String Break Angle at the bridge #2
What we generally refer to as the ‘offset’ Fenders (Jazzmaster, Jaguar, Mustang, Jag-Stang) can sometimes be a quirky bunch and one of their more common annoyances is the bridge.
Often, notes can suffer from a lack of focus and sustain. Strings can ‘jump’ from their slots if played even a little too hard, and the bridge itself can be buzzy and rattly. Sometimes you’ll even have saddle height screws vibrating loose and rattling, or even falling out. The Mustang bridge is a little better behaved than the others as it has fewer moving parts to buzz about but it can still be problematic.
While there are good arguments that some redesign work on the bridges might be beneficial, things can usually be improved hugely by altering the string break angle.
That’s the angle at which the strings pass over the bridge. We’ve talked about it before. Check out the string break-angle primer for more but the short story is that too shallow an angle over the nut or the bridge can cause problems. So can too steep an angle but that’s a completely different story.
Offset Fender Bridges
All too often on these guitars, the strings don’t make a very sharp angle over the bridge.
The shallow angle means there is a lack of downward pressure on the bridge saddles. This is no good for tone and sustain, and that lack of pressure doesn’t keep the bridge parts ‘locked’ together as well as they could be. That contributes to rattles and loose screws.
Raise The Bridge
Raising up the bridge — so it’s farther from the body — will solve the problem. The higher we go, the steeper the angle the strings take. And, therefore, the more downward pressure and fewer problems.
Well… Except for one new problem.
The higher bridge will give us higher action.
Usually we can’t just raise the bridge because the increased action would make the guitar much less comfortable to play.
So we shim the neck.
Shimming Necks Corrects Bridge Problems
Yeah, we work on the neck to sort out the bridge. Guitars are crazy, man.
It’s also worth my restating my warning as plainly as I can:
Do NOT shim with ‘short’ shims down the end of the neck pocket.
Only use a tapered/wedge-shaped full pocket shim. You can make them but it’s much easier to get them from Stewart MacDonald. You’ll feel like it’s too much to pay for a small piece of wood but it’s cheaper than a fret-level after the short shim deforms your neck.
Seriously. Full-pocket wedge shims only.
The Bottom Line
A few bucks on a neck shim can go a long way towards eliminating nasty bridge rattles and buzzes on these guitars.
Shim the neck to change neck angle. This allows you to raise the bridge to change string angle (without crazy high action).
Personally, I think the majority of offset Fenders will benefit from this procedure.