Dan Erlewines Mod Squad(3)

I’m going to give the younger members of the Mod Squad a rest this month, and detail a job I did myself—one that harkens back to one of the first electric-guitar mods I ever attempted. Way back in the 1960s, I overhauled and fine-tuned the bridge saddles on my ’58 Strat, because the sharp edges of the height-adjusting screws protruding above the saddles hurt my picking hand. I didn’t have many tools at the time, but I did have a Dremel Moto-Tool and its router base accessory—my first “big” investment in tools. Today, my Moto tool looks different, but it does the same job. And in this case, the job involved a ’63 Strat with the same problem I experienced 40 or so years ago.

(1) As you can see, all the screws protrude above the saddle tops. I decided to grind off enough metal from the bottom of each screw so that the tops will be slightly below the saddles when the bridge-saddle radius is perfectly adjusted.

(2) The look I wanted is shown by these replacement saddles. Fender offers saddle screws in four lengths—14", d", t", and 2"—and the guitar’s neck angle, bridge-saddle height, and neck-pocket depth determines which height-adjusting screws will work best. Most often, a Strat needs 1" screws for both E-string saddles, d" screws for the A- and B-string saddles, and t" screws for the D and G saddles (although, quite often, the D and G saddles use the same size as the A and B strings).

(3) I threaded each screw into a Graph Tech saddle, and adjusted them with a modified Allen wrench (the short “L” was clipped off so I could insert the straight part into a dowel to allow easier turning) to expose just the amount of screw I wanted to remove with my fine-cut mill file (inset).

(4) I used my Dremel tool to bevel each screw slightly to ensure solid contact with the Strat vibrato’s metal base plate. (A flat-bottomed screw usually teeters on a single edge.) I affixed the Dremel’s router base to a piece of scrap wood (inset), and turned the screws clockwise and counter-clockwise against the spinning grindstone. The Graph Tech saddle—held by my modded Allen wrench—made a perfect holding device for this operation.

(5) I maintained the correct action by adjusting the screws until all the strings just touched the underside of my radius gauge. Voila! No sharp ends.