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Shimming a Bridge

Cellos and Basses can expand and contract quite a bit through climactic changes. When the weather is dry the instrument contracts and the bridge can be lowered by many millimeters. This causes quite a bit of consternation to the player when one or more of the strings are so close to the fingerboard as to render the instrument unplayable. So why not just stick a bit of wood under the bridge foot to raise it up? I can see why a player would think this - it should be simple, right? I will explain below why it is not simple and I cannot for the life of me understand why any luthier would do this. The times I have done it, it has taken much longer than fitting a new bridge. Small bits of wood have to be fashioned that fit the contours of both the top of the instrument and the bottom of each foot of the bridge. Fashioning these pieces is not only more time consuming than fitting a new bridge, it is more difficult because two surfaces have to be fit precisely instead of just one. Generally each foot must be shimmed because shimming one foot changes the angle at which the other foot meets the top of the instrument meaning it no longer fits the top.  I DO NOT fit shims onto bridges; it simply does not make sense. We can make you a better bridge that will not add mass to the bridge and filtering thickness to the feet in less time and for less cost than it takes to fit shims. The other benefit is that (provided the bridge that is too low is still useable), you will then have a winter and summer bridge that can be swapped out seasonally.  So please consider the difficulty of fitting shims before asking a luthier to do this. If this is something your luthier does, ask them the following questions:

  • Will the shim fit correctly to the top of my instrument?
  • Will the shim cause a reduction in tone with added mass and added thickness in the feet?
  • Will the shim allow for seasonal adjustments?
  • What is the difference in cost between fitting a bridge and fitting shims?