Although it’s tricky to fine-tune the intonation on a flattop with a non-
adjustable saddle, it can be done. In this DIY article, Nashville repairman
John LeVan walks you step-by-step through the process of making a new,
compensated bone saddle and setting up your acoustic to play like a dream.
BY JOHN LEVAN
PHOTOS BY ARIEL ELLIS
Recently, a storied late-’90s Taylor 914 showed up at my shop. The first time I
worked on this guitar was back in the ’90s after I
moved my repair operation to Nashville’s Music
Row. At the time it was built, this was one of
Taylor’s premium Grand Auditorium models.
This particular 914 has a fascinating history.
It belongs to one of my first customers, Nathan
Paul Chapman, who is a two-time Grammy-winning producer and guitarist. Chapman has
produced records for many top artists, including
Taylor Swift, Lionel Richie, Shania Twain, Sara
Evans, The Band Perry, and the Invite. This was
Nathan’s first “real” acoustic guitar, and he used
it as his workhorse for Taylor Swift’s 2006 multi-platinum, self-titled debut. Not on a few songs,
but throughout the entire album.
Over the years, this 914 has logged many miles
and been featured on countless sessions, and generally has had the living daylights played out of it.
When Chapman noticed the guitar wasn’t performing as well as it once did, he brought it in to see if
we could coax it back into tip-top shape. To have
the guitar return to my bench after over a decade
was cool, but I knew it would need some work.
Getting the Lay of the Land
Before I do anything, I ask my clients several
important questions to help me dial in the guitar
to the player. Since technique differs from one
guitarist to another, this background information
is crucial for properly setting up a guitar after I’ve
completed any repairs or modifications.
Always begin any project by taking essential measurements. This information serves as a baseline
for any adjustments and also helps pinpoint any
problems. Write these measurements down, so
you can refer to them at any time during the
Here are the four preliminary measurements:
1. Action at the 12th fret.
2. Neck relief.
3. Action at the 1st fret.
Let’s go through these measuring procedures,
one at a time.
Tools and Materials
You Need for this
• Strobe tuner
• String action gauge
• Fretboard radius gauges
• Truss rod wrench
• Small screwdriver for
truss rod cover
• Bone saddle blank
• 14" radius block
• Self-adhesive 80-, 400-,
and 600-grit sandpaper
• Ultra-fine #0000
• Miniature carbide files
• Gauged nut slotting
• Mechanical pencil
• Low-tack painter’s
• String winder and cutter
• Fresh strings
• Small towel or
• Lemon oil or commer-
cial fretboard lubricant