Micarta saddles.

Construction and repair of Classical Guitar and related instruments
fscott55

Micarta saddles.

Post by fscott55 » Sat Mar 07, 2009 3:17 pm

For someone who has been making saddles for over 15 years, I really cannot recall the last time I made one with micarta. Maybe the last time I used one was on a 1996 Martin D-35 acoustic guitar. Since then, I've never really taken the notion to try a saddle of micarta, at least not until now.

Micarta was used in Martin guitars for quite a while. It wasn't until the "vintage" craze of the late 90's and up until now that people wanted genuine articles in their Martin reissues. That meant real bone and fossilized walrus ivory as saddles. Martin used elephant ivory for many years in the pre-war models. So Walrus ivory seems like a good approach today for the reissues to give people that "vintage" feel. Problem is, walrus ivory is just a bad bad idea for most guitar saddles. Maybe it can brighten up some old bass heavy Martins, but for most guitars, people always go back to bone, solid, neutral tone.

TUSQ, a new invention of recent, works better for most ivory applications. But still, TUSQ I think is a bad idea, unless used on guitars where an UST is used. Its uniformity works great when your plugged in. Unplugged, not good, at least for most instruments... again unless you desire that ultra-tinny, bright sort of tone.

Now it brings me to micarta. A plastic saddle. Where this material excels as a saddle is when you desire a more focused, or "compressed" tone, a more fundamental tone, with less transients and less overtones. Sounds like something bad? Not so. Sometimes more transients and too many overtones can make the guitar sound hollow and "woofy" sounding, where the fundamental note is lost.

I used the word "compressed" to describe the micarta sound because I think it attempts to do what a compressor does in audio reproduction. Since I have a background in recording, I am intimately familiar with the use of a compressor.

A compressor simply reduces the amplitude of those louder transients, and lifts the volume of those softer ones. If you think of a compressor as "squeezing" the sound into a nicely focused wavelength, then you have the right idea. The result of sounds going through a compressor are generally more pleasing to the listener. That's why 99% of the music, voice, talk radio, anything you listen to ultimately has been compressed in one shape or another.

So, if you have a guitar you are not truly pleased with because its either, "woofy", or too uncontrolled sounding, and you desire a more focused sound, then I think it may be worth a try to strap on a micarta saddle. Some folks have also descrbed its sound as "woody", which basically means, more of the fundamental tone of the instrument. The instrument is made of wood, thus, its fundamental sound is wood. I think micarta does that well.

I really haven't noticed any less sensitivity either. Less finger noise, yes, less fret noise yes, less scratchiness, yes. I can see this saddle being an advantage on a spruce topped guitar.

The one disadvantage of micarta is that it is soft. Very soft. What happens over time, is that the wound strings will begin to dig little notches in the top of the saddle. With that comes buzzing, and string breakage unless you address the issue. Perhaps that is micarta's true failure for some, especially those who use higher tensions.

Why the long post about micarta? Well, simply, because its not a material you see much information about here on the delcamp forums. Maybe because delcampers are generally traditionalists, and use of any strange man-made materials are taboo.. :lol:

ewok

Re: Micarta saddles.

Post by ewok » Sat Mar 07, 2009 4:04 pm

This is my first time to hear the word "micarta."
Therefore, do you have a close-up picture to show us how it looks different from a plastic saddle?

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Ken Whisler
Luthier
Posts: 330
Joined: Fri Jan 09, 2009 4:33 pm
Location: Parkville, MO

Re: Micarta saddles.

Post by Ken Whisler » Sat Mar 07, 2009 4:55 pm

The Jacobson I played in college had a Micarta saddle and nut. Paul switched to bone over 20 years ago.
Ken Whisler, guitarist and luthier

fscott55

Re: Micarta saddles.

Post by fscott55 » Sun Mar 08, 2009 12:00 am

Hybrid saddles are also not unheard of. I've seen some folks use micarta for the bass strings and bone for the treble. Essentially you have two pieces to the saddle. Some material work well for the wound strings, but sound really bad for trebles. I think a split saddle would be a nice compromise in that scenario.

ChasW

Re: Micarta saddles.

Post by ChasW » Thu Apr 07, 2016 4:49 am

Not so. Sometimes more transients and too many overtones can make the guitar sound hollow and "woofy" sounding, where the fundamental note is lost.
I realize this is an old thread, but I wanted to comment on Micarta since I've recently made a nut and saddle with it.

First off, I agree with what was said here, especially with regards to fundamental notes and bass resonance. I hesitate to generalize since there are many factors (string comp/process/tension, woods, bracing, setup, player technique, etc), but it would seem that softer saddles can have this effect on the bass to mid range.

So on a 30 year old student level guitar, ('85 Yamaha cg-120 spruce top, toog back and sides, nato neck, indian rosewood bridge) , I recently swapped out an ABS plastic nut and ABS plastic saddle for Micarta. I had a Tusq saddle on at one time, but got tired of the lack of clarity in the bass notes, so I went back to the factory parts for use as a baseline.

Now my understanding is that Micarta is actually some kind of plastic, so I did not expect any real change at all. In fact, using Micarta for this was more of an exercise and excuse for making more nuts than anything else as Micarta is not that expensive or difficult to work with and I could use the practice.

What I ended up noticing with the nut swap was slightly reduced volume with perhaps a slight improvement to all 6 strings for timbre, but not to clarity. The basses, particularly the A and D, had a more appealing character, but nothing to get excited about.

Overall this change to the nut was just at best nominal to my ear, but not largely significant which left me not being thrilled with Micarta for the nut. So I made a Tusq nut. The Tusq nut somewhat noticeably increased sustain for open strings and brightened tone across all 6 open strings. Being a reasonable improvement, I left it on to try with the new saddle.

Now, the saddle swap to Micarta made a significant improvement. Using a set of D'addario EJ45s, bass volume, sustain, and clarity increased quite favorably. That is to say, the Micarta saddle sounded better than the factory ABS saddle as well as a fully intonated Tusq saddle. For this guitar, I was at one time quite in love with the brightness and volume that Tusq delivered to the trebles. I think for some instruments, if Tusq serves to be a balancing factor, Tusq is a good idea, but for this case Micarta wins over Tusq because the basses were in comparison definitely "muddy" before and now they sound really good.

I hadn't planned on it originally but now I think I might try bone on this instrument at some point. It wasn't until recently that I learned that softer (the Micarta) can actually serve a purpose. But now I am wondering that perhaps an even better balance between bass and treble could be achieved. Although I can't imagine the basses getting much better, the trebles could stand to be a bit more lively- although the warmer sounds, at least right now, are very appealing to me.

A split saddle might just be a fun experiment.

Anyhow, just wanted to share.
Cheers,
Chas

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Justfun
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Location: New York Queens

Re: Micarta saddles.

Post by Justfun » Fri Apr 15, 2016 2:41 pm

Hey Chas,

Nice finding. this thread is great.

Fred
Richard Reynoso, Cypress \ Spruce 2016
Ramirez 4NE, IRW \ Cedar 2011
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