Guitar Makeover: Fabricating a Bridge From Scratch

Here we have a '60s Martin 0-16 with a pressure crack on both sides of the saddle slot. This type of crack is not uncommon on bridges that have been shaved down over the years to try and "bypass" the inevitable neck reset.

At some point in its past, this Martin finally received its well-overdue neck reset, thus opening up another can of worms: an overshot neck angle in comparison to the thinned-out bridge.

These cracks are the result of the saddle being too high, with too steep of a break angle from the bridge pins. The final product is unfortunately an unplayable, structurally deficient guitar.

Sometimes the bridge can be salvaged in a situation like this by repairing the crack, and deepening the saddle slot to provide stability for the torque load of the strings; but in this scenario there was very little wood left to work with. That being said, some things just need to be replaced. With that in mind, I decided to fabricate a "period correct" bridge from scratch that would correctly match the neck angle.

Now she sounds and plays like a dream. It was a pleasure bringing this old timer back to life.

Step-By-Step Bridge Fabrication

A close-up view of the pressure cracks at the wings of the old bridge.
Soundboard has been taped off and the bridge is being heated with an iron to loosen the glue joint. With the bridge off, I'm now using it as a template in conjunction with a raw piece of rosewood to ensure a perfect fit when drilling the new bridge pin holes.
Now that the holes are properly drilled, I begin to relieve excess wood with a saw.
Rough bridge blank (left), old bridge (right).
After some careful handy work, I begin to sand the bottom of the bridge blank to match the radius and contour of the guitar body. This "marriage" of top and bridge will provide a solid reference point for all of my future measurements. (remember there is almost zero margin for error when trying to get the bridge at an exact height with neck pitch; I want to make sure it fits before altering its shape.)
I now do a final test fitting of the bridge as my workpiece indicator after roughing the wings in and cutting the saddle slot.
After some careful hand honing, I can now rough in the bridge's radius to match the fretboard. The bridge pin holes are now beveled in and the blank has been sanded up to 800 grit. This bridge is ready for gluing.
Bridge is clamped up.
The Finished Product

After cutting a new bone saddle, slotting the bridge pin holes, and a few final touches, the guitar is now strung up to pitch. The bridge fits perfectly to the top with no gaps or lifting. The action is at an optimal 3 and 2/32nds of an inch with plenty of meat supporting the saddle. This 0-16 plays and sounds like a dream! This bridge replacement couldn't have gone any smoother.

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