This is Part II of my incredible Summer Guitar Project 2012. I talked about necks and tuners before and now we go down the list to some other hardware that makes up a bass guitar. In the search for perfect tone, players go to great lengths to find the best hardware.
Bridges are one of the contact points on a stringed instrument that hold the string in place, and can be set to improve playability or intonation. Adjustments made to the saddles on a bass can increase or decrease the scale length of an individual string. Bridges for guitars and basses come in all shapes and sizes, each with their own claims to increased sustain and tone. Every player wants to zero in on the perfect tone, and the bridge is a good place to start.
Bridge design on most Fender basses is pretty consistent: a big bent piece of brass holds the string to flimsy spring loaded saddles that probably will buzz, and move around after awhile due to vibration. Fender hasn't deviated from this design in sixty years, so why would they stop now? I dislike those bridges just because the tiny parts tend to move around too much. It isn't as solid as I would want it to be.
Early Fender bridges have threaded saddles which probably help if the player wanted to adjust string spacing. Here's a bridge from an early 1960's bass and you'll see what I mean:
I looked around for alternatives and saw some interesting designs by Hipshot:
Look at any boutique/custom bass and you'll probably find one of these heavy brass Hipshot bridges. A lot of musicians endorse them, and luthiers like the no nonsense adjustability of the saddles. Probably an awesome bridge, and my Ibanez bass has something very similar. But it seems like every bass under the Sun uses them: from F Bass to Xylem. I wanted something a little different.
Leo Quan has been making brass bass bridges (say that five times fast) since forever, and their bridges are often the first thing people turn to when they make upgrades to their instrument. Their Badass bridges I-III are common, but something about the pointy saddle bugged me. I've heard reviews that suggest the pointy saddle contact point can damage strings or cause spacing problems without filing a notch. Other musicians swear by them. Who knows. Overall, it didn't seem like much of an improvement from the original Fender design.
I eventually settled on a new bridge designed by Babicz. They say their bridges provide a solid contact point for each string, increasing sustain, tones, whatever. I was sold when I saw that their bridges are not only fully adjustable, but you can lock those setting into place and forget about it. Every time you change strings, you have to spend time to adjust the bridge, saddle and spacing. This bridge locks it down so that isn't a problem. This bridge had good reviews and the price was right, so I went for it. It is surprisingly light and looks incredibly solid.
When I talked about tone earlier, I said that guitarist believe that anything from the nut, bridge, finish, and wood of the guitar has a great effect on sound of an instrument. Perhaps on an acoustic instrument... but on solid body guitars... I think that the pickups and amplification have more to do with the initial reception of how it sounds. You could honestly slap a pickup on a hockey stick and make a crazy guitar out of it.
And it would probably sound good.
I don't know how tonewoods really effect the sound, but I was looking for a solid body that didn't weigh a ton, and was prepainted. I don't feel like painting another guitar. I don't have the room, or the time to paint, wet sand between coats, and then spray a hard lacquer that has to cure and harden for a couple of weeks. There are many places on the interwebs that do all the work for you... with good results. I chose a lightweight palouwnia body that is really light. I'm amazed how light it is. Black. No nonsense.
Next time: Wiring and Pickups.