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Dec 10, 2023 - 2:36:49 PM
81 posts since 8/2/2014

I've been playing for a long time with a standard bridge. The banjo tones clearly up the neck. What is the purpose of a compensated bridge? Are they effective? I'm just wondering why mine apparently doesn't need one.

Dec 10, 2023 - 2:53:08 PM
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634 posts since 4/14/2014

Does it make a difference? Yes, but most of us can only be sure with an oscilloscope.

Dec 10, 2023 - 2:54:58 PM
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KCJones

USA

2863 posts since 8/30/2012

Compensated bridges change the string length to fix problems with intonation. If you don't have intonation issues, you don't need one.

banjobridge.com/br-05.htm

Dec 10, 2023 - 2:56:13 PM

81 posts since 8/2/2014

Understand now! Thanks.

Dec 10, 2023 - 5:38:56 PM
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14828 posts since 6/2/2008

Twelve-tone equal temperament, scale lengths, straight frets, and straight bridges are all compromises. Our 12-tone scale has a degree of out-of-tuneness built into it. Fretted instruments have a certain amount of out-of-tuneness built into them. But with 12-TET being the tuning standard for western music for going on three centuries, our ears have become accustomed to it and so the vast majority of us -- musicians included -- accept this standard as in tune.

Because of the compromises in intonation, variations in banjo setups, and the sensitivity and subjectiveness of our hearing, some of us hear some of our banjos as not intonating accurately, or as accurately as we'd like. Compensated bridges attempt to correct for one or more of the inherent inaccuracies or compromises of scale lengths and straight frets. Some compensated bridges lengthen only the third string. Others provide different lengths for different strings, in symmetrically curved or stair-stepped shapes or in string-by-string customized shapes. Some players angle their straight bridges to change string length and improve intonation.

I've used straight bridges and several versions of compensated design: third string, moon, stair-step, wavy. I think I'm using straight bridges on my two main players after having used compensated bridges for a while.

I can't decide what sounds best to me. My electronic tuner says all my bridges are off to some degree. The straight bridges I'm currently using sound fine.

Dec 10, 2023 - 5:49:13 PM
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81 posts since 8/2/2014

Very insightful, Ken. Kyle K. Smith did a rebuild on my archtop with some new parts and his amazing setup. He angled my straight bridge, slanted toward the 4th string and worked with various bridges of differing heights and weights. I had wondered about the bridge slant, but since it was intoning correctly, at least to my old ears, I didn't bother with it.

Dec 10, 2023 - 6:31:08 PM

1536 posts since 11/10/2022

Some fretboards have curved frets to create the same effect...change the string length slightly to make the notes wavelengths be closer in length when the frets arent perfect.

Dec 11, 2023 - 6:36:44 AM

634 posts since 4/14/2014

Check out Microfrets guitars from the 1960s -- wireless LW transmitters and a compensated nut for the B string.

Dec 11, 2023 - 1:51:30 PM
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13008 posts since 10/27/2006

All banjos have intonation issues with a straight bridge. No exceptions. The relatively short sustain of the notes keeps it from being an issue for many players.

The longer the scale, how they are setup and the strings you are using all make a difference on whether the intonation will bother you or not.

1) I set up banjos to that the 2nd and 4th strings intonate perfectly. This makes the 1st and 5th strings a little flat and the 3d less sharp going up the neck. 

2) Most set intonation at the first and 4th strings which makes the 2nd a little sharp and a plain 3rd way sharp with the 5th a little bit one way or the other.

3) My own banjos use heavy strings with a wound 3rd which causes less of a problem than a plain 3rd.

Want any of those three better up the neck? Get a compensated bridge. Doesn't bother you? Leave it alone.

Dec 11, 2023 - 4:50:12 PM
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jonc

USA

473 posts since 10/23/2014

judging from my finagling with electric guitars, the bridge position for each string will vary with the gauge of the string. So a compensated bridge can still be off if you're not using the gauges it was designed for.

I find a straight bridge is remarkably close. For best bridge position, check the harmonic at the 19th fret, should be the same note as the fretted string at that point.

Dec 11, 2023 - 10:41:57 PM
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13008 posts since 10/27/2006

quote:
Originally posted by jonc

or.

I find a straight bridge is remarkably close. For best bridge position, check the harmonic at the 19th fret, should be the same note as the fretted string at that point.


The octave and everything else except the 7th fret will be a little off. On a fretted instrument in equal temperment, there is no natural harmonic that's in tune with the fundamental except the 12th and 24th fret octaves.

That's a variation of the Tony Rice tuning — but he was Tony Rice. He tuned to the 7th fret harmonic of his low E to a tuning fork pitched B. When you play that fast, who cares if the intonation could be a little better?

Dec 12, 2023 - 5:07:29 AM
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Bart Veerman

Canada

5643 posts since 1/5/2005
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The 2 most common things that make banjos intonation unfrienly:

Bridges with thicker than 3 mm tops/toppin - specially Asian made came-with-the-bano bridges

LIGHT gauge strings, the sets starting with 09

The easiest: bridge tops 2.2 mm or thinner - 1.5-1.8 and string set 010, 012, 014, 022, 010 ideal. Yes Mike, that simple approach makes most banjos toe the line, even on electroni  tuners.

The most, by far, reason banjos need  compensated bridges: marketing hype.

Dec 13, 2023 - 1:21:20 PM
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79434 posts since 5/9/2007

I like the way my compensated bridge design starts everything at "0" on the 12th fret.

Very user friendly to not need to retune after capoing and hear the sweeter tones in full chords (among other things).

Edited by - steve davis on 12/13/2023 13:24:11

Dec 13, 2023 - 6:06:18 PM
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13008 posts since 10/27/2006

quote:
Originally posted by Bart Veerman

The 2 most common things that make banjos intonation unfrienly:

Bridges with thicker than 3 mm tops/toppin - specially Asian made came-with-the-bano bridges

LIGHT gauge strings, the sets starting with 09

The easiest: bridge tops 2.2 mm or thinner - 1.5-1.8 and string set 010, 012, 014, 022, 010 ideal. Yes Mike, that simple approach makes most banjos toe the line, even on electroni  tuners.

The most, by far, reason banjos need  compensated bridges: marketing hype.


Coming from someone who used to make compensated bridges, I find that comment odd.

I check every banjo I sell to get the best average among the strings for the least objectionable intonation. Then I draw a fine line in pencil so that the customer can match my setup. Haven't found one that toed the line yet with a straight bridge. Most people don't notice the problem, however.

One of the reasons that I stayed with a wound 3rd and heavy strings (Medium as they were known in the 1960s) on my personal banjos was because they intonate better.

Dec 14, 2023 - 6:23:25 AM
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79434 posts since 5/9/2007

Playing with a fine compensated bridge is a personal choice.
Trying one out can help one decide if they like them or not.
Just talking about one doesn't show their merits.

"Hype" has absolutely nothing to do with my compensated bridges.I was jealous of the electric guitar players being able to adjust their intonation at the bridge.
I can't think of any part of my life that involves "hype".

Dec 15, 2023 - 4:17:57 AM
Players Union Member

Helix

USA

17443 posts since 8/30/2006

At the bluegrass jam it was, "I know a guy who knows why compensated bridges don't work."

"Then why do they?"

Dec 15, 2023 - 8:21:41 AM

79434 posts since 5/9/2007

Stelling used compensated nuts for years.

Dec 15, 2023 - 8:48:10 AM

BTuno

USA

934 posts since 3/3/2007

Compensated nuts are very common in politics today  wink

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