Last week, my new Taylor 552ce got what seems like a small adjustment but was really a huge upgrade – I had a quality bone saddle installed.
Though but a few inches in length and maybe 1/4″ wide at most, a seemingly small component such as a saddle can have a huge impact on the resulting tone of the guitar.
For those who are unfamiliar, the saddle is the part in the bridge that effectively terminates the vibrating length of the string. The string “breaks over” it into the bridge where it is then anchored via pins or a pinless system.
Alas, the saddle does much more than that. The energy of the string actually passes through the saddle onto the guitar’s soundboard (the top piece of wood), making the top vibrate.
Needless to say, the material that the saddle is made from will have a major impact on the final tone of the guitar. Most production guitars some with some sort of a plastic saddle (Micarta and Tusq being the most common). Though easy to run through a milling machine and mass produce, plastic just doesn’t do that great of a job transferring the strings’ energy to the soundboard. It effectively acts as a damper.
Compare this to most boutique guitars which come fitted with a bone saddle. Bone does a much better job of transferring the energy from the strings. The result is a louder guitar with a more punchy low end, more shimmery high end, richer overtones and longer sustain (slower decay).
Every guitar is different of course, but I can say this – I’ve installed bone saddles in every acoustic guitar I’ve ever owned. How many did I go back to plastic in afterward? None. Zip. Zilch. Nada. Bupkis.
Now, my Taylor 12 was an exception in that I had it installed professionally because of the greater degree of complication. 6-string guitars are easy enough to do on your own. 12-strings are much more exacting with the intonation and having to cut guide slots in the saddle for the course pairs (lest they rest too close together).
So if bone is so much better, why would even high end production guitars use plastic? Well, again, automation. Due to the nature of bone it can’t really be milled and must be hand-finished. That said, manufacturers do keep some bone saddles in stock for aftermarket purchase, just not pre-installed in their guitars. I don’t know how many they sell, only that the end result is well worth it.
Taylor says they recommend plastic saddles in their acoustic-electric guitars because of their pickup system and possible inconsistencies with bone, but I’ve not noticed any issue with mine after changing the saddle. I had to adjust the EQ/preamp a bit, but the energy transfer to the pickup is no different. As such, I’m inclined to dismiss Taylor’s concern as hogwash.
For those worried about animal cruelty or unnecessary killing of animals, let me rest assure you no animals are killed just to make guitar saddles. The bones used in the making of them are a byproduct of the beef industry.
So that’s well and good, but what did I notice in my Taylor 12? Simply put, the bone brought out the shimmer of the course strings in a huge way, giving it more of a traditional, jangly, big bodied 12 string sound. It also increased the volume, sustain and overtones. The guitar was great before, don’t get me wrong, but the bone saddle just elevated it to another level. It was an all around good decision to upgrade.
Anyway, food for thought for you guitar players out there.