Bye Bye Barrel Saddles!!! Yay!!

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Bye Bye Barrel Saddles!!! Yay!!

Post by Barry on Thu Nov 11, 2010 8:29 pm

Well kids, it's been over year since I came to the realization that Uncle Mats blew it with the barrel saddle design on the '80-'81 Thunders as well as a few of the Vantage line of the same year. This design flaw has been a major source of misery for me and I have been s l o w l y replacing the three guitars I have which were infected with these lame excuses for stability.

There has been a lot written about the problem in these forums, and for those who would like the background to this current post you can read most of the sorry ass details here:
LINK 1
LINK 2
There are also a few other references if you search about.

The last time I had the Thunder I-A out the high E jumped off the fretboard and broke ! The result of:
1) instability in the too long adjustment screws which allowed it to oscillate wildly, and;
2) incorrect string spacing on the barrels, and;
3) improper tracking up the neck--tapering almost off altogether!

In disgust I threw it back in it's case and there it's been for months! Suffice it to say I've had a hate on for these things, which have ruined an otherwise great playing experience on my Mats guitars. Finally couldn't take it any more and this week I took the plunge.

I stripped her all down, and did a thorough detailing, something that I had not really done when I first got her almost 2 years ago. The woodwork responded nicely to a Meguiar's polishing compound treatment, and the pots and switches got liberal amounts of contact cleaner. All well and good.

Positioning for the New Bridge

Click on the following thumbnail image to get a full view (it's too big to display here and gets truncated):


By way of explanation in case someone else needs to do this, let me briefly describe what's going on here.
As you see, I have laid masking tape down both sides of the length of the neck, and over the pups. Next, I measure in 3mm from the edges in several places and draw rough guide lines. This represents the string positioning for the E strings and helps me to check and locate the corresponding saddles on the new bridge.

Since I am working mainly with hand tools, plus a power drill, and a metal scale only, the process was painfully slow at times and measuring was done multiple times to be as accurate as I could make it. You'll see a line marked 18" since that was the limit of my scale. The rest of the measurement was continued from there. Despite looking like a Strat, the Thunder is actually a G-scale guitar (24-3/4", actually more like 24-5/8" on this one).

But that is the scale dimension, it is NOT where the bridge is actually mounted. The critical part of this operation is getting the initial positioning right, and that's done using a calculation relative to either the closest mounting screw or the bridge saddle, depending on hte bridge design. Fortunately Stewart-Macdonald has a handy online fret calculator which will give you the correct measurement to use, in my case a Gotoh style bridge, it was 24.384" which I had to convert to 24-13/32". Near enough for Barry Engineering Company! clown

You can make out that line under the bridge at that point. As a double check I measured from the centre of the 12th fret to the saddle centre (12-5/16") to ensure that it was going to accommodate sufficient adjustment for intonation after I fastened her down.

I'll spare you all the horrible interim details (and they were indeed horrid!) between this step and the final product. Suffice it to say that I have a new respect for hard maple and ash, and soft brass screws whose heads torque off at the most inappropriate times! I also have learned a lot about screw extraction, and plug cutting!

Fortunately the plate on this bridge covered up not only the 3 old original screw holes, but the new "enhancements" added by me! So, without further delay...
TA DA! All New and very Shiny!






Final conclusion? As Westbone might say, 'king brilliant!!
The strings are stable, intonation is right on the money, no screws and sharp metal edges piercing and ripping the side of my palm, the strings track properly over the pup poles, and there's no discernible change in the sustain and thunder!

I'm breathing a huge sigh of relief, and patting myself on the back just a little bit.


Last edited by Barry on Thu Feb 03, 2011 10:43 am; edited 3 times in total (Reason for editing : Repaired broken image.)

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Re: Bye Bye Barrel Saddles!!! Yay!!

Post by corsair on Fri Nov 12, 2010 4:43 am

Good work, Barry, and nice walk-through too!! Very Happy

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Re: Bye Bye Barrel Saddles!!! Yay!!

Post by Westbone on Fri Nov 12, 2010 5:10 am

Success on a (gold) plate for you. Looks the bollox.
Where do the strings hook up to? Yeah, those screws are delicate little 'stewards, got to have the right pilot hole.
Nice job and playability. Very Happy

Put the 'barrel' on fleabay Twisted Evil

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Re: Bye Bye Barrel Saddles!!! Yay!!

Post by Racing on Fri Nov 12, 2010 5:33 am

I agree Barry.
Really really good work!

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Re: Bye Bye Barrel Saddles!!! Yay!!

Post by Barry on Fri Nov 12, 2010 10:02 am

Westbone wrote:...Where do the strings hook up to?
It's a surface mount bridge with the strings entering from the back, similar to the the original. If I had a proper workshop or access to a drill press I would have loved to have converted this into a string through. That would have been the ultimate fix! But I'm not complaining.

Put the 'barrel' on fleabay
Yeah, I hear these are in high demand! clown

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Re: Bye Bye Barrel Saddles!!! Yay!!

Post by Barry on Fri Nov 12, 2010 10:26 am

Thanks John and Jesper. I'm always a bit nervous about tackling stuff like this. There's so much potential for things to go wrong when you don't have the right tools and facility. Still, nothing ventured, nothing gained,eh?

This makes the second barrel saddle replacement for me. The first was the Avenger AV310 restoration which turned out very well. But it was much easier to work on since it was a compete refinishing operation:
BEFORE
AFTER

The next, and last one (!) is my beautiful trans red Avenger AV325. I'm really nervous about that one! If I damage that finish I'll be crying 'til next St. Swithin's Day! But it has to be replaced. The string tracking on that one is just awful; strings are bent and twisted and the E strings completely tapered up the neck and nearly off the fretboard altogether:
CURRENTLY
BRIDGE CLOSEUP

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Re: Bye Bye Barrel Saddles!!! Yay!!

Post by Westbone on Fri Nov 12, 2010 11:31 am

Is that one of the early actives where the 3rd knob only works when the active is turned on, as an active volume(boost)

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Re: Bye Bye Barrel Saddles!!! Yay!!

Post by DuoFuzz on Fri Nov 12, 2010 11:52 am

Barry, that looks great man, nice one. cheers

It feels good when you can get another guitar up and running, it's like getting a new toy for Xmas!

All this is giving the push I need to get my finger out and get cracking with the old wrecks I have. I can't afford any more guitars so I will have to try and nail some old one's back together instead! Rolling Eyes

There is one thing I need to ask though, how can you buy at least three guitars with a bridge you allegedly hate? Suspect

Come off it Barry, you love them barrels really don't ya! Laughing

DAN.




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Re: Bye Bye Barrel Saddles!!! Yay!!

Post by Steve777 on Fri Nov 12, 2010 12:23 pm

Barry, looking at the pics of the old barrel bridge, would it be possible to re-position the barrel screw adjuster and the string hole so that they sat inline, one above each other, with screw adjuster at the lowest point and string hole slightly above? Of course one would need to braze up the previous holes?

Just playing devils advocate ..

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Re: Bye Bye Barrel Saddles!!! Yay!!

Post by Barry on Fri Nov 12, 2010 2:51 pm

Westbone wrote:Is that one of the early actives where the 3rd knob only works when the active is turned on, as an active volume(boost)
Yessir.

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Re: Bye Bye Barrel Saddles!!! Yay!!

Post by Barry on Fri Nov 12, 2010 2:52 pm

DuoFuzz wrote:...how can you buy at least three guitars with a bridge you allegedly hate?
Fair question. Easy answer. They're Mats!!

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Re: Bye Bye Barrel Saddles!!! Yay!!

Post by Westbone on Fri Nov 12, 2010 2:59 pm

They're a great guitar Barry, best active circuit they did in my opinion and probably yours. Phase switch and coil tap,active none of your treble/bass boost like on the later ones. Just out 'n out gain. Got one for my mate the other day, should have had it for myself. Still, it's at my place at the mo. love it.
Crank it up, nice one. Very Happy

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Re: Bye Bye Barrel Saddles!!! Yay!!

Post by Barry on Fri Nov 12, 2010 3:04 pm

Steve777 wrote:Barry, looking at the pics of the old barrel bridge, would it be possible to re-position the barrel screw adjuster and the string hole so that they sat inline, one above each other, with screw adjuster at the lowest point and string hole slightly above? Of course one would need to braze up the previous holes?
Just playing devils advocate ..
Geez Steve, we've been down that road and back a few times in previous post thread discussions. The short answer is "why bother"? The saddle screws themselves are in the correct position i.e., where the strings should be, but the notches in the saddles are offset relative to the screw so it couldn't be done properly no matter what you try. The strings are always going to be in the wrong place.
If by some miracle you could manage somehow to line up these holes you'd likely still have two more problems: a weak back plate which would probably bend or tear through, and; not a sufficient string "break" over the saddle resulting in loss of energy transfer to the guitar body (similar to an acoustic bridge).

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Re: Bye Bye Barrel Saddles!!! Yay!!

Post by Westbone on Fri Nov 12, 2010 3:07 pm

Here's the guit.
http://cgi.ebay.co.uk/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=130435452247

and here it is now after batteries, knob, switchcleaner and a spruce up.




Last edited by Westbone on Fri Nov 12, 2010 3:23 pm; edited 1 time in total

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Re: Bye Bye Barrel Saddles!!! Yay!!

Post by Barry on Fri Nov 12, 2010 3:16 pm

Westbone wrote:They're a great guitar Barry...Crank it up, nice one.
No argument there. But the thing weighs a ton and my poor 'ole shoulder fair aches after slinging this baby for awhile. I could have used its versatility "back in the day" but I still think the weight would have been a distraction at the mike.
Can't imagine doing three sets with this!

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Re: Bye Bye Barrel Saddles!!! Yay!!

Post by Westbone on Fri Nov 12, 2010 3:31 pm

What's the serial no on yours, this ones 2010391 and came with the 'good' bridge. This is quite a weight as well.

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Re: Bye Bye Barrel Saddles!!! Yay!!

Post by Barry on Fri Nov 12, 2010 3:37 pm

Westbone wrote:What's the serial no on yours, this ones 2010391 and came with the 'good' bridge. This is quite a weight as well.
On the neckplate. See pix above.

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Re: Bye Bye Barrel Saddles!!! Yay!!

Post by Westbone on Fri Nov 12, 2010 3:41 pm

Of course. Can't see for looking.
april '81.... one of the first.

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Re: Bye Bye Barrel Saddles!!! Yay!!

Post by corsair on Fri Nov 12, 2010 3:47 pm

Westbone wrote: best active circuit they did in my opinion . Phase switch and coil tap,active Just out 'n out gain.

I do wonder if it's the same active circuit that Matsumoku used on the likes of the Vantage VA900, because that boost is a miracle of nature... flick the switch and go from 0-200 in a heartbeat; fabulous stuff and in real terms quite quiet, although I have to say that after a brief dalliance with it "back in the day", I stopped using it for the reason that Barry highlighted of distraction at the mike, and went to outboard gear for modulation and overdrive/distortion... And the VA900 has the coil split and phase reverse as well...

Of course, the Vantage is a much higher class of instrument than your poxy old Thunders.... Laughing


Last edited by corsair on Fri Nov 12, 2010 3:50 pm; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : typo...)

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Re: Bye Bye Barrel Saddles!!! Yay!!

Post by Westbone on Fri Nov 12, 2010 4:26 pm

And the VA900 has the coil split and phase reverse as well...

Exactly as these do. Very Happy Twisted Evil
thought with those big strings you could have held it up as well Sleep

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Re: Bye Bye Barrel Saddles!!! Yay!!

Post by Barry on Wed Nov 17, 2010 6:46 pm

Just A Quick Addendum:
I've just spent the better part of an hour playing this 'ole Thunder and I couldn't be happier!!
I can finally relax and just play the thing and enjoy it the way it should be. Up until now it was always a major concern as to whether or not the strings would stay on the guitar! Rolling Eyes

I gave all the settings a full and proper workout with my little VOX DA5...bloody fantastic!! The sustain and natural overdrive are beyond belief, the out-of-phase sound is just amazing for blues, the coil split gives a very passable Strat-y sound, and that BOOST!! Holy Canada Goose Poop!! It's just outta sight!

The whole time I was playing it I was fantasizing what it would have been like to have had this back in the days when I was performing. Don't get me wrong, I still love(d) my Spectrum ST, it was (is) a treat to play, but this! Well, this is something else, I can tell you.

The only negative? The friggin' weight! Oh, my aching back!
Best thing I could have done. To anyone who is in the same position, and wondering what to do, DO IT!

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Re: Bye Bye Barrel Saddles!!! Yay!!

Post by Westbone on Thu Nov 18, 2010 1:30 am

You seem a happy chappie, It is one beast of a circuit, best active I've come across. Why did Mats. change it ?? Shocked
I've a Thunder III a and it's nowhere near it.

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