Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Beau Bridges

That is the before. My 1988 MIJ Tele, expertly relic'd over the last 15 years by yours truly. Picks jammed under the pickguard and control plate. The old Ultra-style 3-screw bridge. Plus the new bridge that was to be installed. Ordered from Guitar Fetish last week and arriving yesterday.

Speaking of expert relic jobs, I have pulled out the rear strap button screw many times. Most times, I just redrilled it. I think I filled the last time, which makes this five times. In one of Dan Erlewine's books, he shows the tail of Jeff Beck's Strat, which evidently he lets fall on stage, button first, at regular intervals, so it looks much like that.

Anyway, the first step is to remove the strings, because when you have tension on the bridge, you can't really take it off. Then you take out the bridge screws — the old one had three — and then take off the mounting bolts for the bridge pickup.

The good thing about doing a Telecaster bridge is the fact that the bridge plate is how you mount the pickup. If the pickup is in the route, you have to be close to right with the bridge placement. If I was putting on another kind of bridge, I would have been rightfully very worried, but I wasn't.

Perhaps I should've been.

This picture shows both bridges head-to-head. (OK, I took the strings off the tuners, not out of the bridge. You can see the ball ends in the shot. It's a good way to keep 'em together while you wait to reinstall.) It shows, specifically, the fact that the outer screws are the same width. I figured that I could use the same screw holes. A careful eye would notice that the pickup holes do not overlap in the center, but rather over at the bass end. Just as a guess, I would say that the screw holes go about 1/4" away from where the old ones were. When placed, you could see the old screw holes through the string-through holes on the bridge. This was OK for me, as this is not a string-through loader.

This is a bridge-setting trick I found on TDPRI. Put some thread through the outside tuners, over the nut, over the bridge, through their repective holes, then weighted off the edge to hold it tight. I thought I was being cool. And I guess I was, but I didn't get it fully. I thought it was to ensure strings going correctly over the pickups. It's also for getting the right placement on the fretboard. This I do not have. I'm within 1/'16" from the edge of the fretboard at the 21st fret. At some point, I will have to fill-and-drill (take some toothpicks, goop 'em with wood glue, stick 'em in, cut 'em off: that's the Guitar Repair Book way) then re-set the bridge to get some more space for the 1st string. But not today.

I find that you just need a little bit of help to get the screw through the finish and into the wood. Not much. So I took a tiny drill bit, put it into my Dremel (with a little bit of paper as a shim), started the holes with that. My power drill is just a bit too powerful and ungainly to really do this job.

And here it is. Set up and with picks jammed back under the pickguard. I did a good-enough-for-comfort job for string height, but one day would like to build a radius card that can go under the strings and allow me to get the 1st and 6th strings as I want them and move the others as needed. But they work for me now.

This is a three-saddle compensated bridge, so intonation is not quite as true as you can get with a six-saddle, but I'm OK with it. Surprisingly, the E and A are almost right on, and the D and G are real close. Right now, it's the B and E that are the most off, and I've split the difference.

The new bridge is noticeably lighter. I think that makes the tone more icepick, which is fun. My eldest came to see my progress at the end, and I was showing him the icepick. "Going to ten on the volume knob makes you bass-heavy, so if you roll back a little, you get more of that icepick." Then I fretted on the neck pickup. You can't do that on every guitar, can you?

The wife said, "So, none more black?" I pointed at the neck pickup cover and said "Some more black. Just not right now." I'll have to get a soldering gun and the belief I can do electronics first, because the cover is grounded. And a friend has a set of black tuners he's not using and offered a straight-up trade. I'll blog all that, too.


Patrick said...

You know, sooner or later you're going to reach a point of obsession with this. Some more black:

Dave Jacoby said...

Believe it or not, I was just thinking about that.

Stratocat said...

You didn't waste any time when that bridge showed up!

I was looking at that bridge more closely at Guitar Fetish. Aren't there other ways to get around resetting the entire bridge to get the B & E more centered and with more fretboard margin for hi-E?

Is the B/E saddle touching the D/G saddle? If so, could the B/E travel further north if you shaved a little off both the G & B saddle ends?

Does that make sense, or am I not tracking right on this issue?

Dave Jacoby said...

Stratocat: I have been wanting to do a bridge swap for years, but have waited for money issues. I didn't want to wait any more.

There's no grooves in the saddles, so I can move the string around, but tension limits how far.

There's a little less than 1mm space between the saddles. Which is to say that my 1mm Dunlop fits snugly in there, while my .88 has plenty of wiggle room. I might be able to push that over to help some, I guess.

That does make sense some. I'm playing tonight so I'll be able to work with it.

Patrick said...

The problem with moving the saddles is that if you move the E/B saddle enough to fix the string position, you're going to mess up your string spacing at the picking end, which means it won't be over the polepieces right, your picking technique will be off, and at the high end of the fingerboard things are going to get awkward. You'd have to move all the saddles, which would involve drilling out the tailpiece, and you'd need to take the bridge off to do that anyway. Pull, drill, fill. It's a Saturday afternoon.
Incidentally, toothpicks are okay but I have better luck filling holes with dowels. Depending on how far you need to move the bridge and how tight the bridge holes are you might be able to make some adjustment without refilling the body.

Dave Jacoby said...

My repair budget requires I choose creative means for guitar repair. I say "creative" because terms like "hillbilly" and "ghetto-ass" have fallen out of favor. Less so "crackmonkey", but it seems like that would work better referring to strange wiring hacks. So I will stick with toothpicks for the time-being.

And yes, I am convinced that any measure I use to fix this will only be ass-fractional. Starting over is the best way to go, I am sure. But I might be able to make it slightly more playable for this evening.

Stratocat said...

Patrick: According to the post, Dave's EAD & G strings are already better centered on the poles than the B&E, right?

Shifting the B/E saddle upwards will bring those strings closer to center of the poles, and the hi-E away from the fretboard edge.

When all strings are centered on the poles and more hi-E margin from the fretboard edge, how's that gonna throw off picking technique and make things awkward on the hi-end of the fretboard?

I interpreted that the current B/E positions are below the pole centers, and the hi-E is too close to the fretboard edge. But if the EAD & G strings aren't off center, then the current overall string spacing is awkward.

I wouldn't move the bridge unless all the strings were off center.

Dave Jacoby said...

Issue isn't the strings vs the pickup poles. It's a Tele. The neck pickup mounts on the bridge. The pickup poles are great. Issue is strings vs the side of the neck. After about the 12th fret, the 1st string nearly falls off the neck.

I suppose everything is a bit off-center, but it feels OK. Well, actually, the D-G saddle feels low, but OK. It's just the high E that's the problem.

Patrick said...

@stratocat: If you move the B/E saddle inward and leave the D/G saddle where it is, the B string is going to end up closer to the G than it was before. It will mean uneven string spacing. Maybe enough to throw you off, maybe not, but if I picked up a guitar at the local shop and saw less space between B and G than between the other strings, I'd think it was weird.

Stratocat said...

Patrick & Dave: Sorry, I wasn't tracking correctly. My idea saddle idea wouldn't help.

One thing to ensure though is that the neck seats well in the pocket. If there's any slop in the screw holes in that basswood body, the neck can rock, especially if it's a 3 holer. My '72 Tele has 3 holes, and I had to have everything re-bushed cause the neck would shift off center when I did high string bends. Then the high E would ride off the edge.