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Monday, November 5, 2012

Synthetic Saddles Face-Off!

A Full Black Diamond Saddle

For guitar enthusiasts who emphasize on total tonal quality, this blog post may be the most wanted by them, i.e. the face-off between the synthetic guitar saddles. Much has been written about the deliverables of synthetic guitar saddles. Conversely there aren’t many literatures on comparing and contrasting of these materials. You can take this blog posting as the extension of “Saddle Materials For Guitars Part 2”. Importantly, the objective of this posting is not to subordinate one under another. Instead maximum efforts were made to reflect the full value of the saddles in question. The synthetic materials are in the limelight now. Here goes…

Synthetic is an adjective to Synthesis. It is the reaction and interaction of various chemicals concocted at the suitable and controlled quantity, coupled with the desired conditions to produce something that imitate the properties of organic materials, e.g. synthetic rubber. These are the selected materials to be featured.

1. Plastic
2. TUSQ®
3. Black Diamond™

Here is an overview of the above three materials

A Plastic Acoustic Guitar Saddle

Plastics – taken from:; A plastic material is any synthetic or semi-synthetic organic solids that are moldable. Plastics are typically organic polymers of high molecular mass, but they often contain other substances. They are usually synthetic, most commonly derived from petrochemicals, but many are partially natural. In guitar saddle application, plastics satisfy mass production needs like no other materials. Hence it is most common used for producing guitar saddles for many entry to mid levels acoustic guitars.

An Off-White TUSQ® Saddle

TUSQ® - taken from:; TUSQ is a proprietary material which is precision engineered under high pressure and heat. It is specifically formulated to deliver the right frequencies with the optimum transfer rate to the top of your guitar every time. Because of the way TUSQ is made, it is a consistent material that is rich in tone and harmonic content.

By the above literature on TUSQ®, one could not conclude that TUSQ® is petrochemical based or it is a derivative of plastics. Users of TUSQ® have indeed reported enhancements in tonal properties of their acoustic guitars. However certain mechanical properties do exhibit commonalities to plastics.

A Black Diamond™ Hybrid Saddle

Black Diamond™ - taken from:; This material is a very specialized form of carbon. There are many forms of carbon ranging from graphite to diamond. Black Diamond carbon is not graphite, nor is it a carbon-fiber composite, versions of carbon typically used for musical instruments. It is a highly engineered form of carbon requiring specialized equipment to produce. While, unfortunately, expensive to produce, the random, fine grain structure of Black Diamond carbon provides a very efficient means to create or transmit desired string harmonics of a musical instrument.

According to its patent (, Black Diamond™ is the result of pyrolysis of pyrocarbon onto suitable substrates. The application is wider than just guitar saddles. In fact this process is used in manufacturing of human body parts. Pyrolysis is nothing like injection molding.

Since there are many ways to skin a cat, invariably the face-off can be as simple as just making audio clips of each material, allow everyone to listen and judge according to own personal preferences. It can be a full fledge scientific testing. To make it interesting for many people, the face-off should borrow certain scientific experimental principles, but not over-complicating it.

Black Diamond™Hybrid Saddle for Martin Guitars 
Black Diamond™Hybrid Saddle for Emerald Guitars

Here are the experiment norms,
  • In this experiment, the test subjects are the Black TUSQ® Saddle and Black Diamond™ Hybrid Saddle. The Black Diamond™ Saddle is made primarily from wood with acoustic properties. 6 insert cavities are cut to accommodate the Black Diamond inserts. The combination of Black Diamond and wood makes it a hybrid.
  • Two Emerald Guitars were used in the experiment. The model name is X5-OS, one which is of glossy amber finish and the other is matt black. The amber one is fitted with new strings whereas the matt black has dead strings on it.
  • A total of 5 audio tracks were recorded and uploaded to SoundCloud, which is sound file sharing website.
  • Reference recordings were done on two Emerald Guitars, X5-OS with original factory settings, i.e. with black TUSQ saddle. The file names are X5-OS Amber.mp3 and X5-OS Black.mp3 respectively.
  • The reference recording consists of the chords progression from the C major key instead of playing a tune. This chord progression is C | Dm | Em | F | G | Am | C. The chords are played at various position of the neck.
  • Another recording done with switching one of the Emerald Guitars’ TUSQ saddle to the Hybrid Black Diamond Saddle. The file name is X5-OS Black Dia.mp3.
  • Another two recordings done with playing the same original acoustic fingerstyle tune on both X5-OS for comparison. The file names are X5-OS Amber Hpy.mp3 and X5-OS Black Dia Hpy.mp3 respectively.
  • Direct recording using ZOOM Q3, high quality WAV file format, unplugged.
  • All WAV files are converted through MP3 Encoder, set at 192kbps conversion rate, thus keeping the file size manageable for uploading to SoundCloud
The Guitars and Saddle Set up,

Top Matt Black, Bottom Glossy Amber

Fitted with Black Diamond™Hybrid Saddle

The sound files,

Reference Recording, Emerald X5-OS, TUSQ® Saddle, Glossy Amber Finished, New Strings

Reference Recording, Emerald X5-OS, TUSQ® Saddle, Matt Black Finished, Dead Strings

Emerald X5-OS, Black Diamond™Hybrid Saddle, Matt Black Finished, Dead Strings

Emerald X5-OS, TUSQ® Saddle, Glossy Amber Finished, New Strings

Emerald X5-OS, Black Diamond™Hybrid Saddle, Matt Black Finished, Dead Strings
End of sound files section

My two cents,

Firstly I will discuss the comparison between both X5-OS guitars with original factory setting, fitted with black TUSQ Saddle, one with new strings and the other with dead ones. Listening to the audio clips, it was clear the one with new strings produce clearer treble notes, the ring is crisp and very audible. As the low ends, it gave rounded bass. The one with dead strings didn’t provide as clear and crisp treble notes. Not withstanding the reduction on clarity, the full range of tone was audible nevertheless. This is indicative of the capability of the TUSQ saddles. As for the bass characteristic, it wasn’t much different from the one with new strings. The conclusion was guitar strings’ conditions will affect the resulting tonal qualities. In this case, the differences were noticeable.

The Wave Patterns captured from Garage Band
I shall now discuss the comparison between X5-OS with dead strings, it audio recording with original TUSQ saddle and switching to the Black Diamond Hybrid Saddle. Listening to sound file X5-OS Black Dia.mp3, i.e. the saddle was switched from TUSQ to Black Diamond Hybrid, the immediate difference was the treble notes. They were clearer and crisper, closer to the X5-Os with new strings. The bass notes were tighter as well. By using the frequency analyzer from Garage Band Software, I noticed the wave patterns of produce by the Black Diamond Hybrid Saddle possessed evident stability whereas the wave patterns of the X5-OS with original factory settings were shifty.

The differences between X5-OS Amber Hpy.mp3 and X5-OS Black Dia Hpy.mp3; this is probably the acid test for the Black Diamond Hybrid because a full tune is being played and recorded for comparison. I find both guitars gave quality tone. Considering the amber gloss one was fitted with new strings, the Black Diamond Hybrid Saddle truly resurrected the dead strings from the grave. The crispness are comparable and I find the bass notes of the “dead strings” X5-OS became tighter with the switch of saddle. It was indeed a pleasant surprise.

Well, these are my two cents and it is your turn to be the judge!

Some tips for listening,
  • Focus on one spectrum at a time, e.g. concentrate on the bass notes, block out the rest mentally.
  • Repeat small parts of the audio track, do rapid comparisons between the intended audio tracks.
  • If possible, use quality heard sets instead of judging by listening through the onboard PC speakers.
  • A quiet environment helps.
  • There is no good or bad sound, they are all sound.
  • Judge base on known criteria like Bass, Mids and Trebles. Connecting the audio quality to abstract terms like majestic, shimmering, etc. will probably add more confusion. Use simple terms instead.
Thanks for reading! Any comment is welcome.

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