by Angel Romero
The bridge assembly consists of the two bushings, bridge plate with two height adjustable posts, six grooved saddles, each with two height adjusting set screws and a tone intonation screw with a spring.
Now, like everyone knows, the bridge is the pitfall of the Jaguar and the Jazzmaster for that matter. The saddles, as a member of Leo Fender’s design team once said, were a “design failure”. The grooves are too shallow to effectively hold the strings in place. This lets the strings skip the grooves and go out of tune. Another problem with the bridge is the saddles’ height adjustment screws. They sometimes tend to come loose and they tend to rattle. Also, the saddles tend to vibrate and cause buzz when they touch the adjacent saddle.
The bridge’s “floating” design is another common complaint. All the pitfalls of the bridge design can be compensated for with a careful set-up with special attention to the inherent qualities that make the Jaguar and the Jazzmaster unique guitars.
First of all string gauge is important. These guitars were made with large string gauge in mind. The reissues come with .010’s from the factory, but they will work better with .011’s or .012’s. Some people prefer flat wounds but as a rule of thumb .011’s are good enough. For dropped D tuning a Low D string of .052 is the minimum recommended. Higher gauge strings will increase pressure on the saddles so that buzzing is reduced and fret buzzing is also dramatically reduced. Remember!!!!!! When changing to higher string gauge you have to adjust the neck’s relief: the truss rod to compensate for the additional string tension on the neck.
Saddle height adjustment: The saddles come adjusted from the Fender factory with the required curvature: 7.25″. This should not be messed with. If the saddle set screws fall out, replace it with some thread lock. Put a very little amount of the thread lock on the screw, put it in the saddle and screw it in, with a, .5 mm hex wrench, until the saddle is parallel to the bridge plate. The thread lock will give you a window of time of about ten minutes to work with before setting in.
If by any chance you moved the saddles up or down, you might want to purchase a radius gauge to make the corresponding saddle/string curvature, or take it in to a tech to have them adjusted.
Bridge height adjustment: The bridge’s height posts go into the bushings. At both ends of the bridge there is a hole where the height adjustment set screws are located. These screws require a 0.5 mm hex key. The bridge height should be adjusted as part of your action setup. Follow the set-up guide. The action is set with the bridge height adjustment screws NOT with the individual saddle height adjustment screws.
Intonation: The intonation is set with the Phillips head screws on the side of the bridge. In Fender floating bridge tremolos the intonation screws are facing the tailpiece as opposed to tune-o-matics which face the pick-ups. Instructions for setting intonation are in the setup guide.
Bridge setting: The floating bridge was designed to rest in the middle of the bushing. From experience we all know that, when using this setup, the use of the tremolo causes the guitar to go out of tune. For the most part this is because after diving the trem bar the bridge does not go back to the middle. It either stops forward or is pulled back further than the middle. A very important note: this tremolo was not designed for extreme diving. It was designed for slight “twanging”. Slight trem work. If used lightly. no matter how badly set-up the guitar is, it will always hold tuning. I prefer to do all my adjustment of action and intonation with the bridge pushed all the way back. This way if by any chance I get inspired of diving the tremolo, or pulling it to go sharp, I just push the bridge back until it stops and the tuning is very close to perfect.
Buzzes: Buzz can be caused by different causes. The most obvious is by bowed or humped neck. If the neck is humped the strings will buzz up to approximately the 7th fret. If the strings buzz from the 8th fret on the neck is most probably bowed. this requires a truss rod adjustment. Another cause is uneven frets. these should be repaired by a qualified tech or repairman. Light gauge strings also cause buzz in these guitars: higher gauge strings are recommended.
Bridge buzz: Bridge buzz is basically due to one or both of the following:
- Loose saddle height screws. When only one of the screws is loose the saddle vibrates against the bridge. The best option is to seal the screws to the saddle with thread lock. Place a very little amount on the tip of the screw and place it in the hole. Screw it in until the saddle is parallel to the bridge plate.
- Vibrations between the saddles. Some people have written the they fix the saddles to the bridge with glue. This may work but I have never done it. a good setup gets rid of this kind of buzz. The saddles must be in good contact one against each other to eliminate inter-saddle buzz. (New term: inter-saddle. Ha, ha:-)) To eliminate this, adjust you Low E and High E strings on the saddle grooves so that they run parallel to the fret board’s edge. This angle will create enough pressure from the two outer saddles to keep all six tight one against the other. If there is still buzz you can increase the pressure by moving the E strings to the next outer groove.
Skipping strings: This has got to be the most aggravating problem with the floating bridge. Remember that when the Jaguar was designed passionate playing did not exactly mean that you were going down hard on the strings. The grooves in the saddles are extremely shallow to keep the strings in place when you hit the strings hard and sometimes bending will cause them to skip. The best way to approach this problem and the one I recommend is purchasing a Buzz Stopper. This is a piece of hardware that retrofits on the Jaguar’s tailpiece without modification. This will increase the strings’ angle of incidence into the bridge and eliminates skipping and buzzing. Trust me it really works. Rowan has a pic of my Jag with it and an illustration of the Buzz Stopper on the MOD’s page. It also tends to increase sustain. Another way to address this problem is filing deeper grooves on the saddles. To do this you have to be very careful and use a metal file with a width approximately equal to the string gauge. If you do this file only to a depth of one half the string’s diameter. You may have to readjust the action and saddle height if you do this. In fact I would recommend so.
The most common bridge modification is to replace the bridge with a tune-o-matic bridge. Since a lot of people have done it, it needs to be mentioned for its pro’s and cons. First the grooves in the saddles are deeper so that it will hold the strings in place. But… the radius of curvature is for a 12″ fretboard while the Jaguar’s is 7.25″. This means that the action for the D and G strings will be adequate but as you go out toward the E strings the action will be higher and non-adjustable. Another thing is that the posts are too high so that you either have to file down the posts or shim the neck to get adequate action. If you do this modification may I suggest purchasing graphite saddles so that when you use the tremolo you have a good return since the metal saddles have a v-shaped groove which tends to catch the strings.
Lately I’ve read of people trying out the Mustang bridge/saddle assembly. This would make much better sense since the Mustang’s fretboard radius is also 7.25″ and the saddles have only one groove and it’s deep. This really merits looking into. Actually I just measured the string height from the saddle’s plate on both bridges and they are identical. This seems to be an adequate solution if none of the previous solutions work or are not possible.
Remember a good set-up with attention to the Jaguar’s details will be the best way of getting the most out of this outstanding guitar.
Written by Angel Romero
(thanks to Angel for permission to use his write-up on jag-stang.com)