Posted by Bufo Bill on Saturday, December 27, 2014
The first thing to remember is that the modern three-footed, ebony-capped bridge has been designed for getting the best from high tension metal strings. If you want a loud, full sound from your Nylon-strung banjo you need to use a bridge designed for the thicker, lower tension strings that typify the Polymer string family, be they Nylgut, D’Addario, Sands, etc.
“Two Footed Good, Three Footed Bad”
My clumsy parody of Mr. Orwell is the most important change in bridge design we need to make. Two feet on the bridge give a louder, more focused sound, and for those who would like to start making their own bridges is a much easier task than making a three footed bridge, so is a perfect starter project. The third foot on your regular bridge is for extra support as opposed to increased tone, which brings us to the next important change we need to make
Let it be Light
High tension steel strings need a stout bridge to support them, Frailers often have a bridge weighing two grams plus for their chosen tone. Bluegrassers like a bridge a half-gram or so lighter (I am told), but a good sounding bridge for Polymer strings should weigh in at no more than 1.0 grams. The thin wood will still hold your strings in place, but they will be transformed in voice into a loud joyous choir angelic. My maple bridges generally weigh in at 0.8 to 0.5 grams.
Dare I go Topless?
The idea of a dense hardwood top to a bridge is again a product of using steel strings, and this is just to stop the strings wearing too deep a groove in the wood. With a very soft wood like Douglas Fir (see below) a harder wood top may keep a groove intact a little longer, but it is not essential like with metal strings.
I will give some more pointers on bridge design to help get the best from vintage 1880’sto 1910’s made banjos.
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