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Going Nuts Over Nuts

terry_downsI am very picky about how the nuts are cut on my personal guitars as well as others I work on. Most all new guitars from the factory have nuts with shallow string slots, resulting in notes played near the nut being sharp. Most people agree there should be an equal spacing distance between the strings, not equal distance between the centers of the string. When cutting a nut from a blank, some folks use the Stewmac string spacing ruler. It is a great tool and I have used it a number of times. It has spacing slots that proportionally increase in separation along the length of the ruler. This would be ideal if the next bigger string in your set was the same ratio larger than the one before and so on. Here is a plot of the percentage of one string diameter to the next for two string sets. The first data point is the how much larger the 2nd string is to the 1st. The second data point is how much larger the 3rd string is to the 2nd, and so on. Notice the huge variation.


I developed an Excel spreadsheet that will take the following inputs:

  • String Diameters (read from the pack)
  • Margin from the edge of the nut to the outside edge of strings 1 and 6 (usually 0.120”)
  • The nut length (measured with a caliper)
  • The fretboard radius (either known or measured)

The spreadsheet will calculate the centerlines of the string spacing so there is equal distance from the edge of one string to the edge of the other. A graph is generated to depict the diameters and spacing It also takes into account the radius of the neck. This improvement in accuracy by taking the radius into account is negligible. I just did it because I could. The spreadsheet is in the Musician’s Workbook downloadable here:


Here is a demo of the spreadsheet.


Once the centerlines are calculated, one can use a Computer Aided Drafting (CAD) program to draw a paper template that can be cut out and glued to the nut for precise cutting. There is a free CAD tool available for download here:

 Here is a video demonstrating how to draw the nut template with CadStd.

Here is the template glued to the nut.


A 0.009” fret slot file can be used to begin the slotting process for the most accuracy.


I’m sure most of you think this is overkill, but if the capability exists, why not use it? Happy nut cutting.terry_downs

Slowing Down, Learning, and Archiving Guitar Licks

Terry Downs

This article demonstrates the usage of two FREE software tools that will help you learn and archive guitar licks. There are better tools out there, but you must pay. The lick used here is a fairly simple lick, that I wouldn’t consider it complicated enough to require slowing it down. But I didn’t want to dive into something too complicated for the first example.

Slow that Lick Down
I spent a lot of my early years trying to learn guitar licks. I got to a point where I could quickly copy anything that was of a reasonable speed and was comprised of a diatonic scale. Chromatics, particularly diminished and augmented notes would twist my ears and made it more difficult. Then of course the faster the lick, the harder it was to pick out the notes. I’m better now with diminished and augmented phrases, but speed can be a problem.

The old record player I used had four speeds. 16, 33-1/3, 45, and 78RPM. Slowing 45s down to 33-1/3 didn’t work well at all. None of the 78RPMs had anything I wanted to learn on them. But, slowing a 33-1/3RPM record down to 16RPM was very close to an octave. The comparison note was an octave low, but it was still helpful. It would need to be 16-2/3RPM to be exact. I remember taking my mother’s fingernail polish and applying it to the stepped shaft of the motor to increase the 16RPM section closer to 16-2/3RPM. I added too much and made it worse. I tried sanding it down, but never got it exactly right. 

We are now in the world of digital signal processing. The tempo of a song can be changed without changing its pitch. There are several software tools especially made for this application that work really well, and are worth the money of you do this frequently.

I found a free software application called Audacity. It has an amazing amount of capability for free. A free copy can be downloaded here.

The processing of the audio is comprised of three steps.

  1. The song length is trimmed down to part of the song that has the lick you are trying to learn. This makes for a smaller archival size, and allows you to set your audio player to loop mode so it can be played over and over.
  2. Slow the tempo down. The further slowed it is, the more “choppy” the sound is. I often find that 30% of the original tempo renders audio that is generally useable for learning the lick.
  3. Filter out the unwanted spectrum of the audio. The guitar is in the midrange of the audio spectrum. The bass and high treble can be filtered out so it is not distracting.

The slowed down lick does not sound that good, but it is plenty adequate to learn from. Here is a video demo on using Audacity to trim, slow down, and filter a guitar lick.

(You may want to double-click on the video below and go to Youtube to play this full screen)


Here is the MP3 File of the slowed down lick.

Transcribing Guitar Tablature
They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. I guess I’m considered by some as an old dog, but I can learn new tricks. The problem is, I forget them! Short term memory degradation is really a tough thing for me. I can remember my 1st grade school bus number, but can’t remember what I did yesterday. There are licks I learned back then that I will never forget. There are licks I learn now, that I document, but look back on my computer a year later and forgot that I documented it. However, I believe anyone should archive licks. Once learned, it is good to go back and rehearse it. 

There are numerous music score and/or guitar tablature editors. Early forms of guitar tablature had a major flaw, since no time notation was included. Most of the current tablature editors allow the user to input the notes in tablature, along with the duration of the note. The software will simultaneously generate conventional music score, and use a MIDI player to playback the notes. Having the ability to playback the music is most valuable. The user can confirm the correct notes and the correct timing.

Here is a concise webpage on tablature.

I recently found Power Tab, and free tablature editor application. It has a few bugs and issues I don’t like, but what the heck. It’s FREE. The free download can be found here.

Here is a video demonstrating how to use Power Tab, documenting the slowed down lick above.
(You may want to double-click on the video below and go to Youtube to play this full screen)

I hope you find this useful.

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