Action vs Saddle Clearance

We start July with a useful discussion on the importance of saddle height/clearance.

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Many times you’d hear people saying they can shave down the saddle to achieve a nice, low action of 5/64 or even 1/16 inch string height at 12th fret with NO buzzing. Yes, these aren’t boastful or untrue claims.

With thicker strings, lighter attacks and other variables, one can certainly achieve a low action without buzz. But we need to look at the saddle clearance to see if you’re compromising on tone and volume.

 

Low saddle clearance 

lowsad3

This picture shows a saddle that is way too low. Most of the time this will result in a loss of tone and volume (even if it doesn’t buzz). The guitar will just sound muted and anemic.

Also, if a guitar requires a saddle so low in order to achieve a playable action, it is either made with a bad neck angle or needs a neck reset.

 

Good saddle clearance

IMG_0803The picture above was taken during a bone saddle installation project on a Yamaha. We’ve got plenty of meat sticking out from the bridge.The result is nice tone and volume coming from your guitar. I must add that string height of Low E 12th fret here is about 5/64 inch capo on 1st fret. 

 

How much exposed saddle is enough? How low until it becomes bad?

Pono Guitars listed on their FAQ that it is recommended to have at least 4-5mm of exposed saddle. This would be a good reference.

IMG_0963

Then again guitars, wood, and build can be very different so there is no fixed number that we can use. I have encountered guitars where lowering a mere hair worth of saddle made a difference between a dead or singing instrument.

Generally, if the string is too straight across the saddle (low break angle), you know it’s not a good sign. This picture below shows a saddle that doesn’t give much string break.

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So be very careful when you purchase a used guitar or visit your guitar tech next time. Low action WITH the right saddle clearance is important. 🙂

*photos from frets.com, Bryan Kimsey and trulystrings.com

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