How-to guide - Installing and adjusting the Descendant 'Companion' bridge
This one has been a long time coming! After the popularity of my Descendant Vibrato install/adjustment guide, it was due time that I follow up with a guide on installation and adjustment of the superb Companion bridge by Chris Swope at Descendant. If your purchase a bridge, it does of course come supplied with some superb instructions courtesy of the man himself, but I do hope this feature helps along the way too :)
A brief introduction to the bridge; Ultimately as it's name suggests, this bridge was intended to be a companion to the vibrato design, but of course can be used as a stand-alone upgrade too. It's core design is of course for offset guitars primarily such as the Jazzmaster and Jaguar, and the saddle design inspired by the Mustang style of bridge with it's fixed radius barrel saddles. But Chris takes the design much further, with refinements to get the best out of your guitar and setup. There are a couple of variants of the bridge now, with the fixed barrel radius specs in 7.25", 9.5" & 12", along with the more recent addition of the adjustable radius spec. This was introduced to meet the demands of luthiers around the world who perhaps work to alternative radius for their fingerboards, 10", 14", 20" etc. With the fixed radius bridges you essentially set your string action/height on the outer two strings, and the middle strings will fall in line perfectly to match the radius with no requirement for additional string height adjustment. Whereas the adjustable radius bridge spec features fixed barrels only on the outer strings and 4 fully adjustable inner saddles for you to dial in the specific radius you need whilst still retaining the benefits of a barrel saddle for example.
On the base plate of the bridge we see a rather wide adjustment surface area, wider than my previous bridge choices, so especially helpful for further intonation adjustment if it requires it, as well as notches in the rear edge to ensure the strings don't foul the base-plate as they pass over the saddle to the tailpiece/vibrato. That would be particularly useful on steep break angle setups. You'll also notice offset intonation adjustment screws, which are an allen key fitting all to help make intonation adjustments easier and more accessible. No need to lift the string out of the saddle to access the adjustment screw for example.
The saddles themselves are bunched right up together for a nice solid contact surface, but the bridge also comes with a pair of what Chris calls 'Coupling disks' which are essentially bushings that fit into the height adjustment thread either end of the bridge plate and you can pivot those against the outer saddles to further increase the pressure on them for a tight fit against one another. Those players hunting down sustain may enjoy experimenting with those.
Moving on with the design, we look at the posts which look quite different to any others of this style of bridge. The posts themselves have chunky offset collars, these collars can be used or removed depending on whether you like your bridge to 'rock' as Leo originally intended, or be fixed in place. With those installed the collars also provide another service, as many offset owners, builders and players may already be aware, sometimes the exact position of the body thimbles may not be precise. Fitting a bridge to slightly miss-aligned thimbles can be tricky so here you can tweak the position of the offset collars and ensure a great fit, but they mainly provide another service too. Alignment! If you find that your string alignment to the neck/heel is slightly off, you can tweak the collar positioning to help correct that and get the string alignment sitting exactly where you want it to be. A really helpful setup function to help correct niggling issues perhaps, but if your alignment is perfect then you just set them straight and you're good to go.
Supplied with the bridge you receive the bridge itself with the offset post collars already installed. Instruction booklet, two body thimbles, a small spanner for post removal/adjustment, two allen keys, two of Chris 'Coupling disks' for bunching the saddles up, and two tiny threaded grub screws for locking the height adjustment screws up.
Those are the main features of the bridge, so now time to delve into installation and adjustments and see each of those design points in action.
Recommended tools for the job
The bridge does come supplied with the adjustment tools needed for the specific bridge adjustments, but there is a good chance installing the bridge will coincide with some setup steps. So if you aren't familiar with performing an accurate setup on your guitar, I would recommend having a trusted guitar tech carry out that work. You can certainly install the bridge initially, but accurate setup requires some additional tools. I would recommend at a minimum a set of allen keys for truss rod adjustment, a capo, an accurate guitar tuner, a short 6" steel ruler, bridge saddle radius gauges and a set of feeler gauges. I will talk through some of these adjustments through this article and I hope it helps, if you're familiar with performing a setup then I'm sure you'll have these tools and will be well on your way with the final adjustments. But if you don't own these tools, or haven't performed a setup on your guitar before, support your local guitar tech and have them get your guitar up and running the best it can be.
The bridge comes with a new pair of body thimbles. If you have a fresh build then these will be particularly useful as they're often hard to source individually (coming from someone who has tried to stock offset specific parts for over 7 years!). Sizing is perfect for the Companion Bridge of course and will accommodate for rocking, and fixed bridge setup.
If you're fitting the bridge to an already up and running guitar, then the companion bridge will work with your existing thimbles too. So no real need to remove the originals and install these thimbles. Best thing here would be to just do a quick test fit of the Companion Bridge into your current body thimbles and see if anything obvious causes it to not fit. But these are usually pretty standard. Just a heads up, if you are attempting to fit this bridge into a guitar/offset that has had a tune-o-matic bridge fitted, then this will NOT be a direct install. I would drop me a message with some detailed photos of your existing body/bridge inserts and I can advise you on the best solution. But if you have traditional/standard offset bridge style, then standard thimbles will work just fine with the companion bridge. As that is what I'm demonstrating here, I'll be using the factory thimbles with the bridge.
Installing the bridge without the offset post collars (rocking)
First of all, as there is less adjustment in this particular method, I will demonstrate how the bridge fits without the offset post collars installed. This method will allow the bridge to 'rock', much like how the original/traditional Leo Fender bridge design would have. Don't worry, I will show how to fit the bridge with the offset collars too, so skip past this part if that is your spec preference.
The bridge comes with the collars pre-installed, so first step (if you wish to have a rocking bridge of course) is to remove those collars. Supplied with the bridge you'll find a bag of handy tools, a couple of allen keys and a small wrench, the latter is your friend for this task.
There is a couple of notches on each collar for your wrench to fit, so simply use that to remove the collars leaving you with the threaded standard post. With the collars removed, you can simply fit the bridge into the body thimbles and begin your setup process, height adjustment etc.
So here we should see the bridge dropped into the thimbles and able to 'rock' or lean back and forth with the movement of the vibrato, crudely demonstrated via my finger above. This will achieve the traditional 'rocking' design much like the vintage/originals. But if you prefer your bridge 'fixed' and non-rocking, then you will need to follow the steps below.
Installing the bridge with the offset post collars (non-rocking)
The bridge comes supplied with the offset post collars already installed, so you won't need to fit anything additionally or remove anything to begin the install of the bridge to this spec. As mentioned in the introduction above, the offset post collars offer some really cool adjustment and setup refinement features, so they aren't solely for achieving a fixed bridge, they are to further improve string alignment too. As a result there may be a smidgen more adjustment to carry out depending on the setup of your offset guitar. So let's look at installing the bridge with these collars.
You won't need to move the collars up and down on the posts, they can stay where they are. But using your small spanner supplied, you can turn the collar to the left or right to adjust the offset collar in it's position. Which direction(s) you turn each post collar will of course depend on the alignment of your neck or the exact position of the body thimbles.
So best thing to do is install the bridge and see where you're at. I would perhaps also recommend installing the outer two strings, or tying some string perhaps if you don't want to string up just yet, so you can check your neck and string alignment.
Doing this allows me to check whether I need to adjust the collars so that they can correct any alignment issues. Thankfully on this particular guitar the alignment was very good, so no correction really needed there. But if your strings are closer to the edge of the fretboard on one side than they are the other, then simply adjust both of the offset post collars until you achieve something like the photo above.
I did however find that the position of my two body thimbles must have been a smidgen out, and I did benefit from evenly adjusting my post collars 'outwards' so to speak. This allowed for a lovely tight fit into the thimbles and will further help achieve the fixed bridge position I am aiming to try out. A firmer contact/seat into the thimbles will in theory improve resonance too. I then pop the rest of the string set on so I can progress with the bridge setup...
Setting the saddle radius
Fixed radius saddle spec bridge
This is incredibly simple, because you don't need to touch a thing! Each saddle on this bridge is sized to match the chosen radius and aren't individually adjustable. So skip ahead to the setting string action/height stage.
Adjustable radius saddle spec bridge
With this particular bridge you can adjust the inner 4 string saddles to perfectly match your fretboard radius. To do this though you will ideally need an under-string radius gauge that matches your fingerboard radius. This will help achieve an accurate saddle radius. You could do it with a short ruler too, but the under string radius gauge is the quickest and most accurate way to set the saddle radius so I would recommend sourcing one or taking to a trusted tech to carry out the work so that your guitar plays as well as it can!
So! Here you'll need to grab that under-string radius gauge and pop it into position to begin making your accurate adjustments. Don't worry about your overall action at this stage, that will be corrected in the following step.
Using your outer two strings sitting in their fixed saddles as your guide, raise or lower each of the inner 4 saddles via the supplied allen key so that the under side of the string rests perfectly along the top of the radius gauge. Each saddle has two adjustment grub screws, I would recommend adjusting those evenly so the saddle sits nice and level. And there you are! All set and ready to begin the next stage of the setup...
String height/action adjustments
Height adjustment is made much in the same was as the vintage/traditional design that you'll no doubt be familiar with. Either end of the bridge plate where the posts are you will see a hole. Inside that hole is an allen key grub screw. Using the smaller of the two supplied allen keys, simply insert into the post and begin adjusting the grub screw to your desired action/string height. As you turn the grub screw either way you'll see it rise or fall. Again, concentrate on your outer two 'E' strings here. Unfortunately I cannot provide a string action/measurement to work to as there are a number of factors that come into play for each players 'perfect' action. Neck relief, string gauge, how heavy or light a strumming technique etc. But adjust, re-tune the guitar and have a play, get it to where you like it and go from there. If you need some form of reference point though, if you have a short ruler to hand, pop it between the 15th fret and the bottom of the low E and then high E and look for around 2mm gap. Then refine from there for your preference or what the guitar will allow for. Hope this helps!
For the fixed radius bridge, again we don't need to worry about those inner 4 strings, and for those with the adjustable saddle bridge, we have already set the matching radius for those in the previous step so those will fall in line with the outer post height adjustments you have made and make for consistent action across the fingerboard for you.
Consistent string action and consistent play-ability across the fingerboard is only really possible with correct neck relief. For vintage style radius fingerboards such as 7.25" or 9.5" a good recommendation is to look for .010" gap between the top of the 8th fret and the underside of the string, when the string is depressed at the 1st (a capo will help for this) and last fret. For more 'modern' fingerboard radius specs, I would be looking for something closer to .008" gap in the same manor as above. Quality and consistency of the fretwork and string gauge plays some part of this, but I hope this helps as a guide.
Although the bridge does come supplied with a super rough guess at common intonation layout for the saddles, that may well get you off the ground and playing roughly in tune, this will need adjustment to get things accurate. If you're not familiar with setting your intonation, then I would perhaps recommend seeking out a tech to do this for you. But I'll talk through the adjustments and process to help along the way :)
You adjust the intonation, moving the saddle forwards or backwards via the allen key on the rear edge of the bridge.
So! first of all, plug your guitar in to your tuner and bring it up to pitch. With the guitar stable in it's tuning, play the open string harmonic at the 12th fret and get that perfectly in tune, then with the 12th harmonic perfect, fret at the 12th and see whether the fretted note is sharp or flat (higher in pitch or lower in pitch than it's intended note). If the note is sharp, then you need to adjust the saddle 'backwards' so to speak, so closer to the tailpiece. If it is flat, then do the opposite and adjust the saddle forwards, so closer to the pickups.
Re tune via the 12th harmonic, then fret at the 12th and check again. Repeat the process until you have the the harmonic and the fretted note perfectly in tune. Work your way through the strings until yeah have adjusted each and the intonation is perfect across the set. You may find if you have fitted a brand new set of strings, it likely isn't worth carrying out this process until they have settled down a bit. Box fresh strings on their first time up to tension will need a bit of settling in time, I often find that I set the intonation on a brand new set and the next day it is slightly (more a lot depending on the string brand!) out and needs correction. Key with intonation adjustment is patience, constantly checking your harmonic tunings before fretting etc. But certainly worth the efforts to ensure the guitar plays in tune across the board.
Locking the posts
So you've set your saddle radius, overall action and intonation, now it's time to lock it all down. Offset fans will be aware of the vintage bridge design and the 'creep' it can suffer with. Action lowering as the tension of the strings pulls down on the bridge causing the grub screws to slowly move over time. To help further with this, Chris also supplies some super tiny but useful locking grub screws.
First step is to pop some masking tape very close to the end of the larger supplied allen key. This will help prevent you from pushing the key too far through the open ended locking grub screw and inadvertently adjusting the bridge post height in error. It acts like a bit of a stopper really. Then pop your grub screw on an proceed to gently thread it into the bridge post..
Do not over-tighten! This is super important.
Fitting the optional Coupling disks
This step is entirely optional, and is the installation of the coupling disks. As mentioned earlier, these coupling disks apply further sideways pressure onto the saddles further improving the contact points. The theory behind this is to further improve resonance/sustain. So if you like experimenting with this, you might find fitting them useful! It's a simple step, but let's have a look.
These, much like the locking grub screws, simply thread into the bridge posts. They are an offset bushing, so applying some pressure so it turns against the saddle, simply tighten the small allen key bolt until fitted. Repeat for both sides of the bridge and there you go! That will have those saddles bunched right up against each other for maximum contact if that's your thing!
And there we have it! Following these steps should have your Companion bridge fitted and setup how you like it. Whether it's as a vintage style rocking or modern fixed, or with the fixed radius saddles or the adjustable saddle spec. I hope it has helped you with the process, alongside Chris' great supplied instructions too.
I have used multiple offset bridges, and have even covered the subject in previous blog articles too comparing my findings and the options out there. We are spoilt for choice no doubt. But having tried so many options, I am very very impressed with, and pleased with the results of fitting the Descendant Companion bridge to our demo guitar. It is a fantastic design, and as a guitar tech really appreciate some of the additional adjustablility Chris has applied to the design. It really helps iron out niggles with the guitar if it has them, and just further refine and improve the setup. This guitar is a whole bunch more resonant, especially to my ear when in the fixed non rocking configuration, but that's just my findings. experiment with it and find what works best for you and your setup preferences. But thankfully due to the great design of Chris' Descendant bridge and vibrato unit too, you can very much dial it in perfectly! Thanks for reading,
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