Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Dull sounding Gibson

My Gibson J-60 has always had kind of a dull or dead sound compared to my other guitars. It’s hard to explain but somewhat like any guitar with old, dead strings. Here’s what I’ve tried for the last twenty years since I’ve owned it: Nearly every Phosphor Bronze string set known to mankind, (D’Addario EJ17’s seem to be the best of all the non coated phosphor bronze). I’ve tried Elixers, Dragon Skins, Flat tops, Tony Rice Monels and currently D’Addario EXP17’s (coated) which are one of the worst to date. I’ve even tried Red Brand Copper Core strings, nothing seems to help.

Maybe I’m just expecting more than this guitar can give, but I’m not willing to give up yet 'cause I think there’s more in this old box. Should I go with an 80/20 bronze? These I don’t recall ever trying. Or is there something else that may be better? What do you all think? Opinions are welcome.

BTW: It’s Sitka Spruce with Indian Rosewood back and sides and scalloped bracing.

Thanks B.B. members,

J.W. I think if any strings were going to brighten a guitar EJ17’s would do it. A bone saddle and pins might wake it up a little if they’re not already on it. I would really like to have a Gibson in the stable but most that I’ve played just didn’t have the sound I was looking for. Not bad, only different than what I’m use to. However I played an Advanced Jumbo a while back that I would have bought on the spot if the neck had been more to my liking. Hope you figure out something with your J-60!

Thanks for the reply Bulldog.

The saddle is bone, but the pins are ebony. That’s an idea I hadn’t thought of. Would bone pins really make a difference? I just looked at my Collings and Taylor, they all have ebony pins as well. I think some Red Eye bone bridge pins would look really good. You got me thinkin’ now!

Hi JW,
How frustrating!
The only thing I can add is regarding an acoustic 12 string a friend owned. It had the resonance of a canoe paddle. I noticed the action was a bit high, so adjusted the truss rod. The guitar livened up considerably!
My theory, at least with that guitar, is the strings resonate in the sound hole more actively when they are parallel. Strange that a minor adjustment would make a difference, but in that case it did.

Good luck!!!

I doubt bridge pins alone would make that much of a difference. Definitely not as much as saddle material. I have bone pins on all of my guitars except the D-18 and Collings primarily for looks. Glad to see you still have your D2HG!

If it sounds better with a capo I’d check out the nut.

Most of the Gibson acoustics I have tried in store do not measure up to other brands ? why I do not know and hope you find something to help .

— Begin quote from "mreisz"

If it sounds better with a capo I’d check out the nut.

— End quote

Good point Mike. And on the other end of the strings I’ve found if there’s very little saddle showing and the strings don’t have a good break angle over it the tone/volume can suffer as well.

All very good points and thanks for the replies!

I should have mentioned that my set up is spot on (I didn’t do it, Jason Harshbarger did. He also built my Copperhead mandolin). The nut, saddle, relief are all good and it even has all new frets. Everything said was correct and could cause this type an issue and I appreciate all of the info.

I put a set of Thomas Vinci Nickel Plated round wound 13 -57 strings on last night. They’re basically the same as T.R. Monels, but I’d never tried these before. Much, much improvement over the EXP 17’s.

It sounded fine until I brought the Collings home. That’s the drawback of having three guitars with all the same woods I suppose. I still think I might try some bone red eye bridge pins.

Thanks again,

I would definitely try out 80/20 bronze strings to brighten it up (I prefer Elixir nanowebs since they stay bright longer) . And don’t go too heavy, 12 to 56 is plenty heavy. Also try out the bone pins might help lighten up the tone. Have the top braces checked to make sure none of them were loose. Finally, check the bottom of the bone saddle to make sure it has a snug fit to the bottom of the slot.

If none of these things work, you may want to check out having some brace work done possibly a brace moved or added to tighten up a tubby top.

— Begin quote from "jwpropane"

My Gibson J-60 has always had kind of a dull or dead sound compared to my other guitars.

— End quote

I had a thought. Just get rid of your Collings and your other guitars will sound better! :laughing:

Thanks Doc,

Jason Harshbarger recently did a set up with the new bone saddle, so knowing his work, I don’t believe the saddle is the problem. He also went through the whole guitar, including repairing a badly repaired top crack correctly that was done by a highly renowned repair shop in TN. I won’t mention their name because this could have been one of those one in a million things that can happen to anyone, no matter how good you are. I don’t believe I’ll go back though. I would think Jason would have caught a loose brace, but he’s human too and can mistakes as well as any of us.

I’ve never tried nanowebs, but I have tried polywebs and am not a fan. I’m really not a fan of any coated string with the exception of Black Diamonds believe it or not. They sound really good on this guitar. I’ve never tried them on any other guitar. The problem is, they’re ugly! They use a black coating which looks bad in the first place, then in the “busy” spots, the coating comes off, so now you have black and bare metal showing and it really is kinda unsightly. I think they just spray them with rustoleum and call them coated :blush:

I may give the nanowebs a try. It’s a guitar I’ll never sell, so I may look into having some brace work done as well.

You’re right Bulldog, but I did try to get rid of it… No takers. I’m good with that, even somewhat relieved!

Hi JW,

This is NOT a slight on Jason in any way. However, it is common practice to cut the bottom of a new bone saddle to be dead flat and square. The problem is that not all slots are dead flat and square. And this is sometimes overlooked by the best of them. If the bottom of the slot is even slightly out of square or not dead flat, you can (and do) often lose all sorts of power and tone.

As far as a loose brace is concerned, you can easily test for this. You can either take a dental mirror and a small flashlight and look inside. This works much of the time, but it is often difficult to see slight looseness in the brace this way. So you can gently rap with the fleshy side of your thumb on the top over where the braces run (while holding the strings mute with your other hand) and listen for any rattle or buzz sound. That is a dead giveaway that you have a brace in trouble.

I am also not a fan of the Polywebs (too thick a coating). But you need not start with them; you can try just a plain set of 80/20 D’Addario string to see if you like the brighter tone. Then if you do, you can try the Elixirs when those start to lose their crispness.

Hello Doc,

I understand what you’re saying now:

— Begin quote from "drguitar"

it is common practice to cut the bottom of a new bone saddle to be dead flat and square. The problem is that not all slots are dead flat and square. And this is sometimes overlooked by the best of them. If the bottom of the slot is even slightly out of square or not dead flat, you can (and do) often lose all sorts of power and tone.

— End quote

This is something I never thought of and possibly Jason and many other luthiers and repair people as well may miss this. Next time I change strings, I’ll pull the saddle and take a look. That may be soon. I’d like to try some 80/20’s. I’ll check the braces too while I have the strings off.

Good advice, thanks again,

Just to be clear JW, it is difficult to measure the flatness and squareness of the bottom of a slot. The only real way to be sure is to take a slot cutting jig and {extremely} carefully re-route the bottom of the slot (removing the tiniest bit of wood like 1/32" to start). What happens over the years is that wood drying out, poorly cut previous saddles, poorly fit USTs, a poorly cut slot originally and even poorly fit under saddle shim can cause the slot to be out of square or flat. It is rarely checked (because it is difficult to measure).

If you have a dead flat 2.5 inch rule, you can see if it rocks in the slot however it will be difficult to see if there is a valley in the middle of the slot (see what I mean?). Honestly, even though a poor bridge slot can cause the guitar to sound poorly in many different ways, I have found that such a cause is exceedingly rare (I’ve only run into it a handful of times in the last 40 years of repair). It is more likely that bracing is the cause and that you need to use strings that make the best of the bracing of the guitar.

Take care,


If you suspect the saddle fit might be the culprit, one way to eliminate gaps is to glue the saddle. Hot hide glue dries hard and fills gaps nicely. I have squared up saddle slots by hand and it’s easier than it sounds. If I remember correctly, I used a spark plug file.

Mike is correct about setting the saddle into the bridge with glue, it will tighten up any gaps and give the most efficient acoustic energy transfer. However, I’m not so sure using a spark plug file to square up the slot is the best way to accomplish what I am concerned about. Look at this graphic:

In both the top and bottom graphics, they show a nice square slot when viewed from the side (small graphic on the far left). However the top graphic is a properly cut slot, square (from the side) and dead flat along the length of the bottom of the slot. The second graphic shows a slot that is also square (from the side) but is a bit uneven when checked for flat along the length. The gaps are marked in red and represent places the bone saddle is not touching the bottom of the slot.

In the second graphic, quite a bit of energy is lost (along with tone) when compared to the properly cut slot above it. Generally, slots are cut pretty flat along their length when the guitar is first built (usually cut with some sort of router, CNC or Dremel) using a jig that provides an accurate slot depth along the length. However, a poorly cut saddle (uneven along the bottom), sitting in the slot over time, can cause the slot to have low and high points. Also, if the slot was poorly shimmed (to raise the saddle) or a UST as poorly installed, or even the drying of the wood can cause the slot to become uneven along it’s length.

This is very tough to measure as you cannot see the slot bottom if you lay a straight edge in the slot. Also, a short straight edge will not necessarily rock in the slot to show it is uneven.

As Mike mentioned, gluing the saddle into the slot can/will fill these gaps and should increase the quality of the tone IF this is the cause of your tubby tone. If not, then you have just glued your saddle into the slot (not something I recommend as saddles require work and adjustment relatively often).

The other fix is to have the slot leveled along it’s length. This is usually done by using a bridge slotting jig and re-routing the slot to an even depth along it’s length. Obviously, the absolute least amount of material is removed to make the slot flat (between 1/32 and 1/16 inch is usually plenty). And this can be pretty easily checked by examining the slot during the process of routing (some folks will use a light colored marker to mark the bottom of the slot so that when all the marker is removed along the length, you have a flat slot).

As I mentioned above, this is not a particularly common cause for tone loss, however I have seen it several times over the last 40 years and your description of the tone points to this as a possibility. For someone with the bridge slotting jig, this is an easy repair.

— Begin quote from "drguitar"

For someone with the bridge slotting jig, this is an easy repair.

— End quote

Absolutely true.

The slot I used a file on was wider at the top than at the bottom and the saddle could rock slightly towards and away from the peghead. By truing up the sides of the slot, I could put a thicker saddle in it and that did the trick to tighten up the saddle fit.