Selecting and fitting a replacement bridge
Gone are the days when you had to accept your instrument in its original form or leave it, for the replacement hardware now available in great abundance allows the musician to upgrade his instrument to his own personal requirements. With the bassist in mind I will suggest how to make a simple but sometimes dramatic improvement.
Obviously it is impossible to cover every bass available, so as a general guide I intend to use the Rickenbacker 4001, Gibson EB2 and Fender Precision and Jazz Bass (for bridge replacement purposes this is identical to the Precision, so for Jazz read Precision).
Before thinking about which replacement unit should be fitted, first ascertain the reason for your disenchantment and choose accordingly.
I doubt if many EB2 players are really happy about the tuning; until recently the only option was to make a replacement adjustable unit, but at least one company that I know of (Schaller) now market a completely adjustable direct replacement bridge. Fitting couldn't be simpler; once the bass is de-strung, remove the old bridge and slide on the new. At this stage it will be noticed that there are two screws providing a variable amount of forward movement on the height adjusting studs. To set these, first position the bridge saddles in the centre of their travel. After taking the strings up to pitch, test for octave accuracy on G(1st); if the octave is sharp turn the adjacent screw clockwise, and vice versa. When the tuning is approximate repeat for E(4th). Now that E and G are roughly in octave the bridge is set in the correct position, so final critical adjustment of the four strings can be made via the individual saddle length screws.
Apart from the visual desirability there are four considerations leading to replacement.
(1) Rusty and inoperative. Obviously something is needed, but if the old unit was satisfactory in every way the answer is probably to replace it with an identical one, either an actual Fender or one of the reputable replicas (Mighty Mite, Schecter, etc.), if not read on.
(2) The advent of brass has made many players hyper-sensitive to sustain, so for some the old style pressed steel base has lost its appeal. Generally more sustain can be obtained by increasing the mass, so a number of milled or cast brass bridges are marketed with thicker bases and/or thicker backs (Fender Brassmasters, Stars Guitars, Badass, DiMarzio, Schaller etc.).
(3) The playing style of some bassists can actually cause the saddles to slip about across the baseplate, and the problems caused are obvious. If this is your particular forte, a choice of a grooved (Track, Trax etc) bridge would be recommended.
(4) Last, but certainly not least, is the problem facing all but 'Superwound' users; the distance between the E(4th) saddle (when correctly octaved) and the bridge back is usually too short, allowing the string's silk winding to pass over the saddle and thereby mute the sustain.
Highly recommended for (2), (3) and (4) are Badass II, Schaller, Stars Guitars and Fender Brassmaster, although don't take my word for it, look around; one man's meat is another man's poison.
Fitting these units is again relatively simple, after de-stringing withdraw the existing fixing screws (five) and remove the redundant bridge. Before fitting the replacement first determine whether the fixing holes are correctly positioned for this modification; in the case of the Badass II and Fender Brassmaster, an original or replica, the holes will line up, but in other instances it may be necessary to re-locate them. As most of the replacement bridges will have at least the central hole in the original position use this as a guide. Place a piece of masking tape across the existing holes and draw a line through their centres, marking the mid point; measure the 'between centre' spacing of the new fixing holes and transpose them on to the tape line (this will ensure that the new bridge sits square to the strings). If at this stage any of the new locations half correspond with the old it will be necessary to plug the holes involved before proceeding further; if not, using a centre punch first, drill to the correct diameter and length. Remove the tape and as a precaution check that the earth tag is still positioned correctly for good continuity; then fit the replacement* and after stringing to pitch adjust the octaves and action as required.
*As there are no preset string location grooves on the Badass II, before proceeding further it will be necessary to nick the saddles with a four square needle file on G(1st), D(2nd), and with a small round needle file on A(3rd) and E(4th). Use a junior hacksaw first to lightly cut a guide groove facilitating accurate filing.
I reckon the weakest feature of these basses is the bridge, so a great improvement can be made at a stroke. Unfortunately I haven't come across a direct replacement that is marketed in the U.K. (if there are any around please let me know), so an acceptable alternative is to use a Precision style bridge mounted on a plastic or brass shim echoing the original outline. As the string spacing is narrower on the 4001 my first choice for this application would be the Schaller bridge which has adjustable width saddles. The type of bridge being used for the modification is, of course, quite different from the one it's replacing; so as would be expected none of the fixing holes will be correctly located, making it necessary to calculate the situation of the new unit. To do this, after de-stringing and removing the old bridge measure the distance between the nut and the centre of the 12th fret, then transpose this measurement from the 12th fret to the body. Place a strip of masking tape across the body at this point and mark with a pencil (on the tape) the exact distance (scale length).
Set the G(1st) saddle on the replacement bridge to within 3/16th" of its furthest length of travel (towards the nut), and position the bridge on the bass with the G (1st) saddle lining up with the scale length; again using masking tape mark the centre fixing hole. Using the original holes as centre and square guides mark, punch and drill the new holes.
Next, using 1/16th" plastic or brass (which of course could be chrome plated) cut out a plate using the original bridge as a template, allowing for any oversize dimensions that may be required to accommodate the new bridge; then drill the required fixing holes (screw clearance size) and earth tag hole (centrally located under new bridge). A new earth wire will need to be run from the electronics screen, and positioned on top of the shim so as to make contact with the bridge. After fixing the replacement, string up, and adjust the action and octaves as required. The difference should be quite noticeable and does, I think, more than offset the loss of the damper.
Feature by Peter Cook
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