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I am now working on my 4th and 5th builds (3-string).  I have a recurring problem in that when I try using a traditional material like bone for my nut and bridge, the build lacks tone.  On my first build, I switched both to stainless nut s and bolts, keeping the saddle (a strip of cedar from the inside of the box (la Flor Dominica) and the tone improved tremendously.  It sounded good enough that I had someone begging me to sell it to them in the first week.  

I finished my second build, with bone nut and bridge with a cocobolo saddle, and the tone just isn't right.  
I'm abouot readyto change over to stainless again, but I really like the looks of the bone in contrast to the dark wood of the cocobolo. Does the thickness of the saddle affect the tone to a noticable degree.  

I really want to start acheiving more consistancy in my finished builds and this problem really bothers me.  Any suggestions?

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I use only bone or buffalo horn! on the bridge i keep the bone to an edge where the strings lay- the less contact they have there, the better the sound will be. On the nut i usually have a tappered edge towards the tuners, this helps in guilding the string and less stress on the string break at the nut.   Why do you have your soundholes so far back, you would get a much better sound from the box if you moved the forward near the fretboard. That might be one of the reasons your loosing sound. Actully with that size box you really don`t need 2 large soundholes, smaller ones or just one on the bass side would work well.

I usually use bone for the nut, and rosewood for the saddle.

I can see several problems with your build which are tone suckers - The saddle is laying sideways. It should be sitting on the thin side. Then like Randy is saying, shape it so that there is one contact point for the string. Traditionally, there is a slot in the bridge for the saddle to fit into, to help with gluing and sound transmission. Similarly for the nut, the slots are angled towards the tuners, with the high part on the fretboard side. Take a close look at "real" guitars for a model.

Next thing, the bridge is very far back on the box. You'll get more sound if it's about two thirds to three quarters of the way back - about where the "La" is in "LaFlor".  You can tap on the box with your finger and hear how different parts of the box sound more resonant or more restricted.

For the sound holes, I've had success with two f-holes towards the front/neck end of the box. F-holes would be considerably smaller than the round ports.

On the plus side, I really like how you finished off the tail end of the neck where the strings terminate. That is a really cool design.

Nice box Dick, I like what you did with the thru-box tailpiece.  Randy and Skeesix have given you great advice.  The nut and saddle should be tapered at the top so it has the least amount of contact with the string and the most contact with the box.  As Skeesix mentioned, your bridge is too far toward the edge of the top.  The slots in the nut and saddle should be as deep as half the width of the string and rounded on the bottom.  A rounded slot ensures maximum contact with the string and will avoid buzzing.  One way to get it round is to use a piece of wound guitar string as a makeshift file.  I start my slots with an Xacto saw and file them with a cheap set of acetylene torch tip cleaners. Check here.

Is the top of the box in contact with the neck thru?  There should be a slight gap between the neck and top to allow the top to vibrate freely.  On my builds the only contact the neck has with the top is about ½" where it enters and exits the box.

They are also correct about the size and position of the soundholes.  You can actually lose tone and volume with too large a hole.  On an average size cigar box, one or two 1" holes is fine.  There's actually a scientific principle called the Hemholtz Effect which takes into account the dimensions of the body and the volume of air inside.  I usually use two 1" holes set back a little from the neck and sides.

You didn't mention the sound plugged in.  I assume you are using a piezo.  I've found the best place to mount it is on the inside of the box under the bridge just the other side of where the fat string is.  I mount mine with hot glue in a recess cut into a ¼" piece of wood and attached to the box with thick foam double sided tape.  The wood helps to cut down on feedback and the glue and foam tape tame a lot of the tinnyness of a piezo as well as cut down on a lot of the handling noise of your hands on the neck, etc.

Good luck!

Thanx for your feedback, Randy.  Actually, this git has the sound (after I changed out the Nut and Bridge) that I'm trying to duplicate!  The Casa Torano is the one I want so badly to have a good tone.  As for the sound holes, that was an accident.  The box was picked up by a friend then set back down upside down.  When I noticed the change, The first hole was already drilled out.  The first time my musician friend heard it he had to have it and kept after me for it until I gave in.  I've had deep regrets ever since.  

Randy S. Bretz said:

I use only bone or buffalo horn! on the bridge i keep the bone to an edge where the strings lay- the less contact they have there, the better the sound will be. On the nut i usually have a tappered edge towards the tuners, this helps in guilding the string and less stress on the string break at the nut.   Why do you have your soundholes so far back, you would get a much better sound from the box if you moved the forward near the fretboard. That might be one of the reasons your loosing sound. Actully with that size box you really don`t need 2 large soundholes, smaller ones or just one on the bass side would work well.

Wow! Ted, that's a lot to absorb for this old head.  I guess my first build (La Flor Dominica) was an anomaly.  I mean that I seemed to have broken most of the rules, and still got a good result.  Too much sound hole surface area, sound holes in the wrong place and the neck glued fiull length to the lid.  Here is a pic of the one I need to improve.  The neck is screwed tot he box at the rear, not glue, air space (abt 1/2" above and below the neck in the box qith only about 1/2" at each end touching the lid.  A little more on the bottom.

 Right now I'm working on a new build (26" scale) Only one sound hole in a Flor de las Antillas box.  I'm using a Gitty piezo harness.  I'm getting gun shy about using anything but threaded stainless and nuts for nut and bridge.  If I go this route, how thick should the saddle be?  and are synthetics good for this?  I'm trying to stay away from the pre-manufactured stuff, but if I have to, I'll bend.  I'm looking for help so I can make a great instrument and anything thrown my way will be much appreciated.



Ted Crocker said:

Nice box Dick, I like what you did with the thru-box tailpiece.  Randy and Skeesix have given you great advice.  The nut and saddle should be tapered at the top so it has the least amount of contact with the string and the most contact with the box.  As Skeesix mentioned, your bridge is too far toward the edge of the top.  The slots in the nut and saddle should be as deep as half the width of the string and rounded on the bottom.  A rounded slot ensures maximum contact with the string and will avoid buzzing.  One way to get it round is to use a piece of wound here.

Is the top of the box in contact with the neck thru?  There should be a slight gap between the neck and top to allow the top to vibrate freely.  On my builds the only contact the neck has with the top is about ½" where it enters and exits the box.

They are also correct about the size and position of the soundholes.  You can actually lose tone and volume with too large a hole.  On an average size cigar box, one or two 1" holes is fine.  There's actually a scientific principle called the Hemholtz Effect which takes into account the dimensions of the body and the volume of air inside.  I usually use two 1" holes set back a little from the neck and sides.

You didn't mention the sound plugged in.  I assume you are using a piezo.  I've found the best place to mount it is on the inside of the box under the bridge just the other side of where the fat string is.  I mount mine with hot glue in a recess cut into a ¼" piece of wood and attached to the box with thick foam double sided tape.  The wood helps to cut down on feedback and the glue and foam tape tame a lot of the tinnyness of a piezo as well as cut down on a lot of the handling noise of your hands on the neck, etc.

Good luck!

Thanx for the feedback.  I'm definitely in a learning mode.  The neck is poplar, with a brazillian cherry fretboard (not cheap).  I generally sketch out what I want before I start and let the wood tell me where it wants to go.  I don't like sharp angles, and do everything by hand using a rasp and antique draw panes.  The only power tools are a Dremel, Drill, and orbital sander.  I used multiple coats of Deft Gloss Laquer.   Hope this helps you!  You guys are certainly helping me with your feedback.

Skeesix said:

I usually use bone for the nut, and rosewood for the saddle.

I can see several problems with your build which are tone suckers - The saddle is laying sideways. It should be sitting on the thin side. Then like Randy is saying, shape it so that there is one contact point for the string. Traditionally, there is a slot in the bridge for the saddle to fit into, to help with gluing and sound transmission. Similarly for the nut, the slots are angled towards the tuners, with the high part on the fretboard side. Take a close look at "real" guitars for a model.

Next thing, the bridge is very far back on the box. You'll get more sound if it's about two thirds to three quarters of the way back - about where the "La" is in "LaFlor".  You can tap on the box with your finger and hear how different parts of the box sound more resonant or more restricted.

For the sound holes, I've had success with two f-holes towards the front/neck end of the box. F-holes would be considerably smaller than the round ports.

On the plus side, I really like how you finished off the tail end of the neck where the strings terminate. That is a really cool design.

Try out this signature bridge that I designed for my CBG's. I use a flush mount cabinet hinge with the center tab removed. Then I solder in an 8 penny finish nail. The height is perfect and the look is very authentic. Sounds great too!

Attachments:

Try coming up with a bone tipped bridge, you`ll improve the quality of the tone and a wood base will add more vibration in the box also improving the sound.

Those are beautiful, as I am into that type of "shaping", I think I'll do this for my next!  I Have some scrap cocobolo and jatoba around, and should be beautiful, especially the dark wood with the white bone as a functional accent!

Thanx

here`s a tip; use a good epoxy when gluing the bone tip on the wood. What i do is glue a long square bone blank on the wood blank, clamp it for an hour or so then shape it after it`s dried. To get the bone tip level i take a piece of 120 grit sandpaper and spray glue it to a flat board. then use that as my leveling board.


 
Dick Mott said:

Those are beautiful, as I am into that type of "shaping", I think I'll do this for my next!  I Have some scrap cocobolo and jatoba around, and should be beautiful, especially the dark wood with the white bone as a functional accent!

Thanx

Level?  Do you mean horizontally with the surface of the box, or vertically with the sides of the wood base?  And what is the yellow wood in the foreground?  Very interesting texture/grain.

Thats end grain Osage Orange, I cut down a overgrown fence row a few years ago and harvested some Osage scrub tree`s.    When i say level- i meant the top of the bone tip...flat across the top - end to end. I use raw bone and mill it to exact shapes myslf. But i have seen on ebay where you can buy already milled bone blanks.It`s always good to have a few on hand for using as nuts, saddles, bridge tips, fretboard dots, knob tops, tuner knobs, etc.....

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