Nut work

Discussion in 'The DIY Tool Shed' started by theprofessor, Jun 16, 2019.

  1. theprofessor

    theprofessor Friend of Leo's

    Posts:
    4,160
    Joined:
    Aug 8, 2016
    Location:
    Chattanooga, TN
    Thanks to all at TDPRI. Without all the support here and the tales of people learning how to do things themselves, I'd never have had the courage to try most anything I've done to guitars and amps in the past several years.

    I've built several amps, put together several partscasters, built a cab, and so forth. But the one thing that it has taken me a long time to do is to get the courage to work on my own guitars, in terms of the fine details of setup.

    I recently put together a partscaster and shaped a TUSQ nut for that. It took a lot of patience, but it wasn't that hard. Mostly patience, measure, re-measure, more patience, etc. The gauged Stew Mac nut files really help.

    But I had long been putting off making a new nut for my Epiphone Les Paul '56 Pro. I had my tech put a TUSQ on that one a while back, but I ended up having to shim it, as it requires a rather hefty chunk of nut material--taller than the TUSQ one comes. So I thought at some point I'd get a nut blank and make my own. And I did. Twice.

    The nut I needed ended up being about 9mm (.354") high and 6.34mm (1/4") wide. Another wrinkle: the nut slot doesn't sit exactly square to the end-face of the fretboard, and I couldn't afford to remove any more material.

    I got one of the unbleached bone Martin nut blanks from Stew Mac (item # 6020-V). That sat in my guitar case until this summer, when I finally decided to spend the time and energy to figure out how to do it well.

    My first attempt took a very, very long time. I used the Stew Mac string spacing rule and the gauged nut files and went very slowly. But in the end, I still didn't realize exactly where I needed to be, in terms of the height of the nut-slots.

    So I ended up with this:
    IMG_1406.JPG IMG_1407.JPG IMG_1408.JPG

    YIKES! I used bone dust from a part I'd cut off, and I mixed that with super-glue until I got the nut-slot heights correct. And then it was usable and sounded fine, but it looked like a disaster.

    So on to take 2....
     
    Piggy Stu likes this.
  2. theprofessor

    theprofessor Friend of Leo's

    Posts:
    4,160
    Joined:
    Aug 8, 2016
    Location:
    Chattanooga, TN
    So I ordered another one. It takes me basically all day at this point to make a nut from a bone blank! But after lots of care and measuring and re-measuring, I was able to get something I'm proud of. I was a bit miffed that for some reason my string-spacing wasn't perfect, even though I used the string-spacing rule. It's mostly just that the 6th string is a bit too close to the 5th string. But it's totally functional, looks good otherwise, and sounds great.

    One thing I will attest to is that a well-made, high-quality nut is a complete game-changer in terms of how the guitar feels and performs. No more sloppiness out of this one. Now it plays great!

    IMG_1401.JPG IMG_1402.JPG IMG_1403.JPG IMG_1404.JPG IMG_1405.JPG
     
  3. dan1952

    dan1952 Friend of Leo's

    Age:
    66
    Posts:
    4,123
    Joined:
    Jun 24, 2004
    Location:
    Anderson, IN
    Graph Tech makes a nut, PT or PS 6060, that is a direct fit for an Epi LP. It only requires a little filing of the nut slots to make it work great!
     
  4. dan1952

    dan1952 Friend of Leo's

    Age:
    66
    Posts:
    4,123
    Joined:
    Jun 24, 2004
    Location:
    Anderson, IN
    GraphTech makes a direct fit nut for an Epi Les Paul. Part #PT/PS 6060. It only requires minor slot filing to make it work.
     
  5. theprofessor

    theprofessor Friend of Leo's

    Posts:
    4,160
    Joined:
    Aug 8, 2016
    Location:
    Chattanooga, TN
    That's the one I used first, but it didn't work on mine. I had to shim it up.
     
  6. John Nicholas

    John Nicholas Friend of Leo's

    Posts:
    2,275
    Joined:
    Jun 26, 2014
    Location:
    Poughkeepsie, NY
    Very nice job.

    It's sort of an art to get the nut just right. I practiced first using corian before moving onto bone.

    Yes the spacing is off a little bit, the space between the D and G strings is just slightly too wide and the distance between the G and B strings is just slightly too narrow.

    The way I do it is at the beginning of cutting the nut slots (before cutting them to actual playing depth) is just cut slightly into the over size bone, just enough so it holds the strings in place. Then I string up the guitar and make sure all the distances look correct.

    Once I'm happy with that, I cut the slots down to playing depth. Do this very slowly. Take your time. The narrow files will "jump" out of the slot very easy or can be cut at an angle if you're not extremely careful.

    You nut looks great, but usually I take one additional step, I cut (file) the top of the nut so that there is not so much nut sticking up above the strings.

    The more you make the faster and better they come out!!

    Just know that this is the way I do it and not everyone does any of this the same way.
     
    theprofessor likes this.
  7. theprofessor

    theprofessor Friend of Leo's

    Posts:
    4,160
    Joined:
    Aug 8, 2016
    Location:
    Chattanooga, TN
    Thank you! Yes, you're right about the spacing. But if I don't look at it too hard and just play, it's fine.

    I think the 4th and 3rd string slots got a bit farther apart when I was working to cut those slots back toward the headstock and tuners so they don't get pinched. I think my spacing started off perfect, but that it changed as I filed down into the nut. Those .13 and .10 gauge slotting files are a real pain. Especially the .10. So flimsy!

    I also removed a good deal of material from the top of the nut so that the strings aren't sitting too deep in the slots. Mine aren't deep enough to make any extra noise, but the the top could be brought down a bit more, as you say. I think it's ideal if the string is sticking up about half-way over the top plane of the nut, and half-way in the slot. I can always sand that down a bit more later.

    Thanks for the tips! I'll file them away for future projects.

    I think cutting nuts for Teles is a lot easier--not nearly as much back-filing, and the strings don't break at an angle at the back of the nut, just pretty much straight over.
     
    John Nicholas likes this.
  8. jrblue

    jrblue Tele-Afflicted

    Posts:
    1,245
    Joined:
    Nov 14, 2010
    Location:
    Santa Barbara
    I think Tusq sucks, personally. I find bone is much better, and looks way better. Of course, getting good, hard, unbleached bone has become difficult, and grainy, crumbly bone is worse than Tusq. I don't like Graph-Tek stuff either, except for super-trem shredder applications, where it's helpful. FYI, it looks like your nut overhangs the neck (sideways) and you can probably file that smooth without having to remove and reshape, though it's easy to hack the neck if you're not careful.
     
    theprofessor likes this.
  9. theprofessor

    theprofessor Friend of Leo's

    Posts:
    4,160
    Joined:
    Aug 8, 2016
    Location:
    Chattanooga, TN
    Thanks! Yes, it does, but just barely. You can hardly feel it. I've been putting painter's tape around the nut on the neck and using sandpaper to get it as close as possible, without sanding into the neck. So it overhangs about the distance of the thickness of a single piece of painter's tape.
     
  10. Silverface

    Silverface Poster Extraordinaire Ad Free Member

    Age:
    67
    Posts:
    9,159
    Joined:
    Mar 2, 2003
    Location:
    Lawndale CA
    Are you using the little wire welder's tip cleaners? If so I understand the problem.

    If you're going to do nut work regularly you'll have to get a set of gaged nut files - real ones - bit by bit. Get the smaller ones first, and if you can buy double sided ones that have (for example) a .010 on one side and a .026 on the other. You can always fudge a thousandth or so wider, but not not narrower.

    DO NOT but the cheapo 3-file set on Amazon or eBay - they are NOT gaged accurately for anything. But nut files are some of the most expensive - yet valuable - tools you can buy. And they last for decades

    Your goal is low (enough), tapered action at the FIRST fret. The old "slot depth half the string thickness" rule is a good one - but only if you're working towards the goal of good playability.

    I use a depth gage to measure fret height; lay out feeler gages at the front of the nut; and - depending on the guitar - add another .015-.018 at the sixth string (meaning a .015-.018 action at the first fret), and the feeler gages will keep you from filing too deep.

    I progressively go lower to roughly .013" action at the first fret. You'll find action at the 12th or 15th fret has little effect on the first fret action, yet the first fret action has far more influence on overall playability!

    If you cut too deep on a bone nut, fill it with a bit of baking soda and add a drop of superglue - it'll harden in seconds, has the sound of bone and can be filed the same way.

    Good luck and have fun!
     
  11. ahiddentableau

    ahiddentableau Tele-Meister

    Posts:
    104
    Joined:
    Jul 8, 2018
    Location:
    Middle of Nowhere
    Great job, brother! It's always satisfying to do something with your own two hands, and as you say, having a nut carefully shaped to your personal preferences takes the feel of the instrument to another level.
     
    Piggy Stu and theprofessor like this.
  12. moosie

    moosie Doctor of Teleocity Silver Supporter

    Posts:
    14,769
    Joined:
    Jul 18, 2010
    Location:
    on the roof
    Nice job! Must confess, I skimmed the thread a bit, didn't read every word. Did you shape the second nut from a scratch blank?

    Yes, it takes forever, but it's the only way I like to do it. Good thing I don't have to make a living at it. The shaping gets more efficient with practice. Call me crazy, but I think all that initial time spent laboring, tightly focused on the thing, has a lot of value.

    I stopped buying one nut at a time after the first one. It's liberating to know I can fail without waiting three days to try again.

    If the price is choking you, I get mine from Phila Luthier Supply in batches of 10, for a buck apiece. They're not as nicely finished as StewMacs, but it's a BLANK for goodness sake.

    Lots of tips on procedure, but I'll just offer one. I use a razor or new XActo blade to mark the string slots. Similar to woodworking with hand tools, score a firm knife line, which has almost zero width (just put it in the right place!). Then deepen it with a couple more passes. Then the file falls right into place for that crucial first stroke. Even so, spacing probably took me the longest to get right of all the ways to mess up a nut.

    I have a full set of StewMac individually gauged files, but as you say, those skinny ones are a PITA. I also have half-dozen or so of those double-edged files with a different gauge on each side. Some StewMac, some Phila Luthier (Hosco I think). I find those MUCH easier to use. They widen quickly, so a deep groove, while correct at the bottom where it counts, will still be ugly V-shaped. But with strings slots only half the depth of the string thickness, it's not an issue.
     
  13. theprofessor

    theprofessor Friend of Leo's

    Posts:
    4,160
    Joined:
    Aug 8, 2016
    Location:
    Chattanooga, TN
    Thanks, Moosie! Yes, it's a Stew Mac nut blank. I agree it has a lot of value, as it teaches you all the various things that go into the process and all the judgments that must be made. Especially with a bigger nut like this (as opposed to a Tele, for example), there are even more decisions to be made, and material must be taken off in all directions. I saw through the process that though one often mentally pictures a nut as a rectangle, a well-shaped one is FAR from rectangular. It is totally uneven everywhere except on the bottom.


    Yes, I used the Stew Mac individually gauged files. I'll look up some from Philadelphia Luthier supply as well. And thank you for the tip for making the initial score for string-spacing. That's very helpful. I found that to be the hardest, and I simply used the gauged nut files to do it. That's a mistake, I believe. Something very straight, firm, and sharp is what is needed there. I'll do that next time.


    If I start doing more fine-tuning work like this, I'm going to have to get a proper setup. I do most of my work with the guitar in the case and the case on top of a dog kennel! Then I run back and forth to my crawl space, where I keep a vice and all my sandpaper and what-not. Definitely not an ideal setup!
     
  14. Frank'n'censed

    Frank'n'censed Doctor of Teleocity

    Posts:
    11,689
    Joined:
    Mar 27, 2011
    Location:
    Parts Unknown
    ”Nut work”

    I had a nut job go off on myself this past Monday...threatening to break my leg, verbal abuse, etc., without calling him a thing, only because I pointed out the ”the no bike riding zone”, (including pointing out the small children & dogs factor), at that juncture at a local beach. If there were no cameras or witnesses, the nut coulda ended up with more than a few notches
     
    Last edited: Jun 21, 2019
    theprofessor likes this.
  15. moosie

    moosie Doctor of Teleocity Silver Supporter

    Posts:
    14,769
    Joined:
    Jul 18, 2010
    Location:
    on the roof
    Another method I like for precision slot marking, sometimes in conjunction with a razor blade, is to mark the blank with a sharp awl or inlay scribe, and then give it one fine stroke with a .010" pull saw. Just enough for the nut file to sit in.


    Nice. :lol:

    I have a nice woodworking bench now (bench #2), but when I was building bench #1 (which became known as the 'crappy bench'), I only had a tupperware storage bin to use for a work surface. That, and the garage floor. Having good workspace is a wonderful thing...

    Screen Shot 2019-06-21 at 05.03.48 PM.png
     
    theprofessor likes this.
  16. Freeman Keller

    Freeman Keller Tele-Afflicted

    Age:
    74
    Posts:
    1,276
    Joined:
    Aug 22, 2018
    Location:
    Washington
    theprofessor likes this.
  17. theprofessor

    theprofessor Friend of Leo's

    Posts:
    4,160
    Joined:
    Aug 8, 2016
    Location:
    Chattanooga, TN
  18. Freeman Keller

    Freeman Keller Tele-Afflicted

    Age:
    74
    Posts:
    1,276
    Joined:
    Aug 22, 2018
    Location:
    Washington
    Hope it is helpful. I don't know if you ever work on basses but I also did a Basic Bass Setup thread (at the request of a forumite). I recently converted a fretted bass to fretless, I might add a section about that.
     
  19. stefanhotrod

    stefanhotrod Tele-Meister

    Posts:
    234
    Joined:
    Aug 27, 2016
    Location:
    germany
    That looks great, well done!
    Concerning Telecasters I personally prefer TusqXL nuts for their wonderful tone and their consistent material.
     
IMPORTANT: Treat everyone here with respect, no matter how difficult!
No sex, drug, political, religion or hate discussion permitted here.


  1. This site uses cookies to help personalise content, tailor your experience and to keep you logged in if you register.
    By continuing to use this site, you are consenting to our use of cookies.