Setup of a National EN Continued

  • Biscuit bridge-saddle replacement

  • Adjust string action and spacing with new biscuit

  • Install deluxe tuning machines upgrade

  • Comparisons, comments and extra information and photos

Now it's time to begin some of the serious setup work. Our goal is to install this new biscuit bridge which will not only raise the action to an acceptable level but also allow me to widen the string spacing at the saddle end of the strings which will greatly improve my comfort while using fingerpicks and aggressive thumb picking. I'll also be replacing the stock tuning machines with these slightly better deluxe set from National. These are upgrades I see many other players wanting to perform and I hope this will help others understand what's involved.

We just left off on the previous page checking the action height on the sixth string after the truss rod was adjusted. Now we can begin accurately setting up the instrument. In this case we're not simply lowering the slots in the saddle. We need to raise the action so I had to order a new maple wooden biscuit bridge and saddle shown above. We need to get started on that replacement now.


Let's begin, remove the four small allen head screws and the bridge cover. We might do some fine tuning at the end and removing this might come in handy.

Remove the 9 each phillips head screws that hold on the cover plate. Be careful not to strip them by using a screwdriver that doesn't bite into them and fit. Don't loose these screws. Place them all in a plastic zip-lock sandwich bag.

Leave the capo on and it will hold the strings in place so they don't come loose at the tuners and make a birds nest. There is one place ahead we will have to remove it to get an accurate measurement.

Below: Now, lift off the round cover plate and also carefully remove the cone by pulling on the black wooden saddle. Be careful to treat this like an egg shell. Don't bend any of the edges, dent or warp it.

Just to be a knit picker place a tiny mark on the bass side of the saddle so you can orient the new bridge and reinstall the cone exactly like it was before. That might help it seat and settle back in quicker after this setup is done. This is optional but something I want to do.

Below: Flip the cone over and carefully yet firmly hold the bridge with your left hand and unscrew the bridge with the right hand. Try not to slip and jab a hole in the cone. Use a screwdriver that fits the #1 size phillips head securely. Not some worn out screwdriver with a dulled tip.

Now lay the cone on a table and try to pull and twist gently and make the old bridge pop off. They usually use a tiny bit of wood glue to hold it on but the glue is brittle and will usually pop loose with a few small cracking sounds. It shouldn't hurt the cone at all but just be gentle and take your time.

I check to make sure the new saddle is much higher than the old one since I am raising the action. There would be NO reason to install a bridge that was not taller. You may want to take a pencil and mark the new one with a line that represents the height of the old saddle so you have a reference line when lowering the height of the new one. That might prevent you from making a mistake later.

Ran a layer of Tight-bond wood glue around the rim of the bridge. I probably used more than I need.

Stick the new bridge down and align the bass side with the red dot made earlier

Tighten the screw until you feel it bottom out and the head presses against wood. If it wont go all the way do not force it. Just tap the hole in the wood a little deeper. In this case I had no worries since it was a National replacement part.

Gently clean the cone with a damp cloth to remove all the gunk and dust

Clean any dirt and gunk from the rim where the cone seats. You can see the date of build engraved in the metal.

Check inside to make sure no supports or parts are loose or damaged. I've learned this is a great way to spot any small issues that could turn into big ones. Especially if you don't know the history of the guitar. If any shims or supports are loose or not tight an flush you'll need some help getting them fixed but it's not anything to worry too much about. Just an inconvenience.

Reinstall the cone with the new bridge. Be gentle and don't force anything.

Reinstall the strings into the tailpiece and tighten them up just a small amount but leave them kinda loose and flabby.

You MUST remove the capo before this next step or you'll screw up your measurements for string spacing.

Below: With the 1st and sixth string tightened up just enough to be straight slide the 6th string toward the edge of the saddle and look how far it comes to the edge of the fretboard all the way up the neck. Determine the string spacing you want. In my case I want the full 2-38" spacing you can get on this guitar so the strings follow the same line all the way up the neck from the nut and just far enough from the edge to prevent the string from falling off when I play.

Now I draw a pencil line on both sides of the 6th string at the location I want it to live permanently. Now I just need to mark this centerline with a file.

I take my small 0.016" nut file and make a small groove perfectly between the two pencil lines and this will hold the string in place for the moment while I calculate and verify these spacings.

Next two photos repeat the process with string 1 and if I change my mind these file marks are not deep and I can redo it.

Below: Now I have the outer string spacing I want on the guitar and the saddle. I want to look at this and really make sure I am happy with the distance the strings are from the edge of the fretboard. A string cannot be so far out that it slides off the end of the fret bevel. So usually has to be inside the fret bevel. Now I'll show you tricks on how to space the other 4 strings perfectly everytime without fancy tools from Stewmac. You could spend more money at Stewmac on gadgets and tools than you spend on the guitar and frankly most luthiers make their own tools. As you can see below I've just about achieved the 2-3/8" spacing I wanted. Now my hands wont be so cramped with fingerpicks on. This in my opinion is how fingerpicking guitars with a 1-7/8" nut should come standard.

Transfer the outer spacing to a piece of bone or some other object or even a piece of cardboard.

Use a template like this you can make and mark the correct spacing for the other 4 strings.


Transfer those spacing marks back onto the saddle and be very precise with a sharp pencil

Use a thin file to mark those spots in the top of the saddle and make some light grooves for the strings to sit in while we test this spacing and triple check it. We want to make sure this is right before filing the permanent slots and lowering the saddle way down.

Tighten string 2-5 up pretty good but way lower than playing pitch. Then string 1-6 have can only tighten so much or they pop out of our temporary grooves. Now step back and take a pause and make 100% sure this spacing is perfect and the strings look great going down the fretboard. If all looks good we are well on our way and the hardest part is over. Now time to make these slots the right depth and trim the excess wood from the top of the saddle.

Now my strings follow a perfect line up the edge of the fretboard unlike the factory setup. I am very happy with this and can't wait to play it!

Here's what they look like at the nut. This is going to be one SWEET setup!




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