What can Bridges do for you?


I have been reading a little online about different types of banjo bridges i.e. different wood types, compensated, ones with bone inserts etc etc

Do different types of bridges actually give an improved level of sound quality?



Good Question jaybee.

There are surely some differences in the sound of different bridges but to what extent this difference goes I am not sure. I have been looking at different bridges to try also. I currently have a Hatfield compensated bridge on my hatfeild banjo and have been planning on trying a Katz eye pegged bridge on it (no glue joint).

I do know that a thinner bridge will produce a brighter tone and a thicker one makes a lower type tone, but beyond that I haven’t experimented much with them yet. I’ll make sure and report anything I find out here though.


Thank you fiddlewood, it is intriguing the different things you read online about sound quality and modifications you can make.

I didn’t know there was even thick & thin types, that is interesting.

I did know there was reduced height bridges to bring the strings closer to the frets, hmmm not sure why?

I have read that the compensated bridge is especially useful when you play more ‘up the neck’ tunes, supposed to help making the notes ring out more??

I am considering the bridge with the bone inserts as it is reported to reduce a little string buzz and that would help me because I use steel picks including the thumb pick and can hear the pick strike and buzz when I play. Not sure if anyone else can:-)

On another subject I came across a video of teacher Ron Stewart who describes pressing down hard on the skin or lightening the pressure on the skin effects the tone. I have been trying this but I cannot hear a difference.:slight_smile:



I think the Ron Stuart lesson you mentioned is where he is instructing on getting tone when playing high up on the neck by laying the heel of you hand on the head. It does make quite a difference when I try it but mostly only use it above the 12th fret, and the pressure is light, not a lot. Not enough to tighten the head actually but enough to dampen some of the vibrations.

A compensated bridge is for playing more in tune. I have both kinds of bridges on my two banjos and can’t really say one has to be tuned more or less than the other when capoed. I find that how I place my capo makes a huge difference though on being in tune.

A bridge will not, in my opinion help with the string buzz against your picks. this is a right hand issue I believe. When I have this problem it is because I am hovering with my pick too close to an already vibrating string before striking it another time. It also happens more often when my right hand is picking farther away form the bridge (because the string is “wobbling” farther from where it would be at rest than it does closer to the bridge.

You might try experimenting a bit with your right hand technique before investing in a new bridge you may not need.

hope this helps…Dave


Thanks for your help Dave, that all makes sense.

What about the height of the bridge i.e. 1/2" vs 5/8" ?



The most popular height is 5/8" (both of mine were this height new which is fairly standard unless ordered differently). You can get them as tall as 1" if you want (I wouldn’t). Some believe that taller bridge makes better sound. as you get taller the action gets higher and harder to play so you might need to get the neck re-set to an angle that would lower the action back down to where you can play it (someone on another forum wrote that Bela Fleck does this but not sure it’s good info).

The bridge height mostly changes the distance between the head and the strings, therefore, the distance between your right hand anchor and the picking fingers. Lower bridges would tend to cause the player to hit the head more often with their picks. Higher bridges might tend toward a greater angle of bend on the strings and more pressure on the head.

If your action is too high when playing up the neck you might bring it to a good luthier to see if the neck needs adjusted (some adjustments can be done with the truss rod and it’s fairly in expensive. re-setting a neck though can get very expensive and takes a highly skilled craftsman to do it correctly. Some will do small adjustments with the sound rods inside the rim also…this is NOT recommended as far as I’ve ever heard. much pressure on the sound rods can cause large problems down the line from what I’m told.


Thanks Dave. I don’t think I would have a need to go to 1’ in bridge height:-)

I have read the higher the bridge the brighter the sound and lower than 5/8" gives a more rounded tone.

Yeah I don;t think I would want to do anything drastic by having luthiers modify my banjo, I am not there yet.:slight_smile:



I can tell you from experience, all bridges do not install exactly the same. I had read on a website before moving mine around that all bridges are built with the logo on one side so that side faces the neck. Obviously to me now, that isn’t the case. I thought mine was installed backwards, but when I called Grover, it was not, so I had to change it back. Not a big deal thoughbecause changing it gace me the chance to make sure the measurements are correct. The bridge should be the same distance from the 12th fret as the 12 fret is from the nut…that is measure from the nut to the 12th fret, then from there to the head. Mark that position on both sides of where the 1st string would be and the 5th string would be. Then measure on the head accordingly to get the bridge dead center from side to side. i found that the bridge factory installed on mine was about 5mm off…which made a huge difference in the way it sounds. It sounds much more like a banjo now lol. I just didn’t know before because it was the only one I had ever really played other than the older one that I had before… which was an even cheaper model lol. I certainly think its a good thing to be able to perform your own maintenance and changing your bridge should give you the opportunity to learn more about your equipment and how it all works together.


depending on your action the measurements aren’t always the best method, good place to start though. I use harmonics, fretting notes and a tuner to place my bridge. The harmonic at the 12th fret should be the same as the fretted note.

My instruments have very low action so it is close to the starting measurement, but not exact. The higher the action the more above the correct pitch a fretted note will be when the bridge is set with the 12th fret dead center.

All strings don’t fret perfectly the same when going up the neck either. this is one reason for compensated bridges. I have one on my Hatfield, but just straight bridges on the other three.

optimum bridge placement can take some experimentation, depending on the set-up of the instrument and string gauges used, to get it to note precisely both up and down the neck.



Well I received my new bridge with the bone inserts 5/8" and am quite happy with the sound, it is quite noticeably brighter in tone. The 1/2" bridge I found was a little bit flat in sound for me.

Took a while to tune however as I had never done the tuning from scratch before but I got there with it.:slight_smile:



Very cool information. Tonight I think Im gonna move my bridge around a little and play with the sound.