Removing a Martin Through Saddle

Martin installs long or "through" saddles on their Vintage Series guitars. This is how they made them in the "old" days and so this is how they make the reproductions today. Problem is, they use this plastic stuff called "Micarta" for the saddle and to further the problem they glue this saddle firmly into the slot, which makes removing them rather difficult. The glue they use is cyano-acrylate, or "Super Glue".

There are basically two ways to remove this saddle. One is to chip off the top and saw a kerf through the center of the saddle down to the bottom of the slot and remove the remainder with a sharp chisel. This is the way Frank Ford shows us on frets.com. The other way is to heat the saddle and simply pull it out. Another repairman, Bryan Kimsey uses a heat lamp hung about 6 inches above the guitar to heat the saddle which can then be pulled out with a pair of pliers.

Both the techniques have their elements of risk involved. With the first, you have to be careful not to cut too far and take material out of the bottom of the saddle slot. That would be easy enough to fix but we don't want to have to repair our work before it's done. You also have to take care not to damage the finish on the top of the guitar. The second method is a little more risky I think. You must mask off the entire top of the guitar with an insulating material such as thin styrofoam - exposing only the saddle - so that the heat from the heat lamp does not loosen the bridge or worse, any braces. I had no heat lamp and didn't want to go buy one. I'd probably talk myself out of the job on the way to the store! I wanted to do this NOW!! Note: After I wrote this article Bryan informed me that he uses corrugated cardboard wrapped in tinfoil to protect the top when he does this swap using the heatlamp. Styrofoam would likely melt. Thanks Bryan!

A friend and master luthier, Lance McCollum suggested using a soldering pencil to heat the saddle for removal. I tried this. The results were less than satisfactory. This "Micarta" stuff burns easily. Once it gets hot from the soldering iron it also turns into a crumbling mess that cannot be pulled out of the slot. The pliers simply crumble the material much like they would if you were to grasp a piece of clay with pliers and squeeze.

So, now I am into the method that Frank Ford uses. And here I was thinking that this was going to take just a few minutes with the soldering iron. Oh well. Nerves of steel intact, I proceeded with the saddle-ectomy.

Using a cutoff wheel on my Dremel flex-shaft, I carefully cut a slot right down the center of the saddle.

Then I started chipping out the remains with a small square chisel blade on an Exacto knife:

After a few minutes with the Exacto chisel, it's out. I cleaned up the slot with a small gunsmith's screwdriver.

A new bone saddle blank is in the slot: (note - this is the same HD28-VS throughout this article. In this shot, the lighting was different)

This saddle blank is just a tad short. It's the only one I have so I'll use it anyway. I can always easily change it out later when I get more blanks.

The new saddle is marked for the contours at the ends. I used my half-pencil and while the saddle was in the slot simply marked the curves at the ends.

Using the upper wheel on my little sander, I shape the ends of the slot. Here's a good time to give credit to Frank Ford who's technique I am using for this entire operation (although he uses a backsaw to cut the slot in the saddle). Thanks Frank! Actually, this wheel is 3.5 inches in diameter and the required diameter is 3 inches. The end roller on my big sander is perfect.

Getting there!

And . . . (drum-roll please) . . . Done! A nice new bone saddle in my Martin!

As I said before, this saddle blank was just a tad short. But now I can change it out easily and quickly! I used hide glue to glue it in the slot so it will be easy to remove later. BTW, those are mammoth ivory pins.

So the question arises, "Was it worth the trouble?" Yes. Definitely. This guitar sounded great before. Now with the bone saddle it is louder, crisper, has a lot more punch and the sustain is amazing. This modification made a great guitar even more superb. I highly recommend this modification! Next up: a nut-job!