I’ve got two examples of a Fender Jaguar bridge in my spares box. Pictured below, the one on the left is a secondhand bridge from a Jaguar Thinline. That dates it to 2012. The one on the right is a brand new bridge taken from my CAR American Original Jaguar.
There’s a certain amount of collective opinion, which seems to generally recommend older Jaguar bridges over newer ones. This seems to be largely down to the fact that the separate bridge components tend to get “worn in”, over time. Crucially – metal slowly grinds against metal, and the whole thing finds it’s sweet spot. Sweat and gunk accumulates in all the springs and screw threads, and it’s all supposed to help “glue” the bridge together. Many commenters online, who have personal experience of some of the buzz and rattle problems normally associated with the Jaguar bridge, state that the problem really isn’t apparent on some of the original, 1962 era bridges. That may well go a good way to hold up the “accumulation of gunk” theory – but it might also be down to the fact that the original bridges were simply better made.
But all that opinion supporting the “gunk” theory is probably based on some real experience. Whichever bridge I eventually select to use on my “62” – I’d probably do well to try and find a way to replicate half a century’s worth of accumulated grime. Or at least reproduce it’s effect on the movement of the bridge components.
Apart from having slightly oxidised saddles, which show a little ingrained dirt – the 2012, Thinline bridge appears, at first, to be identical to the new issue bridge. Being slightly worn, and having evidence of a little play over a few years – this might, at first, look like the obvious choice. However on closer examination – there’s one major issue which eventually leads me to select the newer bridge for the job. It’s down to the length of those saddle height adjustment grub screws.
Although the strings should sit mid-saddle, and therefore clear of the grub screws – those little protrusions are a potential issue. On the newer bridge – the screws are all recessed, once the saddles are set at the correct height. The newer screws are obviously sized more appropriately. The Thinline saddles are already set to the intended 7.25″ radius – so screwing the grubs down and having the saddles higher means that the proper curvature will be lost. No doubt about it – I’ll choose the newer bridge, and work with it.
The recent bridge is, unsurprisingly, much cleaner – but that’s not so important. Most opinion seems to suggest that you mess with the setup of the Jaguar bridge at your peril. “Fender set them up right from the factory”, “so there’s no need to adjust anything”. That’s as maybe – but I’m not entirely sure the curve of those saddle tops follows the correct 7.25″ radius. And I can certainly see a potential problem with that low “E” saddle on the extreme right. Unless that bridge is kept vertical in it’s thimbles – there’s a distinct possibility that, as the bridge leans back, the string will come into contact with the body of the bridge itself. That’s a potential buzz, or a choke, or worse. Since I’m looking to eliminate all potential problems at the bridge – I’ll need to sort out and set the saddle heights first.
I always find it difficult to use the centres of the saddles as points of alignment with my curvature gauge – so I use the intonation screws behind each saddle, and then double check where the screws re-emerge at the front. Although the screws do tend to splay upwards as the saddle springs tighten – the relative placements should be close enough to the desired curvature. I set the saddle heights so that the saddle tops are high enough to clear the raised edges of the bridge plate. It helps to visualise the bridge, in place on the body, to make sure the saddle tops stay above the plate when the bridge flexes to its’ extremes – forwards and backwards. When the saddles themselves are at the correct height – they should also be adjusted so that each individual saddle is level. Not canted to follow the curve of the strings. That way, each strings’ downforce should be spread equally between each pair of grub screws, and normal vibration should not act to destabilise the saddles – letting them move against each other.
It makes sense to lock the saddles as firmly as possible – using Loctite, or other semi-permanent thread locking compounds on the bridge saddles. Once the saddles are configured at the correct height, and are following the correct radius – there’s no reason to have to move them again. I’ve heard that some players use clear nail varnish to glue the saddles in place. I’ve even heard of people who resort to super glue. (Although I don’t recommend it).
When I’m absolutely sure that the saddles are correctly adjusted, and I’ve checked the radius twice – (even fitted the bridge to the guitar, and tried it with strings just to make sure there’s absolutely no chance of the strings fouling the bridge plate, front and back) – I work across the bridge – removing each grub screw in turn, then replacing it with a little thread locking compound to hold it in position. This should semi-permanently lock the saddles in position, and help to eliminate any rattle. If you work across the bridge methodically, you can treat each pair of screws as reference, and set the height of each, in turn – one against the other. I use a blue locking compound which is supposedly a little less agressive than the red compound. The blue holds well, and you can usually break the seal fairly easily – should you ever need to. Once the resin has been applied – you seem to have about 20 – 30 minutes to make final adjustments – so although locking 12 grub screws to the correct height is a bit of a fiddly business – providing you already have the saddles at the approximate levels – you should have plenty of time for fine adjustment.
Once all the saddle screws are firmly in place – I always go back over the bridge and double-check that the saddles not only look level – but that they’re as stable as possible. If you jiggle each saddle from each side with a hex spanner at each of the screw locations, in turn – you’ll find that sometimes the saddles are much more stable with an extra, slight turn of one, or other, of the screws. This shouldn’t be so much as to radically change the positions of the saddles, or their relative height – but rather it should just identify which saddles might be better seated with a tiny little extra adjustment. Try it – you’ll see what I mean. The saddles need to remain as stable as possible under the vibrating strings to avoid rattling against each other. Of course – ideally – you need to do this before the threadlock dries, so you need to work quickly.
At this point – I fit the bridge to the guitar, and tune up. It’s important that the neck angle issues and issues to do with the nut are already addressed with the guitar. See also my setup procedure.
It’s also important to make sure that the intonation screws can’t possibly interfere with the strings, when the tremolo is operated and the bridge flexes backwards and forwards. What tends to happen is that as the saddles are moved backwards, the intonation screws tend to pitch upwards. Fender supplies the bridges with saddles already located at their approximate intonation spacings – but obviously that’s likely to change for each individual guitar setup.
Ultimately, there’s no substitute for actually trying things out in place. Since the saddle heights are now set, and they’re effectively glued-in – you need to check that everything else still remains in balance when adjusted. If anything – raising the saddles even a little, will have pitched those intonation screws up even more. It’s important to note that every time you make a slight change – or reset something on the bridge – you need to check that it hasn’t accidentally caused another problem somewhere else. The Jaguar is all a bit of a balancing act – but if you take each adjustment of the bridge, and deal with it logically – then you can incorporate this bridge alteration work into your actual setup of the guitar.
At this stage, it’s also useful to check the fit of the individual intonation springs. Fender usually fit a few different sizes, to allow for adjustment within the usual, expected range. However – I’ve found all sorts of springs used in Fender bridges. Some too long, and some too short for the job. Unless each spring is slightly compressed when the intonation is set correctly – then that’s another possible source of vibration and rattle. If you find a short spring – either move the springs around until they all fit properly once the intonation is correct – or find, and fit, a spare.
The intonation screws now also need to be “firmed up” – but there’s a bit of a choice to be made here. If you’re the sort of person who’s likely to set and forget the intonation – then the saddles can be removed, one at a time, and then re-threaded with the addition of a few drops of locking compound. The saddles, in this case, are already pre-set by Fender into the familiar stepped pattern, and I’ve already checked to see how close the settings are – last time I fitted the bridge. Since only minor adjustments will be needed, I remove each saddle in turn, apply some thread lock, and then replace in their original positions – using the adjacent saddle positions as a visual reference. Once again, you really have to work quickly. Once all the saddles are treated, the bridge needs to be refitted, the guitar restrung, and the intonation positions adjusted to their final positions. All while the thread locking compound remains moveable.
An alternative, and less time dependent approach, is to use PTFE tape – but it’s fiddly work on such fine screws. Especially with my fingers, and with my vision. As I say – it’s a matter of choice – but in this case, I opted for the locking compound solution. The combination of locking both the saddles and intonation screws has the effect of making the saddles feel much more rigid. This should considerably reduce the chance of unwanted vibration. Now that the saddles are in their final positions – some players recommend that a little clear nail varnish is used to bond them together laterally, and to keep everything in place. This is supposed to eliminate any possible chance of an individual saddle vibrating against the ones on either side. For the time being though – I choose to leave this solution untested. I’ll revisit, if I have to. Although the treatment should conceivably work – and although the varnish can always be removed later with acetone – I consider this to be a bit of a messy, last resort. Hopefully, I’ll have done enough to avoid going down that path.
While the bridge is refitted to set the intonation – it’s essential to check it, and everything else – as before. You don’t want to find that you’ve accidentally reset a saddle in the wrong position, and it now grounds out onto the bridge. Check the bridge visually, and check its’ operation with the tremolo. You might as well take a good opportnuity to check and see how the bridge acts when you play. Once again – it helps if you incorporate all this into the final guitar setup.
If the locking compound is seen as having bonded the various screws to the saddles, (it’s not quite that permanent – but it helps illustrate a point), then the 33 individual bridge components, (all of which can move and rattle against each other), have now effectively been reduced to 15. If I treat the bridge posts in the same way – I can further reduce that to 13.
Since the two bridge post adjustment screws will probably need to be adjusted periodically – firming them up should ideally be done with an application of PTFE tape. The Staytrem bridge alternative actually uses a couple of special nylon collets on the ends of the bridge posts – so it suggests fixing things here is probably essential. When I check the post screws for stability, I find that one, in particular, is very loose. To remover them – you need to drive the screws down until they emerge from the bottom of the bridge posts, (they won’t come out the other way). Wrapping the screws evenly with PTFE is fiddly, but if you make sure you wind the tape in the direction against which the screw will eventually be turned to wind it back in – then a few winds should be sufficient to pad out the threads evenly. Like with plumbing jobs – don’t overdo it – a little seems to go a long way, if it’s done properly.
The bridge can now be fitted for the final time. I like to try and move everything around with my fingers to see if there’s any obvious play anywhere, and which might cause the odd, unexpected rattle. It seems to me that the bridge posts themselves might actually move slightly against the holes in the mute assembly. I’m not sure if it’ll help – but it seems logical to try to reduce the chances of metal on metal contact here. I find a single wind of masking tape is enough to pad out this potential contact point. The bridge still rocks as it should. The mute flips up and back as it should. I sit the bridge vertically with the strings at proper tension and check the tremolo action. Pleasingly – the bridge returns to vertical.
And – fingers crossed – I don’t seem to have a buzz problem now. (I clearly did, before I thread-locked the bridge – so I think that demonstrates that the technique works). It should also be noted, however, that the treatment to the bridge was in addition to several other measures which I addressed previously – in the setup of the guitar. It shouldn’t be understated that getting the Jaguar bridge to behave properly seems to be more about balancing the instrument properly, and setting it all up correctly. Just padding out the bridge alone won’t necessarily be enough, for example, if you don’t also address that crucial nut / neck / bridge / tailpiece relationship. Getting a truly buzz-free Jaguar bridge seems to rely on the combination of a few measures.
- Shim the neck to allow the bridge to stand taller. This creates more downforce from the strings, through the bridge
- Correctly adjust your neck action, and ensure that there’s no fret buzz anywhere on the neck.
- Ensure the nut is cut and shaped properly. The nut slots need to be correctly shaped, and sized for the gauge of strings used. A dab of nut lube helps.
- Use flatwound strings – preferably, at least 11’s. The extra string tension compensates for the shorter scale, and provides a little more downforce through the bridge. This all helps to keep the strings in place on the saddles.
- If you’re using a mute – fit it properly. Eliminate any possibility that the bridge is riding on the mute screws.
- Threadlock the saddle grub screws, and ensure the saddles are stable, and that there’s no obvious slack or play once they’re adjusted.
- Ensure that the grub screw ends don’t protrude from the tops of the saddles.
- Threadlock, (or PTFE tape) the intonation screws. Once again – check for obvious slack or play. Make sure all the saddle springs are under compression.
- Check the ends of the intonation screws, in case they’re pitched up into the string paths. Check with the natural movement of the bridge.
- PTFE tape the bridge height adjustment posts. Ensure that they’re solid, and that there’s no slack or play.
- When the bridge is fitted – (when the bridge is vertical, as well as when it’s pushed forward and back) – the strings need to touch only the bridge saddles, with absolutely no contact anywhere else.
- Set your bridge height to adjust your playing action – Don’t touch the individual saddles once they’re set.
- Check over the guitar properly to make sure that there’s absolutely no other potential source of rattle. (You don’t want to do all this remedial work, only to find that your buzz is all down to a loose tremolo arm, or a loose screw somewhere).
- If your tremolo arm is loose and floppy – consider fitting a Staytrem collet
Clearly – some of the measures are inter-dependent. Once again demonstrating how getting the most out of the bridge is as much about achieving a functional balance, as it is about cutting down on loose, metal-to-metal contact points. Having followed the procedures above – I can report that my Fender Jaguar bridge works just fine. Before I firmed up those bridge posts, (I think that loose post was a real culprit), I did get some apparent noise from the bridge. It wasn’t really a rattle – nor was it anything like the sort of string buzz you get from a high fret. This was a strange kind of vibration – when amplified, almost a howl. It was very intermittent, difficult to pin down, and almost sounded as if it were amplified by resonating somehow against the scratchplate. But I haven’t had a single incidence of the problem since fixing the bridge.
And I’m glad I stuck with the old-style bridge. Even after the adjustments – there’s still a slight “colour” to the tones produced. A slight “bloom” to the notes which can only come from the way that particular style of bridge is put together. I suppose all my measures aren’t so much about “curing” the bridge problems – as bringing their combined effects down to tolerable and workable levels. There’s still a slight – how to describe it? – “paperiness” to the sound of the strings. It’s easier to hear when the guitar is played acoustically. When the guitar is played through an amp – the character of the flatwounds comes through much more. There’s sustain – but not in a “hold it for a few days” sense. Although the strings have a slightly “deader” sound than roundwounds – the notes still ring – but that delicate character is still there. Does that character come from the bridge, or from those resonating string tails? Perhaps it’s actually a combination of both?
Whatever it is – it sounds like a Jaguar.