It can all get a bit confusing for a new player. You have bought the guitar you have been dreaming of. And then you get it home and start to hear strange things. You know about the neck and the fingerboard, and the body.
You will know about the tuners, but there are other words that start to appear. Some might be thinking, as did I many, many years ago, “what are they talking about?” Someone mentioned the ‘bridge,’ someone else the ‘nut,’ but why does it need a ‘saddle?’. I have to confess I hadn’t a clue what they were talking about for maybe a year.
Then I found out that these things can have a serious effect on the guitar, how it plays and how it sounds. The saddle, in particular, is very important. So, let’s take an in-depth look at the types of guitar saddles, their uses, and their benefits.
- What Is The Saddle?
- Acoustic Guitar Saddle
- Electric Guitar Saddle
- Is A Saddle Really Necessary?
- What Is The Purpose of The Saddle?
- Playing Action
- The Tone
- Types of Guitar Saddles
- Adjustable Saddle
- Saddle Materials
- Fossilized Ivory
- Replacement Saddles
- Musiclily 10.5mm Guitar Tremolo Bridge Saddles for Fender Stratocaster Strat Telecaster
- Vencetmat Acoustic Guitar Bridge Saddles, Pure Complete Bone, Ivory Color
- Pack of 6 Bone Saddle Acoustic Classical Guitar
- Telecaster Chrome Bridge w/Compensated Brass Saddles
- MENSANL Chrome Guitar Roller Saddle Tune-O-Matic Bridge Fit For LP SG ES335
- Need to Know More about your Beloved Guitar?
- Types of Guitar Saddles – An Important Role to Play
What Is The Saddle?
Both acoustic and electric guitars have saddles, though they are slightly different because of the construction of the instrument. But they do the same job on both types of guitars.
Acoustic Guitar Saddle
On an acoustic guitar, the saddle is a small strip of material between two and three inches in length and very thin. It is usually white or cream in color, so it is easy to recognize and is set as part of the bridge.
It’s one of the two places that come into contact with the strings; it can therefore affect a number of things, including intonation, tone, and the playing action. I’ll be taking a look at each of those a bit later.
There are also different types of saddles for the acoustic guitar, as I’ll be discussing later
Electric Guitar Saddle
As mentioned, there are certain similarities between the saddles for electric and acoustic guitars but also major differences.
The saddle on an electric guitar is usually built into the bridge, which is made of a metal material. They have more control options to work with for the adjustments for each string.
Some guitar bridges are designed differently, and the adjustment options may differ, but they still offer plenty of control. Having these extra control options means you can adjust intonation and the height of the string and, therefore, the playing action for each string.
As with the acoustic guitar, the strings come into direct contact with the instrument in two places. The nut at the headstock, and the saddle. For both types of instruments, there are implications for the effect on the playing action, the tone, and the intonation.
Is A Saddle Really Necessary?
I think you can already tell that the saddle is quite important. For a start, without it, you wouldn’t hear very much. The saddle transfers the vibrations from the bridge to create the sound.
If you are buying a new guitar straight out of the box, you might find it needs to be set up properly. If you are buying a second-hand instrument, listen for any ‘string buzz.’ That may indicate the saddle needs adjusting.
What Is The Purpose of The Saddle?
I mentioned earlier that the saddle has an impact on three important aspects of the guitar – Intonation, Playing Action, and Tone. Let’s consider each one…
This is the pitch that is produced when you press the strings down at various positions on the fretboard. It goes without saying that those pitches need to be accurate.
A good way to check intonation is to play any string ‘open.’ Let’s use the ‘A’ or 5th string as an example. Play it open and then play it at the 12th fret, or the octave. The notes should sound the same. If they don’t, then the intonation is not quite right, and adjustments need to be made.
This is the height that the strings are above the fingerboard. It is rather a personal thing depending to a certain extent on what and how you play.
Gipsy or Flamenco guitarists often prefer a higher action, as do some with a finger-picking style. Rock guitarists and those who might be playing fast tend to prefer a lower action. Being lower means there is less pressure needed to press the strings to make the note which helps with playing at speed.
The Bow Of The Neck
The neck can be deliberately slightly bowed, which means that the distance of the strings above the fingerboard can vary. Usually, the further up the neck you go, towards the 12th fret, the action will get higher.
This needs to be taken into account when adjusting the saddle to get the string height and thus the playability right for how you play.
The tone of the guitar can be affected to a certain extent by the height of the strings over the fingerboard. But what the saddle is actually made from has a greater effect.
The tone of the instrument is especially important with the acoustic guitar, of course. Therefore the better the material then, usually the better the sound. I will be coming back to this point.
Types of Guitar Saddles
As I mentioned, there are different types of saddles that you will find. Some function better than others, depending on what style of player you might be. So, let’s take a look at them…
This type of saddle is located in a slot created in the bridge; they are found on acoustic guitars. They are not usually glued in place; therefore, you can remove them and make any lowering adjustments you need.
If you need to lower them, this is done by gently filing away material from the bottom of the saddle, not the top.
Long Set Saddle
This is a type of ‘drop-in’ saddle, but the difference is it is glued into its slot in the bridge. It also extends a little bit longer into the width of the bridge for stability.
Removing them for adjustment becomes a little harder as they are glued into place. To do this, you will need to heat up the glue holding the saddle until it is pliable enough to remove. People often use a hair dryer though care must be taken not to damage the wood on the top of the guitar.
Uncompensated or Straight Saddle
I mentioned earlier that some saddles function better, depending on your style of play; this is a good example. The Uncompensated saddle is straight and doesn’t have any grooves that are cut into the crown, or the top of the saddle.
They are common on classical and other nylon-strung guitars. It has become a tradition on these instruments to have a saddle without grooves. But there is a reason. Nylon strings will hold their intonation better than the steel alternative. They, therefore, don’t need any compensation on the higher strings that metal strings sometimes do.
The design of this saddle is different and can actually go unnoticed without closer inspection. The treble side of the saddle is raised slightly so that the crown on this side sits a little higher.
As you push down on the strings to make your notes, the distance the string has to travel before it hits the fingerboard can vary according to the thickness of the string. This can cause intonation problems for the higher strings.
Elevating the high ‘E’ string, and especially the ‘B’ string, helps to reduce the effect of string length and assists in accurate intonation.
Next in my rundown of the Types of Guitar Saddles, the saddles found on electric guitars are somewhat different and have more adjustment options built-in. As well as this, these saddles may differ depending on the guitar manufacturer.
Gibson guitars often use what they describe as a Tune-o-Matic bridge. This is a superb design with the saddle built-in. Adjustments are easy, and there are even different ways the saddle can be set up.
Each string has its own saddle adjustment, so you can achieve exactly the playability and intonation required. Most Gibsons since the early 70s have this bridge and saddle set up. It has proven to be efficient and long-lasting.
Fender have used a variety of saddle systems, some better than others. The Stratocaster has individual saddles for each string. Adjustments can be made to a high level using the screws situated on the backplate. Fine adjustments are therefore easy.
On the Telecaster range, there have been a number of options. Its traditional saddle design was the ‘3-saddle’ assembly. This accommodates two strings per saddle. But there are also screws to adjust the height of the action. This doesn’t apply to all the later models. My own Telecaster, as an example, has a six-saddle setup that allows individual saddle adjustments for each string.
Other manufacturers may use variations on these designs. However, most electric guitars have a format that allows for a fine level of adjustment through the saddles.
Let’s return to the materials that the saddle is made from. This is sometimes an area that is overlooked when thinking about the saddle. But what it is made of can make a major contribution to the sound of the guitar.
You may hear people discussing the impact of the material that the nut is made from as having an effect on the sound. It does, but not as much as that for the saddle.
Once you have started fretting notes, the effect of the nut is minimal, if anything. But the saddle is still working away at the other end. So, let’s consider the various benefits of the materials used for making the saddle.
On the high-end guitars that will set you back a bit, bone is the favored material. It is accepted as being the standard for the highest quality of material used. There are reasons for this.
- As a material, it is very hard and dense.
- It produces a crisp and bright sound.
- The transfer of the sound to the soundboard is very precise.
It isn’t all good, though; for example, it can produce inconsistencies in the tone. You may also find that the bone has been bleached to make it look nicer. Although more visually appealing, it is generally accepted that natural, unbleached bone is the better-sounding option.
That means you might have to sacrifice a shiny white bone saddle for a slightly duller version if you want the best sound. The problem with the bleaching process is that it can remove some of the natural lubrication that the bone possesses, therefore negatively affecting the sound.
Plastic saddles became popular for two reasons. Firstly they look nice, and aesthetics help to sell instruments. But most importantly, the cost. Plastic saddles are much cheaper to manufacture than bone or other materials.
The original plastic saddles were not so good, even though they looked nice. But technical improvements in the creation of plastics have created a new range of products that work quite well.
Synthetic plastic like TUSQ, Micarta, and Nu-bone have become very popular. And while they are not as good as a bone saddle, they are a vast improvement on the original plastic options.
You may be asking… what on earth is that? The use of Ivory, or ‘non-fossilized ivory’ in products is now illegal. However, ‘fossilized ivory’ is obtained from animals that lived and died natural deaths millions of years ago.
Sourcing fossilized ivory is a problem, of course, which is why they are more expensive than even bone saddles. The advantage is that they produce a nice warm, mellow sound which is not the case with bone which can be overly bright at times.
However, for most players, a good synthetic saddle will be sufficient in the majority of circumstances, which is great for the bank balance.
If you need to replace the saddles on your guitar, it isn’t a massive investment. Here are some excellent options…
Need to Know More about your Beloved Guitar?
Then check out our informative articles on Different Types of Guitars You Should Know, Are Guitars Allowed on Airplanes, A Guide to Guitarist Slang, and Why Is Stairway to Heaven Banned in Guitar Stores? You may well also be interested in some Easy Electric Guitar Songs for Rock & Metal Beginners and 10 Easy Songs to Learn on the Electric Guitar for Beginners.
Or, if it’s time to buy another guitar for the collection, take a look at our in-depth reviews of the Best Blues Guitars, the Best Electric Guitar For Beginners, the Best Cheap Acoustic Guitars Under $200, the Best Jazz Guitars, the Best Electric Guitar Case, as well as the Best Guitar Amplifiers Under $200 that you can buy in 2023.
Types of Guitar Saddles – An Important Role to Play
As can be seen, the saddle has an important role to play on your guitar. It controls the action and, therefore, the playability, and it can have an impact on the tonal qualities. It will also ensure that your intonation is spot on, and by adjusting the height, you can get rid of any ‘string buzz.’
So, don’t just take the saddle for granted. It’s definitely worth taking a closer look next time you are buying a guitar.