undersaddle transducer

Meet the Takamine Palathetic Pickup

Meet the Takamine Palathetic Pickup

First time you encounter a Takamine Palathetic pickup, you’re all, like, “Woah! Dude!? What gives?”

Yeah, it’s a bit weird-looking compared to most other under-saddle transducer pickups but there’s method behind Takamine’s madness.

Check it out… (Dude)…

Hum Problems with Bone Saddles and Takamine-Style Pickups

Hum Problems with Bone Saddles and Takamine-Style Pickups

Normally, Id recommend a bone saddle as a good upgrade for an acoustic instrument. However, here’s a rare instance where I’d advise against bone. Takamine-style integrated pickups don’t always play nicely with bone saddles.

Find out more…

Acoustic Power: The magic of piezoelectricity

Acoustic Power: The magic of piezoelectricity

Electric guitar pickups turn string vibrations into electricity. So do the piezo pickups often used in acoustic. The only difference is the way they do it.

We’ll talk more about the properties and problems of different acoustic pickups over the next few weeks so, for now, a piezo primer…

Shaving an Acoustic Guitar Bridge

Shaving an Acoustic Guitar Bridge

This is an acoustic guitar bridge and there’s something wrong with this picture. Well, the picture’s ok, but there’s definitely a problem with the guitar. 

You can see how low the saddle is. The string’s have no ‘break’ angle over it—that first string sits almost horizontally on the saddle. 

This means the strings impart very little downward pressure to the saddle. No downward pressure means that much of the strings’ vibration is lost rather than being transferred into the guitar top (which is what provides most of your tone and volume with an acoustic instrument). Poor tone and poor sustain.

Lower an Acoustic Guitar Saddle Slot

There are a couple of reasons why you might want to 'lower' the saddle slot in your acoustic guitar's bridge. Most of the time, this is necessary when you're installing an under-saddle pickup. These pickups are usually a strip of piezo-electric crystal that sits in the bridge slot, under the saddle (hence the name). 

Of course, popping in a pickup that's a couple of millimetres thick means that your saddle then sits higher in the slot, raising the action and possibly making for an unstable saddle.

The answer, in most cases, is to rout the slot a lower. This makes room for the pickup while meaning the saddle sits, comfortably at its original height. 

The routing is done with a Dremel-style tool, mounted in a router base. The important part of this work, however, is taken care of by that slightly complicated looking acrylic jig. Guitar guys used to have to make their own jigs for this but you can buy one now. That's a much easier way to go. 

The jig adjusts so that your router run matches the angle of the saddle slot and it includes a 'stop' at either end so you don't accidentally make your slot longer. It's a bit fiddly to set up but, once it is, the job is made much easier. Hurrah for clever jigs.

Routing acoustic guitar saddle slot lower

Lowering acoustic guitar saddle slot for UST

Low Saddle and Low Output

A low saddle means less break-angle as the strings travel over it

A low saddle means less break-angle as the strings travel over it

The string action on an acoustic can be altered by changing the height of the saddle. Most of the time, this means taking a little off the bottom to lower the action and improve playability. 

There's a danger in going too far though. Occasionally, a guitar's neck angle won't allow a comfortable playing action without making the saddle really low. More common is an older guitar that's been settling and shifting under string-tension for years. The saddle on these instrument may have been lowered again and again as the guitar reaches the point where a neck reset is needed.  

Either way, you don't want your saddle too low. As the saddle gets lower, the angle that the strings 'break' over it reduces. Too small an angle and the transfer of a string's energy into the soundboard suffers.

This is even more of a problem if you have an under-saddle transducer (UST) pickup. These pickups use piezo crystals that depend on pressure to produce a good signal. As the angle drops, and you start to lose that pressure, one or more strings may begin to lose output. 

What's the answer?

If it's necessary to have a saddle this low in order to achieve a comfortable action, it's probably time for a neck reset. Of course, that's not an inexpensive job. It can be possible to improve things by 'ramping' the string slots from the end-pin holes to increase that string break-angle. If someone suggests shaving the top of the bridge (the wooden bit the saddle sits in), you'll want to think very carefully about this. That's not something you really want to do on a nice guitar and it will devalue an instrument. It might be ok to get you out of a hole on something you don't mind getting beat-up, but it's not the ideal way forward in most circumstances (i.e. if your guitar is worth more than a hundred bucks or so).

it's worth mentioning that a low output from some strings with a UST/piezo pickup may not be related to this saddle break-angle thing. There are other things that can play into output and string-to-string volume balance issues. That's a discussion for another day, though.