1973 Gibson EB bass bridge
Well, this was an interesting one but something I actually love doing as long as no-one is in a hurry, which this customer wasn't. He actually dropped it into my shop before closing and then, well, everything took a back seat for a couple of months while I realigned and reevaluated things. It was in my head some of the time but I hadn't really taken a good look so wasn't expecting what was to come.
This is a beautiful old 70's Gibson EB bass and it's in great, all original condition and played reasonably well considering the main issue .... the bridge.
Over the years the owner had .... misplaced all 4 saddles which is surprisingly easy to do on these bridges. This would have originally had plastic saddles which Gibson was fond of for guitar and bass around this time. I'm actually not opposed to the original nylon saddles which I think sounded good and helped with string breakage, especially if you had too much angle after the bridge. They did tend to wear badly over the years but then so do a lot of cheap "metal" tune-o-matic saddles and some sound worse than the nylon ones.
Anyway, the saddles from this bridge were long gone and the owner had "MacGyvered" some plumbing tube and plasterboard screws to do the job, and do the job it did.
The other issue with this bridge was it had bent quite badly over the years by the tension which was made worse by the owner putting two 20c pieces under the front to stop it rocking forward. This just put more pressure on the centre of the bridge and curved it even more. All in all, the bridge was "working" however the action was WAY too high and there was no way of bringing it down as these have a set neck.
I have tried to bend these bridges straight in the past but they are made from a cheap pot metal that tends to break rather than bend unless it's done over 30 years, which may have stretched even this customers patience, so, I started by making new aluminum saddles hoping I could salvage the bridge and make the saddles low enough top get the action down without those 20c pieces under the bridge.
With the new saddles on and strung up it played fine but, the action was still too high. I also had a problem of the back of the bridge where the strings balls are held in place was opening up due to the bend and the strings were popping through the bridge when fully tensioned. I "fixed" this by using M3 nuts and bolts running through each ball end and essentially tying the E and A and the D and G strings together, but none of this was a permanent solution so ....
I contacted the owner with the options for getting this playing properly.
There is an aftermarket replacement bridge available but we decided it was too expensive and looked terribly out of place looking like a modern piece of engineering stuck on a beautiful vintage design. So that idea was scrapped.
I could modify and fit a Fender P bass bridge which would get the bass playing again but leave 5 new small holes in the body to mount it, which the owner understandably didn't want. That idea was scrapped.
My last idea was to make something from scratch that would mount to the two large original ferrules so nothing would be modified and the bass could be taken back to original in the future, should the owner want.
I designed a folded stainless steel bridge using the Fender style saddles that could be bolted to the top of the body with a shim to get the right approximate height leaving the adjustable saddles to make fine adjustments. I sent this design off to my metal fabricator only to be told they were way too busy to help me with a "short run" job like this.
So I bought some scrap (80x16mm) aluminium and went to the nut and bolt place and bought some hex head bolts with the right (#10) Gibson thread sat down with a cup of tea.
I don't have lots of fancy machines or CNCs to do any of the work I do. It's all done by hand here at my workshop and I knew this was going to take some time chunking this out with my little desk top mini mill.
After measuring and rechecking all the heights, dimensions and distances I drilled 2 holes where the original posts went and bolted the raw aluminium to the top of the bass, and, waited for inspiration to hit me.
The idea of a bass bridge like this is simple. It needs to be in the right place, at the right height and anchor the strings so they can be tensioned. Simple. So I marked out where the saddles would go and bolted the piece to my mill and started ... milling.
It took the better part of a day to get the bridge right in between cups of tea and tidying up but once I bolted it to the body for the first time, even in it's very primitive state, I knew it was going to work. I tried to leave as much bulk without going too overboard as there's a lot of tension on these long scale basses and the customer wanted 50-110's so just a little bit more.
I'm not someone who believes in just adding mass to increase sustain as that doesn't make sense in a world where physics applies but if you have plenty of energy, more mass will help, and this bass just rings and vibrates when you pluck a string so I wasn't too concerned with the mass of this bridge, and it's aluminium (not steel or brass etc) so it's not overly weighty anyway.
After a few fit ups and purely aesthetic trips back to the mill and belt sander I finished on this. With the saddles on and strings in place and tuned it was obvious this was much better than the original design for strength, rigidity and sustain. The strings just keep ringing and the vibrational transfer to the body is amazing. Something the original design lacks.
I did have to cut and re-tap the E string saddle to get it back far enough to intonate as it sits just behind that big hex head bolt but once I had that sorted I set the action and intonation and .... BAM.
With it all playing well I emailed the owner with some details and photos and hoped to hell he liked it after all that work. He loved it so I took it all back off and apart and polished it up.
It's now ready to go back to it's owner to play it for another 50 years with (hopefully) this bridge and if he ever wants to find an original and put it on no modifications were done to make this work. If I had a spare bridge cover I would have liked to see what it looked like with that on?
All in all I'm pretty happy with how this turned out. With the shop closed and the workshop "nearly" ready to function properly again I will be able to take on a few more interesting projects like this, as long as people aren't in a hurry. I need my cups of tea.