As you may suspect from the title, this is the first article of many I'll write about bridges. After making over a hundred experimental bridges of many different woods and designs, I've settled on a standard size and shape which I produce (in different heights) for mandolin. I've sold about 600 of these bridges now:
As you can see, this bridge is not adjustable. As you can also see, if you're used to looking at ordinary bridges, it's not only a funny shape, but a funny color too-- in fact, it's made of maple, not ebony or rosewood as usual. "Why," I hear you asking, "did you make them out of maple, and make them such a strange shape?"
Well, the answer is simple: The SOUND. I want to get the very best sound out of any mandolin, and a one-piece maple bridge seems to do it, in 99 out of 100 cases. After trying ebony, rosewood, mahogany, oak, hickory, cherry, yew, chestnut, dogwood, Osage orange, persimmon, blackwood, redwood, teak, and probably 15 other woods, maple still sounded best. And why not? The violin world has known for hundreds of years that a maple bridge sounds best. And the banjo players know it too. So since maple's best for fiddle and banjo bridges, it's not surprising that it sounds best on mandolins too.
By "best," what do I mean? Well, here's what you typically hear when a mandolin has a well-designed maple bridge: (1) More volume. (2) More sustain. (3) Clearer treble ("bell-like" E and A strings, in many cases). (4) clearer D and G strings. And also (this is pretty important), a maple bridge seems to help the mandolin play in tune better and stay in tune while you're playing it.
Is this the end of the story? Is this kind of bridge, made from maple, all there is to discover about mandolin bridges? Of course not. I encourage anyone with minor woodworking ability (or ambition) to make your own bridges-- for mandolin, or for banjo, either one. Try out all the different woods and designs you can imagine. You may be able to discover something new, or at least make yourself a bridge that you like better than the one you have. Maple is easy to find (it's in a lot of scrap furniture and flooring), and you can also find low-priced maple strips on our website, cheap.
I've been using a maple bridge for over 5 years on both my mandolins, and Chris usually has one on his mandolin too. He had a maple bridge on his mandolin when he recorded our Bill-Monroe Style Mandolin DVD. And those of you who took Mandolin 101 from Casey at Kaufman Kamp saw (and heard) the maple bridge on the mandolin she was playing. If you feel like experimenting with bridges yourself, you can find a description of the bridgemaking process on our site. Let me know how you do!
Red Henry (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Making a bridge
The maple bridge design page