Monday, March 15, 2010

Installing Graph Tech saddles on a Tune-O-Matic bridge

Removing and replacing the saddles on a Tune-O-Matic (TOM) bridge can be a confusing and somewhat fiddly process, but really isn’t that difficult. Note, though, that there have been several variations of the TOM bridge, and the process differs slightly from model to model. Also important to note is that each different bridge requires a different set of Graph Tech saddles, so make sure you buy the right ones.

Go here to check which model you need:

Here’s the patient. It’s a 1993 Gibson Les Paul Studio.

If you look closely, you can see that the strings have started to make their own slots where they shouldn’t, though that's not the only reason for this upgrade. The bridge in question is a Nashville pre-2000 bridge, which means the required Graph Tech saddles are part number PS-8500-00.

Once the strings are removed, the bridge lifts off very easily. In fact, be careful it doesn’t fall off when you aren’t paying attention (same goes for the tailpiece, which slides off back the way). Here’s the bridge, with the old saddles still in place.

It is important to understand that TOM saddles (or rather, their screws) are held in place with some sort of retainer, be it a spring, wire, clip, or whatever. Luckily, this particular model allows the saddles (and their retainers) to be removed very easily.

First, unscrew the screw holding the saddle in place. As the saddle hits the front of the bridge, you will feel some resistance, but if you (carefully) continue to unscrew, the screw will force its way past the retainer and start to exit the back of the bridge.

Looking under the bridge now, you will most likely still see the retainer sitting in place. If you don’t see it, then it’s time to look around as it probably fell on the floor or workbench.

The retainer can easily be lifted out with a screwdriver or similar.

Repeat this process for all six saddles.

It’s a good time to give the bridge a good clean at this stage, as it’s unlikely to be as easy to do so anytime soon.

Here’s the set of Graph Tech saddles.

The saddles also come with six retaining clips (small E Type circlips). Make sure you don’t miss these as they are hidden behind the sponge in the packaging.

The saddles are placed in the bridge as follows, and the screws screwed in without the clips. Note that three of the saddles have wide slots (for the wound strings) and three have narrow slots (for the unwound strings). Make sure you put these in the right positions.

Now for the fiddly bit, the clips have to be pushed onto the small grooves in the screws. The location of the grooves is pointed out below.

A fairly simple way to do this is to place them more or less in place with pliers and then push down quite hard with a blunt instrument – in my case, a blunt punch. You will feel a definite click into place when they move to the correct position. Again repeat this process for all six clips.

Here's the bridge with all six saddles and clips in place. The position of the saddles is a bit of a guess at this moment.

The bridge is now put back on the guitar and intonated accordingly (that lesson’s for another day).