About Making Maple Mandolin Bridges (and more)

Red HenryWhen I first began making maple mandolin bridges I got a good bit of flak from folks who were wedded to the conventional bridge stereotype---the idea that because the Gibson company had used ebony for its adjustable bridges (and for the one-piece bridges before that), there was no way to improve on the conventional mandolin bridge. But I believe that the Gibson company, restricted by its requirement for profitability, may never have experimented much with mandolin bridges. It takes some time and imagination to do a lot of bridge experiments, and all that would have gotten in the way of producing mandolins. So now, it's up to us!

For centuries, the violin world has known that maple is the best wood for bridges. Now, the Gibson company boasted that they took many of their F-5 mandolin design aspects from fine violins: the arched, finely "graduated" top and back; the f-holes; and the elevated fingerboard and tailpiece, for example. But they seemed to stop when it came to the bridge. So I thought I'd make a one-piece maple bridge for one of my mandolins (Randy Wood #3) and see how it sounded. Here's a photo of Bridge #1. The bridge was really crude, but it sounded great!

Bridge 1

...with this bridge, the tone was smoother and the treble was clearer, and the volume took a jump. I could see that I was onto something. So I kept on trying more and more bridge designs until I found my three favorites, the ones I talked about a few days ago.

While I developed the one-piece bridge designs, I also tried out new woods. If maple worked so well, I thought, shouldn't I try out a lot more woods including the traditional bridge woods, ebony and rosewood? So I started making bridges from lots of wood, and you might think I got carried away. I eventually tried out about 30 or 35 kinds of wood. Here are eighteen of them, with their sound compared and described:

... you can see that while there were quite a few woods that approached the sound of maple, none of them were better. So that's why I settled on maple as the best wood for mandolin bridges. Since then some mandolin builders I was in touch with, including Peter Coombe, Bill Bussman, and Randy Wood, have started providing one-piece bridges of maple (or ebony, in Peter's case) on the mandolins they make, either as standard equipment or by the customer's request.

I do sell maple bridges on our website but I recommend that you make your own. If you play mandolin and you'd like to do some light woodworking, check out the bridgemaking page, where the steps to making a bridge are listed and described. It's fun, and it's by far the cheapest way to upgrade your mandolin's sound! Try out some different designs and let me know how they do. Good luck!

Posted in By Red, Mandolin Bridges and tagged , on by .

About Red Henry

Began playing mandolin, guitar, fiddle, and banjo in 1967-69. I married Murphy in 1974. We led the Red & Murphy bluegrass band, playing professionally, from 1975-87. Since then I've handled the technical side of Murphy Method cassette, videotape, and DVD production. When you call I usually answer the phone, and I'm normally the one who sends out the orders.

7 thoughts on “About Making Maple Mandolin Bridges (and more)

  1. Steve (in Japan)

    I checked out those 18 woods. In the 3rd video clip in Aug. 6, 2008’s blog/entry the bridge on Chris’ mandolin stands out and for sure that’s one crafted by you, Red, isn’t it? By the way, your daughter and son are very talented. Those video clips prove it. I hope they’ll continue as a duo and with a band of their own.

  2. Red Henry

    Right. Actually, Chris’s mandolin sounds great on its own, with an extremely “dry” bluegrass sound. It’s a high-grade Randy Wood F-5 which I refinished it in varnish long ago, and the maple bridge just added to it– purer treble, smoother bass, more sustain, and some more volume. He sure gets the tone out of it, too.

    That song “One Foot in the Graveyard” is one of my favorites among his original numbers.

    Red

  3. ron

    I remember an article about red maple bridges premade for Gibson style mandolins and mandolas. Do you do this? If so, I would like to purchase said bridge for a H-1 1917 Gibson Mandola. Please advise Thanks

  4. redhenry

    Ron says:

    I remember an article about red maple bridges premade for Gibson style mandolins and mandolas. Do you do this? If so, I would like to purchase said bridge for a H-1 1917 Gibson Mandola. Please advise Thanks

  5. redhenry

    Ron, I no longer make bridges for sale, but I do have one more hard-maple mandola bridge in stock, which should sound really good on that mandola. Installation is required, so please contact me directly at redhenry@visusllink.com for details.

    Red.

  6. redhenry

    Comment:
    Ron, I no longer make bridges for sale, but I do have one more hard-maple mandola bridge in stock, which should sound really good on that mandola. Installation is required, so please contact me directly at redhenry@visuallink.com for details.

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