What Are Bone Saddles?

Among replacement parts on a guitar, after the strings, a saddle will have the most notable effect on a guitar’s tone. So, what exactly are bone saddles? They are a natural material that has been traditionally used on guitars, and are now almost always used for higher-end guitars from the factory/builder. Bone saddles used in guitars are almost always made from cow bone, although bone from other animals is sometimes used. The saddle is the strip of hard material set into the bridge that lifts the strings to the desired height. The saddle plays a key role in tone because it transfers string vibrations to the bridge, which then flows to the guitar top. 

Benefits 

There are many reasons bone saddles are used, including the following:

  • Increased clarity and sustain
  • Better overtones
  • Overall richer tone
  • Longer lasting than plastic saddles

Furthermore, bone has a touch of natural fat content and has a slight self-lubricating aspect for the strings, which will slide smoothly during tuning. 

Drawbacks

So why do so many acoustic guitars come from the factory with plastic saddles? Let’s look at the drawbacks of acoustic bone for manufacturers. First, bone is often more expensive than plastic saddles are, and many beginning guitarists have not yet developed the ear to distinguish the tonal differences between a bone and plastic saddle or recognize that bone is typically preferred. As such, for a guitar manufacturer building beginner guitars, using bone introduces an increased expense yet their customer base is unlikely to want to pay more for one.

Another common reason that manufacturers might use plastic saddles instead of bone is for use with acoustic-electric guitars that use an undersaddle pickup. Lower quality bone saddles can have dead spots and do not properly transmit through to the undersaddle pickup. Higher quality bone saddles will rarely have such issues, but are much more expensive than plastic saddles and thus not cost-effective.

Bleached Versus Unbleached 

Unbleached

Unbleached bone is a slightly harder material and will produce a  subtly different tone from that of bleached bone. Many guitarists prefer the tone of unbleached bone as it will produce a slightly fuller tone than bleached bone does. Unbleached bone has a yellowish-brown color that is inconsistent not only from saddle to saddle, but within an individual saddle as well. Unbleached bone is often used for older guitars as it has a similar color to aged bone.

Bleached

Although more properly called ‘whitened’ since actual bleach is not used for the whitening process, bleached bone saddles have a consistent white color that many people desire for newer guitars. The bone should be whitened with peroxide rather than actual bleach. The peroxide will make the bone slightly softer, but the bone is still solid and hard. Lower quality bone saddles might have been whitened with actual bleach for the whitening process as actual bleach is much easier to whiten bone with. However, the bleach will also result in a bone that has a weak, chalk-like texture that results in poor tone and does not stand the test of time.

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