Graph Tech Workshop: How to Install an Acoustic Guitar Saddle

The saddle is a key component of an acoustic guitar's tone, playability, intonation, harmonics and sustain.

The saddle is a key component of an acoustic guitar's tone, playability, intonation, harmonics and sustain.

In the below video, Nicole Alosinac, Master Luthier, walks us through how to install the TUSQ Man Made Ivory Saddle. She’s working with the TUSQ PQ-9280-C0 compensated saddle.

You can read more about the importance of the acoustic saddle in our White Paper on the science behind acoustic guitar tone.

We have a huge selection of acoustic saddles and different compensations, blanks and thicknesses. Nicole really likes the increase in harmonics she gets from using a TUSQ saddle. This saddle is pretty easy to install on your acoustic guitar as long as you have a few simple tools.


STEP 1: Remove strings and old saddle.

Start by removing the strings and bridge pins. Nicole has a drill attachment, but you could also use a simple string winder to complete this task. After removing your strings, the saddle should just come out of the slot without any trouble. If it does get stuck, or it’s glued in, you definitely want to talk to a guitar tech or luthier. You don’t want to pry it out because it could rip up some of the bridge.

STEP 2: Fit the new saddle

The next step is seeing how the saddle blank fits into the bridge slot. The one Nicole is working with seems to fit a little bit tight. If you find yours isn’t fitting, you don’t want to force it in. What you can do is take a piece of sandpaper, put it on a flat surface, and use that to get the right thickness.

Nicole has a piece of wood with a sandpaper block already on it. She sands the saddle evenly on both sides until she finds the right fit. It doesn’t take much, and it sands nicely and quickly, which is great.

You now need to make sure the length fits properly as well. If it’s too long, you can sand the sides, making sure you’re doing so at a 90 degree angle, and rounding it over a little bit.

The saddle should slip in and out of the saddle slot easily, but it shouldn’t fall out when you tip it. It should fit snugly, but be able to go in and out easily.

STEP 3:Adjust string height.

Now that you’ve got the thickness of the saddle, and the length of the saddle, you need to get the proper height for the saddle.

What you’re going to do is reference your old saddle.

Take the old saddle and lay it across the top of the new saddle. Line them up as best you can, and then draw a line with a nice, sharp pencil. Right there you will know how much height you need to take off to get the same action with your new TUSQ saddle.

STEP 4: Sand saddle to height.

Use your sandpaper to get the right height. When you get close to the line you have drawn, take two blocks and sand the piece to get a nice, straight, right angle on the bottom of the saddle.

This is important because you want more contact at the bottom of your saddle with the bottom of the saddle slot. You can also use a straightedge to ensure it’s perfectly straight. Or try holding it up to the light to see if there’s any light that passes through.

When you have a piezo pickup, it’s important you have constant contact across the whole bottom of the saddle to the piezo at all times.

STEP 5: Determine string height.

The final step of installing a new acoustic saddle is checking the string height.

This is called “measuring the action”, and we measure the action at the top of the 12th fret to the bottom of the string. You should check the action at the low “E” string, which you want to be about three millimeters or .125 of an inch. You can use about 12 business cards if you don’t have a ruler on hand.

You should also check the action on the high “E” string. This side you want to be a little bit lower at two millimeters or about .08 of an inch. You could use about eight business cards to check the action.

These measurements might be a little bit on the high side for some people. Action is a personal thing because everybody plays a little bit differently, but it’s better to err on the side of having it be a little too tall than too short. You can always take more material off, but you can’t add it back.

Your guitar is now ready to go!


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