The Brekke Bridge: Vintage Guitar Magazine, Steven Stone, March 2000
Ever since Loyd Loar patented the adjustable bridge in the 1920's there have been few improvements of his basic design. Sure folks have tried bigger and smaller screw columns of different metals and different wood combinations, but the bridge has always had a metal column with circular wheels to adjust the bridge's height. Enter Vern Brekke and his new bridge. This is the first really new patented adjustable design in 80 years!
What makes Brekke's bridge so revolutionary is that he's gotten rid of the metal. Unlike standard adjustable bridges that transfer vibrational energy from wood to metal and then back to wood, and finally to the top of the instrument; the Brekke bridge transfers energy from one solid piece of ebony to another solid piece and then to an ebony base and finally into the instrument top. Since the bridge is made of the same solid wood throughout there is no energy loss caused by passing vibrations from wood to metal and then back to wood. Since metal and wood have different resonant frequencies this wood-metal-wood path acts as a filter, limiting the transfer of the entire frequency spectrum. With the Brekke bridge there is less energy loss. It's more like a solid wooden bridge, but unlike a solid bridge you can adjust the string height.
Not only does the Brekke bridge theoretically permit superior energy transfer, but unlike screw wheel adjustable bridges, you can change string height while the instrument's strings are under full tension. If you look at the bridge diagram, you can see how the set screws turn. Not only is it easy to access these screws, but they will turn easily even if the mandolin is fully tuned up to concert pitch. If you need to make a slight adjustment due to atmospheric changes, you can do it, even mid-concert!
The Brekke bridge is relatively simple to install. There are two different height bases and two different height saddles. Some combination of these four elements can accommodate almost any mandolin on earth. Also both flat and radiused saddles are available. As long as you accurately measure the distance from you instrument's top to the top of its current bridge you'll get a properly sized Brekke bridge. You will have to make some adjustments to the bridge base to insure a good contact with the instrument top. Frank Ford's website http://frets.com has a fine tutorial on how to accurately sand down a bridge base. If you don't like woodworking projects you can always have your friendly neighborhood luthier do the job. I did it myself in about thirty minutes, and I'm a bona fide termite when it comes to carpentry. Also the Brekke bridge saddles come without any string slots (so you can put the strings exactly where they should be for your particular instrument and personal tastes). I put in my own slots with a jeweler's file.
How does a Brekke bridge sound? More like wood. I tried Brekke bridges on both my Summit Artist F, and Ratliff R-5 mandolins. On both instruments the sonic effect was similar. Not only did they gain volume and dynamic power, but bass extension increased. There were harmonic changes as well. Both instruments had more lower midrange energy. There was a reduction of brittle harmonic edge of odd-order upper harmonics. It was as if they had been put into a time capsule and "aged". Also sustain, especially on the lower strings, increased with the Brekke bridge. Overall, the Brekke bridge is sonically marvelous. Not only do both my mandolins sound better, but they are far easier to adjust. My only criticism of the Brekke bridge is that when you first put it on it may not initially sound as good as the original bridge. This is because it takes a mandolin about an hour of playing time to "wake up" after you takeoff all the strings and take the time to sand down the bridge base to fit properly. The hour or so it took for me to sand the base and cut the string slots was enough time for both my mandos to "go to sleep"(I'm told that violins also can go to sleep if not played regularly and kept under full string tension).
Once the mandos woke up it was clear that the Brekke bridge was a marked improvement over the stock bridges. The Summit especially benefited from the Brekke. It is now a certifiable "banjo-killer".