They are sometimes called classical guitar bridge beads aka classical guitar string ties. Using them converts your normal strings into ball-end ones you find on acoustic guitars.
Bridge beads come in all sorts of materials – bone, wood, nylon and others – and in several shapes and colors. So are they basically nice-to-have junk jewelry? Or do they serve any real purpose?
One good reason: The break angle
At the bridge, the break angle is measured from the point where the string passes over the rear of the saddle to the point where it is held by the tie block. A break angle of anything from 20 to 35 degrees is considered common and works best. Although there are folks, including some respected luthiers, who have stated in forums that the break angle can start from as little as 6 degrees with no appreciable effect on the sound. They say there is nothing inherently ‘wrong’ about any of the numbers from 6 to about 40 degrees.
If anything, for various technical reasons, you don’t want the angle to be steeper than 45 degrees. Most pro players believe or have been given to understand that conventional string tying at the bridge pulls it up behind the saddle, reducing the break angle. The use of bridge beads makes the break angle steeper than the one you would get from normal threading.
So then, is this a good thing? Does it affect the sound one way or another? There are those (including those luthiers mentioned above) who say that there is no appreciable difference to the sound because of a change in the break angle. Needless to say, there are others who are certain that changing the break angle makes for a subtle, but perceptible, difference to the sound. Some of them report a ‘fuller, livelier’ sound after fixing the beads.
One user of string ties on his Cordoba felt a slightly increased resistance to his right hand strokes which gave the instrument a ‘faster feel’ in responding. The doubters refute all such ‘improvements’ as easily dismissed subjective claims.
What seems to be clear and undisputed is that the bridge beads mimic a 12-hole tie-block (instead of the regular 6-hole one) in terms of functionality. The 12-hole tie-block is not there to just look cool, it gives a better break angle than the traditional method of tying the strings. This is a useful feature in particularly older guitars with high action issues at the 12th fret. Bridge beads pretty much accomplish the same thing in providing a consistent break angle.
Another little advantage before we leave the subject of break angle: In the conventional tying of strings, the break angle is not the same for the different strings. Beads provide a uniform string angle at the bridge for all strings. They work, in effect, like an 18-hole bridge to securely hold strings in place (yes, there is such a thing as an 18-hole bridge.)
So much for the controversial break angle. Mercifully, there are other undisputed benefits. Let’s breeze ahead and explore them.
Changing strings is no longer a terror
There are many among us who postpone the fixing of new strings just because of the sheer dreariness of it. All that threading and winding, not to mention the unthreading and unwinding of old strings. The twisting, looping, knotting…
With string beads or string ties, it’s easy to fasten the strings (at least at the bridge end) because you are no longer figuring out and near-missing tiny little holes in the tie-block. You are instead holding freely the beads in your hands, turning them over as needed, to shove in the string ends and loop them clearly and confidently.
It’s easy (and faster) to fasten the strings to the beads with a self-securing technique that normally means threading them through 3 holes in a simple pattern. Watch the video below of a guy explaining how to do this in a couple of minutes. He even repeats the already simple process, just to idiot-proof it, this time using a jumbo-sized ‘bead’ and a cable to mimic a guitar string. It’s all so easy to follow even if he says it all in Spanish (don’t worry, there are subtitles.)
String ties demo video
And the beads – made of bone in this case – are reusable. They’re real time-savers. The sales claim for the product in the video is that the bone beads “increase the tension on your saddle creating a more reactive guitar top, makes string changes very easy and are made from natural bone.”
With all the discussion we had in the break angle section, we will let that sound enhancement claim pass us by. But we will gladly agree with the easy string changing part. In fact, you can easily take off strings and put them back on or swap, which is great if you’ve been experimenting with a lot of different sets. For a small cost, this is one of those things for your instrument that just makes your guitar life a lot easier.
As an alternative here’s another brand of string beads. It’s the one I’m recommending, because my friend Jeffrey, a no-nonsense buyer of products, cannot stop talking about them. Rosette Diamond BridgeBeads “offer a fast, safe and easy way to tie strings on a nylon string classical guitar. The Diamond system eliminates string wear on top of the bridge block, and provides uniform string angle from the saddle to the bridge holes.”
By attaching each string to the 3 hole bead, you eliminate the cumbersome task of tying strings to the bridge block. You simply thread the string through the back of the bridge and attach it to the roller. You can cut your string change time in half, claims the sales blurb.
You can watch the short video here of how to fix the Rosette beads on to the strings. It’s a similar procedure, simple and all.
Rosette Diamond BridgeBeads tying procedure
Here’s the Amazon link to Rosette Diamond BridgeBeads that Jeffrey so wholeheartedly recommends:
Diamond Bridge Beads for Classical Guitar & Nylon String Guitar – Guitar String Ties at Amazon. So, yes, these beads are great for quicker string changes once you get used to them.
No slippage of strings among other things
String slippage is something guitar players occasionally face. Users of carbon trebles especially have often discovered that their trebles slip at the bridge knot. String beads certainly solve this problem. They hold everything perfectly with no fuss. You may also find, as some users have, that treble settling-in times are reduced because there are fewer knot gaps that need to settle in.
Incidentally, if you want to know why strings – especially carbon trebles and the nylon high E string – slip when you are fixing them, read my article on Why Strings Slip and What You Can Do About It to get some extra ideas on solving that vexing issue.
Some players have problems with buzzing because of a misplaced knot when replacing the strings the conventional way. String beads solve that issue comfortably.
At less than a gram per bead, these are lightweight but strong accessories. There is something symmetrical and pleasing about uniform-sized beads all presenting a similar break angle to the saddle. And with normal precautions taken while changing strings, there should be no scratching of the guitar body – which is always a possibility with traditional stringing (those ‘string dings’). You can safely tie the strings away from the body of the guitar.
Functionally and over time, string beads also prevent or slow down excessive wear on the bridge and the areas around the holes of the bridge. These beads are the classical guitar equivalent of ball-end acoustic strings, as I mentioned at the start. They act like a stopper and feel like a robust, secure alternative.
I’m convinced (so is Jeffrey) that is the least gimmicky of all guitar gimmicks that get periodically thrown at us. And in my opinion, they look great and professional.
Some folks – as is common in our convention-steeped instrument – will reject something like string beads on principle. How can you toy with a stringing mechanism that has worked well for centuries and served so many great players? Such folks will hardly find the time to agree with the aesthetics of an innovation like this, however small.
Sure, the appearance is untraditional, but in the place where they reside, I don’t even look at them while playing!
Downsides? Depending on their shape and material, some bridge beads can leave dents in the tie block, I’ve heard. As with using ball ends, it makes sense to protect the soundboard area around the bridge when changing strings.
In the end, these affordable beads (or ties) are easy to use, save you from string slips, reduce string changing time and keep you from huge ugly knots. They sit quietly behind the tie-block, weighing next to nothing. And who knows, if you’re so inclined, you may even detect an improvement in tone because of the change in the break angle 😉
The only reason you may not be willing to try the beads (which cost next to nothing, so not much of a gamble) and which I would find perfectly understandable is if your guitar already has a 12 hole tie-block. The beads will serve no purpose.
On the other hand, if you’re thinking of drilling a 12-hole tie block to a regular guitar to solve issues in an older guitar typically, then these string beads will save you a lot of time and serious expense.
And personally I like it that the new Rosette Diamond beads stay flushed to the tie block. They look cool, take it from me.
On the related issue of what strings you should be attaching to your string beads, do read my article on the 5-Step Guide to Finding Your Perfect Guitar Strings. It considers many popular brands, materials and ideas to get you exploring without getting lost in the hundreds of variations out there.