Steel Vs. Zinc Vs. Brass Vs. Aluminium bridge, any tone difference?

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by JohnArnson, Jun 10, 2019.

  1. JohnArnson


    May 28, 2019
    I just swapped a brass bridge with brass saddles to a slightly higher mass steel bridge with steel saddles, but while the tone definitely got brighter with more clank, grind and bite, and the strings also sustains longer now, that could easily be contributed alone to the fact that I changed the old half dead round wound strings that was on my bass before to some brand new fresh ones in the same instance.

    Is there any consensus of what difference in tone different bridge and saddle materials contributes to and how big an impact different bridge and saddle materials actually have on the tone?

    In case there is what are the tone characteristics for each material then, and also is there any difference in how they contribute to sustain?

    As in steel vs. zinc vs. brass vs. aluminium vs. whatever other metals a bass bridge might be made of.

    Of course given that the same basic bridge design is used, just made from different materials.
    Last edited: Jun 10, 2019
    oZZma likes this.
  2. sissy kathy

    sissy kathy Back to Bass-ics Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2014
    Arbutus, MD
    I don't even hear a difference between wood and metal. Don't EVEN expect me to pick up any nuances between different metals.
    TN WOODMAN, Guitalia and JohnArnson like this.
  3. JohnArnson


    May 28, 2019
    I honestly didn't expect what metal a bridge is made of to have more than a minimal barely noticeable impact on tone either, and do contribute the change I observed mainly to the fact that I changed old half dead strings with brand new ones in the same instance that I changed the bridge, but it honestly also surprises me that there wouldn't be any difference at all, and even more so that there wouldn't be any notable tone difference between a wood and a metal bridge.

    I take your word for it though, and trust your ears are fine, your answer just surprises me a bit.

    I take you are in the camp that is of the opinion that specific bridge design and mass of the bridge doesn't have any notable impact on sustain either then?
    Last edited: Jun 10, 2019
  4. bass40hz

    bass40hz Cigar smoker, scotch drinker, American Patriot Supporting Member

    Aug 13, 2014
    Richlands, NC
    My personal thoughts, and they are just that, is that bridge material is a weight thing, with the thought being higher mass more sustain...the different metals have different weights, so in my head thats where the material matters most...FWIW I rarely ever replace a bridge on a bass, on the rare instance I did it was always a chrome plated brass replacement. I felt that the brass was a good combo of weight, mass and cost.
    Rock on.
    JohnArnson likes this.
  5. JohnArnson


    May 28, 2019
    Honestly I didn't change the bridge primarily for tone or sustain either, but because it had a more sturdy and stable design, made from a thicker plate of metal and with tracks that keep the saddles from moving out of place.

    Was just curious as to what the consensus was.

    If what you claim is correct though, since the new bridge is both made from a thicker plate of a heavier metal and with slightly bigger saddles, I might have gained a bit of extra sustain.

    Edit: Oh, just looked it up. To my surprise brass is actually a bit heavier than steel, so overall mass and sustain wise the new thicker steel bridge might actually equal out with the old thinner brass bridge.
    Last edited: Jun 10, 2019
    bass40hz likes this.
  6. lz4005


    Oct 22, 2013
    Consensus, no. Science, yes.

    Mass is important, and hardness even more so. The hardness and size of the thing that is stopping one end of the string, whether you're talking about bridge parts or frets or fretless fingerboards, will change tone and sustain.

    That change may or may not be observable by any given listener.
    AGCurry, Sinest, Rodslinger and 2 others like this.
  7. JohnArnson


    May 28, 2019
    So how does different hardness effect tone/sustain?

    Since steel is considerably harder than brass.
  8. lz4005


    Oct 22, 2013
    Harder materials reflect the energy of the string differently than softer materials.

    I've had instruments where you could switch out wood for steel bridge saddles, keeping everything else the same. The harder steel saddles are much brighter and sustain longer. Sometimes that's better, sometimes that's worse, depending on the tone you're after.

    Obviously the difference between wood and steel is going to be more dramatic than between two relatively similar metals, but that all comes down to how sensitive your ears are. And your listening environment.

    I couldn't tell the difference between steel and brass saddles in a busy rock mix. I definitely could (and have) if it was recorded cleanly, soloed, and I was using good headphones.
    One Way, Afc70 and JohnArnson like this.
  9. Gorn

    Gorn Supporting Member

    Dec 15, 2011
    Queens, NY
    Your bridge not working correctly or not liking the way it looks are two great reasons to change a bridge. Everything besides that is hooey.
  10. Rodslinger

    Rodslinger Supporting Member

    Aug 1, 2013
    RVA & then some
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  11. Gilmourisgod


    Jun 23, 2014
    Cape Cod MA
    The few basses I've had with "floating" wood bridges had a softer Hofner-esque tone, but they were also hollow body, so it may be moot. I can't hear any difference between metal saddle types, it may be measurable with the right equipment, but I defy anyone to identify differences in a true blind sound test. My Ric has pot metal saddles, it's bright as hell, brighter than my G&L with steel saddles. Meh. It doesn't matter. The whole hi-mass thing is nonsense at human hearing level.
  12. Chasarms

    Chasarms Casual Observer

    May 24, 2001
    Saint Louis, MO USA
    It isn't so much mass as it is rigidity. When you pluck a bass string, whole system deflects (think drawing a bow to shoot a arrow on a micro level) Just like the bow, they system wants to return to it's resting state. This deflection robs energy from the string and so, less sustain. It's not just the bridge. It's the body, neck, etc. The whole system. The more rigid the system, the more sustain and presence of the fundamental you have.

    It's the same reason the B string sucks on a lot of cheap five strings. On really bad basses, you hear it on the E as well.
    tlc1976 likes this.
  13. Stan_da_man


    Aug 29, 2006
    My bridge must be made of magnesium sulphate only, blinding the audience every night and finishing the gig before they've even set foot in the room.
    Rodslinger likes this.
  14. The simple version is if the bridge is moving (in the case of a low mass, flimsy bridge) it's sapping energy from the moving string, rather than reflecting the energy back into the moving string to sustain the movement.
    tlc1976 likes this.
  15. Gilmourisgod


    Jun 23, 2014
    Cape Cod MA
    ^^^^ Which might explain why wood Bridges generally result in a “thud” without a lot of sustain on basses, acoustic instruments are a different animal. Not necessarily a bad thing, I love the Hofner Thump. I don’t get the whole obsession with sustain though, don’t hear many super long ringing notes on most bass parts. I do like it on fretless though. I have a Badass II on my fretless Frankenjazz, plenty o’ sustain with zinc saddles.
    Rodslinger likes this.
  16. Killed_by_Death

    Killed_by_Death Snaggletooth Inactive

    The hardness of the material in ANY part of the instrument that supports the strings WILL affect the timbre of the instrument, especially something so directly connected to the string, as the bridge is.
    Brass is going to have more low-end & less highs, IME
    The harder the metal, the more highs & sustain you'll get.

    Once I replaced a cast pot-metal bridge-block in a Strat with a forged steel block & the difference was HUGE, but not in a good way. It was almost tinny.
    So I got a forged brass block & that solved the issue. It sounded better than pot-metal & not as harsh as steel.

    BTW forged vs. cast does make a difference as well, because cast can have air-pockets & some other sort of magical thing happens with forged metals.
    In the valve industry forged valves are preferred, but over a certain diameter you need to buy cast, just for cost reasons.

    However, there's one manufacturer that makes LARGE diameter FORGED valves. They are expensive as Hell, but their reputation is very good!
  17. 10xClean


    Apr 24, 2012
    Bridge and nut material do indeed influence tone and sustain. Had a machinist friend make a titanium nut for my 6 string Carvin. Fitting it took forever because of the hardness of titanium. Slapped fresh set of strings on and kaboom...the low B was dead, half the output, no balls, pretty much gone. Thought it might have been a bad B. Pulled one out of another set and the same results. The A and D were more pronounced than with stock nylon/teflon nut. Bridge was brass and unchanged. My buddy made me another nut from brass and have been a happy camper ever since. Several his 4 string bass buddies have titanium nuts and love them. Perhaps this is why Alembic, Fedora, Ken Smith and other high end luthiers use brass for their basses. I also own a Alembic Rouge 6 string which has so much sustain I have to roll off the volume at the end of songs that fade out. More so than with any other bass in my collection. The Alembic has a massive brass bridge plate imbedded in the body.
  18. wraub


    Apr 9, 2004
    ennui, az
    I have changed bridges, from light and simple (basic bent plate) to bigger and awkward (Kahler 2440), and, the reverse (from an old Badass to an old threaded saddle bent plate), and each was done with the intention of making that particular bass work better, for me. Each change drastically altered the tone of those basses, and each change was successful for my needs.

    The metals involved were never an issue for me, besides the sintered Badass, but the tonal changes were definitely noticeable.
    I'd imagine that focusing on changing saddle material might be even more of a tone-altering thing...
  19. adipaoli89


    Jan 22, 2019
    Urbino, Italy
    The link seems not working anymore. Anyone knows what issue was that?
  20. 100% this. The shape of the saddles may have a very tiny effect. Tge choice if netal doesn't - all are sufficiently hard as not affecting the tone or sustain one metal vs. another.