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Bridge & String Angle

Updated: Jan 27, 2020

A tall bridge does not always add up to more string pressure on the top. Sure on any one given mandolin the higher you raise the bridge the more pressure on the top for that instrument. The same pressure can be built into a mando that uses a short bridge by altering neck angle and/or top height.

Imagine the mandolin from a side view, there are two lines that must be used to determine potential string pressure. The first and most obvious is the line the strings follow from outside of end block over bridge to nut. The other line of crucial importance for measuring string pressure is from outside end block straight to nut. The further apart these are from each other the more string tension available to the instrument. The neck angle, top height and bridge together create and fill this area. I always use a high string angle and can alter bridge height to fit a playing style or desired tonal quality that I might want in the instrument.

If you purposefully build a mandolin with a stiff top you will want to take advantage of a high string angle and with more string tension available to move the top. This is the optimum set up for heavy handed players with a hard right hand attack.

If you purposefully build an instrument with a soft top, lightly braced and with a low string angle. You would have an instrument with full warm tone and would favorably respond to a light delicate playing style, but might be to loose for a heavy-handed player.

The bridge weight effects tone. We made a solid ivory bridge, it was to heavy and killed tone and volume. Standard heavy two footed bridges-o.k., but you will get better movement and response by reducing mass/weight.

You can (to a limited degree) modify the tone of a mandolin thru bridge changes. Let's say you have an overly bright, ringing mandolin but you want a warmer tone. A larger bridge ,maybe made out of rose wood or maple, should absorb and mute the excessive ring. Maybe a loss of volume, but a pleasing tone for the player usually rules. On the other hand a muted, loose mandolin can be brightened up with an ebony bridge with the bone inserts under each pair of strings. This will assist in bringing out more ring and sustain. Brass strings will be brighter. Bronze strings will be warmer.

Ebony is superior in tone transmission. Rosewood and maple can't even compare. Purple heart is heavy and dense and makes a good bridge material. Graphite that I tried didn't do it for me (to plastic like). I like the three footed ebony bridges with four 1/4" x 1/4" bone inlays under each pair of strings to clarify note and keep weight down. I also like a bone shim into the ebony above the thumb wheel to transmit tone to the wheel and nut cleanly. Naturally bridge to top contact must be complete to eliminate unwanted buzz/rattle and to transmit tone to body.

I'm sure there's more to be studied and said about mandolin bridges. There's some really neat designs out there!

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