I have a Martin D-15 Custom acoustic guitar. It has a new bone saddle,
but the action is too high on the guitar. There is plenty of height on the saddle
for me to shave it down, but I have never done this before, and I'd like to ask
what the proper way to do this is, and, is this a job for a non-luthier like myself?
Thank you Mike and thank you Murray Mac' - I agree totally with you and admire your restraint in pointing out the obvious - it's not rocket science and if you cannot get a simple task like flat and straight done you need to review your skill set and your tools and equipment.
My apologies to anybody who may get hurt feeling about this but the gap between professionals and others is all too apparent regarding this subject.
Wow...this is like an evil spirit post that rose from the dead a year later. Folks, this post is from October 2011.
Suggestion to all of us: Once the original poster has the info she/he needs, he/she should choose the option to "close" the post. The thread will remain on the forum but no additional comments will be allowed in that thread.
Resurrecting some posts can get confusing, especially for an old curmudgeon such as myself..
And......Arthur no longer owns this instrument.
All is good in the world(-:
I have to say that while I have always lowered a saddle by removing material from the bottom and I've had good results, it also makes sense that it is almost impossible to keep it perfectly flat. Invariable, the front edge cut's faster than the center of the material because it tends to run on fresher, less loaded sand paper/file teeth. I learned a long time ago to compensate for this by switching things end to end for part of the process. The result is that it is almost flat but usually has just a touch of up turn at the ends where just a bit more material was removed.
For my purposes, reshaping the top is not something I can do very quickly. I don't doubt that practice makes perfect but I just don't do enough of this to develop the speed to make this very practical. On the other hand, as an amateur, my time is my own. Maybe I should try it Paul's way next time to see how it works.
U have sanded the bottom I know because that was the thing I found out the ends are curved up.
I have a music store and I have to level frets and adjust action and lower the saddle on every guitar.
Martin are not playable for me as they come in.
For 30yrs I have taken a pencil and held in such a way to make straight line from one end to the other of the saddle, then I take it to a belt sander and sand it to the line. I can make a saddle from a blank in under 7 minutes and an intonated one in less than 30 I have worked for international recording stars. Sanding a saddle down to a line is not rocket science, loosen the strings pull out the saddle, draw a line, sand it down and put it back in. Try it out if it's still to high sand it down some more. If you aren't comfortable with holding it on a belt sander or don't have one use 2 sided tape and a flat surface.
For the record a luthier is an instrument builder, a good luthier might make as many as 20 or 30 instruments in a year. A good repairman will have installed well over a hundred saddles and nuts a 1000 sets of strings 30 to 40 bridge reglues 20 some odd headstock breaks, a whole bunch of pickup systems, machine heads and gobs of refrets both partial and complete. The bottom line is a good repair tech is really good at repairing guitars and most good luthiers are good at building them.
Rant off: a set up is more involved than just taking the saddle down but if thats all you need there is no special voodoo in it.
I have no doubt that your approach works very well for you but what about those of us that do a couple a year... maybe?
I don't think it's rocket science but it certainly takes more than that for ME to do this properly. Do you happen to remember how long it took you to do the first one or how many saddles you might have ruined while learning to get it right using this method? How well did your first hundred really fit? Maybe after I've done a few thousand I will will be able to whip out a good saddle in a few minutes. In the mean time, I can see no harm in exploring a technique that could make the two or three saddles I MIGHT work on in a year, a better fitting saddle.
I just don't do this nearly as often as you do and, frankly, I wouldn't want to do thousands of them. It's not my vocation, it's my hobby and I've always thought that going into the business would be a good way to wreck a perfectly good hobby. Actually, I have the tools and the skills to follow your example but I choose to use a more pedestrian approach for the fun of using my hands to make something fine. I do this for fun, not profit. I just don't want to do enough saddles to get good at doing it your way.
I appreciate all the good ideas I have received. I ultimately have decided to have a
luthier/repairman do the work. These guys are pros, and my Martin is too nice for
me to potentially screw-up, plus, they are giving it the works, full set-up, not just
lowered action. Someday I will try to do the work myself, just not on an expensive guitar.
With due respect, it's OK to do this yourself. When I bought my main guitar 18 years ago I lived in the Bay Area. When I moved to Arizona a couple of months later, I needed a taller saddle, like most who move here. I contacted the builder for a new saddle (compensated) and he sent me one, but pointed out that he couldn't do final sizing without being where I was and checking the action. He did tell me how to do it myself, trimming the bottom with sandpaper on glass, being sure to make it square and measuring the difference in height needed. It came out fine and I've used it ever since down here. The luthier was Michael Hornick who makes Shanti guitars and I've rarely failed to get a favorable comment on how good the guitar sounds. With reasonable care, this can be done well by most and I've since done a bunch of new bone saddles for myself and others on other guitars. A new saddle blank costs a couple of bucks so it is one of the easiest things to re-do cheaply if the first one doesn't come out right and there's no damage to the guitar from a failed attempt. Having a machinist's square to check the bottom flatness and that it's perpendicular is very helpful.
BTW, if the guitar's top has bellied and the saddle slot is no longer flat, it doesn't matter how flat the original OR the new saddle is, it's going to lose contact. Unless it's somewhat flexible plastic, the saddle will stay flat and the slot will have a hump in the middle. Fixing the slot in that situation is a job for a pro as is dealing with the belly that got it there... .
I have a surface plate with self-stick 120 and 220 on it. My saddles (I only use bone and bone that comes from my area and cattle that use their legs (free ranging..)) are fitted by trial and error, sanding a little, trying the fit, etc. What I want to see is a saddle blank that fits snuggly, not tight but has no wiggle, in the saddle slot and the bottom edge is fully seated too. Not sure if anyone has mentioned that saddle slots are almost always not flat or have some crap in them that may prevent even our perfectly made saddles from fully seating. Paying attention to and flattening as required the saddle slot is important and comes before making the new saddle.
Also - once my saddle blanks fit the slot well I also break the leading and training edges on the bottom in so much as many routed saddle slots do not have perfect right angles at the bottom. If we break our edges to match the imperfect slot the saddle will seat fully.
As for where to take material off I mill it off the bottom of the saddle and often use the old saddle if it is going to be toast because it's plastic or not bone as the model and try my height adjustments with that one before risking going too far with a hand made, properly and individually intonated bone saddle.
Tim my friend do you have any idea how much it costs to ship a cow these days.... ;)
Seriously the idea of getting bone from free ranging animals that use their legs therefore it stands (pardon the unintended pun...) to reason that their bones will be denser came from the Luthier who trained me in instrument repair. Now I wish that I could find more efficient ways to process the bone than what I am doing now but that's a different discussion so pardon me please for getting off topic here. Thanks for the note, Tim!