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Hand Made Guitars by Luthier Dan Koentopp

The Archtop Bridge: Feet or no feet

I often get asked “What is the difference between an archtop bridge with a full base and a bridge that has two individual feet?”  It is impossible to say that one bridge is better than the other.  After defining how each bridge works we can see that under the right condition they can both be good solutions.  Many well known guitar makers choose one or the other with wonderful results. They tend to pick a bridge design that works well and compliments their guitar design. For the everyday player finding or choosing a bridge can be a complicated choice.

Archtop Guitar Bridge Feet
Close-up of Koentopp Chicagoan Archtop Guitar Bridge” bridge

The bridge is one of the most important parts of the guitar.  It is responsible for transmitting all of the strings energy into the body of the guitar.  Only five percent of the strings energy is transmitted into audible sound so any negative influence greatly affects the voice of your guitar.  Extra weight or a bad fit between the base of the bridge and the top surface will result in a great loss of volume and resonance.

The bridge function on a violin and cello is similar to that of a guitar, it has a tremendous affect on tone, playability, and response.  Carving a new bridge can transform a bad sounding instrument into one that works very well.  This task is an art; you are in control of refining and bringing the voice of an instrument to a good place.   Some controlling factors that are usually altered are the thickness of the base, the thickness of the top of the bridge, the size and shape of the inner openings, and the width of the feet.  Although violins and cellos are considered to be more specific instruments, the same aspects apply to the guitar and are therefore just as important.

The Koentopp Amati Archtop hand cut bridge
Amati archtop hand cut “cello style” bridge

I feel that I get more response out of the guitar when I carve a bridge with two feet.  With a strong well-designed arch between the feet the bridge has the same strength as the full-footed bridge but with half of the mass.  This guitar is easier to set in motion with the lateral vibrations of the strings and top.  With less mass the bridge is more efficient at transferring energy instead of absorbing it.

D’Aquisto, Benedetto, and countless other wonderful guitar makers have had great success with the full footprint bridge.  Having the whole surface planted makes the bridge stiffer.  The same result happens with the voice of the instrument.  Jazz guitar players sometimes want a stiffer and faster response that is quick and short.  This bridge design complemented their guitars in a balanced and successful way.

One could use either of these two bridges to bring a guitar’s voice into focus.  For instance, if I had a guitar that was too lively and a bit scattered I might consider putting on a full footprint bridge to calm things down.  One could do the opposite to make a dull sounding guitar a little more vibrant.  Remember though, that the fit between the bottom of the bridge feet and the top of the guitar is probably the most crucial factor in transmitting energy from the bridge into the body of the guitar.

The guitar works as a complete system and every thing that exists on the instrument must have purpose.   Neither of these bridges is better than the other.  The truth in making an efficient working bridge is its design and fit to the guitar to transfer the most amount of energy with the minimal amount of absorption.  Each bridge has a different resulting characteristic and they supply a maker with another palette of sound manipulation.

12 Responses to “The Archtop Bridge: Feet or no feet”

  1. Mike Stenberg Says:

    Looking to see if the Amanti Archtop Hand Cut Cello Style Bridge would be worth trying on my Weber Bitteroot archtop guitar. Are they available for sale?

  2. admin Says:

    Hi Mike, The one piece carved bridge definitely has differences to the standard adjustable archtop bridge. It has a quicker attack with a longer decay. It often brings a more lively feel and sensitivity to the instruments voice. I do not offer these bridges for separate sale because I fit and shaped each bridge individually for every instrument. It is much like violin work, there are mass produced bridge blanks for sale but every maker has his or her own way of carving and fitting a bridge. Please, let me know if you have any questions at all and thanks for the inquiry! -Dan

  3. Carsten Werner Says:

    Hi Dan,
    thank you for your interesting insights into bridge choice. I recently read that in order to establish a good contact between the top of the guitar and the feet of the bridge, the feet should be carved hollow, so that only the edges or rims of the feet are touching the top. Would you agree with that or is this also a question of choice which cannot simply be answered with yes or no?

    Cheers, Carsten

  4. admin Says:

    Hey Carsten,

    Thanks for the question! The better fit of the contact area between the bridge foot and the top surface of the instrument means more energy transfer. Think about a classical or steel string bone saddle. The tighter fit of the bone saddle produces a louder and clearer sound than a loose fitting one because less energy is lost. Same concept here. I tend to hollow out my bridge feet ever so slightly so that it is easier to work down the edges of each foot. By the end, one or two swipes of sandpaper are enough to get rid of most of the hollow (On a carved instrument the surface is never flat to begin with). In the end, the bottom of the bridge should be made as if it were “born” there. This is obviously much easier work on a maple bridge than an ebony one:)
    Thanks again!

  5. Mark Pearson Says:

    Hi Dan, I am looking to carve a new one piece bridge for vintage Gibson L4c. The goal is more sustain through the whole range of the instrument, particularly the high strings. What are your feeling as to the particular characteristics of for instance bone, ebony, rosewood, maple in your one piece bridges. I have to say, your Amanti bridges seem a really good design to me. Thanks, Mark

  6. admin Says:

    Hi Mark! Sorry it took so long for me to respond. You will always get more sustain and more overtones through a one piece bridge. A ebony bridge will generally give you a brighter and louder response. It is more dense than maple and absorbs less energy, transmitting more of the strings energy into the instrument. However, I no longer cut these ebony one piece bridges because I kept breaking all my bridge knives;) I find the maple bridges are beautiful and I can create a very specific bridge. When you work with the one piece bridges you can begin to hear and see how just the slightest change in design can bring something out or just the opposite. I like putting in bone inserts under the bare wire strings because it prevents the string from digging into the maple and losing its set height. The bone definitly brightens up the trebles and I have also used ebony too which can be just a tad less bright than the bone. On violins we used to use skin banjo heads and thin them down and cut out a little piece which we then superglued over the bridge top to prevent the high e string from digging down into the bridge. Again, I apologize if this response is so late that it is no longer useful. For some reason I stopped getting the notifications. Please let me know if you have any more questions and good luck! Thanks again for the great question. -Danny

  7. stuart gee Says:

    Hello there I’ve just bought a e ebony 2 foot bridge for my gretsch archdiocese, can anyone recommend a tec that can fit it for me as the bottom needs to be carved to the same profile as the guitar

    Kind regards


  8. admin Says:

    Hey Stuart, where are you located?

  9. Jared Says:

    I recently acquired an archtop guitar with a 2-foot ebony Stewmac bridge that is NOT correctly contoured for the top. The guitar is very bright and tinny sounding, and not as loud as I was expecting. The stock bridge for this (which I don’t have) was a 1-foot design, and slightly wider.

    My goal is to improve bass response and add a bit more body to the tone. Would I be better served sticking with the 2-foot ebony bridge or purchasing a 1-foot design? I will have my tech perform the work, but I’d like to only have him do this once.


  10. admin Says:

    Hi Jared,

    Thanks for the comment! (and sorry for the late reply). In either case, you’ll notice a big improvement with either bridge fitting like its supposed to be. You probably won’t notice bass improving that much from bridge to bridge but if you are noticing that the guitar is very bright or has ‘ice-pick’ high notes than a one footed bridge would calm this down. With a well fit bridge bottom you will notice everything getting better with more clarity and sustain. However if the guitar is already bright, it may just accentuate this. If you got the work done, let me know what you did and what you think. Thanks so much Jared!

  11. Pat Duffy Says:

    Hello I have a old Kay N2 archtop. I need to cut the bridge height to a much shorter size. I could reset the neck but is there a height the bridge has to be on this guitar. I think if I cut the base of the bridge (under the saddle) but I want to make sure this will work without reset. The base of bridge to the top of the saddle would be about 3/4″ Is there any problem with doing this. It is an old guitar not of great quality but I want to try to restore.
    Any answer would be great

  12. admin Says:

    Hi Pat, thanks for the question! It’s hard to give you a definite answer without seeing the guitar but if you have the clearance as well as room for adjustability to achieve the desired string heights than you should be ok. Cutting a bridge shorter can have an overall affect on tone. As the bridge gets shorter it becomes more stable (A taller bridge tends to be excited more easily) So, on a nit-picky level, and more importantly on a tonal approach, you may find you need to shape the saddle a little more to achieve the same tone as you had prior to the bridge adjustment. You may not notice this on this particular guitar which would work in your favor. One thing to look at is how much room is under your tailpiece to the top of the guitar. That space will quickly drop as you lower the bridge and that would prevent you from dropping the saddle any more. This will determine if you need a neck set or not. Good luck and keep me posted!

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