Saddle height: A quick tip on buying used guitars

We start December with a simple tip on inspecting a used guitar.

It is always good to look at the saddle to see if the guitar is worth buying.

The saddle has been one of the main area where owners and techs target when adjusting the setup. Whether to lower the action or installing an undersaddle piezo, the saddle height will be affected.

A good saddle height has enough clearance between the guitar top and guitar strings.

Good amount of saddle “exposed”

SDC10543

This is important because without this space, the guitar is essentially muted. Think of someone putting a hand very tightly over your mouth, You can scream all you want but no one hears you.

Sometimes a guitar has been setup too low and this gives plenty of problems. This picture from Frets.com shows an overly low saddle.

Saddle filed down too low (No good)

very-low-saddle-lg

You can see that the saddle barely clears the bridge, especially at the high E string. Having such a low saddle seriously affects the volume, tone and playability. The guitar is likely to have buzzing problems, or this could be a clear sign of manufacturing fault where the neck angle is incorrect.

Having an overly low saddle would also mean a shallow break angle. So a look from the side will show this.

Shallow break angle (No good)

lowsad3

Here you can see the strings are almost running straight and parallel to the top – almost a sure sign that the guitar is muted.

A good break angle is required for the guitar to sing and project.

Healthy break angle

DSCN0827

Big disclaimer

There will always be exception to rules so I won’t be surprised if there’s a guitar that can still be loud and clear even if there is no break angle or saddle clear of the bridge.

But this quick tip is usually useful when inspecting a guitar.

So when the seller, owner or tech tells you “use heavy strings”, “good and low action”, “I play very light fingerstyle”, or all any other stories when you obviously see a saddle problem… Walk away from the deal. 

*Photos from Frets.com, handcraftedguitars.ca and Acoustic Guitar Forum.

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