Why use an Ebony-Cap on the Saddle?

An ebony saddle “cap” is a thin (usually about ⅛” thick and ¼” tall) layer of ebony that is glued to the top of the base wood of the saddle. It’s called a “cap” because it sits on top of the saddle. Using an ebony-cap on the saddle allows for some customization of the influence of the saddle on the tone of the resonator, especially in relation to the strings’ material and the gauges used. 

Specifically, Ebony is a very dense hardwood, and that density will increase and enhance the  vibration transfer from the strings thought the bridge and resonator. This will brighten the overall sound and help to compensate for the tone of lighter gauge string sets that may be easier to play but, because of their lighter mass, may not be as loud or project as much as heavier gauge strings. Similarly, strings using materials such as bronze may have a richer tone, but they may not project as much as a nickel string set and, especially on bronze wound strings, the ebony will help brighten the tone and give more presence. In general, an ebony-cap will enhance and brighten any string in any position on the saddle.

Why use a Split-Maple/Ebony Cap?

The Split-Maple/Ebony cap is an innovation that came as the result of hands-on daily experience working with many Dobros in a production setting.

“When I was managing OMI/Dobro in the mid-1990’s,“ relates Mike Replogle, ‘I was not only looking in the rear-view mirror to see what had worked best over the prior 65 years, but I was also looking forward at modern innovations and considering what updates and new approaches could be incorporated into our Dobros that might help improve the instruments.”

“One of the modern upgrades we added was using phosphor bronze acoustic strings for some models at Dobro– and it worked well,” says Replogle. “We got a markedly better, richer tone from our Dobros. After doing this for a while, we started noticing that although we were gaining a richer tone from the bronze, we were losing some presence and projection as compared to the nickel strings. So, we decided to do some experimentation on a few new ideas. We did some blind testing, taking each idea and then playing the reso behind a curtain and picking winners based on what we heard, without seeing what we were testing.” 

“One of the winning concepts was to use an ebony cap on the maple saddle, similar to the bridges used on banjos,” discloses Replogle. “Well, almost a winner- it still needed tweaking. The first time we tried an ebony cap, we immediately noticed that the wound bronze strings definitely had better brightness and projection. But, so did the first two unwound strings, which then were too bright and a bit shrill. We wanted the better sound of the ebony on the wound strings, but we wanted to keep the traditional tone of the plain strings on the maple. This was the birth of the Split-Maple/Ebony cap saddle, using plain maple for the first two unwound strings, and then an ebony cap to boost the last four wound bronze strings. I first released this on the Jerry Douglas Signature Model that I designed in ‘94, and it has worked great ever since.”

Why Use a Full Ebony Cap?

In some cases, it may be beneficial to brighten up all 6 of the strings. Depending on the individual instrument, the full-ebony cap can bring out the tone and brighten traditional nickel string sets. The full ebony-cap can also support lighter gauge strings that, although they may be easier to play than heavy gauge sets, the thinner strings may also lose some of their tone and projection- and the full-ebony cap can boost that set of lighter gauge strings as well. The Full-Ebony Cap is a useful  option in the players’ tool kit to customize an instrument and dial in the tone and projection.

Why Use a Half-Ebony Cap?

Some players choose to use a custom mixed-gauge string set, and it may be desirable to brighten up just the lower 3 of the strings with the ebony-cap. Depending on the individual instrument, the half-ebony cap will tend to bring out the tone and brighten the lower 3 strings, leaving the first three strings on the traditional maple saddle. The 50/50 half-ebony Cap is an option in the players’ tool kit to further customize and dial in the tone and projection.

What is a Reversed Half-Ebony Cap?

As a special request, Replogle Resos created a custom saddle with a half-ebony cap on the first three strings for players that use a custom mixed gauge string set that needs the first three strings boosted.  Although this is quite the opposite of the usual split-maple/ebony configuration, there is now this option to keep the maple saddle and tone on the lower 3 strings, with the first three strings supported by an ebony-cap. Although unusual, this custom saddle worked well for  the particular instrument, and Replogle Resos is making it available for the luthiers and players that would like to enhance the first three string with an ebony-cap as another option in the tool kit to further customize and dial in the tone and projection.