Fix an Acoustic Guitar Saddle That's Too Low
Acoustic guitar saddle too low? Not only can this cause buzzing, but also can lead to poor tone. Let’s review three possible solutions – shims, string ramps, and truss rod adjustment.
Guitar Saddle Shims
Shims are thin pieces of material placed underneath a saddle for a height increase. Ideally you won’t have a shim at all, and instead, your saddle is one solid piece as this produces better tone. However, there are times when a shim makes sense. Below are some examples.
If you live in a region with significant seasonal humidity fluctuations then your guitar’s wood might move a lot from season to season, resulting in an acoustic guitar saddle that’s too low and the need for a higher saddle height for part of the year. You could get two saddles, and indeed some of our customers have ‘winter’ and ‘summer’ saddles for this reason. You could also use a shim for part of the year.
Similar to the seasonal variations, you and your guitar might visit a region with a different humidity level and a shim may be needed.
Ascertain Saddle Height
You may want to adjust your guitar action a little higher. To do so, you could start with a saddle that is too low, then use thin shims until you achieve the desired action height. Once found, you would then measure the saddle height plus the shim(s) height to determine the height needed for a new saddle.
You may have the perfect saddle and just want to boost the height a touch. A permanent shim can work well, but we advise that you permanently attach the shim to the bottom of your saddle with cyanoacrylate, aka, Super Glue.
A good shim consists of the same material as either your saddle or your bridge. This consistency helps produce sound waves to move through your instrument. As such, a guitar with a Tusq saddle and a rosewood bridge should have either a Tusq or rosewood shim. Likewise, a guitar with a bone saddle and ebony bridge should have either a bone or ebony shim, etc.
It might seem as though using a bone shim with a cheap plastic saddle would improve the tone over the cheap plastic saddle alone, but this is not necessarily the case as the sound waves then must travel through three different types of material.
Unfortunately, bad shims are common in an attempt to fix an acoustic guitar saddle too low. Any guitar tech has seen numerous cut up credit cards or pieces of thin cardboard underneath saddles. If you are in a desperate situation, then these materials might work temporarily, but should be replaced soon for optimal tone.
You could cut string ramps in the bridge leading from the bridge pin to the saddle. These provide for a better break angle at the saddle and downward pressure on the saddle. You might opt for these instead of a neck reset if the guitar is inexpensive and not worth spending the money on a neck reset, or perhaps the neck isn’t removable.
Neck Relief Adjustment
At some point someone may have tried to adjust the action and simply lowered the saddle until they found the desired action height, not realizing they were killing the tone in the process. However, the correct action may have been to reduce the neck relief instead, which in turn would have the desired effect on the action. If so, you would make the neck relief adjustment and then need a taller saddle. You could use a shim or get a new saddle. To find the correct saddle for your guitar, please visit our article on How to Find an Acoustic Guitar Saddle Replacement.