It only took us 6 months, but we finally solved the riddle of bending titanium. Chasing this dragon has been a test of both our perseverance and problem-solving skills, but we’re pleased to say that RockRabbit’s Titanium Guitar Bridge Plates are a reality!
You Know it Don’t Come Easy
Titanium is a funny animal, quite unlike any other material that we’ve worked with and gave us plenty of headaches along the way. It’s such a strong metal that it just doesn’t bend easily, so you’ve got to put some pressure into the bend. However, using a fair bit of force without enough heat along the bending radius and the titanium will snap off before you’ve bent it even 30 degrees. And if you over heat it, titanium will turn blue, oxidizing the base metal, becoming brittle and totally unusable scrap. Plus, it doesn’t transfer heat away from an area very quickly. This can be a plus, because the heat does stay where you want it, but it also gives you a very small heating window making overheating the bend very easy to accidently do.
Our large bender had plenty of leverage for the job, but we discovered the problem that the metal brake had such a large mass of steel that it never wanted to warm up past the point of condensation. So, the small Titanium Guitar Bridge Plate would get heated and then placed quickly in the brake, but the moisture would wick away the heat from narrow warm area before it could be bent. And warming up the entire mass of that brake wasn’t working, either.
So, a couple of months ago we decided to build a custom tool that just bends Titanium Guitar Bridge Plates and nothing else. What we have now is a very narrow metal brake with A2 tool steel jaws with plenty of clamping force to hold the bridge plate in place without flexing. And the whole thing is small enough that we can warm up the brake past the point where it condensates moisture onto the piece.
As a bonus, we were able to round the top jaw to a smooth bending radius that both looks nice on our finished bridge plate and also works well with the titanium. We were originally planning on having to experiment with that bending radius to get it to work (and we still can if needed), but our first guess seems to be working out. We’re gonna move forward with this radius and just keep on eye on our breakage yield.
Standing at the Crossroads
So, where are we going with this, you ask? Well, we are starting with a batch of Half Bridge Plates drilled for a vintage 4-hole Tele pattern with 3 saddles. Mostly because there is stack of those pre-cut and drilled on the shelf ready for bending and polishing. I had to pick one design to start with and figured that breaking these Half Bridge Plates would be less expensive than learning (breaking) Full-sized Tele plates.
Hopefully our Titanium Guitar Bridge Plates will generate interest and market momentum and we’ll be able to add new styles of bridge plates. Probable suspects would include: Full-sized Tele Bridge Plate, 3-hole Hard Tail Plates for 6 saddles (narrow and/or wide string spacing), and at least one style of a Strat Tremolo Plate. Unfortunately this brings us to the inevitable fact that Fender just has plain too many variations. There are American styles, Mexican styles, MIJ styles, and any other Far Eastern styles (encompassing whoever is the ‘go-to value supplier’ at the moment). Multiply those offerings by the Vintage styles and Modern styles. Don’t forget those sneaky import parts that alter the standard sizes into even metric numbers. Whew! Confusing to keep track of! So, let us know what you’re interested in and we’ll introduce new variations based purely on market demand.