How good (or bad) are pre-slotted nuts? (Tutorial-ish)

Discussion in 'Tele-Technical' started by KokoTele, Jan 17, 2018.

  1. KokoTele

    KokoTele Doctor of Teleocity Vendor Member

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    I'm taking some time away from the bench tonight and I thought I'd post up my experiences with pre-slotted nuts, since it comes up every so often.

    For those of you who don't know me well, I run a small shop out of my house and do a ton of setups/repairs/mods/etc., which means I'm replacing several nuts every week. I have a stock of Allparts pre-slotted bone nuts that I bought in bulk a while back, and they're typical of the quality I would see from most vendors, which is pretty rough. (StewMac and WD have nicer looking products now, but I haven't tried them and they're getting pretty spendy.) Like any business owner, I'm always looking for ways to improve the product, decrease labor costs, speed up production time, and reduce waste. This last goal is part of why I'm still using up this old stock of nuts instead of experimenting with newer product.

    So here's my process:

    Step 1: Thickness the nut so that it's a snug fit in the slot, and radius the bottom to match the fretboard (if applicable).

    Step 2: Measure the fret height, and add about .012". I have a Harbor Freight digital caliper I modified for this, but you could stack feeler gauges too.

    Step 3: Use a stack of feeler gauges (fret height plus .012") to mark a line on the nut. I use the fancy StewMac SafeSlot clamp, but it's not worth it unless you're doing a lot of these. You could just hold your feeler gauges in place and rock them across the fretboard to do the same job.

    Step 4: Make a mark on the bass side of the nut that's about .050" up from the first mark, and make a mark on the treble side that's about .010" up. Connect those two lines, using a radius gauge to get the right curve. This will be the top of the nut. (I just eyeball it now, but I've had a lot of practice.)

    Here's where that leaves you:


    See how much extra waste is above the trim line? That's why these pre-slotted nuts aren't that great. You do not want to try using a nut slotting file to file those slots that deep. It'll take forever, makes it easy to snap the skinny file, and makes it harder to keep the slots perfectly vertical. The next step is how I make this pre-slotted nut useful to me...

    Step 5: Using a razor saw, cut each slot straight down until the slot is juuuuuusssst below the top of your trim line. Do not cut past the lower line under any circumstance. If you do that, you just wasted the nut.

    Step 6: Trim the waste down to the top line. I use a narrow vertical belt sander to do most of the work (with a shop vac hooked up doing dust collection, you do *not* want to be breathing bone dust), and then finish with a coarse and then fine file. If I'm feeling confident/cocky, I'll finish the shaping and polishing now.

    Note: If the nut wasn't pre-slotted, here's the point where you want to mark the slots and cut them.

    Step 7: Reinstall the nut, and rough file your slots until the file just kisses the top of the feeler gauges. (Here's where the fancy clamp is helpful, because they're still there. It's a time saver if you do this enough.)

    Step 8: String it up and start the setup. When the relief and action are about right, then it's time to file the string slots to the final height.

    Step 9: If you didn't do the final shaping and polishing already, take the nut out and do it now. There's some debate over how deep the slot should be. If you're doing a neat job, you want the string to be somewhere between halfway and fully buried in the slot. Luthier snobs prefer slots that are half the depth of the string thickness, but I find a heavy-handed player can pop the strings out of the slot too easily that way.

    Step 10: Glue the nut in with a couple of small drops of glue. Doesn't really matter if it's hide glue, titebond, or super glue. Some day that slot will get a little loose, and you don't want the nut to fall out when changing strings.

    Here's a pic comparing a raw nut and one that's had most of the shaping done:


    One other thing about these pre-slotted nuts is that they're much closer to the final thickness of the slot than the unlslotted blanks. Thickness a nut a pain in the butt and I don't have a fast way of doing that well, so these pre-slotted rough blanks are still a time saver.
     
  2. PeterUK

    PeterUK Poster Extraordinaire Silver Supporter

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  3. LowThudd

    LowThudd Friend of Leo's

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    Thanks for the tutorial.

    When I used a pre-slotted nut, and used the slots, I just sanded the underside of the nut, using the back of the neck as a sanding block(used the fretboard to finalize the radius). I know this is not a professional way to do it, but it worked, and I didn't have to shape the top much.

    But, I am buying nuts from China, and the slots were just a little too close together. So the next nut I left the bottom alone, and took the top down, and made my own slots. I think I'll use your method next time I do it that way. My slots were just a bit off on the high side.

    Incidentally, I just changed out an LP type nut on my PRS copy today. And the chinese pre-slotted nut was nearly a perfect fit, without cutting. Fit tight in the slot. I did have to lower the trailing edge though, to make it drag less.
     
  4. moosie

    moosie Doctor of Teleocity Silver Supporter

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    I don't have a good way to thickness nut blanks either. I use some sandpaper on a granite surface plate, but it takes time, and is hard on the fingers, holding that small piece. First, I square up the bottom edge (if not getting radiused) by standing the nut on the granite slab, up against a 1-2-3 block, which makes a known-good 90. That's a pain, too, but quick and effective.

    I was going to make my own version of StewMac's Luthier's Friend - the sliding vise to be used with (in my case) a spindle sander. Never got around tuit.

    Lately I've just been thinking of making a little hardwood vise. Something to clamp the blank into, exposing one flat face, so I can hold the larger wood while I sand. Still thinkin....

    I envy you the strip belt sander. Every time I do this, I say that's enough. But then I realize it's not a machine I'll use for much else.
     
  5. ruger9

    ruger9 Poster Extraordinaire

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    Is buying manufacturer's nuts any better? Meaning, I have an MIA tele that got refretted, so I replaced the nut, and I bought a pre-slotted on from Fender specifically for my MIA, taking alot of the shaping work out of the equation.

    ...slight sitar sound on the high E tho, and it's a little quieter than the rest. I tried filing the high E slot at more of an angle, but maybe not enough, as the problem still exists a tad...
     
  6. KokoTele

    KokoTele Doctor of Teleocity Vendor Member

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    Moosie, I don't use my sander for much else either, but sometimes a good tool is worth the cost. I justify it by comparing it to my hourly rate. If the tool will pay for itself quickly, I go ahead and buy it. The Luthier's Friend is right on the cusp of what would make sense for me. If my shop space were organized better and there wasn't always a pile of stuff on and around the drill press, I'd probably get it.

    I don't think any nut should be considered a drop-in replacement, so I'd always count on at least having to file slots. I haven't bought a nut from Fender, so I can't comment on their quality. From a business perspective, for that price they'd have to be damned near perfect to make sense for me to use.
     
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  7. kidmo

    kidmo Friend of Leo's

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    Thank you sir for taking the time, it is much appreciated!!
     
  8. Lars F

    Lars F Tele-Meister

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    Yeah, really good writeup. Would have saved me a couple of nuts recently had I read this before.

    Regards,

    Lars
     
  9. archtop_fjk

    archtop_fjk Tele-Meister

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    Nice tutorial. I've done my fair share of nuts and saddles, and it's definitely worth making some jigs to help hold the blanks while you file and sand them. I also finish the job with automotive sandpaper from 320 to 1000 grit. I round all sharp edges and try to make the polished nut look like a fine piece of jewelry.

    String spacing preference is also something to consider. I like as wide a string spacing as I can get without the string coming too close to the edge of the fingerboard. Spacing the E strings about 3/32" from the edge works for me.
     
  10. screefer

    screefer Tele-Meister

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    To me, this is what TDPRI is all about....
    thank you KokoTele
     
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  11. The Ballzz

    The Ballzz Tele-Afflicted

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    From a "tool junkie's" perspective, I will suggest that using a drill press for spindle sanding and other "side loading" operations is very bad in several ways, including being bad for your drill press and the danger of loosening the chuck/spindle in it's taper/quill! There are a few drill presses that will tolerate such use, but not many, as they are simply not designed and/or intended for such. When that chuck drops out, while spinning, some VERY bad and ugly things can happen! A small, inexpensive, dedicated spindle sander is the best answer. One of this type, while a tad pricey, can cover a lot of ground!

    http://rover.ebay.com/rover/1/711-5...0001&campid=5338148343&icep_item=132109990414

    http://rover.ebay.com/rover/1/711-5...0001&campid=5338148343&icep_item=173100139725

    Stay Safe, Just Sayin'
    Gene
     
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  12. KokoTele

    KokoTele Doctor of Teleocity Vendor Member

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    The kinds of loads that would be imparted in the small part work that we're doing here wouldn't be enough to damage a drill press spindle. (And if it were, this tool would have been taken off the market long ago.)

    One of the big advantages of the sanding station and its spindle is that the spindles have a bushing on the bottom to follow a template. Useful for doing light shaping of things like bridges.
     
  13. moosie

    moosie Doctor of Teleocity Silver Supporter

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    Oh, it totally makes sense for someone in your position. I'm about ready to take on a few customers, slowly, and that would help with a lot of justification for more equipment. But as it is, just maintaining my little fleet... dedicated machines don't make a lot of sense, when there is another way.
     
  14. guitar0621

    guitar0621 Tele-Meister

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    Seems to depend on the nut. In some the slots are cut deep and well and in others clearly not so much. One may assume that they cut the slots for average string size like 10s and that that works well enough for 9s and 11s also. The TusqXLs that I've ruined 3 of trying to get as low as possible are cut well. With 6105 frets the only thing I've really had to do is sand the thickness and press it in. The strings appear to sit just fine in the slots.
     
  15. Commodore 64

    Commodore 64 Friend of Leo's

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  16. LowThudd

    LowThudd Friend of Leo's

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    Wooden ring clamp? I have one, but I lost the wedge. I'll have to get another. They do work well. https://www.amazon.com/dp/B000RB5M14/?tag=tdpri-20

    [​IMG]
     
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  17. moosie

    moosie Doctor of Teleocity Silver Supporter

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  18. moosie

    moosie Doctor of Teleocity Silver Supporter

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  19. trouserpress

    trouserpress Tele-Holic

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    Try to stick the nut to a little block (toy block) with double sided sticky tape. Then you move the block (for example on a window bench) against the sandpaper (which is also sticking to a level plane. Saves the skin on your finger and lets you apply an even pressure along the nut. I find this a quick way to thickness a nut.
     
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  20. moosie

    moosie Doctor of Teleocity Silver Supporter

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    That sounds good! The main thing is even pressure.

    Really I'm just whining, not asking for solutions. It's not hard, but the more nuts I do, I wouldn't mind automating it a bit more, to chop some time off.
     
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