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1958 Gibson J-50
I have a 1958 Gibson J-50 with an adjustable bridge that needs to be replaced. My local repair shop checked with Gibson and was told that they don't have an exact replacement but could supply a newer version that is slightly larger than the original. The alternative would be to use a fixed bridge as the replacement, which would not only be the correct size but would also improve the sound quality. My question is: which option will have the least adverse affect on the value of this vintage instrument?

Thanks in advance for your advice.

The introduction of the adjustable guitar bridge is often used to mark the end of Gibson's good years and the beginning of their dark years. If metal carried vibrations well we would make guitars out of it. Not only that, but those metal adjustment shafts screw down into huge brass lugs under the top. I have replaced hundreds of these bridges with non adjustable copies. Normally, collectors are adamant that no change should be made to the condition in which an instrument left the factory. This seems to be one of the very few exceptions to the "only original is acceptable rule." Bridge height needs to be adjusted very rarely. Most action improvements involve more straightening of the neck and aligning of the frets than movement of the bridge saddle. So, the mechanism that adjusts the bridge height once every few years, or decades, is between your vibrating strings and your resonating top, every time you strum your guitar.

I should ask why your bridge needs to be replaced? Is it just cracked or loose or is there wood missing? Are the metal parts intact? Rebuilding the original bridge might be a good option.

I start with a piece of Brazilian Rosewood. I cut it to the exact shape and size as the original adjustable bridge. The bottom of the new bridge must be fit to the top. Age and tension have pulled the top into a gentle curve. Putting on a flat bottomed bridge and bending the ends down to the top is asking for glue problems later. In 1958 Gibson bridges were attached with Hide Glue. Most glues act as a very thin plastic gasket between the vibrating bridge and the resonating top. Hide is very hard and carries vibrations like a champ. It is much more difficult to use, but it is very worth the extra time. I then route a slot and fit a compensated bone saddle. You normally need an action set and new strings to pull everything together and make the job complete.

A pre-made bridge from Gibson can't be Brazilian Rosewood. Your guitar has a Brazilian bridge and fingerboard. Brazilian Rosewood is now protected by the CITES treaty. I have some wood from before the ban. I also have East Indian Rosewood (like the new Gibson part), which works fine, and it is cheaper. And, the pre-made will have a flat bottom. There is often not enough wood to cup out the bottom and maintain the shape of the top. Then you have to start from scratch anyway. I don't know what Gibson charges for the completed bridge but I presume custom made would be competitive. Gibson is famous for their high prices.

Your question is, which option would have the least effect on the vintage value of your guitar? Part of the vintage value of this guitar is reflected by my reaction to it. I had thought that Gibson didn't start using adjustable bridges until 1963. I went on line and found lots of 1958 J-50s with adjustable bridges. I couldn't find any J-50s with adjustable bridges older than that. So, your guitar is evidence of when this grievous mistake started. Is that good or bad? I don't know. I know that a solid bridge with a compensated bone saddle will make your guitar sound louder and clearer, and play better in tune. And a solid bridge is easier to make, hence cheaper, than an adjustable. I think that a fantastic sounding guitar sells better than one with a built in tragic flaw. But, I am a player, not a collector. You should call George Grune in Nashville, or Jim Baggett in Lawrence, for the final word from collectors.

Steve Mason