Upgrading the Lab Rat: Bridge Replacement
I have a bass I call the Lab Rat. It’s a really cheap Jaguar knock off I bought to experiment with some ideas I’d been kicking around. I’ve upgraded all the electronics already, and we’ll briefly go over some of that in future articles. I’m on to the hardware phase now, and today is bridge day!
I’m replacing the “economy” Fender-style bridge with a much more solid piece of hardware that is fairly new to the market, the Babicz Full Contact Hardware 4-string bass model bridge. This bridge is a direct replacement for stock Fender-style, 5-hole bridges.
If you have any experience with these stock bridges – especially the ones that come on basses in the lower price range – then you know there’s a lot of room for improvement here. There are a lot of aftermarket options out there based on this design that are made with better metal, have more mass and will improve sustain and tone transfer.
If you’re feeling a little adventurous and don’t mind straying from the traditional look of this design, you can get even more mass, better contact from saddle to plate and saddles that stay where you put them. Have you ever had a saddle that starts moving from side to side when you really start to dig in? I have. Time to remedy that, along with some other issues this bridge presents.
In this case, the swap is as straight forward as it gets. I did take one precautionary measure before getting started: the saddle edges were sharp enough that I was concerned about string breakage. If you find this with your bridge, you’ll want to round these edges off just slightly. A gauged nut file would have done the trick nicely, but I decided to come up with a method you can use if you don’t happen to have an expensive set of nut files in your tool box. A piece of wire hanger with sticky 400 grit sand paper folded over it turned out to be just the right diameter to match the radius at the bottom of these saddle slots. We’re not looking to remove a lot of material here, we just want to smooth the slot out enough so the string isn’t resting on a knife edge.
As you carefully sand with a sawing motion, rocking your “file” from front to back, you should see the sharp edge start to smooth out. That’s all you need.
With that taken care of, the next step is to remove the stock bridge and lay the new one in it’s place to have a look for fit. You’ll want to remove some of the saddle hardware for access to the mounting screw holes. As you can see in my photo, the mounting holes line up perfectly. No issues here.
Take a careful look at the supplied mounting screws (top) as compared to the ones just removed (bottom). The screws that come with the new bridge are flat top, as opposed to the dome top screws that were in the stocker. This is important because the dome top screws would interfere with the adjustability of the E string saddle. The supplied screws are slightly larger in diameter than the ones removed, so they’ll work in the existing holes with no modification.
From here, it’s just a matter of screwing the new plate down and putting the bridge back together. I did measure the distance from the mounting screws to each saddle on the stocker before I took everything apart so I could get the intonation relatively close for a quick set up. When set up is complete, the saddles lock right down to the plate and they stay where I put them.
You can see here that this new bridge is quite substantial compared to the one it replaced. There is also a lot more contact area between the saddle and the plate. This combination of more mass and better saddle contact will, in theory, result in more sustain and better tone transfer from the bass body.
From a functional standpoint, these saddles are nice. Precise, accurate intonation and action adjustments are quick and easy and, with every moving part locked down, you should only have to do it once unless you change string gauges. As for the sound, I purposely put the same set of strings back on after the swap. I wouldn’t normally do this but I wanted to hear the difference this upgrade makes without changing any other factors. Right out of the gate, I noticed a difference in my tone. Not huge, but not exactly subtle either. It has a little more bite and a lot more of that woody kind of midrange punch you get when you dig into a solid bass. The fact that I can feel the neck resonate more now than I could before the swap tells me that my strings are, in fact, not losing as much of their vibration at the saddle. The sustain on this bass is markedly improved as well. Over all, I’m very pleased with the results and consider this a worthwhile upgrade.
This is a mod you can do on your dining room table with nothing more than a philips screwdriver (and the coat hanger and sandpaper, if needed). There are a lot of good quality bridges out there with plenty of mass that are designed to directly replace some of the more common bridge types. I chose the Babicz because I like the way the saddles are designed and I have a pretty crazy mod planned based on those saddles. But that’s something for a future column.
Next month, we’ll talk about the benefits of shielding your pickups and pots. I’ll show you one method that’s pretty easy and has always worked well for me.