By Andrew Hassel
Want to know how to keep your bass playing and sounding great? Keep your bridge where it belongs! One of the things every string player should check before he or she plays is the bridge. Is it leaning forward? Is it crooked? Is it off-center? Players often bring me a bass thinking there is something wrong with the bridge, but they don’t know what—it can feel “odd,” sound “off,” or look “funny.” More often than not, it’s gotten bumped or is leaning forward a bit, which is quite common. Minor adjustments to the bridge can be corrected by the player with a little information (and practice). These three questions will help you figure out if your bass bridge is in the right place:
1. Is your bridge on straight?
Maybe you’ve seen a bridge that was tilted or crooked but didn’t know what was going on or how to fix it. Over time the strings tend to pull the bridge toward the fingerboard, resulting in a leaning (or sometimes warped) bridge. There are two easy ways to tell if your bridge is straight:
Check the feet of the bridge on the front and the back; there shouldn’t be any gaps. (ex. 1)
Looking at the bridge, visualize a 90° angle from the bass top through the bridge. (ex. 2)
If you notice that the bridge needs to be pulled back, detune the strings (about a third or fourth), lay the bass gently on its back or side, and using both hands, carefully pull the bridge back into place (ex. 3). The first couple of times can be a little nerve-wracking for the uninitiated, but the more you do it, the easier it will get. Don’t hesitate to ask a teacher or experienced player for help, too; this is something every string player has to deal with.
2. Is your bridge centered?
When a luthier carves a new bridge for a bass, he or she will take the time to make sure the bridge is centered and in the optimal place over the bass bar to get the most sound out of the instrument. If the bridge gets moved to one side or another, not only will the instrument not sound as good, but the strings will be crooked to the fingerboard and overall, the instrument will just feel “off.” So, if you notice something seems strange, take a minute to check if the bridge is centered.
Sight down the fingerboard: You should be able to see equal parts of the bridge on both sides. (ex. 4)
Measure the distance from the f-hole to the bridge. The bridge should sit approximately in the middle of the f-holes. (ex. 5) For example, if the bridge is sitting 50 mm on one side and 54 on another, it needs to be adjusted 2 mm to make it 52 mm on each side.
As with straightening the bridge, it is easiest to move the bridge when the bass is detuned a bit. You can pull the bridge leg with your fingers or tap it over with the side of your hand. Check the sighting and measurements and keep adjusting until it’s in the right place.
3. Is your bridge on the line?
This is a most misunderstood concept. Your bass should have two notches on each of the f-holes. If a line is drawn between the two lower notches, that gives a reference line of where the bridge should sit—right in the middle of that line. An easy way to check is with a ruler, making a line from the notch to the bridge. As always if it needs to be moved, detune the strings and gently pull or tap it back into place.
When should you take it to your luthier?
Although adjusting your bridge can seem daunting to some, I encourage every player to learn how to do it. If something seems really off or you have tried the steps listed and are still having problems, give your local luthier a call. Sometimes the bridge may have actually been cut incorrectly, causing many issues that would go unnoticed by a novice repairman or player. A good luthier should be able to spot any problems and correct them.