After watching an episode of the JHS show featuring a parlor guitar with a rubber bridge, I fell in love with the sound. The guitar in the video is available for pre-order, however it carries a hefty price tag ($675). However, I have a similar guitar and was inspired to do some work to see if I could DIY my own rubber bridge.
Benefits of a rubber bridge and lower tuning
In short, a rubber bridge sounds interesting and unique. Also, all the cool kids are doing it. The sound of the guitar is deadened a bit, placing it somewhere between a ukulele and a guitar. As in the video, I also detuned the guitar to a baritone tuning (BEADF#B), which gave this small guitar a depth it didn’t have before.
Norma: the Guitar
Norma is a late 1960s parlor guitar meant for campfire singalongs and beginners. It’s ¾ scale and made in Japan. There are some more general details about the guitar here: Late 1960s NorMa Parlor Guitar
The only significant downside to the rubber bridge is that it will wear out over time as the strings vibrate as they press into the rubber. That said, the material was very inexpensive and will only take a few minutes to cut a new bridge as needed.
REPLACING THE BRIDGE
The prep and research
I’ve already done a bit of work on this guitar, including cleaning up the frets and swapping out the original bridge in order to lower the action (how high the strings are from the fretboard) to make it more playable. I wasn’t happy with the changes I made as the action was still too high. This rubber bridge idea gave me a path to fixing the action problems.
After watching a few videos on other people’s experiences trying to DIY a rubber bridge (including a failure) and doing some research on what a professional rubber bridge looked like, I started looking at potential materials. I didn’t have anything in my hoard of bits and parts that would work. I looked at the jeweler's block that was recommended in one video, but that involved a lot more cutting than I felt like doing. In the end, I ordered a roll of 1/8th inch high x 1 inch wide solid neoprene rubber gasket/weather stripping which fulfilled the same purpose but was more flexible for making granular adjustments in size, height, etc.
The modification process
Removing the old bridge
Swapping out the bridge on this guitar is incredibly easy because it’s what’s called a floating bridge. It’s not glued down and the strings run through the tailpiece rather than through the body of the guitar.
So, the only step here was to remove the old bridge, which took about 5 seconds. Just lift the strings and slide it out.
Cutting a new bridge
Adding the new bridge took a little trial and error. First I just cut bridge-width strips of rubber off the roll. 1/8th inch wasn’t enough, but ¼ inch was about right. I installed it, tuned the guitar and played.
The good news was that it worked! The downside was that it was both a little too low (the strings buzzed a lot against the frets) and really deadened the sound too much. I needed a smaller point of contact for the strings.
My second attempt was to cut the strips in half and then add a third strip to the stack. This yielded a 3in x 1/2in x ¾ in strip. I installed this version and it was an incremental improvement. The sound was a little brighter and more resonant, but could have been better. And now the string action was too high again.
I didn’t want a full 1/8th of height so I cut a strip a bit smaller than that, just eyeballing rather than measuring and turned it on its side on top of the 2 1/8in strips I kept as the base.
This worked as near to perfect as I could hope for! The sound is deadened, but not too much and the action is still high enough to not buzz too much on the frets.
There are still some fixes I want to do.
- First priority is getting and installing a pickup so I can run the guitar through an amplifier and, most importantly, through my effects pedals.
- Scrape the fretboard down to remove the factory polyurethane finish. It doesn’t look very nice.
- Replace the tuning pegs. One of them is a little loose and this would improve the way the guitar holds tune.