Yes! Check out this video from my buddy Cody clearly demonstrating the tonal differences between brass and stainless steel saddles. Also please subscribe to his channel, he has some great content!
Do compensated saddles really work? I'm glad you asked.
The quick answer is yes, they will improve your intonation. Period.
Now for the long nerdy overly detailed explanation concerning why you need them:
You need compensated saddles because vintage style 3 barrel saddles can’t give you proper intonation. Proper intonation means every note on every string up and down the fret board is in tune (or close enough that you can’t hear the difference).
Many factors contribute to a guitars intonation. For example; the quality of the nut slots, the placement and roundness of the frets, the grip of the player, the age of the strings, the height of the strings off the fretboard (action), and my main topic today, bridge/saddle compensation.
View the bridge on almost any guitar; the saddles aren’t arranged in a straight line perpendicular to the strings. Instead they’re slanted with the Low E saddle furthest from the fretboard, and the high E saddle closest. The position of the saddle determines the vibrating length (from nut to saddle) of each string. This length is critical, and it’s different for every string, here’s why:
A longer string creates a lower note than a shorter string of the same thickness and tightness. With your guitar in tune you can pluck your open 6th string and it will make an E. Then if you pluck it again but hold the string down at the 8th fret it will make a C. It makes a higher note because you shortened the vibrating length of the string the correct amount to produce that C.
But what if the saddle is moved back 1/2 an inch? You’ve now increased the vibrating length and 8th fret won’t give you a C anymore. Because it’s the vibrating length (fret to saddle) of the string, not the fret itself, that produces the note.
Now, when your string lengths are only slightly off your notes might sound just fine in the first or second position, but as you play further up the neck your notes (and especially your chords) will start to sound off.
Setting intonation means making sure the total vibrating length (nut to saddle) of each string is correct so all of your frets can shorten the string by the right amount, and produce notes that are in tune.
So what about a vintage style telecaster?
Once you understand everything I’ve explained above, take a look at a vintage style telecaster bridge. Instead of 6 individual saddles, or a slanted 1 piece saddle like an acoustic, it has 3 straight cylinder shaped “barrel” saddles with 2 strings on each barrel, the EA, DG, and BE.
See the problem here? Each string needs its own specific length, but on these 3 barrel saddles the two strings on each saddle will always be exactly the same length. So if you adjust the first saddle so it’s just right for the E string, the A string will be off, and if you fix the A string the E will be off.
At best, with a vintage style 3 saddle bridge you can sort of compromise with each saddle and go for a somewhat in between position, so both strings are slightly out of tune...
No thank you.
This is where compensated saddles come in. They have the same look and feel of traditional vintage saddles, but the contact points are shifted to compensate for the intonation problem.
For your EA saddle the E contact point is shifted back slightly, and the A contact point is shifted slightly forward. Same for the BE saddle. The DG is reversed due to the shift from the wound D to the unwound G.
With compensated saddles and a good setup you can achieve “perfect” intonation (by perfect I mean close enough that your ears wont hear the problem anymore) and still have a guitar that looks, sounds, and feels like a vintage telecaster.
Whether you buy from me, or any of the other great hardware manufacturers, realize that until you get compensated saddles you’re missing out on how good your guitar can sound.
Wow did you read this entire thing?!? Thanks for your time, have a nice day
A few years ago I fell in love with Bluechip picks. They are the perfect pick. They have a nice balanced full tone, and slide effortlessly across the strings due to the well beveled edges and the “self lubricating” properties of the material. They feel great and sound amazing. But, they cost $35, plus shipping. 😬
Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t fault them for their prices. Bluechip picks are made from a plastic called Vespel, which costs over $1,000 for a 12x12 inch sheet. Add to that the cost to mill out the picks, engrave, hand bevel, and polish, and $35 is not unreasonable.
I thought me and my bluechips would be happy together forever, until I lost one. And then I lost another one. (I know what you’re thinking, how does this guy keep losing expensive picks? I don’t know, it just happens) Anyway, I decided I couldn’t handle losing anymore 35 dollar picks so I started looking for a more affordable option, and so began the great pick buying scare of 2021.
I don’t know how exactly much money I spent on picks last year, I don’t want to know. Frankly I could have bought enough bluechips to last a LONG time. Plus bluechips actually hold value on the used market. But I never said I was a rational person.
Here’s my review of a few of the brands I tried out:
Graphtech - I was disappointed in these. I’m a big fan of graphtech’s other products, like nuts and string trees, but I didn’t like their picks and would not recommend them.
Chicken picks - I liked these. Some kind of thermo plastic I think,
Howling Monkey - Didn’t like them, They were slippery in my fingers and scratchy on the strings.
Rombo - these are cool, a little over priced for being injection molded, but a cool design
V-picks - this guy makes some great stuff, highly recommended, I especially like the bullseye with the “ghost edge”. I didn’t like some of his other acrylic picks because they were just too clicky and chirpy sounding, but that only matters if you play a lot of acoustic or electric at low volume, which I do.
Wegen - I only tried one of these and it was pretty massive, they’re other stuff is probably pretty good based on their reputation.
Dunlop primetone - these are good picks, and they have a variety available. I liked the semi round grip 1.5 mm best, good option for being fairly cheap.
GoldenGate - cool looking tortoise shell style picks, I liked the round edge mandolin style picks. These are on the cheaper end in the world of expensive picks, you get a lot for your money.
Gravity - I bought a “gold striker” which was a fine pick and I liked it, but felt a little underwhelmed based on the price.
After a few months of this I had found a few good keepers, a few crappy picks I’d never use, and a bunch that are just fine, but none as good as my beloved bluechips. So I decided to try to make my own. I got some scraps of various plastics, Teflon filled acetal, regular acetal, Ultem, and polycarbonate, from a local supplier and started experimenting with different shapes and thicknesses.
I learned a few things right away.
So I’ve been using my homemade casein and polycarbonate picks for months now and still love them both. Casein seems closest to the Bluechip sound and feel, but polycarbonate has its own subtle quality that I really love.
Argument 1: These amps are too loud for home use.
Argument 2: these amps sound amazing when you turn them up and push the power tubes. If you only play at home you’ll hardly ever get to experience this.
Argument 3: Get the tonemaster series instead, they sound great and have built in attenuation.
Argument 4: If you have to have that real tube blackface fender sound for playing at home you should get a Princeton.
Bonus tip: switch out the speaker!
A customer sent me this video today. Great review from a YouTuber.
I enjoy guitar/gear forums, and I’d say 98% of the participants are cool, helpful, and fun to chat with. But occasionally we find a few interesting individuals who can make the experience slightly less than perfect. These are in no particular order. Let me know if I missed any. 😁
1. The "I won't answer your question because you're asking the wrong question" guy
What you need to know is always trumped by what he needs you to know.
2. The over-explainer
Why post a short paragraph when a full dissertation will suffice? (I’m guilty of this one, read my blog post about compensated saddles, I apologize ahead of time)
3. The guy who answers every question with “just practice more”…
4. The "let me link you to five previous threads because heaven forbid we discuss THIS again" guy.
-Bless his heart, he’s just be trying to save you time. But regardless, next time you encounter this guy immediately ask for his opinion on tone woods 😂
5. The mod who is definitely the president of his homeowners association.
It’s a tough job but someone’s gotta overdo it.
6. The angry for no apparent reason guy
This guy is pissed and nobody knows why. His usual habitat is the comment section of a YouTube video, but he visits us from time to time. Maybe his dog died, maybe his girlfriend left him for a bass player, maybe his bass player left him for a Nickelback cover band. Nobody knows, tread lightly.
7. The guy whose response is so off topic you wonder if he read beyond the OP’s title.
This guy is at his best when he’s slightly peeved. And even better when you ask him if he actually read your post and he replies that he doesn’t have time to read everything on the internet…
8. The “my age qualifies my opinion” guy
This dude has played guitar longer than you’ve been alive. And don’t forget it.
Browse any guitar forum and you’ll quickly find 2 groups. 1st are those who obsess over gear down to the tiniest detail. They never tire of examining even the smallest bit of guitar gear minutia. Everything merits examination, no questions are left un-answered, no corks are left un-sniffed.
They wait anxiously twice a year for the latest and greatest at NAMM and have their Sweetwater sales rep on speed dial. They can and will explain the advantages of germanium vs silicon whether you like it or not. And at times they’ve even called in sick on a Friday to be there in-person for a Phil McKnight live Q&A. (Check em out, they’re the best)
I lovingly call this group to which I proudly belong, “the gear junkies”.
We populate forums by the thousands. Wanna nerd out over whether or not the chemical makeup of a certain paint color could possibly effect the way a guitar body resonates? Game on.
The other group are guys in the forum who love nothing more than to tell the junkies to “quit worrying about the details and just play the guitar”. These guys know that “tone is in the fingers”, and that money is better spent on lessons than boutique pedals.
They understand that no one in the audience will hear the difference between stock groove tubes and your $350.00 NOS Amperex Bugle Boy 12AX7s.
And lastly they know that SRV could play a guitar made from wet cardboard and he’d still sound better than half of us. (that one might be true)
Here’s what’s kinda funny though about the second group. They assume that we gear junkies are obsessing over gear instead of actually playing the guitar. They imagine that we avoid practicing and just keep buying more gear with the idea that more and better gear will make us a better player.
2 problems with this assumption:
First, how do you know that just because I spent 3 hours last night researching expensive picks, I didn’t also spend an equal amount of time practicing my guitar?
I didn’t by the way, but that brings me to problem number 2: What is wrong with obsessing over gear?
Gear is fun! It’s interesting! I love learning about different kinds of pedals, tubes, strings, or speakers. I love the details and I’m fully aware that none of it will make me play like Julian Lage, but it’s fun so who cares? I love obsessing over things like setting my string action just right so the strings are easy to play but not too easy. I need them to fight a little with just enough resistance so my playing has the “right feel”... I don’t even know what that last sentence means but half of you nerds just nodded in agreement with me.
I love shopping for guitars that I’ll probably never buy. I love reading 25 different opinions about nickel vs stainless frets. And I’m currently loving my quest to find a pick that I love as much as my bluechip but doesn’t cost 35 dollars a pop. (more on that next time)
My point is, it’s just one big hobby. And if researching, talking about, or buying gear makes someone happy, who cares if they play their guitar at all?
I mean, what if back in 1950 Leo Fender had taken the advice to quit tinkering and just practice the guitar?
(It would mean I’d probably own a single Les Paul instead of my wall of Telecasters, and I’d probably spend more time playing and less time modding cause who freaking mods a Les Paul, are you crazy?)
My latest project:
The neck is a Warmoth roasted maple with a compound radius rosewood fretboard, a boatneck carve, and narrow tall frets. The body is a 2 tone burst from a Fender Vintera 50s tele with a nice cream colored 3 ply pickguard. I upgraded to a set of Lollar Vintage T pickups, and of course it has a set of aged Bensonite compensated saddles. I plan on replacing the pots and maybe installing a 4 way switch as well. To say the least, I’m totally loving it.
But with aftermarket pickups, neck, electronics, and hardware, is it now by definition a partscaster?
I don’t care for that term. Partscaster has a negative connotation. When I hear “partscaster” I think of an ugly guitar, Jerry-rigged together with tape and bandaids by someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing, and later listed for double its value on Reverb.
I refuse to call my guitar a partscaster. My guitar is a custom tele. I selected the components, finished the neck, crowned and leveled the frets (I’m an amateur but it turned out pretty good), put it together and set it up and it’s GREAT. It’s not perfect, but it’s mine and I love it.
My friend Chris has a custom thinline tele that he put together a couple years ago. It’s beautiful. Roasted maple neck with a compensated nut and stainless steel frets (pleked). Tastefully aged blue body with a pearloid pickguard, and a set of Seymour Duncan antiquity II pickups. It is probably the best tele I’ve ever played. The action is low with zero buzz, the frets are incredibly smooth, it weighs like 6 lbs, and it sounds amazing. It’s a work of art, and the thought of calling his custom thinline a “partscaster” is straight up ridiculous.
So who is with me? Let’s get rid of this stupid word. Your guitar that you customized and designed to your exact specs is awesome and belongs in a category that doesn’t imply being lessor than.
Anyway, happy Saturday y’all. Keep on rockin in the free world.
My first exposure to the guitar was hearing my dad play when I was a little kid. He played classical guitar and despite what he’d tell you he was quite good at it. He used to play for us when we were falling asleep in our beds, and my favorite song was “Afro Cuban lullaby”. I don’t think he realized at the time how much I loved hearing him play and how deeply that song affected me. Part of it was having that one on one time with my dad, but also it was my earliest memory of hearing a song and being completely absorbed in the experience. I suppose that was the beginning of my life long obsession with music and the guitar.
I didn’t start learning until I was 14. I had always been interested and on occasion fiddled around with my dads guitar, but it wasn’t until after my older brother started learning that I really got hooked. I remember the exact moment when it happened. I was standing in the doorway of his bedroom, watching him strum his old Sigma acoustic, when I was completely overcome with a desire to play. I remember thinking, if I could just sit and strum a guitar like that, nothing would make me happier. I soon started taking lessons from an older kid on my street and on my 15th birthday my parents helped me buy my first acoustic guitar. It was an Aria G420. A copy of a Gallagher made in Japan sometime in the mid 70s. I loved that guitar and loved learning to play. Even when I was just started out and could hardly even finger a basic chord I loved every minute of it. Now 25 years later I’m still just an average player. I’m not in a band and I almost never play outside of my house. I’m just a dorky dad who likes to rock out in his bedroom, and that feeling I had when I was 14 has still never left me. I’m just as obsessed with the guitar as I ever was, and sometimes when I’m not too exhausted at night I play Afro Cuban Lullaby for my own little kiddos. I hope it affects them they way it did me.
My first telecaster was a Squier Classic Vibe in butterscotch blonde. Being mainly an acoustic player I wasn’t sure if my interest in electric guitar would last, so I didn’t want to spend too much. The classic vibe series has a great reputation for quality and value so I decided to go for it. I found one in a local shop for a good deal and couldn’t have been more excited. The guys at the shop told me I could come back anytime and they’d adjust it as needed. I really liked the guitar but right away discovered it had intonation issues. Knowing almost nothing about how to fix it I took it back to the shop to see what they could do. (Unrelated to the story, but they seemed a little annoyed that I took them up on their offer and the owner reacted as if he was doing a me a personal favor or something...)
As he was looking it over on the bench I brought up the intonation issue. I said I knew it was a cheaper guitar but shouldn’t there be a way to get the intonation right? His response really surprised me. He told me: “you should lower your expectations”.
Now I didn’t know much back then, so I didn’t have much to say in response, but his answer didn’t sit well with me. What’s the point of a guitar that can’t play in tune? And it’s not like it was some cheap 50 dollar toy instrument from Walmart. These things were supposed to be great quality!
Well, as I came to learn in the following months and years, it wasn’t the guitar that was the problem, it was him. He didn’t bother to explain the inherent challenges with vintage style tele saddles and how to deal with them. He didn’t try to sell me on a proper set up. He didn’t tell me about compensated saddles or compensated nuts, or the advantages of a heavier string gauges and wound third strings. And it’s not like I was paying him for an education, but I would have gladly paid for new strings, new saddles, etc, if it would have fixed the problem.
I came away from that experience frustrated but determined to prove him wrong. I dug into online forums, articles, and videos in search of how to improve the guitar and quickly gained an education in DIY guitar tech work. I learned how to adjust the truss rod. I made my own compensated saddles (after destroying the stock saddles in my first attempt), carved my own bone nut, and eventually with the coaching of a friend (thank you Greg) I even learned how to level and crown my frets.
Looking back I’m glad that guy gave me bad service. Not only did it motivate me into what has become a fulfilling hobby(obsession) and a fun side business. But he also gave me a great idea for a brand slogan:
“Raise your expectations”
Traditional 3 barrel saddles can’t give you proper intonation. Proper intonation means every note on every string up and down the fret board is in tune (or close enough for the human ear that you can’t hear any problems).
Many factors contribute to a guitars intonation. For example; the quality of the nut slots, the placement and finish of the frets, the grip of the player, the age of the strings, the height of the strings off the fretboard (action), and my main topic today, bridge/saddle compensation.
Check the bridge on almost any guitar; the saddles aren’t arranged in a straight line perpendicular to the strings. Instead they’re slanted at an angle so the each saddle is a different distance from the nut. The point at which each string rests on the saddle determines the vibrating length (from nut to saddle) of each string. This length is critical, and it’s different for every string, here’s why:
Thickness and tightness being the same, a longer string will create a lower note than a shorter string. Pluck the low E string on your guitar and you get a low note, usually an E depending on your tuning. Now pluck it again while fretting the 12th fret and you get an E one octave higher. The reason the note is higher is because you have shortened the vibrating length of the string. Shorter strings maker higher notes.
But what if the saddle is adjusted so it’s 1/8th an inch further from the fret board? You’ve now increased the vibrating length, which will lower the pitch and now that same 12th fret is giving you a very flat sounding E. Because remember, it is the vibrating length (fret to saddle) of the string, not the fret itself, that produces the note.
Now, when your string lengths are only slightly off your notes might sound just fine in the first or second position, but as you play further up the neck your notes (and especially your chords) can start to sound slightly off.
So having your intonation set correctly means getting each saddle in the right spot, so that the vibrating length determined by each fret is as accurate as possible, giving you the most in tune notes up and down the neck.
So what about a vintage style telecaster?
Once you understand everything I’ve explained above, take a look at a vintage style telecaster bridge. Instead of 6 individual saddles, or a slanted 1 piece saddle like an acoustic, it has 3 straight cylinder shaped “barrel” saddles with 2 strings on each barrel.
See the problem here? Each string needs its own specific length, but on these 3 barrel saddles the two strings on each saddle will always be exactly the same length. So if you adjust the first saddle just right for the E string, the A string will off, and then if you fix the A string the E will be off. At best you can compromise with each saddle and go for a somewhat in between position, so both strings are only slightly out of tune. No thank you.
This is where compensated saddles come in. They have the same look and feel of traditional vintage saddles, but the contact points are slightly shifted to compensate for the intonation problem.
For your EA saddle the E contact point is shifted back, and the A contact point is shifted forward. Same for the BE saddle. The DG is reversed due to the transition from the wound D to the unwound G. These offset contact points are very subtle but it makes all the difference.
With compensated saddles and a good setup you can achieve “perfect” intonation (and again, by perfect I mean close enough that your ears wont hear the problem anymore) and still have a guitar that looks, sounds, and feels like a vintage telecaster.
There are all kinds of compensated saddles out there that work just fine. I make a set that I believe is superior to other designs both in the accuracy of the offsets, as well as the more comfortable feel under the hand. But whether you buy from me or someone else, consider setting up your tele with compensated saddles so it can intonate properly and sound as good as possible.
Thanks for reading, have a great day