Martin Ebony Bridge Pins
By Todd Stuart Phillips
I love wood. I love guitars made out of wood. So it makes sense that I would love bridge pins made out of wood and I do. Perhaps you might too.
The most common wood used for bridge pins is ebony. The guitars most commonly associated with ebony bridge pins are those made from mahogany. So, when I received my new custom instrument from C.F. Martin & Co., a grand auditorium size guitar with mahogany back and sides, ebony fingerboard and bridge and a premium grade, Adirondack spruce top, I went looking for a set of genuine ebony bridge pins.
Bridge pins not only add visual accents to a guitar, they can contribute to how it sounds as well. They will not alter the voice of a guitar as much changing the material of the saddle or bridge will. Instead, different bridge pins offer subtle variation in the inherent tonal properties of the musical instrument. Pins of certain materials work better with some guitars than others. The plastic pins most guitars ship with are inert and do not do much in the way of transferring vibrations from the strings to the bridgeplate. Pins of dense, organic substances like bone or fossilized ivory do a much better job and can actually increase certain frequencies when those vibrations are turned into sound waves. Pins made out of animal horn or wood can actually have a dampening effect, muting certain frequencies, which then enhances others by making them more noticeable. That dampening effect was exactly what I was looking for.
Black bridge pins are traditionally associated with mahogany Martins. Since the bridges and fingerboards of vintage Martins were made of black ebony, scraps were used to fashion matching bridge pins. This was likely due to the fact that celluloid was new and expensive so it was only used with the more expensive, rosewood guitars. As it turned out ebony pins are a great fit for mahogany when it comes to their affect on tone.
Mahogany makes for a very bright and sunny instrument. They have crisp, sculpted lows, punchy mids and vibrant, chimey trebles. When you add in the crystalline, sharp focus that Adirondack spruce brings to the voice of a guitar, all of that mahogany vibrancy is intensified that much more. The results in my case are a dry as a bone, pure and woody tone that was just a bit too brittle, due to the very new and therefore very stiff Adirondack spruce. When I put my new ebony bridge pins in I noticed several things had changed in the voice very much for the better.
The highest highs changed instantly from being shrill to having a nice fading-up-into-Infinity effect. When putting some muscle behind my flatpick attack, the cha-langg on the end of my G runs sounded even woodier in the undertone but with very pure fundamentals ringing like bells. It was like someone turned down the glare while leaving the chime. I play a great deal of fingerstyle guitar and these ebony pins took the edge off that new spruce here as well. Everything was just a touch warmer and rounder; less edgy but still clear as a mountain lake.
All these effects were subtle changes, here and there, just noticeable enough to make a difference. I may not choose ebony for every guitar, however. I had a Brazilian rosewood OM with Adirondack and ebony pins removed just a little too much of the sparkle and clarity at the highest registers. I found fossilized walrus ivory was a better choice for that guitar. I have tried ebony in other mahogany guitars, mainly with Sitka spruce tops. Sometimes I found the filtering affect on the high timbre and extra warmth a great addition. Sometimes I found it a bit too much and that something like water buffalo horn pins (which are also black) was a better choice because of how it leads to more definition in the fundamentals, rather than warmer, rounder ebony-like results.
One thing in favor of ebony bridge pins lies in the fact they are inexpensive compared to pins from most of the other worthwhile substances. They may not be the perfect fit for every guitar and every ear but they are low risk when it comes to price. I would not recommend them for someone trying to increase the brightness and trebles of a guitar. But I would certainly recommend them for anyone who would like to reduce trebly shrillness from a guitar or add even more woody texture to the edge and undertone of their guitar's voice. I could not be happier with the ones in my new guitar.
Out of a possible 8 Notes on the T Spoon Scale of Guitaracity I give Maury's affordable Ebony Bridge Pins a warm and woody 7 Notes