Through Saddle Pickup
© Frank Ford, 2/3/99; Photos by FF, 1/19/99

The long, or "through-cut" saddle presents a bit of a problem for pickup installation which requires a piezo element to be placed under the saddle:

You'll find these glued saddles on vintage Martins, Guilds, Gibsons, and other old timers, as well as modern reissues of the classic guitars of yesteryear.

It's necessary to fit the saddle loosely in the bridge so that it exerts the optimum downward force and conducts vibrations to the pickup element underneath. Simply removing the glued through-cut saddle and fitting the pickup under it means compromising the strength of the bridge.

You may want to read the article on piezo pickup installation.

Here's a reasonable solution to the problem that leaves the vintage appearance of the bridge intact, and allows for part of the saddle to remain glued in place to reinforce the front of the bridge.

First I'll mark the length of the pickup element on the saddle:

Now I'll cut the exposed portion of the saddle right on my little pencil marks:

And break out the center section, nibbling it off flush with the top of the bridge:

I have this big heavy aluminum plate that gets clamped right to the top of the guitar. It has an adjustable fence so I can guide my Dremel router table to make a clean saddle slot.

It takes quite a while to line the router bit up precisely to cut right through the old saddle:

By taking careful aim, and lots of teeny trial cuts, I can get it lined up just right.

Here's a close-up of the slot after I have cut through the saddle:

My goal is to cut as little ebony as possible so that I make a new clean slot, just long enough to accommodate the pickup element.

Here's another close-up, showing the new saddle fitted in place, contoured just like the piece I cut out:

The "after" picture looks just like the "before"

Now I have the pickup installed, the saddle on top fits appropriately, and the ends of the original saddle are still glued in place to reinforce the bridge.

There are other alternatives, of course, but most vintage guitar aficionados like to keep the classic look if at all possible. You can replace the bridge with a modern "captive saddle" style, or remove the long saddle and inlay the slot with ebony and convert to a modern looking bridge. The various techniques of notching out the saddle, or routing deeper underneath it for the pickup have their drawbacks. With such methods, you're left with a weaker bridge and/or a complex saddle that makes action adjustment problematic.

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