Stuck Stuff: Removing tun-o-matic Bushings

Stuck Stuff: Removing tun-o-matic Bushings

It’s occurred to me that a lot of a guitar repairer’s time is spent removing things from guitars. Sometimes that just involves unscrewing some screws but, other times (often?), some additional effort and knowledge is required to safely remove something. 

Like various ‘bushings’. Read on…

Tun-o-matic Collapse

The Gibson Tun-o-matic bridge sometimes has to take a lot of punishment. Primary cause of this punishment is the strain of the strings pulling it down. Depending on how your guitar's set up, this can be substantial and, after a while, the tun-o-matic can buckle under the pressure. 

Tun-o-matic bridge buckling - green line indicates original shape.

Another tunomatic beginning to collapse

Another tunomatic beginning to collapse

The green line in the first photo shows the shape this bridge started out. The second image shows the same thing on another tun-o-matic (albeit a little less pronounced). 

This collapse alters the radius that the strings are set to. The guitar's playability suffers and you'll often get a buzzing creeping in on the middle strings. Eventually, the bridge can develop cracks and fractures in places. 

Gone too far, there's often nothing to do but replace the bridge. Sometimes, however, it's possible to get the original back to shape.  

Rectifying Gibson tun-o-matic bridge collapse

This is the Haze Tun-O-Matic Straighten-O-Matic. By clamping the bridge in this and applying careful, gradual pressure, it's often possibly to straighten out a collapsing tun-o-matic. 

It's not magic—a lot depends on the extent of the collapse and the condition of the bridge—but, if you're lucky, it can save an original. 

Tun-O-Matic Turnabout

Gibson Intonation 01Gibson does things Gibson's way. Whether it makes sense or not.

Anybody who works with guitars could, most likely, give you a list of 'quirks' that help keep Gibson's guitars traditional. For 'traditional', you can sometimes read, "stuff that doesn't make sense but it's the way we've done it for decades so we'd be mental to change".

The saddles on the usual Les Paul bridge—the Gibson Tun-O-Matic—are individually adjustable so that each string can be tweaked to help intonate the guitar (to allow it play mostly in tune over the length of the neck). The bridge is installed at an angle to provide some extra backwards travel to get things where they need to be.

All seemingly reasonable.

There are two type of bridge generally fitted to Les Pauls (and most Gibson electrics): The ABR-1 and the Nashville. The ABR is the original and, if you've ever paid it any attention, you'll probably have seen that it has the three bass-side saddles installed backwards (that is, with the sloped/angled side towards the pickups)*. If you think about it, this isn't the best way to have a string contact a bridge—ideally, you want a clean, definite take-off point like you'd get with a straight edge, as on the treble strings.

So, why this craziness?

Basically, it's to make up for the fact that there is insufficient travel on the ABR bridge to properly add the compensation the wound strings need. Flipping the saddles allows a little bit more compensation before the saddle can't go any farther.

Now, to be fair, Gibson tried to address this issue (and others) with the ABR when they developed the Nashville Tune-O-Matic. And, just like when Gibson change anything, many people think that the original was best. Of course, I have an opinion on this but it's not really the point here, so I won't go into it. Suffice it to say, the Nashville bridge has a bit more travel for its saddles and so, it usually intonates reasonably well.

Gibson Intonation 02Sometimes though, it doesn't.

Sometimes, you need to do the ABR trick and flip a saddle. Good intonation takes precedent over any drawbacks associated with the backward saddles.

Not all Nashvilles are created equal when it comes to doing this. It tends to be easy on a Gibson bridge (just back the screw out until it disengages) but some aftermarket bridges are a bit more hassle.

Incidentally, the ABR-style bridge (with the already-reversed saddles) sometimes requires one or more saddle-flips too. A lot depends on factors like string-gauge and even whether the bridge has been installed slightly out of place (it happens). Saddle-flipping on an ABR-1 is really simple—pop out the retainer wire and lift out the saddle. Easy-peasy.

Perhaps I can make this the first in a series of Things That Are A Bit Mental About Gibson Guitars.

*Incidentally, occasionally, more or less than three saddles is reversed. It depends on how the particular guitar intonates.