Best Way To Adjust This Nut For First Parts Build?

Discussion in 'Tele Home Depot' started by Yonatan, May 20, 2019.

  1. Yonatan

    Yonatan Tele-Meister

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    After finally getting to the stage where I could put on the strings and tune up for the first time, I've had about a good week to really enjoy playing my first build. I connect the pickups with alligator clips, and it sounds and feels great!

    However, the action is fairly high - didn't get exact measurements, maybe 5/64 at 12 fret (e.g. top of fret to bottom of string) - and while I always thought that action should be as low as possible without fret buzz, it turns out that I really enjoy the feel of it. While it's totally different from my other electric (a Les Paul copy) which has the action set as low as possibly, it's somehow very playable, has great tone and feel, and I'm not sure I want to mess with it for now! (This is all with a set of 9-42 strings so far, if I go to a higher gauge maybe I'll feel differently.)

    But, even if I wanted to leave the action that high, the nut is going to need some adjusting no matter what: It's SO high at the first fret that just on the first couple of frets it's not very playable and the intonation is way off. What is the better approach in this case (pics below)?
    • File the slots? I don't have proper files, but from reading around I could use a combination the wound strings for those slots, various sandpaper/feeler gauge methods. Also, I could order some files, they will take a few weeks to arrive...
    • Take it off and sand down the bottom? Assuming that I can get it out somehow without breaking it, and assuming that it is flat-bottomed, which I don't know yet.

    nut_E_string.jpg nut_no_E_string.png
     

    Attached Files:

  2. RogerC

    RogerC Poster Extraordinaire

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    The proper way will be to file the slots since, chances are, that not all the strings will need to go down the same amount. The best way to do it is with the proper tools (nut files), but I've used the wound string trick or welder tip cleaners in a pinch.
     
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  3. Chunkocaster

    Chunkocaster Poster Extraordinaire

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    I would take it off and sand down the bottom. Fret at the third fret and keep an eye on the string clearance above the first fret. You want to be able to feed a couple sheets of paper on the top of first fret without resistance. I do it by eye and feel but a member mentioned the paper thing recently and it gives a reference that's easier to describe.
     
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  4. RogerC

    RogerC Poster Extraordinaire

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    The problem with this method is that you can't fine tune the individual strings. But if close enough is good enough...
     
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  5. guitarbuilder

    guitarbuilder Doctor of Teleocity Silver Supporter

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    You could do a combination of sanding the bottom and filing the slots. Having the correct tools to file the slots will make the job more enjoyable. It might be worth the time to order them and play the LP for a while :).

    Another option would be to have the nut set up by a guitar repair person who owns the tools. People with offer all kinds of work arounds, but having the correct tool for the job at hand is a big plus and saves you from ruining a bunch of nuts.
     
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  6. Chunkocaster

    Chunkocaster Poster Extraordinaire

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    It looks very high in the pic, I would get it lowered first and then adjust the slots if necessary.

    If it's radiused lay some sandpaper on the fretboard at the first fret and sand the radius into the nut with that.
     
    Last edited: May 20, 2019
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  7. Buzzgrowl

    Buzzgrowl TDPRI Member

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    Is the bottom of the slot curved or flat?

    What about the nut?
     
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  8. Randy Jones

    Randy Jones TDPRI Member

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    I’ve popped out the nut and sanded the bottom. Granite countertop for a flat bottom, hot water heater tank for a radiused bottom. Going from the bottom is not very precise but can help.

    I’ve used an exacto knife and strings to deepen then ‘file’ away. Only tried this on a non-bone nut.

    My current tele kit build ended up putting a zero glide nut (it’s a zero fret that doesn’t look like a zero fret). I’ve been very happy with it as an option for a diy newb with no nut files.
     
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  9. Yonatan

    Yonatan Tele-Meister

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    Thanks all, so how do I get the nut off without breaking it?

    Yeah, not gonna happen, I'd prefer to just avoid the first couple of frets :) O.k., seriously, I haven't been completely ignoring the LP copy. If I need I'll order files maybe. No rush...

    Brilliant!
     
    Last edited: May 20, 2019
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  10. Freeman Keller

    Freeman Keller Tele-Afflicted

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    Before you do anything, measure everything and write it down. That means relief, first fret clearance for each string, 12th fret action for each string. Make sure the neck is tight in the pocket and the frets are perfect. Set the relief to your desired value and leave it (changing relief changes action, changing action does not change relief). For me that would be 4 or 5 thousands.

    You really do need a set of nut files - you can get by with mickey mouse tools like welding tip cleaners or feeler gauges made into files, but for any serious setup work you need good gauged nut files. You have two targets as you lower the slots - you want the first fret clearance to gradually rise from the first fret to the sixth (for example you might end up with 1 and 2 being about 0.014 thousands, 3 and 4 about 0.016, and 5 and 6 about 0.018). My other test is if I fret a string at the 3rd fret I want a hair of back clearance at the first fret - 2 or 3 thousands maybe).

    I always file the slots - I don't believe I can be accurate enough filing the bottom of a saddle (and then you get those silly ones with the curved bottoms. I go very slowly while filing - its easy to take a little more off, its hard to put it back on. Once I get the nut slots where I want them I shape the top of the saddle so the strings aren't buried in the slots and I round the corners off so I don't have a sharp edge, then I polish it.

    After you have the nut where you want it you can fine tune the 12th fret action.
     
  11. schmee

    schmee Poster Extraordinaire

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    If you dont have files and if the bottom of the nut is flat, sand the bottom down carefully by putting sand paper on a flat surface and moving the nut. Watch that you are keeping it perfectly flat!
     
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  12. Vizcaster

    Vizcaster Friend of Leo's

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    You might want to measure your hot water tank. Then again, the fretboard itself is a pretty good example of the proper radius for that particular guitar (7-14" vintage, 9-1/2" modern, 12" headbanger) - just tape the sandpaper to the fretboard and remember to clean it off before the adhesive hardens.
     
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  13. Lost_N_Austin

    Lost_N_Austin Friend of Leo's

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    I have some advice for you and others that I confess that I just stole from a Youtube Video posting from 5 years ago - but I think everyone reading this thread should consider.

    "I would just like to add if you are doing a "bone" nut use a MASK, this is cadaver bone and just cuz its animal doesn't mean it doesn't react the same as human.. cadaver bone dust is used for constructive surgeries so it takes a hold and grows like normal bone in about 2-3 months YES research OR ASK YOUR SURGEON IF YOU DON'T GRASP THAT breathing bone dust into your lung is BAD, it will take hold so be very careful and wear a full mask never around children or animals, especially if sanding it turns to "dust" and hangs for some time, a little goes a long ways.. "


    Lost_N_Austin
     
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  14. Yonatan

    Yonatan Tele-Meister

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    Thanks for the PSA! Not that I want to breathe in plastic dust either, but while the AliExpress product page for the neck that I ordered says "real bone nut" I suspect that it's just as real as the "real leather" that you get from AliExpress.
     
  15. Freeman Keller

    Freeman Keller Tele-Afflicted

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    A couple more comments. Yonatan has not told use what his current nut action is or what his target is. I always figure if you are taking a trip its good to know where you are starting from and where you are heading. In fact it is my habit to measure everything and write it down before I start working on anything (and I know the order to do things to leverage the way they interact).

    Second, you should only sand the bottom of the nut if each string is the same amount high, ie you want to go down five thousands on each string. The mark five thou on the bottom of the nut and sand to the line. Be careful, its easy to over do it. I also want the bottom flat, seated in the slot and glued in with two tiny drops of CA.

    Third, 5/64 (0.078) is pretty "medium" action, particularly for the bass strings. In fact that is the exact number that StewMac suggest for the low E string on an electric guitar (0.063 for the high E). Most setup techs have a range of target values - lots depends on the player, condition of the frets, string gauges and amount of relief. I'll go lower if the player wants it but everything else needs to be perfect. Some people will tolerate a bit of buzz if they can't hear it thru their amp (I don't).

    ps - I have been making nuts (and acoustic saddles) out of cow bone for a dozen years now - probably four or five a week. I use a belt sander for rough shaping and wear a dust mask just like I do for any sanding operation. Sanding bone stinks, it smells like burning hair, bu so far I've had no bad effects. Well, other than digging up cadavers to get more bone....
     
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  16. Yonatan

    Yonatan Tele-Meister

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    Where I'm coming from: Very high action at nut. And first fret not in tune.

    With capo at the third fret:

    • Distance from top of first fret to bottom of E string is just over .03in with an automotive feeler gague, or just over 1/32in as measured with a ruler
    • For high e it's about .02in, or just under 1/32in with a ruler.

    Where I'm going:
    Get first fret to play in tune!
    But don't necessarily lower the nut action too much.
    I've mostly read around here that the gap with the above method should be barely measurable i.e. can slide a piece of paper between the first fret and strings with capo at third fret.

    But I've also read that higher action at the nut might have some benefit, as long as it's not too high as to affect intonation at the first fret.

    So the question is, how low do I need to go in order to be able to get the first fret playable?
     
    Last edited: May 21, 2019
  17. jvin248

    jvin248 Poster Extraordinaire

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    .

    I skipped ahead so sorry if already covered:

    Get to a hardware store and buy a 'welding tip cleaner file set'. $3 at Menards last week that I noted walking by as it's $6-7 at HD from memory.

    File the slot lowest on the tuner side, highest on the fretboard side or you'll have sitar sounds.

    Fret the 3rd fret and you should file down until 1-2 sheets of photocopy paper slide under the string at the first fret.

    Then do your truss-rod setup, saddle heights, intonation, saddle heights, and maybe neck shim to repeat back on the saddles again.

    .
     
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  18. Clinchriver

    Clinchriver Tele-Meister Silver Supporter

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  19. Freeman Keller

    Freeman Keller Tele-Afflicted

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    Here are the steps that I follow every time.

    - make sure the guitar is structurally sound. That means the neck and bridge screws are tight, the neck angle is good and nothing is broken.

    - take all the relief out of the fretboard and make the frets perfect. That means dead flat from one end of the board to the other. Radiused perfectly to whatever your radius is. Dress the ends

    - now string it up and see how much relief is pulled into the neck. Adjust the truss rod to get your target - mine is 4 or 5 thousands measured at the 7th fret, less is better. Don't touch the truss rod after this

    - I roughly adjust the bridge so that I have medium to high action at the 12th fret - I don't really care what it is but lets say somewhere between 70 and 90 thousand on each string, maybe higher. That insures that I won't have buzzing down the neck

    - I do three things at the nut. I draw a zero fret line on it with a half pencil - I know never to go below that line. I measure the first fret clearance at all six strings. I also measure the back fret clearance at the first fret when the string is fretted at 3 (which also holds it against 2). I want some clearance, if there is none I will get buzzing behind the fret.

    - with all strings tight, I loose one, move it out of the way and start filing down the nut slot. I use gauged nut files, the next size bigger than the string. Welding tip cleaners are a mickey mouse way to do it - invest in the proper tools. For a generic setup on most acoustics or electrics my target values for first fret action is 0.014, 0.015, 0.016, 0.017, 0.018, 0.018. That is lower than most factory specs - I have the advantage that I can take my time. I can make it lower if frets are perfect and relief is very low, but those are good values. If frets are bad I'll make them a little higher and recommend to the owner that we do a refret.

    Remember something about working on a nut - you can easily make the slots lower, its hard to make them higher. (Edit to add, I know approximately how much 5 or 10 swipes with my files will take off when working with bone but it can be very different on some of the synthetics. I've had to make few nuts when I've gone too far. Double edit - I know about the bone dust and CA trick, I figure if I screwed up a nut I'd better just make a new one)

    - When I'm satisfied with the nut I groom the top so the strings aren't buried, round off the sharp edges and polish it. Glue it in place with two tiny drops of CA, just enough so it doesn't fall out.

    - I then turn to the bridge or saddle on an acoustic guitar - the process is slightly different, electric guitars are so easy. Work each string down to my generic target values, which happen to be very close to 0.060, 0.065, 0.070, 0.075, 0.080, 0.085 measured at the 12th fret. That might change by 5 thousands depending on the player and her technique, that's a good fingerstyle action but might need to be higher for strumming. (a very good setup tech says that most players can't tell 10 thousands at the 12th fret but they can feel 2 at the nut)

    - Next I do the "next fret" trick - fret a string at the first fret and measure the gap at the second. Then fret the second and measure the third, then the next pair, on up the neck. What I want to see is either the next fret clearance staying the same or slightly increasing - look at it this way, if it doesn't buzz at 2 with, say 3 thousands of clearance it won't buzz at any fret with 3 thou. Its OK for that to increase as you go up the neck - it just means you aren't optimal. You don't want to see it go up and then back down at the neck joint (too much relief) or suddenly get high (high fret, bump in the f/b). I also double check the back fret clearance all the way down the neck, each string, each fret

    - now I check the intonation and compensate as required. Like everyone else I try to make the fretted 12th fret note match the harmonic which should match the open string. My tolerance is +/- 5 cents but generally I can do better.

    - Finally I go back and check every measurement and write them down. Put on a fresh set of strings, play the guitar in all positions with both a light and heavy hand. Open a nice cold adult beverage.

    ps - I have a spreadsheet that I use in my shop to keep track of all of this. I've written some instructions on how I use it. I offer it to anyone who wants a copy - I need to send it to an e-mail addy (PM me). It also has a list of setup specs from various factories and technicians.
     
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  20. Luthi3rz

    Luthi3rz Tele-Meister

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    What causes frets 1 through 5 to be out of tune is The nut and or Slots are TOO high.
    So cut slots to where you need them then you can remove material from the top of the nut.
     
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