Charting the 'sweet spots'
This is a simple routine that lets you come up with the exact location where you need to position the bridge. It also lets you determine whether you need a compensated bridge or not and if so, it tells you the exact amount of compensation you require for each of the strings. Also, if your bridge needs to be positioned on an angle this routine will tell you exactly what the angle is for your banjo. Read these instructions carefully but don't get intimidated, they are pretty easy to follow. In case you are not quite to sure about these instructions, take a trip to your local music store and ask them to show you how to set up the intonation on an electric guitar by adjusting the saddle bridges. Looking at the way this is done ought to give you plenty clues about what you'll be doing with your bridge. In case you're wondering, sure enough, that's where I got the idea for making my custom compensated bridges the way I do.
If, after going through steps, it turns out you need a compensated bridge then make sure you've settled on your favourite string gauges, bridge height, string spacing and neck angle before ordering a custom compensated bridge - any changes here and all bets are off and you need to re-measure.
Please note: do not use a budget priced, or came-with-the-banjo bridges to do this routine as, unfortunately, they are known to be quite problematic when it comes to intonation and will not let you come up with accurate measurements - make sure you use a quality bridge for this routine. In fact, quality bridges more often than not will make intonation problems caused by no-frill bridges (including the newer version of the ones that rhyme with rover) go away and you can merrily skip this routine.
Let's get started - chart the 'sweet spots' for each string starting with the first string, but before you do: be careful! Bridges are very brittle and can snap into several pieces that can come flying at your face real easily while you move them! You might be wise to slacken the tension of the strings first, especially with thin bridges, before you grab a hold of your bridge between your thumb and index fingers of BOTH hands.
IMPORTANT: for this routine to work correctly you need to play chimed notes on the 12th fret. Here's how: you touch the string ever so slightly directly above the 12th fret, not behind the fret the way you do while playing normally. Many people forget, or mix this up, so let me repeat: touch the string directly above the 12th fret itself, pick the string and immediately take your finger off the string you're chiming. You now hear a clear dreamy bell-like sound is this is what you'll be using to compare the pitch of that tone to the pitch of the string when you fret it BEHIND the 12th string the way you normally do.
To avoid any confusion, you're measuring the sweet spots of all strings relative to the first string so the "sweet spot" for the first string must be zero. One more thing defore you dig in: if your 5th string sits on top some kind of a slotted pip thingie behind the 5th fret (up in the air above the 5th fret instead of resting on the 5th fret itself) then there's no point in compensating it and you use a zero just like the first string.
If your 'zero line' off-set measurements show zero for all strings - no matter what you've been told, you simply don't need a compensated bridge, period. Don't be surprised though if your results show something like this:
Down & dirty: for a quick way to get your bridge close to the proper position, "good enough for now," follow steps 1 through 5 until you have the 1st string properly intonated then do the same thing for the 4th string only while making sure the bridge stays in the same location for the 1st string. Chances are the bridge now will no longer be at 90 degrees to the 3rd strng - instead it might be angled, the 4th string side being closer to the tail piece. Like I said, "good enough for now."
If the measured spots line up in a straight line, whether the bridge
is angled or not, then you DO NOT need a compensated bridge.
I know I'm repeating myself, but if seeing these kinds of measurements make you worry about the quality of your banjo: DON'T. Some banjos can easily reach 5 to 8 millimeter values, especially on the 3rd and 4th strings. I've seen top notch high-end models with big numbers on this kinda report card. I've also come across many "perfect zeroes" and in fact, most banjos simply do not need compensation. I've also seen some banjos with severe intonation problems where the biggest sweet spot number was only 4 millimeters. If you come up with number higher than 7 or 8 mm you better re-check the proper location for string 1 as something is likely to be out of whack. Either that, or you're probably using a bridge that's unusually tall or wide.Then again, you never know, maybe you got yerself a real heavy duty twister...
I'm sure you've noticed, the measurements are all in millimeters. To me they're less confusing then them durned little and big and bigger stripes on the inch rulers (I've looked at them wrong stupid stripes once too often...). You can get rulers that measure in millimeters in a dollar store near you.
Once you've done the measurements you know beyond the shadow of a doubt whether you do, or do not, need a compensated bridge for this particular banjo and for the way this particular banjo is set up. You'll also know the exact amount of compensation required, based on science and you no longer have to rely on anecdotal evidence, myths or "my buddy told me." There are a lot of enormously fantastic quality instruments around and, especially if your banjo belongs in that category, it deserves to get treated with the proper respect - go through this measuring routine and you'll know beyond the shadow of a doubt. If nothing else, you'll learn about the finer workings of your banjo. If it turns out you do need compensation you shouldn't be surprised at that, you'll now know exactly what to do about it. With this sweetspot routine there simply no longer is a reason to guess. What you're your aiming for is the ultimate sound and playability of YOUR banjo, not someone else's.
Important: many of the newer aftermarket bridges are a lot thicker than the way I make them. In fact, some of them are so thick that they end up changing the string length enough to affect intonation. Should you wish me to make a custom compensated bridge for you it would be best to first check the sweet spots with one of my straight, non-compensated, bridges to ensure proper compensation measurements or use a bridge with a top thickness of less than 3 millimeters. Another thing to keep in mind: the no frill bridges that come with many banjos usually are not very intonation friendly and a decent after market straight bridge ofthen solves your intonation problems.
If you've used this routine to angle your bridge then keep in mind that string slots are very exact and tight on most modern bridges so angling often means the strings get choked off at either end of the slot resulting of course, in buzzing sounds.
Please note: I have come to feel pretty strongly that the only proper way to address intonation problems is to go it the custom compensated route. If a compensated bridge is not made according to the measurements done on your banjo then it's a generically compensated bridge based only on guesswork. Generic compensation simply cannot do the job custom compensation does and my own banjos deserve better than having to settle for "close enough," or "about this much." If you're thinking "yeah, but the second string's always out anyways" think again - this simply is no longer true. When perfection is doable, why settle for less. Perhaps overzealous, maybe not too smart marketing wise but as of November 2006 I no longer offer generically compensated bridges because, plain and simple, they don't cut it - how could anyone pretend to know by what and how your intonations are caused without ever having seen or touched your banjo?
There's two ways to get a compnsated bridge: take somebody's word for the "I know what I'm doing" about-this-much approach or the exact measurement solution. With the latter approach you'll never have to put up the word 'compromise' again. Think twice before deciding on generics.
If you'd like to order a bridge whether straight, or compensated, please go to this page to let me know the details. Your support is greatly appreciated.
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