Tips, Techniques, Examples about my favorite musical instrument, the Twelve-String Guitar.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

12-string saddle for finger pickers

Taylor has a new 12-string out, a T5, which is mostly electric. What caught my eye in the blurb is that they have aligned the strings so that the tops of the courses are at the same height. In the normal method for all acoustic guitars the strings go over the top of the saddle which is flat, so the octave pairs in a twelve-string acoustic guitar have uneven tops. I think Taylor modified the top of the saddle so it is no longer a flat line, but instead has grooves for the fundamental member of the octave, something like the drawing above, which is a blue saddle with orange strings, seen from the tail of the guitar.

This might be an appealing idea for 12-string pickers. Normally the thumb strikes the lowest 3 courses and the fingers strike the top 2 courses. For a 12-string picker the third course is not an automatic decision. For example, in the Bach piece that I've talked about here and here, the top line of the piece consists almost entirely as a pattern on the top 3 courses. If you play the pattern entirely with the fingers (pima mimi pipi) it sounds different than if you play it pima mpmi pipi. The thumb strike, p, in the middle, makes the third course, the jangliest of all the pairs, ring out differently. The player has to make a musical decision. But when the string tops are even you no longer have the option of making the third course sound different by striking it from a different direction; the flat tops make it easier to ring the octave from either direction, but harder to 'un-ring' one of the courses by striking it from the fundamental side.

I modified a saddle by trimming notches for the octave strings. It was a used saddle and had markings on it from where the strings had gone over, so I knew where to file. I put it in a vise and filed out enough so that I could eyeball (and feel) how deeply the string fit. I had to shim the saddle a little because now the fundamental strings are closer to the frets, and this saddle already had too-low action. After 20 minutes of playing, I think this might be a nice sound. The guitar is janglier - the pairs seem to ring more no matter what direction they are struck; I'm not sure of this yet. It will take a lot more playing.

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