When installing a Saddle Rider Tone and Playing Response Adjuster for the first time, the best practice is to experiment with its full range of adjustability in order to understand your instrument better. Some instruments sound better with a little less downward force from the strings on the bridge, some with a little more. Experimentation helps a player find the “sweet spot” where the downward force of the strings is optimum for that particular instrument.
After a player determines an instrument’s sweet spot, Saddle Rider adjustments are typically made only occasionally. Sometimes, sudden weather changes can cause an instrument’s wood to swell or contract, requiring an adjustment to return to the desired playing characteristics. Other times, when switching acoustical spaces or repertoire, a player may want to tweak their instrument’s sound or playing response to adapt to the new circumstances.
In order to assure smooth operation of the Saddle Rider, it is important to not to over-tighten it to the point that the tailgut presses into and curves over the saddle as shown in the red circle below:
The Saddle Rider accomplishes tonal and playing response changes by varying the position of the tailpiece in relationship to the bridge. Once it is tightened to the point that the tailgut touches the saddle, additional tightening will not lower the tailpiece position, and over-tightening may damage the Saddle Rider. If a player finds that an instrument keeps sounding better the tighter they adjust the Saddle Rider, it may be beneficial to have the ebony saddle shaved down a little by a luthier. To achieve a Saddle Rider’s full adjustment potential, there should be at least a little adjustment headroom on both sides of the sweet spot.
A note about pitch changes when adjusting the Saddle Rider:
It is possible to install a Saddle Rider Tone Adjuster in such a way that saddle height adjustments have virtually no effect on an instrument’s pitch. Unfortunately, this method involves creating an unusually high saddle, so the Saddle Rider movements line up precisely with the circumference of the circle shown on “The Basic Physics“ page. Such a high saddle is impractical, and could be uncomfortable for violinists and violists, so we don’t recommend it for anything other than experimental purposes. In typical use, once a player finds an instrument’s sweet spot, subsequent adjustments are small and don’t affect pitch much. When getting to know the Saddle Rider, players often make large adjustments and should be aware that these will change an instrument’s pitch somewhat — the amount varies with the geometry of the particular instrument. When lowering the Saddle Rider height, the pitch of the instrument will become a little flatter, vice versa for raising the Saddle Rider height. No special care needs to be taken when lowering the height, but when raising it in large increments, pitch should be adjusted as needed along the way to avoid over-tensioning.
What about unexpected tonal changes after installation?
If a Saddle Rider is installed properly, in a neutral position with the same downward force on the bridge, the instrument it should sound just like it did before the Saddle Rider was installed. The device is designed to sound neutral, and to affect an instrument’s sound only to the extent that it varies the downward force on its bridge. That said, there are many variables when doing an installation, and if the instrument responds in unexpected ways, here are some things to check:
- Is the Saddle Rider aligned properly in the center of the saddle? (Or, that is to say, where the player had the tailgut positioned prior to the installation, in the case that tailgut was off center for tonal reasons.)
- Do the feet of the bridge need to be “spread?” (Particularly in the case of cellos and double basses, bridge feet spread apart when tension in put on the instrument. Before this happens, the instrument can sometimes sounds a little congested or “closed in.”)
- Did the luthier change the type of tailgut used during the installation? This can make a significant difference in the tone of an instrument.
- Did the luthier swap the cello or double bass endpin for a different one? This also can make a significant tonal change. In order to understand the tonal range of their Saddle Rider better, cellists an double bassists are encouraged to use it for the first time with a familiar endpin.
In addition to varying the downward force of strings on the bridge in a uniform way, a player can make treble and bass response adjustments by sliding the Saddle Rider incrementally from side to side on an instrument’s saddle. Occasionally, when there is a weather or other environmental change that causes the sound of an instrument to close up, merely moving the Saddle Rider a little to one side or the other, then returning it to a central position can re-open the instrument’s resonance.
With regard to the above-mentioned “side-to-side” adjustments, sometime rosin dust buildup on a saddle can make sideways adjustments difficult. In most cases, if a player uses the adjustment key to raise and lower a Saddle Rider a little bit, the rosin bond is broken and the Saddle Rider can be adjusted as desired.
Saddle Rider adjustments are an art as much as a science, and are different for each instrument. We welcome your feedback, and look forward to developing this new adjustment method to its fullest potential!
For more information about adjusting your new Saddle Rider Tone and Playing Response Adjuster, please check out these video tutorials on the installation page.