Are your strings buzzing against your frets when you play? Do you think you could get more volume out of your guitar if only you didn’t get fret noise when you played forcefully? In either case the answer could be to raise the height of the strings above the frets – commonly known as the “action”.
This is a simple guide for those who feel confident doing straightforward maintenance tasks. If in any doubt, consult your local guitar maker or guitar shop. You may also want to talk to your teacher or to other players before you start work – the problem might be your technique, there might even be a serious fault with the guitar.
Loosen the Strings
Loosen the strings or remove them altogether if necessary when removing the saddle. I am using a string winder but it is not essential.
Protect the Guitar
It is all too easy to slip and scratch the guitar when doing minor repairs. In the picture the guitar is resting on bubble wrap and the soundboard is covered with old soft cloths.
Remove the Saddle
Ease the saddle out of its slot in the bridge. Here I am using a child’s paint brush to push the saddle out sideways. Some bridges are cut so that the saddle has to be lifted rather than pushed out.
Note the Orientation of the Saddle
The typical saddle slopes over the top where the strings pass and often from bass to treble. Take a note so that you replace it later in exacly the same orientation in the bridge slot.
Select your Materials
Your can use the hard material used for purfling (seen in a loose roll in the picture), hard card, or a thin sliver of wood.
Cut your Packing to Size
The packing should be the same width as the saddle and of fractionally shorter length.
Fit the Packing
Fit the packing firmly into the bottom of the slot in the bridge.
Replace the Saddle
Slide the saddle back into place – remember to have the correct orientation. Make sure you don’t push the packing material out; it should sit neatly underneath the saddle when the latter is back in position.
Tune and Test
Tune the guitar normally (do not test until it is at normal pitch). If you are not happy with the result, it is easy to reverse or repeat the process with a second layer of packing. Do not put in so much packing that the saddle is being pushed up and out of its slot in the bridge – at worse this could damage saddle or even the bridge itself.
If the guitar plays better after the saddle has been raised in this way, you may want to consider making/having made a new saddle higher than the old one by the amount of the packing. A saddle of the right height should transmit the sound from strings into the bridge and soundboard more effectively than a saddle making contact with the bridge (partially) via the strip of packing.