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Custom Banjo Bridges

In the early 1970s I wrote an article for PICKIN' magazine discussing my design of a continuous one legged bridge made of ebony and capped in pearl. At the time I had discovered it made a difference in the sound of the banjo that I liked, but I only had a vague intuitive notion as to why this should occur. Also at that time, I had never seen anyone use ideas like this, it was all three legged maple and ebony topped bridges with no variation. I refined this idea over the years, experimenting with different combinations of materials, varying the mass of the bridge by drilling more holes or thinning the top but keeping the single contiguous leg which provided a stiffness that prevented a middle sag in the bridge. As musicians purchased my bridges over years, I now see some luthiers making bridges similar to my designs and, although I know ideas sometimes germinate spontaneously in the air, sense that many of these are copies. If so, I'm flattered!

As you can see by this website, one of the areas I became expert in was speakers. Using ideas from the study of speakers, I became aware that each banjo has a natural resonant frequency which depends on Hooke's Law governing mass and stiffness which arises from both the materials and type of construction used. The resonant frequency is the place at which the banjo vibrates most freely, making it sound the "loudest" there. A bridge also has a resonant frequency and, if it has the right combination of mass and stiffness to match with the resonant frequency of the banjo, a richer sound will result arising from increased overtones. Often this means an increase of overtones in the lower to middle range frequencies, reducing the more shrill higher frequencies. Although my bridges can be purchased through the mail, the best method is to meet with me for some trial and error to find the best match. Here are some of my available bridges:

  1. Three legged maple with pearl top: this is the closest to the commercial bridges. The pearl cap increases stiffness and adds some mass, but does not radically change the sound. $25
  2. Continuous leg, maple with Corian top: These add more mass and deepen the sound of the banjo to a greater degree than bridges #1. $40
  3. Continuous leg, rosewood or ebony with Corian top: The denser wood adds slightly more mass and continues to deepen the sound. $45
  4. Continuous leg, maple with Deer Antler or Buffalo Horn top: Antler and horn are denser than Corian, which increases mass and likely the stiffness a bit more. $50
  5. Continuous leg, rosewood or ebony with Deer Antler or Buffalo Horn top: Both rosewood and ebony, along with the topping, increase mass somewhat more. $55
  6. New "Sawhorse" design with bone or horn top: A difficult design to execute, but it increases stiffness in two directions, preventing both swayback and tip-over. This design, like the sawhorse used for woodwork, creates two legs terminating in a peak (the bone top). This definitely relates to stiffness, just try to crush down a triangular shape from the apex. $75
  7. New "Sawhorse" design with fancy inlay design: Nothing like this exists anywhere else. A design in pearl is inlaid into the side of one of the legs of the bridge. Three main designs are inlaid into bridges of different height. Here are examples of the three designs. $95.

I realize many of you live too far, if you must order by mail, then knowing a few things would help me form a "best guess" as to the right bridge for your banjo. Please let me know the following:

  1. Your current bridge height
  2. Any buzzing? If so, with strings open? If not, when you fret a string where?
  3. Diameter of your banjo rim
  4. Thickness of your banjo rim
  5. Tone ring? Describe the tone ring (heavy, simple tube, tubaphone, whyte Laydie, etc.)
  6. Describe the current tone of your banjo (thin, harsh, deep, too high pitched, etc.)
  7. What kind of tone are you seeking? (richer, deeper, more clarity, more bridge stability, etc.)

Contact me with this information by e-mail: rgamusic at bestweb.net