I was picked to do a review of David’s Zebra/Katalox bridges. After David & I corresponded via e-mail, he sent me two of his bridges – a Zebra with ebony cap, and one with a Katalox cap. I tested the Zebra/Katalox on my parts banjo, The Pope. This one weighed 2.27 grams & was the standard 5/8” tall. (The other one weighed 2.15 grams.) I used the heavier one because I like a bassier sound and a heavier bridge will tend to accentuate the bottom. The other one is on another banjo and I may add on to this later with comments on the ebony-capped one. I was familiar with Zebrawood because my Alembic electric bass is Zebrawood on the back.
Both bridges were really nicely constructed with nice corners, flat feet, the correct tipped back orientation and very smoothly finished. I was not familiar with Katalox but David cleared that up: “Yes, Katalox is Mexican Ebony. It’s about 10% harder than regular ebony and is what Gibson and Martin use on many fretboards and saddles nowadays.”
When I got the bridge from David, my banjo had a Mike Smith Kat Eyz pegged “select” 5/8” bridge that weighed 2.2 grams on it. (Pegged means it has four pegs going vertically thru the ebony cap and the maple body. From Mike’s website: Allows string vibrations to pass through the bridge without penetrating a solid glue line at the topwood/framewood marriage. Very small glue dots are used between (but not under) string slots. Pegs reduce amount of glue used.) This bridge had been on the banjo for some months so it was pretty much settled in.
Since I wanted reader to hear the difference, I recorded the banjo with a small mixer going in to my soundcard (Xonar Essence STX) with the mic (MXL 603S small diaphragm condenser) one foot from the head and with perpendicular orientation to the head. I tried to keep my right hand in the same position. Sorry about the mistakes!
When I changed to the David Cunningham Zebra/Katalox bridge and allowed it to settle for a few weeks so they would both be settled in for the most part. I recorded it with the DC bridge the same way as before. (I even used a ruler to make sure the distance from the banjo to the mic was the same, no changes to the mixer.)
I want you, dear reader, to hear the sound files for yourself but here’s my take on them:
The KatEyz bridge had slightly more bass response but the notes were somewhat “splashy”, i.e., not really focused.
The DC bridge was an angst (angst = the smallest difference you can hear) quieter but had a more focused sound and a slightly more treble sound.
The end result for me is that the DC bridge probably won’t stay on The Pope but it might end up on my Kenny Ingram, which is even bassier than The Pope, or on my other banjo, which has a maple Robin Smith neck. The Pope has a mahogany Robin Smith neck and all three have Sullivan Factory Floor rims. Note that I didn’t change the setup when I swapped bridges which may or may not have had an effect on the overall results.
One thing that I hasten to point out, and this has been pointed out over and over on the Banjo Hangout, is that every banjo is slightly different than every other banjo and that setup is paramount. The best thing you could do is have someone send you 10 or 12 bridges, try them all and keep one. Of course, any bridge builder who would do this is nuts but that’s why if you take your banjo to Chris Cioffi or Charlie Cushman for a setup, they would have dozens of bridges that they will try out on YOUR banjo so you know the right one’s on there. I have amassed a collection of about 20 name brand bridges so I can sort of do that myself. I am an inveterate tinkerer…
I gave this bridge a 10 on the review rating because it was so well constructed and obviously right up there with other “name brand” bridges. The way is sounds is a judgment call of course but it has a nice focused sound; I think it would be good on a bassy banjo…
Thank you to David for sending me these bridges to try and to Eric for publishing the results. You guys should pat yourselves on the back!
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