. Since this is a 1951 Gibson, I didn’t want to completely remove and replace the original bridge plate – I like to respect the vintage value of the instrument where I can, and keep things as original as possible. Besides, there’s a much easier way to go about it:
One of my favorite and most often used tools in the shop is my StewMac Bridge Saver, which is worth it’s weight in gold in a busy repair shop, and is quite frankly, a lot of fun to use. The basic gist of how it works is that it cuts away the worn out parts of the bridge plate, which are then filled back in – basically patching the bridge plate.
First I start by cutting out the bridge plate around the E, D, and B strings, skipping strings on each pass because the cutting bit overlaps the subsequent plugs a bit. This bit goes inside the guitar, and cuts away the bad wood around the string holes:
I turn the cutting bit by hand from the top of the guitar, just up to the point where the bits collar stops against the bridge plate:
And now here’s what it looks like on the inside:
Next, I use a special bit to make plugs for the newly cut out holes. My bridge plate stock is starting to look like swiss cheese – you can tell I do this kind of job a lot!
The bit cuts out the most adorable little wooden domes:
I take these wooden plugs, coat them with wood glue, and clamp them in place, and let them sit over night:
The next day I repeat the process for the A, G, and E strings, and again let that sit overnight. When it’s all done, it looks like this on the inside:
I had adjusted the collar on the bit to perfectly match the plug’s depth, so that these were sitting almost perfectly flush without even sanding. This is really important – trying to sand things flat on the inside of a guitar ain’t fun.
Then I drilled out the holes, while holding a backer inside so that I wouldn’t accidentally knock the plugs out, and then did a tiny bit of sanding to clean it up.
And that’s it! A simple, but necessary repair. The strings are now sitting much lower in the bridge, and are resting on the saddle properly:
This guitar now sounds better and plays in tune. Success!