I've got a 1960's Harmony Sovereign on the bench that is a new acquisition by a mutual friend of my cousin, who also owns one of these. They're great guitars with a nice "Stones" kinda' sound. The top-loading bridges on these are really pretty cool and easy to deal with and the seem to preclude the mistakes many guitarists make in improperly seating the string ball against the bridge plate with a traditional design. They appear to be a really smart design to me on the practical side of things, but I'm curious as to your opinions on these sorts of bridges in regard to tone, especially in comparison to the traditional style with bridge pins. Has anyone ever used this sort of bridge design on a hand-made custom guitar?
Feel free to chime in, I'd like your thoughts on this. Thanks! -John
There have been countless variations on the pinless bridge, starting with early classical guitars. Yes, some high-end custom makers use them - factories, too - in recent memory, Taylor and Breedlove among others.
A couple of downside "features" come to mind:
Break a string and watch the ball shoot back, scarring the top.
If the glue joint fails, the entire bridge can come flying off.
On the upside, there's no line of bridge pin holes to weaken that area of the top.
Tone difference? I dunno - not much if any, I suppose.
Big fan - I have a minty nice one right here next to me, I did the neck reset a couple months ago.
My beef with those bridges is that the saddle slot is both shallow and open on the ends. It really cannot handle much forward stress at all. Luckily, you get a more downward (rather than forward) pressure on the saddle with this type of design, but you can't use much of a break angle without risking the whole front of the bridge busting off. To make things worse, you have a pretty small radius on the fretboard (I want to say 10"), so you need to have some height in the middle so that the sides don't go below the wood that is there. A pretty crummy design. The bridge should be taller, the slot deeper, and it should not be open on the ends. Be really careful there - I see a lot of auctions for these guitars where the slot has repaired wood all around it.
I love the sound, love the feel of the neck, love the insanely odd grain directions of the wood in the neck and fretboard, love the ladder bracing, love the really nice tops on these. A nicely intonated saddle will help it play in tune, and these are also really easy to do a neck reset on, since they are similar to Martins, in that the neck is glued in AFTER the finish is on. A really easy job that makes the guitar wonderfully playable. The truss rods are nice designs too, but they want to strip out if you breathe on them. AND the truss rod is caked in grease throughout the length of the neck, which meant that when I steamed the neck off mine, steam also blew out of the truss rod hole and blew how steamy grease all over the headstock. Oops.
Love the finish on these too. They are wonderful guitars that are sadly going up in value way too fast.
Wow, I'm glad you mentioned some of these little details about these specific bridges, and those pertaining to the neck reset and grease issue. I'll be doing a neck reset on this Sovereign shortly. I'll keep these things in mind. Thanks!
So far I've had to reglue the bridge and that went very smoothly, and I'll need to replace a chunk on the back near the lower bout and reglue some of the sides to the back where the break took place. Interestingly though, there isn't a single loose bracing anywhere other than right at the break and missing chunk.
Yeah, the glue on these is pretty strong, they weren't shy about putting a lot on!
One thing you can do is simply pull the truss rod all the way out through the opening (it's not attached to anything), and then stuff the hole up with something. This would keep the rod dry, and I suppose that if you stuffed the hole really deep, you could keep moisture out of the neck, too. I have no idea what I would use - a rod and some tissue paper?
The glue softens really fast, it is a really quick job - I think I had one off in about 50 seconds - very quick! Unfortunately, it also means that the top around the dovetail will loosen a little bit. Make sure that you get it reglued and clamped down well - you might have to shave it a bit to avoid putting a hump in the fingerboard later.
I also recall that the holes for the reset were easy to drill, but there was a LOT of glue in that joint, and I had to steam, back out, clean the needle, and put it in some more. It took a few goes. I wish I had taken pictures of that joint so you could see it, but it's not a big deal.
It's funny - I have only done resets on Sovereigns and Guild guitars - the easiest and hardest necks to steam off! No Martins, no Gibsons.
Excellent, good things to know - thanks!
I wonder if I could work some stiff clothes line down through the truss rod cavity. It would ensure I didn't leave anything behind when it's pulled out.
This will be my first neck reset, actually and it's sounding like a good one to learn on - my friend sort of thew it to me to see if it was salvageable, so there isn't too much pressure like with the antique Bay State he gave for my first job! Fortunately that came out very well LOTS of patience, and with a good bit of help from the fine folks here. I did half of a reset (sort of) on a REALY beat up Italian made Costello guitar, but this guitar was purchased cheap for testing purposes and to cut my teeth a bit. It has not turned out to really be worth finishing. I got the neck off just fine, but just haven't bothered with the rest. This thing's body cracks more than a sun dried cookie under foot, even in a reasonably controlled environment, but I digress.
Again, thanks for advice!
Harmony Sovereigns are excellent candidates for getting decent practice with neck resets, refrets, and possibly... bridge reglues too. I reset the neck on two of them about five years ago and what is so great about these old guitars when learning neck resets is that their neck joints are conventional (dovetails) and serviceable unlike some of the current crop of dowel jointed imports. What this means to you is that what you learn resetting the neck will be transferable to any dovetail jointed neck guitar.
In addition these guitars sound pretty good when completely serviced and ready to go. I recall the deep bass and strong mids and the two that I worked on were pretty loud as well.
What Frank said about pinless bridges. By the way I just had to purchase a new washing machine a few days ago so when I read the title to this thread my mind immediately went to washing machines.... ;)
Not sure if anyone mentioned this one either but another one of the "iconic" examples of "best in breed" acoustic guitars that used pinless bridges were the Ovation Celebrity line.... ;) And if you want to know how well they held up I took one in yesterday (without strings...) that upon being cleaned up and restrung has a lifting pinless bridge... Mind you nothing against pinless bridges here but I am just adding a bit more info to the idea that the pinless bridge is by no means a new idea and in it's various implementations through the years some were more successful than others.
Congrats on the Sovereign, I've been wanting one for myself for some years now and hope to score one one of these days.
Thanks! I'm looking forward to getting into this one.
My cousin actually prefers his Sovereign with an old D'Armond sound-hole pickup to his 1960's Martin D-18 for our live gigs with me on acoustic double bass. He finds it cuts through the boom of my four-stringed-china-cabinet compare to the Martin. '-)
So far things are going well with the restoration. I certainly appreciate everyone's thoughts.
If I ever get around to making my own acoustic guitar, I might consider a top-loading washer and dryer bridge. '-) hee hee hee. Thanks again!
I have been making pinless bridges for 16 years. I have never had one of them come off only because of the design.
Well. I don't like them. My experience is that they don't sound as good as a pin bridge. And what Frank said in the first reply. I don't think the holes will weaken the top though, they are securely sandwiched between the bridge and the bridgeplate.
Forgot to mention the inconvenience of having the strings threaded into the bridge. When doing intonation work or adjusting the saddle (or any other major work on the guitar) it is so much easier to loosen the strings with the string pins instead of having to remove the strings from the tuner posts.
That's not accurate....
Capo in the first couple positions and loosen the tuners. The strings can be held up enough over the saddle to lift one end and pull it out. I do this all of the time.
Regarding pinless bridges not sounding as good as you wrote above, where is your data and proof?
With string pins the strings can be off the whole guitar winded on the head, with string through they will always be in the way one way or another depending on what you do.
It's my experience. I don't need proof or data to convince myself. I have heard old guitars with a string through bridge and later with a replace string pin bridge. And similar guitars with one type and the other.
In the steelstring guitar evolution string pin bridges is the winner. String through bridges are popular at times with some makers but the use of them tends to fade away. For some reason.