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To notch or not to notch... that is the question.

David Vee

Member
Messages
454
It is generally a "rule" that saddles on Tune-O-Matic bridges must be notched... right?

Then enjoy installation step number 8 on this vintage ABR-1 bridge instruction sheet from Gibson I stumbled upon while looking at Gibson parts on eBay:

"8. If you prefer you may notch the saddle top very lightly with the edge of a file."

We all know Gibson currently ships the replacement bridges without notches so that you may match your exact string spacing, while the guitars ship pre-notched, since they were "properly" set-up at the factory.

But, way back when, was Gibson implying that notching wasn't "necessary"... just an individual's "preference" option?

In that case, did they pre-notch them on the 50's models that we all covet? Hmm... and if they didn't do it back then, when did they start doing it?

Detail bugs that we TGP members are, I found this curious piece of vintage Gibson history too interesting not to share for discussion.

 

Trebor Renkluaf

I was hit by a parked car, what's your excuse?
Gold Supporting Member
Messages
14,289
Notch. If you don't notch, each time you restring, or even play the guitar for that matter, the strings can move and mess up the spacing. Also the rubbing of the string over the top of the saddle can cause it to wear quicker.
 

Devin

Low Voltage
Messages
4,261
Also the rubbing of the string over the top of the saddle can cause it to wear quicker.
I know you're trying to help but is hitting your saddles with a hammer supposed to be better?

IMHO* Notching is stupid... you are far more likley to F-up your string spacing this way than improve a guitars playability. If you have a proper setup at the nut and an action you like the strings will make the notches for you, theres this misconsception that if you dont notch your strings will go flying around the top of the saddles... trust me they wont.
 

whoismarykelly

Oh look! This is a thing I can change!
Messages
8,131
I know you're trying to help but is hitting your saddles with a hammer supposed to be better?

IMHO* Notching is stupid... you are far more likley to F-up your string spacing this way than improve a guitars playability. If you have a proper setup at the nut and an action you like the strings will make the notches for you, theres this misconsception that if you dont notch your strings will go flying around the top of the saddles... trust me they wont.
Well executed notching will ensure that the notches are in the right places. If you try and let natural pressure create notches you run the risk of them occuring in the wrong places and then you might need new saddles to fix the problem.
 

walterw

Platinum Supporting Member
Messages
39,576
I know you're trying to help but is hitting your saddles with a hammer supposed to be better?

IMHO* Notching is stupid... you are far more likley to F-up your string spacing this way than improve a guitars playability. If you have a proper setup at the nut and an action you like the strings will make the notches for you, theres this misconsception that if you dont notch your strings will go flying around the top of the saddles... trust me they wont.
sorry, i must disagree here. with a proper setup, where the angle over the saddle isn't too steep, the strings will slide around on you.

the tailpiece spacing is narrower than correct string spacing, so relying on chance to put the strings where they need to go is not going to give you consistently good results.

either way, yes, they'll eventually make their own groove in the saddle; several grooves in fact, all likely not in the right place.

correct tune-o-matic installation requires the saddles be notched, period.

the hammer method is indeed "quick and dirty", and it ruins the strings in the process, but it works to put the notches exactly where you want them.

standard procedure (however the notches are initially established) is to then smooth out and shape those notches to eliminate any string-eating burrs.

i suspect folks are confusing this issue with brass tele barrel saddles, which (while still better notched slightly IME) can do OK skipping this step; the angle is steeper, the strings have less length behind the saddle to shift around, and the string-pull is straight over each saddle.
 
Messages
8,093
I know you're trying to help but is hitting your saddles with a hammer supposed to be better?

IMHO* Notching is stupid... you are far more likley to F-up your string spacing this way than improve a guitars playability. If you have a proper setup at the nut and an action you like the strings will make the notches for you, theres this misconsception that if you dont notch your strings will go flying around the top of the saddles... trust me they wont.
Respectfully submitted: utterly absurd!!
 

C-4

Member
Messages
14,377
I have found that Gibson Memphis division notches the saddles so that the high E string sits closer to the fretboard edge, and the low E string has more room to the edge of the fretboard.
Most of the Nashville Gibsons are closer to having the two E strings being equal distance to the outer edges of the fretboard, but again not always.

The problem arrises when the stop tail piece and the bridge are not aligned correctly, when re-notching is needed. The strings pass from the stop tail to the ABR-1 saddles at an angle if a new ABR-1 is used to re-notch strings to allow equal distance from the two E strings to the fretboard edges. Some say it is not a big deal unless the angle is too radical. However, the tension from the string not being in a straight line from the stop tail to the saddle only increases the friction at that angle to the saddle on that string where the string passes over the saddle, which may cause it to break prematurely.

I find this really annoying. Rather then settle for this when choosing any Gibson guitar, I am careful to look at this as one of the things I inspect while auditioning a new or used Gibson. The unfortunate part of this is that it eliminates potential guitars I might desire from the buying process for me.

Filing is not enough, as any burrs where the string passes over the saddle should be smoothed out as much as possible to allow a smoother surface for the string to sit upon. I use powered graphite when changing strings and just apply a dab onto the notch in each saddle so that there is as little friction as possible when the string is tightened to pitch.
 

Terry McInturff

45th Anniversary of guitar building!
Gold Supporting Member
Messages
7,302
1) The saddles should be notched
2) The "floor" of the notch should angle back...following the angle that the string takes on it's way to the tailpiece and no steeper
3) The notch should only be deep enough to hold the string in place, ie, very shallow indeed.
4) The notch should be de-burred with 600G, then 1200G wet-or-dry sandpaper.
 

Devin

Low Voltage
Messages
4,261
:) ok guys, I havent had my TOM all that long and it came un-notched so i need a setup anyway.
 

Devin

Low Voltage
Messages
4,261
i suspect folks are confusing this issue with brass tele barrel saddles, which (while still better notched slightly IME) can do OK skipping this step; the angle is steeper, the strings have less length behind the saddle to shift around, and the string-pull is straight over each saddle.
Ah, very helpful, thanks for clearing that up.
 

Mark Robinson

Platinum Supporting Member
Messages
8,947
The old tuneamatics had a little flat on the top of the saddle, not a knife edge, and were lightly plated soft brass, and the strings back then were generally heavier guages. The divots were immediate. Also if the guitar had a trapeeze, which many Gibsons did, the break angle between the ball end and saddle was/is less severe. That said, the notch is utterly mandatory with a stop bar and modern string guages, or the whole mess converges toward the middle of the instrument. :bonk
 




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