Simple Guitar Repairs Part 3: Cleaning Your Tune-O-Matic Bridge

Read Time 3 Minutes

Cheap Trick #1

1You can waste that valuable string money on fancy music store bought neck supports if you want to, but I have another way to go that has worked for me for years and is the best price I know of… free!

I lay an old towel down on the table/workbench/counter – whatever surface I’m using – to protect the guitar and then roll up another towel to support the neck as shown in figure 1. I fold the towel in half lengthwise and roll it up to make a roll about 12″ long and the perfect diameter for every guitar I’ve ever messed with.

Cleaning a Tune-O-Matic Bridge

I usually perform this type of maintenance at string changing time. I also do a complete inspection any time I buy a guitar and then a thorough cleaning and setup once I get it home. Sometimes, I don’t get to that for a month or two, though.


Remove the strings however you do it. I use figure 2 and then cut the string around the first fret or so.


Figure 3 is a version of the Tune-O-Matic that Ibanez uses. It’s a little more robust than the old one that Gibson used for years, although I think their new ones are modified to be more like this one. They do use individual screw retainers on the newer bridges, though.


Figure 4 illustrates the method to remove the retainer.


Once you have the retainer off, pry the saddles out as shown in figure 5. Be careful not to bend the screw heads.


Figure 6 shows the removed saddle. It’s best to keep these in order so they go back to the same locations in the bridge body. Remove the screws and give each a good cleaning with lighter fluid (naphtha) or alcohol, and an old toothbrush. Once dry, lubricate the screw threads with a drop or two of 3-in-1 oil and run the screws in and out to distribute the oil evenly.


My saddles were so bad I had to soak them overnight in lighter fluid and then I threw them into a can of Lucas Motor Oil Additive to penetrate the parts so I could take them apart! That did the trick. They’re smooth as silk now, but they were a horrible mess of corrosion from sweat when I started. Sometimes, you have no choice but to get new saddles from the music store if they’ve been neglected for too long.

If you look closely at figure 7, you can see the tips of the screws in the center of the bearing holes on the three to the right.


Once you have the saddles, screws and the body castings all cleaned up, reinstall the saddle assemblies by putting the pointed end of the screw into the bearing hole and popping the screw down into the slot with your thumb. The slanted side of the saddle should be on the pointed end of the screw. See figures 9 & 10.


The retainer isn’t particularly delicate but use care not to kink it. The retainer keeps the screws from turning so make sure that it’s contacting the heads so they don’t turn easily.

Figure 10 shows just what the bridge should look like when it’s clean and properly set-up. Some of you may have found your D, A and E string saddles turned around. Gibson does this to provide more room for string intonation on the lower strings. If yours were that way, reinstall them that way if you want, especially if they were at the limit of their travel on the back side.



You’ll need the room to intonate the strings. They are designed to be used the other way but, if you don’t have a string breaking problem, leave them alone.

Next time. we’ll start a setup on the guitar and I’ll show you how to make your guitar play just the way you like it. A good setup will turn a clunker into one sweet ride.

More DIY Building Lessons from Doug Knight

Simple Guitar Repairs (Part 1, Part 2)

How to Build a Guitar Pedal Power Supply From An Altoids Tin

Building the Mod Kits DIY Trill Tremolo Guitar Pedal

Build a K-MOD102 Guitar Amp Kit

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Doug Knight

Our “Man on the Street” reporter, with his “What’s New in Music Stores?” series, resides in Coos Bay, OR. You can find him on Friday nights at The Small Events Center at OrCoast Music in Coos Bay.

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