View Full Version : Bridges made of wood?

10-21-2015, 10:38 AM
Looking at photographs of vintage Martin ukulele and those made by makers who follow the tradition: Timms and others, it would appear that the nut and bridge are fabricated from wood?

There have been discussions hereabout recommending replacing plastic nuts and/or bridges with items made from bone. Presumably because bone is harder than plastic and more able to directly transfer vibrations to the soundboard. Manufacturers who use bone generally feature this detail in their marketing blurb.

All of which creates the impression that the use of bone is advantageous. In which case would it not be a disadvantage to use wood? Yet it seems people love the sound of their vintage Martins. I'm having difficulty reconciling this and would appreciate gaining some understanding. Not least because I'm looking with some lust at a ukulele built in the Martin tradition. To hear the instrument though would involve a return trip of five hundred miles so some preparatory inquiry might prove prudent.

Thanks in anticipation.

10-21-2015, 12:56 PM
In "an emergency" I've used a length of bamboo skewer to replace a mislaid bridge insert ... it's still there, and no, I didn't find the original saddle. Whilst not suggesting that a length of balsa might be suitable, most anything hard enough not to distort under the pressure of the strings should work.

There's an enormous amount of marketing guff over the advantages (and disadvantages) of various materials for nuts and especially saddles, the vast majority of which has no justification when measured in the cold light of the acoustics lab.

It may be very fashionable to claim that the bridge on your instrument has an insert made from some hard material sourced from a (hopefully) long-dead animal, but it's just bling to up the price. A strip of hard plastic will serve just as well, just can't charge as much for it !!

Historically, before the wide availability of suitable man-made materials, it may have been easier to carve/sand a saddle from something that is nowadays considered unethical.

Who says "bone is harder than plastic"? Which bone and which plastic would be my reply!!

I don't need to be told "but I can hear the difference" ... no you probably can't, my oscilloscope and spectrum analyser say so. How often does anyone replace a saddle or nut without replacing the strings at the same time? There's your difference!!

As always, YMMV ... ;)

10-21-2015, 01:50 PM
Wouldn't the differences in tone be so insignificant that they'd be hard to hear? Do you think people just feel better about bone nuts and saddles because they are natural and traditional?
I don't care if mine are plastic unless there's a noticeable difference (Improvement) in sound with bone. Will anyone else chime in?

10-21-2015, 04:03 PM
I have a KPK and have had one or two others with an ebony nut and saddle and I wouldn't change them for anything else. Most of the vintage Martins, as well as many other brands, have had plastic nuts and saddles.

10-21-2015, 04:45 PM
I have couple of wooden ukuleles with saddles that are all wood such as my Brueko and Silvertone. The rest are plastic, Tusq etc. The fact that I had to think about which one has which saddle probably illustrates that the difference is minimal.

10-21-2015, 07:16 PM
Truth be told, people would be hard pressed to tell the difference in sound if a well conducted double blind test were done. Perhaps if the saddle were soft balsa wood as compared to something really hard like MOP shell or glass, you might be able to hear an actual difference. Any well constructed uke made of quality materials will sound good using ebony, bone, tusq or other. I use bone because is wears better than wood and I like to looks of it, not because it is better for transferring the sound.

10-22-2015, 01:38 AM
what ive noticed sometimes is a different material nut or saddle sometimes help buzzing or twanging sound.

thers good quality bone and bad quality bone, denser bone, etc etc. ebony is good too, ive even used spruce for a nut and saddle. sound wise coulndt tell ,but didn't last long. since it a soft material.

10-22-2015, 01:58 AM
I have an almost 100 year old ukulele with a Koa nut and saddle. I replaced the nut only because someone along the way chipped out a bit of the original when un-stringing it. It was still fine otherwise. The original saddle is still great as far as i can tell. Dense enough to hold up to string tension for a century, without developing grooves. Would it sound better with bone? May a bit, but who knows, or cares.

10-22-2015, 04:57 AM
I have two ukuleles that have ebony saddles. About 5 years ago I dinked around with different types of wood. I started with ebony and ended with ebony. I have not tried plastic or bone. One of these days I may make a bone saddle, but I'm not certain it will be worth the effort because the saddles are less than typical. One is made wider for compensation and the other is made up with individual pieces similar a Yari Direct Couple WY-1. Interesting concept but not so interesting execution, especially on a ukulele.

I went on my saddle journey in search of a material that would slightly reduce the brightness. I did find hard maple to be an interesting material, but in the end it took more effort to try and convince myself there was a difference than it took to just use the original ebony. But I may re-visit saddle material at some later date if I want to wile away a few hours.


10-23-2015, 11:36 AM
Thank you all for your responses. I now have one less thing to worry about. And that's a painless win :)