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Best Tool for Banjo Bridge String Notches

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May 26, 2019 - 5:50:21 PM
22 posts since 8/23/2015

Hi..Could anyone tell me what tool is the best for notching out the string grooves on a banjo bridge? I go back and forth between steel and nylon sting on my banjos and want to have two bridges for each banjo. Thanks in advance for your help.

May 26, 2019 - 6:00:02 PM
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69224 posts since 5/9/2007
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I like the StewMac saws.They do excellent work on bridges and nuts for all strung instruments.


 

May 26, 2019 - 7:15:47 PM
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HarleyQ

USA

2978 posts since 1/31/2005

Set of Torch cleaning files at welding supply store. Couple of bucks.

May 26, 2019 - 8:00:02 PM
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Alex Z

USA

3516 posts since 12/7/2006

". . . what tool is the BEST for notching out the string grooves . . . "

As mentioned previously, if you want the best tool, it is the Stewart MacDonald "gauged nut slotting files,"  here:  https://www.stewmac.com/Luthier_Tools/Tools_by_Job/Tools_for_Nuts_and_Saddles/Gauged_Nut_Slotting_Files.html

You can pick the gauges you want, depending on the diameter of the strings.

There are other tools that work OK, if you have only a few bridges to slot, and don't want to invest.

May 26, 2019 - 8:50:54 PM
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Bill Rogers (Moderator)

USA

21938 posts since 6/25/2005

I use a knife-edge mini-file.

May 27, 2019 - 1:52:56 AM

collegiate

England

75 posts since 3/3/2011

An Eclipse Mini hacksaw blade for depth. A nail file (not abrasive on the edge) for width

May 27, 2019 - 5:20:02 AM
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11804 posts since 6/29/2005

I use regular jeweler's needle files —usually the "crossing" shape, although the "knife" and "slitting" also work. When you file the notch, it's good to angle the groove down a little towards the back side of the bridge saddle to make sure the string is only riding on one point.

Edited by - Ken LeVan on 05/27/2019 05:21:01

May 27, 2019 - 5:46:31 AM

22 posts since 8/23/2015

Thank you Ken. Greatly appreciated!

May 27, 2019 - 6:11:49 AM
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wtalley

USA

225 posts since 7/2/2010

Use a threesquare file and you can use the same bridge for both steel and nylon strings. The steel strings seat lower in the notch than the nylon strings.

May 27, 2019 - 6:56:35 AM

11804 posts since 6/29/2005

quote:
Originally posted by wtalley

Use a threesquare file and you can use the same bridge for both steel and nylon strings. The steel strings seat lower in the notch than the nylon strings.


That's right—same deal with the crossing file which makes a V-groove with curved sides.  I just made a couple of bridges that work with both kinds.

May 27, 2019 - 12:22:50 PM

10275 posts since 10/27/2006

I like a saw and finish with a nut slotting file. I use only two — a .026 for wound strings and a .016 for plain. If setting up for nylon, I'd use the .026 for everything.

I like the smooth rounded groove. Width of the slot shouldn't matter—a string sits nice and snug without buzzing—but some would be bothered by the cosmetics of a wider slot on plain strings. Nylon and steel will sit at the same height.

May 27, 2019 - 12:31:10 PM

69224 posts since 5/9/2007
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With my full set of saws I can cut each notch from .002" - .004" wider than the string.
Very stable with the rounded bottom of the slot nearly the same size as the string with no pinching.

Nice look to having each notch fit the string.

Edited by - steve davis on 05/27/2019 12:33:00

May 27, 2019 - 12:45:17 PM

10466 posts since 2/12/2011

Jun 4, 2019 - 7:11:07 PM

HarleyQ

USA

2978 posts since 1/31/2005

Folks, he's only doing a couple bridges. Don't think he's going into business!!surprise

Jun 4, 2019 - 8:18:46 PM
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rudy

USA

14048 posts since 3/27/2004
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I use a small three cornered file to create a "V" shaped notch sloping in both directions downward from the center point.  This results in a bridge with a small single contact point that breaks away in all directions from the string.  Using slots sized a few thousandths larger than the string is the quickest way to create buzz problems that I know of.  (You won't hear that from the folks who love to sell you high priced specialty files, though...)

The V slotted bridge also lets you swap between steel and synthetic strings and use the same bridge.

If your banjo is set up correctly there will be enough down force that strings will stay in the grooves with no problem.

Some minstrel setups are done with light down force and require a slotted bridge, but that's not normally a problem.

Make yourself a bridge vise to make all the shaping easy...

Jun 5, 2019 - 6:28:23 AM

69224 posts since 5/9/2007
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You don't have to go into business to bother buying decent tools that last a lifetime.

Jun 5, 2019 - 6:57:17 AM
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299 posts since 8/14/2018
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quote:
Originally posted by steve davis

You don't have to go into business to bother buying decent tools that last a lifetime.


I agree that it's not foolish to buy a good tool when you are buying tools, but it doesn't necessarily warrant spending a lot of money to make one piece, when there are a number of folks here (such as yourself) who can sell them a new bridge cut to specification for less than it would cost to buy the tools.

Jun 5, 2019 - 9:40:10 AM
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HarleyQ

USA

2978 posts since 1/31/2005

quote:Originally posted by steve davisYou don't have to go into business to bother buying decent tools that last a lifetime.



Torch cleaning files "don't" dissolve over night!!

Jun 5, 2019 - 1:36:54 PM

69224 posts since 5/9/2007
Online Now

I've used the torch tips and find their flexibility and overall dullness unsatisfactory.
You never know when a creative urge could strike and having decent tools encourages that with their ease of operation and great accuracy.
I own a nice Makita circular saw that I hardly ever use,but when I want to cut something I'm glad I have it.
I'm not a pro pool shooter,but I own a very nice McDermott stick because it feels just right...puts a smile on my face.

Jun 5, 2019 - 2:13:31 PM
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1928 posts since 9/13/2018

So there Hoyt!

Bruce

Jun 5, 2019 - 3:06:57 PM

7265 posts since 1/7/2005

I use just one file that will cut string slots of any diameter. It's not automatic, but if you are careful and watch what you're doing, it's precise and quick.

On the nut, II file with the thin end pointed toward the bridge, and on the bridge, I point it toward the nut. This provides a bit of clearance on the outer edges of the nut and the bridge, which eliminates any binding, but provides a sharp edge and perfect fit on the inner edges to eliminate buzzing. 

The file is pretty expensive, but is much finer and more precise than the ones commonly seen sold in sets, and while it's  almost certainly on the delicate side, I haven't broken mine yet, and am completely satisfied with the job it does. Is it the best tool? It is for me, but I can only speak for myself. 

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000IE44KU/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_search_asin_title?ie=UTF8&psc=1

DD

Jun 5, 2019 - 5:03:11 PM
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RV6

USA

1191 posts since 2/3/2012
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Rudy,   You have a center section of laminated ebony on your bridges.   I can see how this would work very well using a triangular file for both steel and nylon strings, especially steel .  If you were to use a plain, non topped bridge of maple or walnut, this method might not work with steel strings, right?  Especially with walnut, I would think the steel strings would cut into the wood very readily.

Using Nylgut's, I imagine  your method of using a triangular file for slotting would work just fine with a plain walnut or maple bridge?  No worries about the strings cutting into the bridge slots.

I did use your method on several bridges that I've made but I kind of lost track of which was which so never got a handle on how such bridge's performed.   I've made a lot of bridges (because I like making them) , topped with purpleheart and untopped, walnut and maple and have used them with steel and nylon over the past few years, but I didn't keep very good records.   I think, for the rest of my playing days, I'm going to stick with Aquila Nylgut's.  Less stress on "wonky" arthritic fingers/hand/wrists (and no fret wear).   So, I will continue to make bridges of different heights, weights, string spacing's, etc. just because it's fun and gives me something to do.  On my two main player's, I switch the bridges I've made  from time to time as one bridge might sound better than the other on any given day.  Heck, even with the same bridge on a banjo, the sound is different from day to day.  Perhaps it's a "hearing aid" thing?

I started making bridges with different heights, form (three or two legged), weights and string spacing's to see what worked best so I could order a "custom" bridge.  I found some of my bridges worked well enough for me that I never got around to ordering a "real" bridge.

Jun 5, 2019 - 5:30:04 PM

DSmoke

USA

688 posts since 11/30/2015

I have used the welding torch cleaners for years, finally invested in the Stew Mac gauges saws after making a few nuts. The torch cleaners will work, but if money is no object, get the proper tools.

Jun 5, 2019 - 5:58:56 PM

4316 posts since 12/24/2003

I like this tool for cutting notches.... but Stew-Mac files work great too!!




Jun 5, 2019 - 6:30:23 PM
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rudy

USA

14048 posts since 3/27/2004
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quote:
Originally posted by RV6

Rudy,   You have a center section of laminated ebony on your bridges.   I can see how this would work very well using a triangular file for both steel and nylon strings, especially steel .  If you were to use a plain, non topped bridge of maple or walnut, this method might not work with steel strings, right?  Especially with walnut, I would think the steel strings would cut into the wood very readily.

Using Nylgut's, I imagine  your method of using a triangular file for slotting would work just fine with a plain walnut or maple bridge?  No worries about the strings cutting into the bridge slots.

I did use your method on several bridges that I've made but I kind of lost track of which was which so never got a handle on how such bridge's performed.   I've made a lot of bridges (because I like making them) , topped with purpleheart and untopped, walnut and maple and have used them with steel and nylon over the past few years, but I didn't keep very good records.   I think, for the rest of my playing days, I'm going to stick with Aquila Nylgut's.  Less stress on "wonky" arthritic fingers/hand/wrists (and no fret wear).   So, I will continue to make bridges of different heights, weights, string spacing's, etc. just because it's fun and gives me something to do.  On my two main player's, I switch the bridges I've made  from time to time as one bridge might sound better than the other on any given day.  Heck, even with the same bridge on a banjo, the sound is different from day to day.  Perhaps it's a "hearing aid" thing?

I started making bridges with different heights, form (three or two legged), weights and string spacing's to see what worked best so I could order a "custom" bridge.  I found some of my bridges worked well enough for me that I never got around to ordering a "real" bridge.


You would think there would be a lot of difference, but I've made plain maple bridges and haven't noticed steel strings wearing the slots down prematurely.  If you switch bridges often I would think it would be more of an issue.  What actually happens is the sharp apex created from the V slot deforms slightly to the shape of the string and it doesn't go any farther.   In my case it takes about 15 minutes to make a bridge, and it's all scrap material that would get tossed anyway, so I can always stick another bridge in if there was any noticeable string wear.

I initially used the laminated bridge with ebony center mostly to counter the bridge's tendency to develop sway-back over time as it reacts to string pressure.  That's a natural occurrence since a banjo head deflects into a slight concave shape from the bridge pressure.  I still do the laminated bridges mostly from habit, but I add a slight bit of top radius to my bridges now so my educated guess is the lamination is no longer necessary.  I'll most likely quit using it as I move towards eliminating any ebony use in my banjos. 

I've always shaped the feet to mimic the shape the head takes on as a result of bridge pressure.  When I started making banjos several years ago that just seemed like an obvious necessity when a bridge is fitted.  I noticed on some of the older banjos I saw that the bridge would deflect into a concave shape if it started out dead straight, and since the majority of bridges were the generic Grover bridges that music stores always had on hand that was often the case.  I think the last one I bought at a music store was 50 cents, so that's been a while ago.

Bridges have been experimented with Ad nauseam, but the single biggest design consideration is the bridge mass.  Sometimes the mass needs to have the material stiffness taken into account, but generally the weight is going to be the determining factor for tone and volume.

The really interesting thing is what works well on one banjo might not work for another, so you can't simply say "The lower the weight, the better".

I hear you on the Nylguts.  I love the tone and feel of them.  The problem that I have is like the proverbial plumber's leaky sink.  I have one banjo here at present and it's got steel on it, although it's one of my "dual fuel" banjos that take steel or synthetic strings.  It would take me 15 minutes to put on a set of Nylguts, and they are in the string drawer already.

I need to spend LESS time on the forum and more time making banjos.  (There's a couple partially done ones in the shop right now...)

Edited by - rudy on 06/05/2019 18:40:28

Jun 5, 2019 - 6:54:11 PM
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HarleyQ

USA

2978 posts since 1/31/2005

quote:
Originally posted by Tim Purcell

I like this tool for cutting notches.... but Stew-Mac files work great too!!


 There ye go Tim. That's what a PROFESSIONAL Bridge maker useswink

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