If some of you are members of the Mandolin Cafe discussion site, you've seen that mandolin bridges have generated a couple of good discussions lately. One topic has to do with a subject of many experiments I've done, and that is mandolin bridge weight.
Most folks may never think much about the bridge that comes on their mandolin---it's only a bridge, right?---but finding the right bridge is possibly the easiest (and sometimes the cheapest) way to give your mandolin a big improvement in sound.
One well-proven possibility is to put a maple bridge on your mandolin. Maple bridges are easy to make, and the material is cheap. I also offer bridges that I make (check out my bridge page), but I recommend that you make your own, starting with designs that I've developed and going on to test your own ideas.
One of the most remarkable things about maple bridges is that they weigh so much less than conventional, two-piece ebony ones. For example, a maple bridge will typically weigh from 6 to 10 grams installed, and a two-piece ebony bridge might weigh from 13 to 22 grams! ---that's a lot of extra bridge-weight for the mandolin to try to overcome.
This bridge was fairly thin and weighed only 4/5 grams, which I soon found out was pushing the low end of the bridge-weight range. My next bridge, #3, was even thinner and lighter, coming in at about 4 grams:
--and not only was the bridge thinner than the last one, but the sound was thinner too, with less volume as well. So now I had a lower limit on bridge weight. I made a much heavier bridge, almost 1/2" thick, and reduced the thickness gradually while playing it to see how the sound was changing. It turned out the best sound came into the bridge at about 10g., and then there was very little variation until the weight came down to 4g. or so. After another 15 or so bridges, experimenting with the design as well as the weight, I developed a standard model:
This "winged" bridge was my standard for a couple of years. These have all weighed about 7g. to 10g. installed (on bluegrass mandolins), and their sound is very rich, clear, and consistent.
So that's how I found out the best weight for a mandolin bridge. Don't believe it? Try making one for yourself!