Titanium nut and saddles on Gibson Les Paul

The sound of your guitar is influenced by anything that has an effect on the vibration of the string. It’s affected by a whole bunch of other stuff too, but if your string is impeded in its vibration, your guitar isn’t going to sustain as long, you could find dead spots on the neck where the harmonic overtones just don’t ring out as clearly, and generally your tone could suck. Luthiers have all sorts of tricks for influencing the vibration of a string, including wood choice (where the density of different types of woods can drastically change the vibration of the string), choosing a specific break angle of the strings at the bridge and nut, ensuring the hardness and smoothness of the frets, and selecting one neck joint method over another. For instance, a bolt-on neck joint transfers the string energy from the body to the neck and headstock in a different way to a set (glued) one.

It’s particularly important to ensure that any point that the string touches will not impede these vibrations. Titanium is particularly effective for guitar bridge saddles. This silver-colored transition metal is low in density (making it very light) but high in strength, and it’s highly resistant to corrosion (ever had a corroded bridge saddle cause a weak spot in your strings? POW! Busted string). And it’s popular for all sorts of guitar applications including bridge saddles, truss rods, and certain tremolo bridge parts including the bar itself (wish I knew that before I snapped a whammy bar playing ‘Enter Sandman’ when I was 14), insert blocks for the Floyd Rose saddles, and the tremolo block - the part of the bridge that the springs attach to and which is crucial for ensuring the tone stays fat and chunky.

Let’s use the 2015 Les Paul Classic as an example. It features a Tune-o-mastic bridge with titanium saddles, while a model like the SG Special 2015 has a more traditional saddle material. So does it make a difference? Absolutely. I added KTS Titanium saddles to one of my guitars a few years ago and immediately noticed an improvement in all sorts of ways. The attack of the notes now seem to have a brighter attack, and they sustain longer than ever before. But it's what happens in between the initial sounding of the note and its eventual fade that makes me glad I decided to upgrade: each note seems bolder and more alive with overtones, and this tonality seems more consistent from fret to fret and string to string than before. The guitar still has its original character and voice intact but it's like it's been sprinkled with just a little seasoning, or like the sound is coming pre-mastered right out of the guitar.

There's another reason to use titanium in a guitar though: to improve the stability of the truss rod. This is definitely one area where any guitar can benefit from improved consistency, especially during seasonal changes or if you play a lot of shows and your guitar gets subjected to rapidly shifting environments like, say, from the trunk of the car to the cold of an outdoor stage without sufficient time sitting in the case to acclimatize. In these cases it really helps to have a solid, reliable truss rod to keep the neck from shifting too much.

Of course the great thing about guitar is that it's a very individual experience and if you prefer traditional saddles for the classic tones we all know and love, those are still available. It’s really down to each player, and nobody would ever claim Led Zeppelin VI sucked because Jimmy Page wasn’t using titanium saddles. But it’s one of those things that some players find hard to live without once they’ve tried it.