Acoustic bridge maintenance

Player's blog

 Acoustic guitar bridges


Let's talk about acoustic guitar bridges for a minute. The bridge is arguably the most important part on your acoustic guitar where your tone is concerned. The bridge houses the saddle and allows the tone to transfer from your strings into the soundboard. Bridges are typically made of ebony or rosewood or another suitable dense wood and most aren't finished with lacquer, so they are responsive to changes in the environment. Bridges also need to withstand the 180 lbs (steel strings) of tension that the strings are under when tuned to pitch. Your bridge is important! So take care of it. Here's how to:

1. Oil your bridge. 

You can use the same oil you might use to condition your fingerboard to keep your bridge happy too. Simply remove the strings and the saddle, put a few drops of lemon oil or bore oil on a paper towel, carefully wipe it on the surface of your bridge, wait 30 seconds or so, and wipe off the excess with a dry paper towel.


Ahhhhh that's better!
Avoid getting the oil onto the top of the guitar or any finished surface on the guitar. Please note that some bridges do have finish on them and should not be oiled. Classical guitar bridges are the most likely to have finish on them. Oiling the bridge need only be done once or twice a year in most cases. A dry bridge will generally look lighter in color and dryness can cause the wood to contract and make the saddle not fit properly in the slot and in severe cases the bridge can develop cracks (often between the bridge pins).

2. Don't expose the bridge to extreme temperatures or moisture.

Typical Titebond wood glue is water based and therefore water soluble after curing so that spills, if not cleaned in a timely manner can seep under the bridge and cause the glue to soften and the bridge to lift or release. Temperatures over 140 degrees Fahrenheit will cause wood glue to soften as well. 140 degrees is quickly reached in a car with the windows rolled up on a sunny day. Don't leave your guitar in the hot car for even short periods unless you want to pay me $125 to glue the bridge back on.

3. Install the proper type of strings and do not tune them higher than standard tuning pitch.

If you have a classical guitar, put nylon strings on it. If you have a steel string guitar, put steel strings on. Classical guitars have a bridge like this with with a tie block
If you install steel strings on this bridge it will break the guitar and pull the bridge off eventually because steel strings have considerably higher tension than nylon strings and classical guitars aren't build to handle that tension. If you install nylon strings on a steel string guitar it won't hurt the instrument, but it won't sound good either because a steel string guitar is over-braced for nylon string tension and nylon strings will not drive the top properly. Once you have the right strings installed, tune them properly. Tuning the strings up past E standard tuning is another great way to cause big problems to a guitar, such as what may have caused this:
A particularly nasty situation where the bridge plate has broken and pulled through the top of the guitar

Sometimes, despite proper care of your bridge, it can still begin to lift off of your top or fail in some other way. That's when I recommend that you bring it to a qualified luthier or technician to repair. In the next installment I'll show you what I've recently learned about gluing Martin's newer composite bridges back onto a composite top.

Thanks for taking a look! For more information about Dooley Guitars please visit Dooleyguitars.com or drop by my shop located at 460 main st in Longmont, Colorado inside of Guitars Etc store.

Shane Dooley
Luthier and owner of Dooley Guitars LLC