Cutting the nut to correct height - when did we realise that was a good idea?

Discussion in 'Bad Dog Cafe' started by dlew919, May 3, 2020.

  1. Matthias

    Matthias Friend of Leo's Gold Supporter

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    I knew how to adjust truss rods back in the 90s but I was terrified of them. Even when I got over that, I strictly adhered to doing a quarter turn then leaving it for a day.

    Now how much I respect that rule really depends on the neck and how tight the rod is. Not a bad rule for a beginner though and it sure teaches patience :D
     
    Last edited: May 4, 2020
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  2. radiocaster

    radiocaster Poster Extraordinaire

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    They had books back then, but only monks and royalty were literate.
     
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  3. stxrus

    stxrus Friend of Leo's

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    I laughed at first then realized the truth in there
     
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  4. jbmando

    jbmando Poster Extraordinaire Gold Supporter

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    Maybe it "should be" but it is quite often not the case. Ever since I found out about nut slot depth affecting first position intonation I have been checking all my guitars and almost all of them need at least one nut slot adjustment. I learned it about ten or twelve years ago through discussions on the Mandolin Cafe. As you might imagine, due to the shorter scale length and higher tension, intonation problems are exaggerated on a mandolin. Here's where I learned it: Nutz
     
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  5. schmee

    schmee Doctor of Teleocity Silver Supporter

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    There are a lot of things the internet brought to a wider range of the public. But luthiers knew the importance for a very long time.
     
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  6. telemnemonics

    telemnemonics Telefied Ad Free Member

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    These are more interesting questions than I thought on first reading, when it didn't really make sense to me.
    Sounded like asking when it became known that a motorcycle needed the have the valves points adjusted to run well.
    When guitars and four stroke engines were created, those specs were also created right from the start.

    I'd view what you're talking about almost from the opposite perspective.

    Back when trained professionals built and maintained engines and guitars, it seems many users never attempted to work on them.

    BUT, there have always been mechanically inclined individuals in the population that could look at moving parts and naturally understand the principles involved.
    The idea that luthiery was a well kept secret is interesting, but I think not quite the truth.

    More than an increase in hobbyist understanding of guitar adjustment, I think maybe what we are seeing is a broader reduction in practical understanding of how things work across the population.

    If we look at IDK adults who had access to the internet by the time they were 10yo, what is their reaction to a broken object they want to fix?
    Do they grab the tools and take it apart?
    Or do they do a google search?

    While google provides step by step instruction in virtually anything anybody might ever want to do, in many ways the understanding how systems work is left out, and understanding is replaced with step by step instructions with numbers correlating to adjustment that would be made naturally if you understood.

    Almost all the numerical measurements now popular with guitar setup instruction were never used by luthiers.
    To be a luthier you need to fully understand how a guitar works.

    What we have today is videos walking us through a process in such detail that nobody needs to actually understand to be able to set up a guitar.

    So as much as we gained this terrific tool that allows individuals with little understanding to perform tasks formerly limited to trained or naturally inclined individuals; I think we lost a vast portion of the population that had a naturally curious urge to learn by trial and error.

    As much as this was due to the internet providing answers faster than trial and error learning, there has of course been a parallel transition from products that last a lifetime and are user serviceable to products that last a short time and are then dumped in landfills.
    Guitars of course have never been disposable, and are made to be user serviceable.
    So I don't agree at all that nobody knew the nut required careful adjustment.
    Anymore than I'd agree that nobody knew solid lifter valves required careful adjustment.

    Don't take my comments on youtube instructional videos wrong!
    I think those are great and I use that resource for stuff I don't fully understand.

    I think it may be a mistake to confuse learning a procedure and outcome, with understanding a complete system.
    Nothing wrong of course with just setting up your guitar based on youtube and other online instruction.
    I think though that many players who choose this route may assume that their guitar has a perfect setup for them, when in reality a trained tech who fully understands the wide range of guitar setup and how it interfaces with player style and technique; could set their guitar up to a unique set of specs that better suit the player.

    The reason I think this is from participating in hundreds of threads about guitar setup, and reading over and over comments like "no tech can set my guitar up better than me", or repeated assertions that some random middle of the road factory spec is the correct spec for brand X.

    Those statements come from confusing being able to follow instructions with actually understanding.
    Of course this may also reflect on the fact that there are good and not so good techs out there...
     
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  7. Ringo

    Ringo Poster Extraordinaire Silver Supporter

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    I never knew how much that a nut can affect tuning and action until I read about it online years ago. Then it made sense why a string would ping as you tune up, why a guitar would go out of tune after bends. It used to really drive me crazy. And it can affect how a guitar plays too.
    A good set up can transform how a guitar plays.
    I still prefer to have my guitars set up by a pro and I will make sure that they check the nut, replace it if needed. I generally don't change string gauges so a good set up will last me for a long time.
     
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  8. Speedfish

    Speedfish Tele-Meister

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    After I perfectly slotted my first nut, I then learned that I should have I should have calculated for the correct height!!!:oops:
     
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  9. telemnemonics

    telemnemonics Telefied Ad Free Member

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    See, this is something I cannot understand, because I simply have not experienced it.

    Almost like singers and songwriters who stress that every guitar player should learn to sing, and should write songs.
    Not every guitar player can simply turn into a singer songwriter through practice.
    Or can they?
    Are some of us naturally able to sing or able to write songs; with suitable results?

    I look at the relationship between strings, frets and fingers, and I cannot comprehend NOT SEEING THAT THE OPEN STRINGS SHOULD BE PRETTY MUCH AS CLOSE TO THE FRETS AS ANY FRETTED STRING POSITION.

    I watch a computer savvy person run through a process on a PC that they assume is simple.
    They tell me just do this this this this this then this and that will happen.
    Makes no sense to me as a life long apple user with minimal computer skills.
    But to a PC user who learned young, they may not understand WHY I CAN'T UNDERSTAND.
    To me all those hidden menus make no sense.

    So to suggest that string height over the first fret is critical, and that nut slots need to be snug with no rattle and a gently slope toward the tuner; is some new info?

    How does everybody not automatically understand this?
    How does everybody not know what PC menu holds the thing they need?

    The old nature vs nurture argument is at the center of this.
     
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  10. marc2211

    marc2211 Tele-Holic

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    Super interesting link at Nutz on how to measure, thanks for posting. I have 6 guitars to hand. 3 I love playing (one buzzes badly but is a lot of fun), 3 I struggle to bond with.

    I just checked the nut action and on the 3 I love to play, 2 of them have the nut set up as per the link, the buzzy one has nut slots cut too low (strings touch 1st fret for the most part).

    The 3 I struggle to enjoy playing all have a high action at the nut, the one I like least has the highest!

    Hmmm. I suspected that this may be the case, but to see the facts is interesting. Now to buy some files!
     
  11. schmee

    schmee Doctor of Teleocity Silver Supporter

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    It's quite possible in the old days we bought a guitar, (especially cheaper guitars) played it a while and thought: "this guitar hurts my fingers" or "just doesn't sound good", or "wont stay in tune" and possibly the only thing wrong with it was the nut slots were way too high.
     
  12. Peegoo

    Peegoo Friend of Leo's

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    I think this is due to the cultural icon status of guitars in general. Many players worship guitars as some sort of religious relic that is to be handled only in a specific and limited manner by the common subjects of the kingdom. Get tools near a guitar and it is fraught with danger of damnation. The more esoteric stuff should be attempted only by an Annointed High Priest of The Guitar Church, lest all the Magic Jeezo Smoke leak out.

    Seriously though, another aspect of teching on guitars is most all guitar players--alongside machinists--are extremely aware of very small dimensions and their importance on performance of the part/guitar. The rank-and-file population really has no use for awareness of small dimensions less than a millimeter or 1/32".

    Even if a guitarist doesn't have a micrometer or caliper that measures in thousandths of an inch, most can feel the effects of making a five-thousandths-of-an-inch change in the setup.

    Up until about 40 years ago, your average player getting tools out and moving things around usually resulted in messing things up or breaking something, requiring a real tech to fix. That still happens today, but not so much because there is plenty of good info available as well as affordable tools.
     
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  13. Toto'sDad

    Toto'sDad Telefied Ad Free Member

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    I have seen that page before long ago. Through trial and era I found that cutting a two inch square (roughly) of a page from the yellow pages of a phone book, folding it, then folding again, is the perfect tool for adjusting string height when cutting the nut, holding down the strings as shown in the illustration. It's almost like settings the points on an old distributor, you want to feel tension on the paper as you pass it between the string and the first fret, but not enough to move the string, just a slight bit of drag. I have cut many nuts since discovering the "perfect" string gauge, and all have been just right. One guitar I still have, I adjusted the nut in this fashion in 2009, and it still plays perfectly today, it's an acoustic, and even playing an Okie G Chord the sixth string does not go sharp at the third. I did not long ago, make a minute adjustment to the fret at the sixth to insure this was so. Adjusting the nut in this fashion radiuses the nut to the first fret perfectly. Then adjusting the saddle to the proper radius just eliminates many of the problems associated with setting a guitar up.
     
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  14. radiocaster

    radiocaster Poster Extraordinaire

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    I'm tending to doubt it, I don't remember any with the nut cut too high from the factory, although a couple have had the nut too low (although relatively new, one from the late 90s).

    Probably just the action and string tension was too high.
     
  15. beninma

    beninma Friend of Leo's

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    It seems to me that surely pros & luthiers were getting this all right and understood it a very long time ago.

    Also guitars in the past were relatively more expensive (when factoring inflation) & high end then they are now, the factory instruments might have been better prepared.

    In the case of Fenders most of the books about the history of the company talk about famous artists visiting the factory and giving feedback and/or having instruments specially prepared, surely adjusting the nut was part of this kind of thing.

    I am somewhat skeptical that the knowledge passed cleanly from the violin/cello, etc.. as those instruments are not fretted. They probably don't/didn't need the nut set as precisely as a guitar because:

    - they had less string tension (no steel strings)
    - they have no frets, so the player was always expected to set the intonation themselves

    The only way it seems a violin would need to be adjusted would be if it was grossly high or low.. I doubt players a long time ago would have wanted 1/64th" taken off, because it wouldn't make much difference in feel and good players were changing the intonation as they played.

    Stewmac has a page with measurements taken from specific vintage guitars known to have been owned/played by famous players, they are somewhat all over the place based on player preference but they resemble a well setup instrument more than a brand new cheap import guitar that needs a setup.
     
  16. Peegoo

    Peegoo Friend of Leo's

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    One of the things about nut work today is most makers--even high-end makers--ignore the fact that the strings are down in the nut too far. Some are positively buried (PRS SE, are you paying attention?)

    After I set the slots' depths for ideal action over the 1st fret, I plane off the top of the nut and then polish it so the wound strings are about halfway in the slot and the plain strings are about 80% in the slot. It feels better, and it sounds better to my tin ears. And the strings don't pop out of their slots.

    I know this is nit-picky, but that's how I roll o_O

    Here's a pic of a Fender nut and a Gibson nut cut like this.

    [​IMG]
     
  17. PhredE

    PhredE Tele-Holic

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    Indeed. So true, in my experience. On an acoustic, it's a sound/tone killer too.
     
  18. That Cal Webway

    That Cal Webway Tele-Holic Silver Supporter

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  19. Wrighty

    Wrighty Friend of Leo's

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    Remember that, rubbing the bottom of the bridge piece on sandpaper, trying to keep it flat and even and scraping my finger tips every forth or so pass!
     
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  20. Wrighty

    Wrighty Friend of Leo's

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    All his instruments had bows..........
     
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