Intonating 3 saddle bridges

nelsongeets

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Jul 17, 2011
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Connecticut
Any tricks I should be aware of? I love the look, tone and feel of vintage 3 saddle type bridges, but havent been happy with intonation accuracy in the past. Because of this I'm inclined to only use 6 saddle bridges going forward. Would love to hear what you guys are doing to get your 3 saddles intonated.
 

smile-4-me

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You can buy compensates 3 barrel saddles that work well. Look at Callaham or hipshot.
The ones in the photo are hipshot I used in a stainless steel bridge I made
 

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Ronkirn

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intonation is a compromise under the best of circumstances.. 3 saddle, 6 saddle, whatever... perfection is NEVER achievable... that's a function of the overall design of the guitar and the reality of mathematical discord in the frequencies and fret locations on relative strings..

This is further exacerbated by our hearing... none have the same acuity for hearing tuning anomalies... intonation that sounds perfect to some, can sound horribly dissonant to others... that's not a physiological malfunction, it's simply a product of us all being different.

what I tell people that are uncertain as to what bridge to pick... if "you"re" the guy that always pointing out the out of tune guitars, or insisting that the other guitarists tune that darn thing.. then you should at least choose a 6 saddle bridge... while it can not completely eliminate intonation anomalies, it can greatly reduce them as compared to a 3 saddle bridge..

and those of y'all that choose a wound G 3rd... a 3 saddle bridge is gonna be hell..

Now.. there are always those that will chime in and say, "NuhUhhh .. I can intonate the 3 saddle perfectly..." sure.. I know... but that's relative to your personal acuity.. hook that baby up to a good strobe tuner... < the defining standard... read 'em and weep...

Ron Kirn
 

tweedman2001

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Here's how Jerry Donahue does it. :cool:


SADDLE UP YOUR TELECASTER

We asked "Bendmaster of the Telecaster" Jerry Donahue to share some of his secrets for setting up a Telecaster® bridge and keeping it properly intonated (Jerry demonstrates this technique in his clinics).

Attention all current and would-be Tele® slingers! You needn't resort to six individual bridge saddles to improve your intonation. The original Broadcaster design called for three brass saddles: and that's still the best design today. The larger saddles mean more mass, providing greater output, sustain and tone. Also, with two strings per saddle, you have twice the string pressure against the body! [Editor's note: The Fender® Custom Shop Jerry Donahue model and "JD" Tele® use the three vintage brass saddles].

Now, on to intonation: Until fairly recently, I felt that a guitar couldn't really play in tune unless each string's 12th fret harmonic and 12th fret note had the exact same reading on the electric tuner. And of course, they never do on a three-saddle bridge. I finally settled on a technique that not only deals with this problem but, to my delight, addresses other inherent problems also. Here it is: Adjust the middle saddle's intonation screw so that the "D" string's 12th fret note reads slightly flat of the 12th fret harmonic on your tuner. Then, check out the "G" string's 12th fretted note. This note should be only MARGINALLY sharp of the harmonic. Are you with me? Now tune your guitar, with the open "G" string reading somewhere between A440 and A439 (so that the 12th FRETTED note is at A440). Tune the other strings as one would normally. Final adjusments can be made by ear when you compare first position E major and E minor chords. The E major's G# note (third string, 1st fret) should no longer seem sharp in the chord; and the open "G" string should still be perceptively in tune within the E minor chord.

Here's another for instance: An "A" chord barred at the fifth fret sounds fine. But when the nearest "E" is played (5th string, 7th fret/ 4th string, 6th fret/ 3rd string, 4th fret/ 2nd string, 5th fret), it typically sounds "off." The major third is the culprit (4th string, 6th fret): it typically sounds sharp. But with my adjus™ent (the 4th string's 12th fretted note being slightly flat) the problem no longer exists. There is a small margin of error here, which actually works to the guitarist's advantage!

OCCASIONALLY, depending on the guage of your strings and the force of your picking hand, it might also serve you to marginally flatten the low E string. I do this as I use a 42 and like to hit it fairly hard sometimes. Trust your own ears, though, as each instrument tends to be different, too.

A final qualification in adopting all the aforementioned technique: A piano tuner may use an electronic tuner as a point of reference. But if he tuned the entire keyboard to be "perfect", it would sound awful. The bottom keys actually must be tuned sharp and the high ones tuned flat. This is the only way the human brain will perceive the piano to be in tune. It's essentially the same concept I've applied here to the Telecaster®. I really like this method. Once I adopted it, my Tele's® sounded noticeably more in tune than my Strats® (across all of the chord shapes) ... so I've since made the same adjus™ents to the Strats®!!

Remember, life is about compromise. Check it out!" - Jerry Donahue
 

smile-4-me

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image.jpeg
Wow man, that hardware you made is freakin beautiful. I love that cut off bridge.

Thank you. It was for a cabronita style tele I built a couple years ago. I made two at the same time. I have both a modern tele with the 6 saddles and the compensated 3 barrel and I think the compensated 3 saddle does as well as the 6 saddle to my ears.
 

rze99

Doctor of Teleocity
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Feb 26, 2014
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South London UK
Here's how Jerry Donahue does it. :cool:


SADDLE UP YOUR TELECASTER

We asked "Bendmaster of the Telecaster" Jerry Donahue to share some of his secrets for setting up a Telecaster® bridge and keeping it properly intonated (Jerry demonstrates this technique in his clinics).

Attention all current and would-be Tele® slingers! You needn't resort to six individual bridge saddles to improve your intonation. The original Broadcaster design called for three brass saddles: and that's still the best design today. The larger saddles mean more mass, providing greater output, sustain and tone. Also, with two strings per saddle, you have twice the string pressure against the body! [Editor's note: The Fender® Custom Shop Jerry Donahue model and "JD" Tele® use the three vintage brass saddles].

Now, on to intonation: Until fairly recently, I felt that a guitar couldn't really play in tune unless each string's 12th fret harmonic and 12th fret note had the exact same reading on the electric tuner. And of course, they never do on a three-saddle bridge. I finally settled on a technique that not only deals with this problem but, to my delight, addresses other inherent problems also. Here it is: Adjust the middle saddle's intonation screw so that the "D" string's 12th fret note reads slightly flat of the 12th fret harmonic on your tuner. Then, check out the "G" string's 12th fretted note. This note should be only MARGINALLY sharp of the harmonic. Are you with me? Now tune your guitar, with the open "G" string reading somewhere between A440 and A439 (so that the 12th FRETTED note is at A440). Tune the other strings as one would normally. Final adjusments can be made by ear when you compare first position E major and E minor chords. The E major's G# note (third string, 1st fret) should no longer seem sharp in the chord; and the open "G" string should still be perceptively in tune within the E minor chord.

Here's another for instance: An "A" chord barred at the fifth fret sounds fine. But when the nearest "E" is played (5th string, 7th fret/ 4th string, 6th fret/ 3rd string, 4th fret/ 2nd string, 5th fret), it typically sounds "off." The major third is the culprit (4th string, 6th fret): it typically sounds sharp. But with my adjus™ent (the 4th string's 12th fretted note being slightly flat) the problem no longer exists. There is a small margin of error here, which actually works to the guitarist's advantage!

OCCASIONALLY, depending on the guage of your strings and the force of your picking hand, it might also serve you to marginally flatten the low E string. I do this as I use a 42 and like to hit it fairly hard sometimes. Trust your own ears, though, as each instrument tends to be different, too.

A final qualification in adopting all the aforementioned technique: A piano tuner may use an electronic tuner as a point of reference. But if he tuned the entire keyboard to be "perfect", it would sound awful. The bottom keys actually must be tuned sharp and the high ones tuned flat. This is the only way the human brain will perceive the piano to be in tune. It's essentially the same concept I've applied here to the Telecaster®. I really like this method. Once I adopted it, my Tele's® sounded noticeably more in tune than my Strats® (across all of the chord shapes) ... so I've since made the same adjus™ents to the Strats®!!

Remember, life is about compromise. Check it out!" - Jerry Donahue

The above works.
 

Mojotron

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The above works.

Yes - thanks tweedman! The info from Jerry Donahue is great.

I love the 3 saddle design - I use others, but those are easy to make your self so I have grown to love the three saddles.

I have a few things that I do to get the intonation as good as I feel the need to do: And intonation is one of the things that drives me nuts if it's not right.

1) If the action is fairly low, less compensation is needed:
- To get there I have almost zero relief (about .005 - .002").
- Also, I make sure that my level/crowning is very consistent across the neck
- Plus, I get pretty aggressive on slotting the nut slots - generally to the point where if I play just a little harder than the hardest notes I plan on an open string the frets will buzz.
- Then I take the saddles down and initially have them match the curve of the fretboard - plus some tweaks for some strings since I naturally plan the middle strings a little harder, so I raise them up just a hair

2) Then, I do the best I can to get the 2 strings on each of the outer saddles to intonate with the fewest compromises. Making the higher pitched string a hair flat and the lower string a hair flat.

3) Then, I get the middle saddle as close as possible and then raise/lower the (unwound) G-string to pull the intonation in to be right on for the middle saddle.

I've also filed a grove in the saddle to move the string forward a little on the middle saddle - that works too if I can't just raise the G-string saddle about 1/20th of a turn to get it there.

All of the compensated saddles I have tried were too aggressive for how low I have my action set. Plus I can play very lightly, generally in the middle of the neck and I needed the intonation tweaks to match that area of the neck more than open strings, so these small tweaks work a lot better for me.
 

Ripradiant

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Jul 31, 2014
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Alberta Canada
The simplest way to go is to buy compensated saddles. But... you can also improvise and compensate your existing rig by bending the screws holding the saddles to the appropriate angle. Maybe you can bend them in place but I would take em out.
 

jvin248

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Lions & Tigers oh Mi !
I have a six-barrel style bridge that the saddles rattle against each other when digging in. I've been planning to convert it over to a 3-saddle compensated set. I've heard others with the same issue and one of the reasons for the 3-saddle popularity.
 

telemnemonics

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Some people have no problems at all intonating the vintage saddles, other people can never get them to intonate properly. There has to be a scientific reason why this happens, but nobody knows what it is.

I usually set mine by eye.
OK so then I check it with my Conn Strobotuner.

I wonder if there are tuners that are harder to set intonation with?

Given that there are so many products and methods for setting the intonation on a Tele three saddle bridge and yet these threads come up every week or so.
A three saddle with comp saddles or modded stock saddles can be set to intonate exactly the same as a six saddle.

Maybe there are just so many players learning to do guitar tech work on their own guitars and it seems to make sense to start another new thread?
 
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Tootle

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I recently replaced a 6-saddle Fender modern bridge on my MIM Blackout Deluxe tele with a compensated 3-saddle Callaham. It brought big step up in sustain & girth of tone. I was worried about intonation, but by hook, crook & ear landed on pretty much just what Jerry Donahue outlines above. I would say for whatever reason the bridge change seems to have actually diminished occasional intonation issues I used to have on open cords. And I don't have any issues up the neck that aren't nearly effortlessly corrected with a slight compensation in finger tension.
 
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