Adjust string action
and spacing with new biscuit
tuning machines upgrade
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
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
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
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
Next two photos repeat the process with
string 1 and if I change my mind these file marks are not deep and I can
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.
DOWNLOAD PRINTABLE STRING SPACING
TEMPLATE SEEN BELOW
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!
CONTINUE TO PAGE 3