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Oscar Paco

Gibson J-35 Long Saddle Mod Opinions

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First, a quick introduction. I'm a long time lurker but first time poster. I am new to Gibson guitars. Most of my guitars up until now have been Martin, Larrivee, and Guild. I wasn't bitten by the Gibson bug until I played a NOS 2013 J-35 in a local shop a few months ago. This guitar is now my favourite guitar. I wrote my son's name on the back with a ball-point pen just to make sure I don't ever do something crazy like sell it. My son's birth year is the same as the guitar (2013) and I intend for him to own it one day.

 

I removed the Baggs Element and used some brown shoe polish to make the tuning buttons a gorgeous cream colour. In an effort to further "vintage-ize" the guitar I am considering having a local pro install a long bone saddle. It needs a new saddle anyhow, or at least a shim, since I took out the UST.

 

Does anyone have any experience with this type of modification? Could it be easily routed out to accommodate a long saddle, to achieve the look of a vintage J-35? I will also have him slot the bridge and fit un-slotted bone pins.

 

Oh, I also replaced the pickguard because I find Gibson's modern firestripe guards to be very unattractive.

 

I've read a lot about replacing nuts, saddles, pins, etc on Gibson slopes, but haven't read anything about fitting a long saddle.

 

Looking forward to the discussion and I will follow up with any updates.

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Hi, and welcome to the forum!

 

Some vintage J-35s actually had drop in saddles. See this link as an example:

 

http://www.j-35.com/j-35-registry/4659G-17DarioRonco.html

 

So in this regard your reissue is vintage correct. The most obvious cosmetic errors on the modern J-35 are the banner logo and the pickguard, in my opinion. As for the best reissue pickguards, go here: http://www.firestripepickguards.com

 

Congratulations on a great guitar!

 

Lars

 

By the way, slotting and fitting solid pins is probably a good idea, but I'm not so sure old J-35s had solid pins. My 1942 J-45 has slotted pins, for instance.

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Thanks Lars,

 

I'm less concerned with it looking exactly like a replica of an early J-35 and more interested in just making a few minor changes to see if I can make it more pleasing to my ears/eyes and dress it up as my own. I just happen to really like the look of a long saddle.

 

I was eyeing those pickguards for a while but the guy never had any in stock on Reverb so I ended up buying one from LMII. It hasn't arrived yet but I expect it to this week.

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From a practical standpoint, I always go with the drop-in. When it comes to aesthetics, it's whatever makes you feel good😐

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I guess the rectangle bridge was throwing me and I thought J35s already had a long saddle. Anywho, this mod can be done by a good luthier/tech. They plug the existing drop-in route in the bridge and then cut a new long saddle slot. Someone was recently asking about this on the Martin forum:

http://theunofficialmartinguitarforum.yuku.com/topic/186333/convert-modern-bridge-vintage-style-bridge

 

I guess the trick is to find someone who's skills you trust enough to do this. I personally think your J35 would look great with a long saddle in the rectangle bridge.

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You could convert the bridge to a through-cut saddle, but your repairman will hate you. Or, more accurately, the repairman you take the guitar to to fix any subsequent issue will hate you. Then again, he/she will be able to charge you more, since the work will take longer. So maybe he/she will love you....

 

Naturally, the problem is that if you need to adjust the height of the saddle, you have to rip out the old saddle. With a drop-in saddle, you simply lift out the saddle, shave some off the bottom or add a shim and you're done. With a through-cut saddle, you have to break the glue joint (the saddle is glued in) and sand down the saddle slot. Then you go about making and shaping a new saddle and gluing it in. EVERY repairman I've ever spoken to said it is a hassle and a half.

 

And, EVERY repairman I've ever spoken to has said that, sonically, a through-cut saddle offers no improvement over a drop-in saddle.

 

That said, when I had Minneapolis luthier/repairman Kevin Schwab build me a D-18 clone, I asked for a through-cut saddle. I'd always wanted a guitar with one. He protested, but went along with it. It looks/works great. But I have no desire to alter my J-35 to match. For one thing, if you extend the saddle slot all the way to the wings of the bridge, it doesn't leave a whole lot of wood in front of the treble side of the saddle. I've had repairmen tell me that can lead to a cracked bridge. And a J-35 saddle doesn't have much wood in it to start with.

 

Here, Frank Ford describes removing a Martin through-cut saddle:

http://frets.com/FretsPages/Luthier/Technique/Guitar/Saddles/ThruSaddle/thrusaddle.html

 

And here, he talks about a through-cut hybrid that incorporates a drop-in saddle so the owner can use a UST:

http://frets.com/FretsPages/Luthier/Technique/Guitar/Pickups/LongSadPU/longsadpu.html

 

Also, while the brown shoe polish may give the tuner buttons an old look, you'd probably be better served by getting new tuners anyway. I replaced the tuners on my '35 with some Golden Age Restoration 3-on-a-plate tuners (with cream matte knobs) ordered from StewMac. Look perfect and work very smoothly: http://www.stewmac.com/Hardware_and_Parts/Tuning_Machines/Solid_Peghead_Guitar_Tuning_Machines/Golden_Age_Restoration_Tuners_for_Solid_Peghead_Guitar_with_Square-end.html

 

Enjoy your J-35!

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Naturally, the problem is that if you need to adjust the height of the saddle, you have to rip out the old saddle. With a drop-in saddle, you simply lift out the saddle, shave some off the bottom or add a shim and you're done. With a through-cut saddle, you have to break the glue joint (the saddle is glued in) and sand down the saddle slot. Then you go about making and shaping a new saddle and gluing it in. EVERY repairman I've ever spoken to said it is a hassle and a half.

 

 

 

I have three Gibsons with long, slot-through saddles. None are glued in place. Why on earth would anyone glue them in?

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I have three Gibsons with long, slot-through saddles. None are glued in place. Why on earth would anyone glue them in?

 

You should tell that to Martin and other manufacturers who offer guitars with through-cut saddles that are glued in. I quote from Frank Ford's frets.com site:

"The 'through cut' saddle needs to be glued in place to achieve the same strength as the captive one, and is generally considered an obsolete style. Today's under-the-saddle piezo pickup elements make the glued, through cut saddle even more obsolete."

 

It seems there is some question as to whether Martin still glues in the saddle on its models with through-cut saddles. Here's someone at the 13th fret describing replacing a plastic Martin saddle (installed at the factory with super glue!) with a bone saddle, which he glued in with hide glue.

http://www.13thfret.com/saddleswap.shtml

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I have three Gibsons with long, slot-through saddles. None are glued in place. Why on earth would anyone glue them in?

 

I have glued the through-cut saddles on my modern Gibsons. I believe this type of saddle is more prone to leaning from string pressure over time, since there is less wood to support it. I once had a Martin through-cut saddle that started to lean. I had it removed and glued in a replacement. It shows no tendency to lean, going on five years. So just as a precaution, I have glued my Gibsons too, but that is just how I am [biggrin]

 

Lars

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Naturally, the problem is that if you need to adjust the height of the saddle, you have to rip out the old saddle. With a drop-in saddle, you simply lift out the saddle, shave some off the bottom or add a shim and you're done. With a through-cut saddle, you have to break the glue joint (the saddle is glued in) and sand down the saddle slot. Then you go about making and shaping a new saddle and gluing it in. EVERY repairman I've ever spoken to said it is a hassle and a half.

Not so. You leave the saddle in place while reshaping it. Yeah, it's more time consuming than pulling a drop in saddle and lowering it from the bottom. You've got to mask off the top near the bridge to avoid doing collateral damage. And, you've got to re-re-compensate the saddle when you do file its top down. But, it's not terribly difficult. I do this on my vintage guitars and my modern guitars with long saddles.

 

This said, I put a drop in on the one guitar I've built because adjustment is easier.

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I have three Gibsons with long, slot-through saddles. None are glued in place. Why on earth would anyone glue them in?

Not everyone glues them in. But, of necessity, the saddle slot is shallower than on a drop in. As a result, through saddles are more prone to leaning and splitting a bridge. So, some folks glue them in. Martin has always done so.

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Not everyone glues them in. But, of necessity, the saddle slot is shallower than on a drop in. As a result, through saddles are more prone to leaning and splitting a bridge. So, some folks glue them in. Martin has always done so.

 

 

It's all about making sure the saddle is a good tight fit into the slot. If you have a very steep break angle, there is quite a bit of bending moment on the saddle, but if it fits the slot properly, a saddle that isn't glued in shouldn't pose a risk to the bridge.

 

Belly-up Gibson bridges usually have a fairly shallow break angle. Rectangular bridges and belly-down bridges usually result in the saddle closer to the pins, and a steeper angle. The break angle on my 1948 J-45 bridge is quite shallow:

 

bridge.jpg

 

J-45pins.jpg

 

While the one on my L-OO is at the other extreme:

 

colosipins.jpg

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Most gibsons I've seen have a lesser saddle / string break than other guitars .

 

And as nick says , if the saddle is a proper fit then it won't lean inside its slot . Ive often thought that when folk change the saddle to bone , or whatever material they choose , the change in tone etc. is down to the fact that the new saddle has been a much better fit than the original , rather than the change of materials ..

I'm not saying the material has no bearing at all before you all start on me , but the fact that a new saddle professionally fitted will fit like a glove ...

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Update:

 

I took the guitar to a local luthier, Andy Nicoll, who builds some very fine guitars. Despite my desire for the look of the through saddle, we are just going to replace the Tusq with a drop in bone saddle. He's going to do a setup and use some water buffalo pins that he has in his shop.

 

He said he could have routed it out and put a through saddle but we decided it wasn't worth the hassle.

 

I may upgrade the tuners at some point but see no real need to right now.

 

I hope she sounds a little better with the new saddle and pins!

 

If I find the tone has changed negatively with the modifications it won't be hard to go back to a Tusq saddle.

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Update:

 

I took the guitar to a local luthier, Andy Nicoll, who builds some very fine guitars. Despite my desire for the look of the through saddle, we are just going to replace the Tusq with a drop in bone saddle.

 

That's a perfectly reasonable approach. The drop-in is simpler, and better in some ways.

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You could convert the bridge to a through-cut saddle, but your repairman will hate you. Or, more accurately, the repairman you take the guitar to to fix any subsequent issue will hate you. Then again, he/she will be able to charge you more, since the work will take longer. So maybe he/she will love you....

 

Naturally, the problem is that if you need to adjust the height of the saddle, you have to rip out the old saddle. With a drop-in saddle, you simply lift out the saddle, shave some off the bottom or add a shim and you're done. With a through-cut saddle, you have to break the glue joint (the saddle is glued in) and sand down the saddle slot. Then you go about making and shaping a new saddle and gluing it in. EVERY repairman I've ever spoken to said it is a hassle and a half.

 

And, EVERY repairman I've ever spoken to has said that, sonically, a through-cut saddle offers no improvement over a drop-in saddle.

 

That said, when I had Minneapolis luthier/repairman Kevin Schwab build me a D-18 clone, I asked for a through-cut saddle. I'd always wanted a guitar with one. He protested, but went along with it. It looks/works great. But I have no desire to alter my J-35 to match. For one thing, if you extend the saddle slot all the way to the wings of the bridge, it doesn't leave a whole lot of wood in front of the treble side of the saddle. I've had repairmen tell me that can lead to a cracked bridge. And a J-35 saddle doesn't have much wood in it to start with.

 

Here, Frank Ford describes removing a Martin through-cut saddle:

http://frets.com/FretsPages/Luthier/Technique/Guitar/Saddles/ThruSaddle/thrusaddle.html

 

And here, he talks about a through-cut hybrid that incorporates a drop-in saddle so the owner can use a UST:

http://frets.com/FretsPages/Luthier/Technique/Guitar/Pickups/LongSadPU/longsadpu.html

 

Also, while the brown shoe polish may give the tuner buttons an old look, you'd probably be better served by getting new tuners anyway. I replaced the tuners on my '35 with some Golden Age Restoration 3-on-a-plate tuners (with cream matte knobs) ordered from StewMac. Look perfect and work very smoothly: http://www.stewmac.com/Hardware_and_Parts/Tuning_Machines/Solid_Peghead_Guitar_Tuning_Machines/Golden_Age_Restoration_Tuners_for_Solid_Peghead_Guitar_with_Square-end.html

 

Enjoy your J-35!

 

Slotted saddles aren't always glued in,at least on Gibson so there is no "ripping or breaking" the glue joint. I am NOT a repairman, luthier, etc. Just a guy who misses around and has made three slotted saddles now after buying some blanks and files from StewMac and using my Dremel. My first attempt took forever, but by the third one I can made a new saddle for my AJ in a couple hours, like 2-3 hours, and you can see the results inputs #7 in this thread. If a dingus like me can do it, I'm sure any skilled tech or luthier with better/more tools at their disposal can crank one out MUCH faster. Let's face it, making a nit or saddle for a guitar is a pretty BASIC skill that EVERY competent should know how to do. If you have someone giving you grief and protesting a slotted saddle, they are either being super lazy or just can't do it, and you should find someone else. Yes, it is true that it's quite a but easier to lower the action on a drop-in saddle simply by sanding the bottom, and if you go too far you can shim it using super glue and thin wood strip and not have any real change in sound compared to the slotted saddle where you lower the action by sanding from the top. This is more difficult and you also have to retain the proper radius. If you go to far, well then you have to start over, but again, this is a BASIC skill for a tech in my opinion. Now, plugging and routing out a bridge that set up for a drop in saddle and converting it to a slotted saddle is a whole different story for sure.

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It's all about making sure the saddle is a good tight fit into the slot. If you have a very steep break angle, there is quite a bit of bending moment on the saddle, but if it fits the slot properly, a saddle that isn't glued in shouldn't pose a risk to the bridge.

Agreed. But, again, because the slots on the through saddle can't go any deeper than the top surface of the bridge wings, they are shallower. As a result, Martin has always glued them in.

 

None of my vintage Gibson through saddles have been glued in and the through saddles on my guitars made by my all-time favorite modern luthier, Kim Walker, aren't glued in. But, some folks insist on gluing in through saddles.

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Not so. You leave the saddle in place while reshaping it. Yeah, it's more time consuming than pulling a drop in saddle and lowering it from the bottom. You've got to mask off the top near the bridge to avoid doing collateral damage. And, you've got to re-re-compensate the saddle when you do file its top down. But, it's not terribly difficult. I do this on my vintage guitars and my modern guitars with long saddles.

 

This said, I put a drop in on the one guitar I've built because adjustment is easier.

 

Thanks. Indeed, I should amend my original comment to say that, yes, if the need to lower the saddle arises, the work is done in situ. If you need to raise the saddle, however, you're stuck with pulling the old saddle and adding a shim or making a new one.

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If you need to raise the saddle, however, you're stuck with pulling the old saddle and adding a shim or making a new one.

This, of course, is the same for a drop in saddle. (Except for Gibson's funky adjustable saddles of the 1960s.) The difference is that you can't shim the through saddle because 1) the shim will show under the saddle ends and 2) the slot is too shallow to risk shimming the saddle

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