I’ve installed Badass high-mass bridges in every bass in my collection that will take them. Why? I love ’em to death for their beefy sustain and definition. That said, they often come without string slots cut. This doesn’t exactly make them a drop-in mod, they’ll need some handiwork to install. I avoid the pre-slotted bridges, as cutting them yourself allows you to get a perfect string spacing and fit for your particular bass. If you’ve got an unslotted Badass bridge, here’s a rundown of how to install them.
UPDATE: re-edited this in January 2017 to add pictures (finally!) from a new build.
Disclaimer: I take no responsibility for any damage you do to your instrument(s), but here’s the painful details on how I installed Badass bridges on my basses (mostly IIs and Vs) – when I’ve done the work myself.
Prep: The tools you’ll need
- Set of small needle files (with at least one triangular file)
- Fine point Sharpie (or felt-tip pen)
- Phillips-head screwdriver (or power driver)
- Ruler or tape measure
- Emery board (or super-fine sandpaper)
- Allen wrench (appropriate size for setting saddle height)
- Electronic tuner (for re-setting intonation)
- Vice (optional)
- Index or Business cards (optional)
- Masking tape (optional)
Got it all? Cool. Let’s do this.
I’ll be installing this Badass V bridge into a MIM Fender Jazz 5-string (my fave low-cost stock bass for kick-ass mods).
1 – Measurements and Planning
Take the ruler and measure the distance between strings (i.e. string spacing) on your current bridge. Make sure to measure from the strings’ center points, not their edges. They should all be the same distance from one another, but if not, make a note – you may want to fix that. Also measure the width between your E and G string at the saddle to get the total string width (you should also be able to multiply the string spacing by your total number of strings to get the same number).
At the same time, check the mounting bolts in the baseplate. If they’re 5 in line (most Fenders), you should be able to bolt the Badass directly into the same holes.
If not, or you suspect they may be wider/narrower than the Badass, you should probably note the midline of the current saddle’s positions before you yank the old bridge off. See how your current saddles are set to different positions – with the E string saddle usually further to the heel of your instrument than the A, progressing towards the neck as you move down to the G string? Eyeball the where the middle two saddles (A and D strings) are, and make a note on the body where the strings’ average saddle point is along the string line (the masking tape is handy for this, so you’re not marking the body directly). You’ll need to use this ‘mark’ to ensure your bridge is properly placed along the string line – with enough room for each saddle to move forward and backward for adjustments – before mounting it.
2 – Measuring and Marking the Saddles
Badass bridges don’t always come with string notches cut into the saddles. If yours doesn’t have the notches pre-cut, you’ll need to measure and file the string notches before mounting the bridge on your instrument.
Note: Some folks report that Badass bridges work just fine without cutting notches, but from my experience, I disagree. I hold a tuning better and get better tone with a notched saddle that can seat the string well on the bridge, and doesn’t allow slippage to dampen the string’s vibration and reduce sustain & tone along with tuning stability. This opinion was formed after trying it both ways myself- so take with your own grain of salt, but know that I’m not just blowing smoke here. Notch those saddles!
First, set all the saddles to a straight line in the middle of their respective grooves, then measure out the string spacing from your measurements by placing a small ‘dot’ on the saddle apex with your Sharpie/felt-tip pen.
Start by centering the E and G strings by using the total string width number (calculated earlier) and your ruler. Line it up to where the ‘string area’ between the E and G are centered on your bridge as a whole. Then measure (using the string spacing measurement) from the E string to the A string, and from the G string to the D string saddles. If this is too much futzing for you, just make 4 marks on the edge of your index card spaced evenly at the string spacing measurement’s width, then use that to place the marks on the saddles. Make sure that the total string width is centered well on the bridge, as if not, your strings won’t be centered on your neck either (not good).
Cheapass solution: Just install the bridge, string it up and set the spacing where you want it to be, then take each string off one-by-one and file the saddles as you go. More prone to screwups, but I’ve done it this way in a pinch, too.
Super-Pro Tip: If you want to slightly widen or narrow the string spacing on your bass- now’s the time! You’re going to cut custom notches, so you can set the spacing to whatever you want, not just what it was. I like to slightly widen spacing a hair on 5-strings so they have a bit less narrow of a gap, for example. You can prepare for slightly larger/smaller string spacings at this point by simply adjusting your math, but you will need a fine-grained ruler that can measure these ultra-small amounts. If unsure – just stick with your old spacing.
3 – Filing the Saddle Notches
Now that you’ve got your saddles marked, you can of course pull them off individually to file the notches in a vise, or (if you don’t have a vice, which is likely), get your masking/duct tape and cover up the other chrome/finished areas of the bridge to protect it from the file/scratches/etc.
Then, get your triangular file. One like this.
Use one edge of that triangular file to make a notch that’s ideally no more than half the width of your preferred string deep. You don’t need much of a notch to get a good seat, but you do want to make sure that it’s deep enough that the string won’t jump out if you lay into it hard while playing. No more than 1/16″ if possible (and that’s even for the burly E string), ideally 1/32″ or so. Make sure to hold the file in the same general position that the string will lay across the saddle so the notch will fit the string snugly (this helps sustain greatly).
You also want the notch to be more of a triangle than a circle/round notch (which is why I suggest using an edge of the triangular file). This has the benefit of letting you change string gauges without worring about a loose (or too tight) saddle fit. The string, no matter it’s gauge, will just sit down at it’s own perfect depth into the triangular cut. Far nicer a solution.
Some tips for this part of the mod. First, I highly recommend removing the saddles one by one and securing them in a vice to file the cleanest and straightest groove possible. If you don’t have a vice, do your best to secure the saddle while you file. If you absolutely have to file them on the bridge, use the tape trick noted above. Take your time here and do a good, clean job. Once the notches are cut, use your emery board (or the sandpaper, folded over) to polish the notch and remove any burrs or nicks that could dig into your string and cause premature breakage (just don’t over-do it).
You should now have nice grooves that look something like this.
(NOTE: these are relatively shallow as I use exposed-core strings on all my 5 & 6-string basses, if you’re using standard strings you’ll want to cut them deeper.)
4 – Installing the Bridge
This should be the easiest part of the process. If you’ve got a Fender bass and the bolt holes line up as expected, just screw the sucker on. Win!
However, if the stock mounting holes don’t align with the Badass, you’ll need to line up the bridge and sink new holes. Should this be the case (and you don’t want to punt and go to a luthier), first- set the bridge saddles to the midline of their grooves, and then loosely set the bridge on your bass and line the saddles up along the string line with the mark you’ve made on your bass in step one. This assures that you’ve given enough room with the saddles to adjust your individual strings forward/backwards for intonation.
Next, make sure that your bridge is aligned with your neck. You can usually eyeball this easily from the old bolt holes your old bridge left behind, but I recommend using a straightedge of some form to guarantee it’s square. Your bridge should now be sitting where it needs to be.
Make marks on the wood through each of the mounting holes, then use the power drill and a bit that’s a wee bit narrower than the mounting bolts to predrill the holes. This makes sure you don’t strip out your bolt heads trying to screw ’em into bare wood, and have an easier time of it. If you can use a drill press, by all means do- you don’t want to go too deep with these pilot holes and through your body! If not using a press, make certain you keep that drill at a perfect right angle from the body so your bolts go straight down. You may also want to put a small ring of tape around the bit a little bit shorter than the mounting screws so you’re sure to not go too far.
Once the holes are ready, put the bridge back in place and bolt it on. You’ve installed your Badass! Only setup and intonation work left to seal the deal.
5 – Setting the bass back up
You can roughly set the saddles in their grooves to match their positions on your old bridge to get close to square one. String it up and then use the Allen wrench on the two height adjustment screws in the saddle to try and get the action on your neck back to where it was before. You’ll either succeed or fail here. If you succeed and the action all up and down the neck is looking (and feeling) good, skip the next paragraph (seriously).
Failure with setting your action means that you’re unable to get the string height low enough and the action’s too high. You can usually always raise the saddles enough to compensate for too-low action, but you can only lower the saddles so far to compensate for high action until they’re sitting on the bridge directly and unable to lower any further. If you’re reading this paragraph, then that’s probably the case. My condolences. But this is solvable.
Take a deep breath, then remove your strings, unbolt your neck and detach it from the body, and cut a small piece of the index card roughly an inch wide and as long as your neck is wide. Place it in the neck cavity closest to the pickups/bridge and then replace your neck (this is called shimming- and will adjust the tilt of your neck to bring the action down. Replace the neck and then string it up and set the action. If it’s still too high, repeat the process and add another layer of index card inside the neck cavity to shim the angle a bit more. You’ll eventually get the action down enough to set all the saddle heights correctly. Overcompensate with the shim a bit to give a little extra wiggle room, if necessary. Patience, grasshopper. This can be the most nerve-wracking (and tedious) part of the process, but hopefully not necessary.
Note: I’ve had purists snort at this last step as I’m recommending index cards instead of hand-shaved mahogany, sliced unicorn horn or some other rare and wonderful material to shim necks but don’t buy into that elitist hype. I learned the business card/index card tip from Gary Willis when I was at Musician’s Institute in ’89 (and it’s saved my bacon more times than I can count in the years since), so take up your beef with him.
Next up is setting your intonation. You’ll need an electronic tuner for this, of course. Tune the string to pitch, then hold down the string at the 12th fret and see if it goes sharp or flat. If it’s sharp, you need to move the saddle further from the neck. If it’s flat at the 12th fret, you need to move the saddle closer to the neck. Once you’ve got each string to where the open string and 12th fret tones are both in tune, your string is pretty much in tune. You can then test it by playing notes above the 12th fret, and noting if they go sharp or flat. Follow the same process to adjust, but keep checking the open/12th fret too and make sure you’re moving all closer to intonation. Rinse and repeat with each string. When it feels right and sounds in tune, you’re done.
Now go play the hell out of it!
Many third party bridges brag that they let you ‘bolt them on and play’. Sure, but you’re also usually stuck with their pre-set string spacing. By notching a raw Badass bridge it’s a bridge made specifically for your bass – no extra adjustment machinery required. All of the installation steps above like shimming, spacing, and intonation still apply with ‘drop-in’ bridges, of course. If you’re still squeamish in going Badass solo after reading this, I strongly recommend finding a good repair shop in your area to install one. It’ll probably cost in the $50-$100 USD range (roughly an hour of shop time).
Once you hit that low E (or B) and hear the fat low end and sustain the Badass provides, you’ll be glad you did. I also find Badasses give a rounder, punchier, more defined attack that feels better to me than the stock Fender bridges.
Give me a shout if you have any questions – I’m @sfegette on Instagram. I’ve also got a few 30/60min remote teaching slots – bass, guitar, music theory, or whatever – available via Skype right now, if you’re interested.
Go forth and groove!