The process to lower the saddle on an acoustic guitar isn’t actually too difficult.
So long as you are patient and take care, then this is something that you should be able to do yourself.
And it’s not critical if you get it really wrong. The worst thing that can happen is that you’ll need to get a new saddle and start again.
Though that would be frustrating it’s at least not a critical error.
O.k. Let’s get straight into it.
Before you Start
Before lowering the saddle it’s important that you have checked that your neck is set correctly and that your nut is at the right height.
Both nut height and the straightness of the neck of the guitar will affect the action at the saddle (note that when I say “action at the saddle” that this is usually measured at the 12th fret). It’s important that the neck and nut are set right first before doing anything with the saddle.
It may be the case that after adjusting the neck and the nut height that you don’t need to do anything to the saddle.
Check out the following pages for more on adjusting your action.
What You’ll Need
- Sandpaper (see what grit below)
- Something to measure the action (ruler or guitar action ruler as pictured at the top of this post)
- A flat piece of wood or similar or thick ruler (see ‘tips for keeping the base flat‘ below
- A flat surface
Standard string height at the 12th fret is as follows.
- Low E – 3/32 inches (.094 inches, 2.38mm)
- High E – 2/32 (.0625 inches, 1.58mm)
Check your measurements to make sure you know, at least roughly, how much material you need to remove. Check the second link above for more on measuring the action at the 12th fret.
You may also have personal preferences as to how high you like your strings to sit. The standard measures above are just a guide and if you’re not sure of the height you are after this is a good place to start.
Removing the Saddle
A majority of saddles aren’t glued into the bridge, so removing the saddle is a fairly easy process.
If you have new strings on and don’t want to remove them completely you can remove the saddle without removing the strings completely. But you will need to loosen the strings off a lot in order to get the saddle out and back in without damaging the saddle or the bridge.
That said, it’s easier to remove the strings so I like to do any saddle adjustments at the time I am changing strings.
Once you have removed or loosened the strings the bridge should just come right out.
Sanding the Saddle
Once you have the saddle out of the guitar it’s time to sand the base of it to lower it down.
It’s really important that the saddle is sanded completely flat – that is to say that an even amount of material should be taken off across the base of the saddle. Any rounding is bad news – especially for those acoustics with an under saddle pick up.
But even if you don’t have an under saddle pick up it’s really important that your saddle remains flat.
Which Sandpaper to Use?
I tend to use a sandpaper with 150 to 250 grit. The lower the number the coarser the grit.
Anything over 250 I find is too fine and it takes too long to remove the material. Anything too coarse will remove the material too fast and could potentially take off chunks. I wouldn’t go any coarser than 120.
If it is a really slight adjustment that you need to make then you could go as fine as 600 but this is very fine and will take off very little at a time so is only really for tiny adjustments.
Tips for Keeping the base flat
The technique I use to ensure that my sanding is even is as follows.
- Find a block of wood or a thick ruler that has a perfectly square edge
- Place the sandpaper on a completely flat surface. It can also be a good idea to get an adhesive backed sandpaper so that you can stick it down without it moving around
- Place the block of wood/ruler on the sandpaper
- Square the saddle against the block of wood/ruler
- Use your left hand (or right hand if you are left handed) to hold the wood/ruler steady
- With your right hand (or left if you are left handed) hold the ends of the saddle between your thumb and middle fingers placing downward pressure against the sandpaper (but don’t start moving it yet) and also a bit of sideways pressure against the wood/ruler
- Place your middle finder in the middle of the saddle placing downward pressure (and a little bit of sideways pressure against your wood/ruler)
- The hand holding the wood should also push against the saddle making sure it is flat up against it
- Now move the saddle side to side rubbing it against the sandpaper. I like to just do several rubs at a time and then stop and reset just to be sure that I am always square and flat
Replacing and testing
Once you’ve taken a bit of material off the base of the saddle, place it back in the bride and tune to pitch.
Now re-measure at the 12th fret (on both the low E and high E) and see how your height is.
Always take off less than you think you’ll need to. It’s much easier to repeat the process and take off more material than it is to add material back – in fact in most cases if you go too far you’ll need to get a new saddle and start again.
If you are now happy with the height then great!
If you’d like to get it lower then repeat the process above.
You may need to repeat the process a few times until it is at the right height. But this is much better than trying to get it right first time – because you may well go too far.
Over to You..
Thanks for reading and I hope this has taught you how to lower your saddle or improved your process.
Of course you can get this done by a professional but it’s cheaper and more satisfying to do it yourself – and, of all the action adjustments you can do, the saddle is the easiest one.
Remember that you should make sure your neck and nut are set right before adjusting the saddle so if you aren’t sure if the neck and nut are right yet check out the page at the link below.
If you have any questions, comments or advice of your own please feel free to leave a comment in the comments section below.