Ten Mandolin Bridges of Different Woods

RedI was recently talking with one of our students about my mandolin bridge experiments, and thought that others might like to see some examples of how I found out which bridge woods sounded the best. Here's a detailed experiment in which I compared mandolin bridges made from ten different woods other than maple, and some of the woods were rather exotic (each bridge is about 4 inches long):

Ten mandolin bridges.

Here are the 10 woods, with the weights when the bridges were finished and tried:

In the left column:

Bridge #83. Ebony, 10.5 grams

Bridge #85. East Indian rosewood, 7.5 g.

Bridge #84. Brazilian rosewood, 8.9 g.

Bridge #67. Bloodwood, 10.4 g.

Bridge #66. African Blackwood, 8.7 g.

In the right column:

Bridge #89. Extra-heavy maple, 7.1 g.

Bridge #90. Teak, 7.6 g.

Bridge #88. Satinwood, 10.1 g.

Bridge #91. Persimmon (American Ebony), 8.7 g.

Bridge #92. Honduras mahogany, 6.4 g.

...and here were the results:

Left side:

83. Ebony: Good volume and sustain, but not exceptional. Bass quite solid, but not as deep as with the best maple bridges. Overall tone very clear, but somewhat restrained. Good "chunk" in the lower positions, but the chunk gets a little harsher up the neck. Treble volume and richness somewhat muted.

84. Brazilian rosewood: Good volume but a slightly tubby sound. Low end good, but high end is rather thin. Up-the-neck chunk has good volume but is a bit sharp-sounding.

85. East Indian rosewood: Fair volume. Pretty good bass, but midrange and highs pretty weak. Definition not good even on bass notes. Up-the-neck chunk harsh. Sound flabby overall. (Cut about 45 degrees to the quarter.)

67. Bloodwood: Good volume. Bass solid, but lacks a little in richness. Midrange good, but highs a bit thin.

66. African Blackwood: Fairly good volume, but low end a little dull. More body in the high end. Better up the neck than either of the rosewood bridges.

Right side:

89. Extra-heavy maple: An extremely satisfying bridge. Rich highs and lows, plenty of volume, evenness, and sustain. A great sense of "immediate response" from the mandolin. There seems to be only a small difference in response between this bridge and my very best maple bridges, but perhaps it is due to the fact that due to the grain in the block, I had to cut this bridge about 40 degrees from the quarter.

90. Teak: This wood was quite heavy and had the general appearance of mahogany, except that it was darker. The bridge gave plenty of bass but without as much definition and richness on the low notes as with the maple bridges. The mids and highs were fairly well balanced but a little weaker than with maple. Still, this was a pretty satisfying bridge.

88. Satinwood: A really good bridge! Rich bass, good low-end chunk, and smooth highs with plenty of body up the neck. This is all a nice surprise, especially since the bridge had to be almost slab-cut from the small block I have. More experiments with satinwood are indicated, especially if I can get some of it thick enough to cut a quarter-sawn bridge.

91. Persimmon (American Ebony): Not as much "body" to the sound as maple or silkwood, and highs a bit thin. Still, better than average in this group.

92. Honduras mahogany: A surprisingly good bridge! This bridge and #88 (silkwood) were the only two in this test which were really comparable with maple. This mahogany bridge had resonant lows, well-defined highs, and good sustain. I plan to do some follow-up work using this wood.

. . . . .

--as you can see, most of the woods sounded okay but only a few really sounded good. This was what I had to find out. None of these bridge woods sounded better than maple, and only a few came close. I've probably tried about 30 different woods now, and haven't found any wood as good-sounding as maple for mandolin bridges!

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.

5 thoughts on “Ten Mandolin Bridges of Different Woods

  1. Red Henry

    I have made several bridges of different designs from walnut (both straight and burl grain). They looked beautiful, but none of them sounded very good.

  2. Eric Hickman

    Very interesting, do you have recordings of these so we can hear the differences between them?

  3. Red Henry

    Post author

    Eric, thanks for your interest. In answer to your question, I did not record any “bridge clips” mostly because I made well over a hundred experimental bridges, and recording the sound of each one would have been just “too much” when added to the work of making, installing, playing and evaluating each bridge.

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