DIY Rubber Bridge: Modifying an acoustic guitar


After watching an episode of the JHS show (my current favorite guitar channel) featuring a parlor guitar with a rubber bridge, I fell in love with the sound. The guitar in the video is available for pre-order, however it carries a hefty price tag ($675). However, I have a similar guitar and was inspired to do some work to see if I could DIY my own rubber bridge.

Benefits of a rubber bridge and lower tuning

In short, a rubber bridge sounds interesting and unique. Also, all the cool kids are doing it. The sound of the guitar is deadened a bit, placing it somewhere between a ukulele and a guitar. As in the video, I also detuned the guitar to a baritone tuning (BEADF#B), which gave this small guitar a depth it didn’t have before.

Norma: the Guitar

Norma is a late 1960s parlor guitar meant for campfire singalongs and beginners. It’s ¾ scale and made in Japan. There are some more general details about the guitar here: Late 1960s NorMa Parlor Guitar


The only significant downside to the rubber bridge is that it will wear out over time as the strings vibrate as they press into the rubber. That said, the material was very inexpensive and will only take a few minutes to cut a new bridge as needed.


The prep and research

I’ve already done a bit of work on this guitar, including cleaning up the frets and swapping out the original bridge in order to lower the action (how high the strings are from the fretboard) to make it more playable. I wasn’t happy with the changes I made as the action was still too high. This rubber bridge idea gave me a path to fixing the action problems.

After watching a few videos on other people’s experiences trying to DIY a rubber bridge (including a failure) and doing some research on what a professional rubber bridge looked like, I started looking at potential materials. I didn’t have anything in my hoard of bits and parts that would work. I looked at the jeweler’s block that was recommended in one video, but that involved a lot more cutting than I felt like doing. In the end, I ordered a roll of 1/8th inch high x 1 inch wide solid neoprene rubber gasket/weather stripping which fulfilled the same purpose but was more flexible for making granular adjustments in size, height, etc.

The modification process

Removing the old bridge

Swapping out the bridge on this guitar is incredibly easy because it’s what’s called a floating bridge. It’s not glued down and the strings run through the tailpiece rather than through the body of the guitar.

So, the only step here was to remove the old bridge, which took about 5 seconds. Just lift the strings and slide it out.

Cutting a new bridge

Adding the new bridge took a little trial and error. First I just cut bridge-width strips of rubber off the roll. 1/8th inch wasn’t enough, but ¼ inch was about right. I installed it, tuned the guitar and played.

The good news was that it worked! The downside was that it was both a little too low (the strings buzzed a lot against the frets) and really deadened the sound too much. I needed a smaller point of contact for the strings.

My second attempt was to cut the strips in half and then add a third strip to the stack. This yielded a 3in x 1/2in x ¾ in strip. I installed this version and it was an incremental improvement. The sound was a little brighter and more resonant, but could have been better. And now the string action was too high again.

I didn’t want a full 1/8th of height so I cut a strip a bit smaller than that, just eyeballing rather than measuring and turned it on its side on top of the 2 1/8in strips I kept as the base.

This worked as near to perfect as I could hope for! The sound is deadened, but not too much and the action is still high enough to not buzz too much on the frets.


There are still some fixes I want to do.

  • First priority is getting and installing a pickup so I can run the guitar through an amplifier and, most importantly, through my effects pedals.
  • Scrape the fretboard down to remove the factory polyurethane finish. It doesn’t look very nice.
  • Replace the tuning pegs. One of them is a little loose and this would improve the way the guitar holds tune.

Foundations of decay

Huh. I’ve listened to MCR’s new “Foundations of Decay” enough times now that yeah, I pretty much love it.

I don’t know what the song is actually about, but I do know that it’s resonating with me and there’s a few lyrics that feel particularly relevant.

It’s been giving me thoughts about how there’s a perception that being in your 40s means you have nothing left in the tank, well. Fuck that.

The previous generation got “over the hill” parties when they turned 40. Gen-X have been doing things a little differently. We’re still angry kids and outsiders.

The stagnation is there if we’re not paying attention. The weight of a thousand generations telling us middle age is the time to start preparing for the decline can drag you down fast.

It takes conscious effort to not lay in our own foundations of decay.

Get up, coward!


Secret gems

No idea how true this was, but for many years, it seemed that Jeff Buckley’s music was this little secret gem. Even long after “Sketches for” came out, his music seemed to remain underground.

A co-worker at the Barnes & Noble cafe where I was a barista handed me “Grace” not long after it came out and I’ve since handed it to a few others, who have handed it off to more.

I remember it being so rare to encounter someone who knew his music, but also hearing rumors that folks like Elton John loved the album, too.

It was like we were all in a strange little secret club. Do you know Jeff Buckley’s “Grace”? was part of the test to see if someone was potentially friend material.

I love that everyone gets to hear everything all at once now. It’s amazing to me that I can access so many amazing things I’ve missed myself over the years. Still, I often miss that little, intimate sharing, too, where you got handed a physical album by someone who tells you “This will change your life”.


When I get off of this mountain, you know where I want to go

Ever since we went to see “Once Were Brothers” at a local theater, I’ve been trying to get some words down about The Band and how I feel about the state of music in general. Now is as good a time as any with the sound of “The Last Waltz” floating up the stairs.

I’m not old enough to have listened to The Band when they were at their peak. I was a little over a year old when they filmed “The Last Waltz”, after all. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-20s that I was exposed to them in any real way. I’m sure somewhere in all my teen years listening to classic rock I must have heard “Cripple Creek” at least, but it didn’t draw me in at the time.

Something happened when they finally did click for me. I think grunge was winding down and I was moving out of my prog rock phase. Tara got into The Band first and then, as she’s wont to do, pulled me along with her. At first I had to work a little to really get them, but there was something about the way The Band played and sang and wrote that touched on something I was missing. There was a gut-punch and an elevation at the same time. For lack of a better way to put it, they felt like real music. Root in my heart as well as “roots” in their style.

I had a fair amount of immersion in their stuff at the time. I got to see Rick Danko and Garth Hudson play at The Tin Angel in Philly. I followed Levon Helm’s Barn Burners around for a bit and then went to a couple Rambles up at Helm’s farm. I knew at the time I was seeing something special, something fading. I embraced it an enjoyed it as long as it lasted.

Life moves on and phases come and go and somewhere along the line I stopped listening to them so much. Other bands came into focus, music styles changed, and my taste evolved, as it continues to do. Lately though, I’ve been feeling like something’s been missing.

I don’t listen to the radio. Top 40 has no draw for me anymore, I can’t connect with it. I’ve found bands here and there that have been played often enough for me say I’m a fan. As a sampling, Stars, The Decemberists, Titus Andronicus, Charly Bliss, The Unlovables, all great stuff.

The last year or so I’ve been finding it harder and harder to uncover new music I connect with. Around my house we say there’s too much “boop boop” music, which is the only way we can come up with to describe the heavily produced, computer-generated sounds that dominate the airwaves and charts (and ugh, Grammys) today.

But it’s not just the instrumentation that’s a challenge for me. I absolutely adore Sylvan Esso, after all, and they are purely electronic, while managing to hold onto an ephemeral balance between warmth and the digital. They are unfortunately a rare exception for me. I have trouble finding a soul in what I’m hearing out there.

For that matter, I’m also having trouble finding truly new and original sounds for all the hours I spend trawling through Spotify and Bandcamp. I listened to a recommended playlist recently. As each track came on I listened with an open mind, hoping for something new. I found myself repeatedly saying “ooh, that sounds like XYZ artist. I didn’t know they had a new thing out” only to check the playlist and find it was someone I’d never heard before. There is so much disappointingly derivative stuff out there.

I have a sense that this is where the democratization of media has gotten us. Curation is non-existent now and while I would not go back to the old gate-keeping days, there is something to be said for those DJs and others who once waded through the flood of releases for us and helped bring the cream to the top. Honestly, the same goes for books, though that’s another essay for another time.

All in all, I’ve been feeling pretty dejected about the state of music, or at least the kind I might be interested in. I wasn’t sure how to accept that all the discs on my shelves were the best I was going to get. Then we went to see the documentary “Once Were Brothers”. It was the story of The Band, from their origins through the end. There in the darkened theater, I felt my heart lift again.

Sure, I knew all the songs, but I had let them fall by the wayside. Here they were coming back to me, as if I was hearing them for the first time. I was entranced, I mouthed the words, I felt rooted once more. When I got home, I stayed up late for the first time in ages. 2am found me listening to King Harvest and wishing the night didn’t have to end.

The Band is rock’n’roll. They’re country. They’re blues. They’re Americana in such a true way that you forget they’re largely Canadian. They’re also, from where I sit, timeless. Vocals by pretty much everyone in the group, instrument swapping as easy as breathing. Lyrics of deep emotion that range from joy to pain. They’re storytellers. They’re mine and yours and anyone else’s willing to give them a listen.

I’m still not sure what to do about finding new music to listen to. I don’t like being one of those folks who stops looking because “it’s not the way it used to be”. I suppose it’s true that music isn’t like it once was. Times have changed, technology has changed. For better or for worse, the world that produced a group like The Band doesn’t exist anymore. But I’ll go ahead and say it, The Band was part of a golden era of music, one we can’t get back, but we can visit now and then.

My approach now is a mix of comfort and challenge. I still keep digging and poking and turning over rocks to find something that hits me. I live in hope and those few rare moments I’m reward it make the effort worth it. At the same time, when “I pulled into Nazareth, was feeling ’bout half past dead. I just need some place where I can lay my head” and The Band will be there to take my load off and give me a “little love” who’ll dip a donut in my tea. Hee hee.

Focus music

When I’m coding, sometimes I’ll put on various game soundtracks on Spotify.

I don’t listen to soundtracks for games I already play. I know the music too well and it’s distracting. I focus on trying out music from stuff I’ve never played.

Besides getting music that helps me focus, as a bonus I end up discovering interesting games I’d never heard of before and probably wouldn’t have found any other way.

It’s pretty awesome, though it does mean my Steam wishlist gets even longer.