Replacing clunky hardware with lightweight components
The stock tailpiece on this guitar was heavy, and I think it was bad for tone. Going back to the 1950s, the prized tailpieces were lightweight aluminum, but sometime in the 70s hardware got heavy as manufactures started using brass and zinc. The idea was “more mass = better sustain”. I say tone’s the main thing, and in my opinion lighter hardware means better tone.
The factory tailpiece on this guitar was very heavy (4.8 oz.), and I replaced it with a Gotoh aluminum tailpiece which weighs just 2.7 oz. I mounted it on a set of TonePros locking studs, with screw-down locking caps to secure the tailpiece to the studs. Better coupling of these metal parts also translates to a noticeable improvement in tone.
First, the TonePros studs were threaded all the way down into the bushings, then the tailpiece went on and I strung it up to pitch.
The factory bridge on this guitar was based loosely on Gibson's original ABR-1 bridge design. Loosely is the word, too: these bridges often have ill-fitting saddles that rattle and buzz along with their retainer wire (the ABR-1 design has a lot of small parts that need to fit well).
I installed a Gotoh tune-o-matic bridge. This bridge ships with studs that are a direct replacement on most imports. Simply thread the included posts into the existing body bushings and you’re ready to install the bridge. The well seated saddles are secured to the bridge body by the intonation screws, and the result is a rock-solid unit.
The bridge saddles have small starter slots that you should custom-fit to the string gauges you’ll be choosing. When slotting bridges, use gauged files that aren’t more than a few thousands larger than the string diameter. This keeps the string from binding and breaking, or causing tuning issues.
Adjust the bridge saddle heights to match the radius of the fretboard. Here, I'm using an understring radius gauge to guide me while I dial in the radius.
File the saddle slots so about half of the wound strings are sitting up above the saddle tops, and tops of the unwound strings are even with the saddle tops. Any deeper could cause the strings to bind in the slots. If you find you need the slot deeper than this to match the radius of your fretboard, reshape the saddle for a better fit. For more on this, check out page 49 of Dan Erlewine’s book How To Make Your Electric Guitar Play Great!
Once the slots are at the proper radius, clean them up with Mitchell’s abrasive cord: an abrasive-coated string in different diameters. In Dan Erlewine’s shop, we use it for removing file marks and burrs in the string slot. (Thanks to this Trade Secrets story, we’ve starting to carry it at stewmac.com, too!)