Nut slot question

Marc Morfei

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Settle an argument for me. I have been taught - here and elsewhere - that nut slots should be cut so when you hold down the string at the 3rd fret the string just barely clears the 1st fret. If the slot is too high, the string can pull sharp, etc. Right?

But I can't tell you the number of times I have gotten into disagreements - arguments even - with people who take one look at a nut and claim the slots are too deep, judging from how deep the slot is from the top of the nut. It seems to me that's irrelevant. The only thing that should matter is the relationship between the BOTTOM of the slot and the TOP of the first fret. The top of the NUT would seem to have nothing to do with it. Yet people always tell me the slot should be just barely deep enough to hold the string. I don't get that at all. The nut could be two inches high and it wouldn't matter, as long as the BOTTOM of the slot is the proper height off the fretboard, in relation to the height of the frets.

Am I wrong? What am I missing here?
 

KokoTele

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You're right. The only thing you can judge by the depth of the slots from the top surface of the nut is the craftsmanship. The "ideal" nut in luthiery circles has slots that are half the depth of the string diameter.

In practice, I find that's not always the actual ideal. some players easily pull the strings out of the slots if they're not a little deeper than that, and if the low E side is rounded nicely there sometimes won't be enough meat left and that part cracks off.
 

wabashslim

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Yet people always tell me the slot should be just barely deep enough to hold the string. I don't get that at all. The nut could be two inches high and it wouldn't matter, as long as the BOTTOM of the slot is the proper height off the fretboard, in relation to the height of the frets.

Am I wrong? What am I missing here?
I agree with you but there is an accepted standard for proper nut shape, height & depth. What that standard is depends on who you're talking to and how hot-headed they are about their beliefs. Me, I'm not picky, never play out anymore and don't especially care as long as long as it sounds & plays OK.
 

Fenderbaum

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I sand them down until the unwound strings is atleast kissing the surface of the nut The wound ones can stick out a little. Atleast sand them down for strings to have some "breathing space". Maybe a string dug deep into the nut isnt a huge issue as long as it moves freely.
But comfort also comes into play as well. A tall nut is not comfy to grind your hand over.

As of string height to 1st fret. I used to measure with feeler gauges in the rookie days of nut cutting.
these days i only cut by feel and eyeballing it. I test each string how deep they are by striking an open string hard. If a high oscillating string buzzes on the frets, it means im nearly there. :)
 

Peegoo

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A nut slot that completely encloses the sides of the string can choke the string.

When I cut slots to the proper depth, the last thing I do is plane off the top of the nut so the wound strings are no more than halfway in the slot. The plain strings are about 80% in the slot.

This way, the nut acts more like a fret.
 

Telekarster

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A nut slot that completely encloses the sides of the string can choke the string.

When I cut slots to the proper depth, the last thing I do is plane off the top of the nut so the wound strings are no more than halfway in the slot. The plain strings are about 80% in the slot.

This way, the nut acts more like a fret.

THIS! I do the same thing man. So far, so good! I also use feeler gauges on all the strings, starting with the bass E string and working towards the treble E, and constantly checking to make sure I'm not cutting too deep etc. Last thing I do is plane the top of the nut, shape and contour etc., just as you say.
 

Old Verle Miller

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In addition to the sound advice above, another test I use is to check each string with a tuner; at the first fret, the E string should produce an F, not an F#, the A should make a Bb and so on. This also requires, IMHO, that all of the other strings have normal tension when you're doing the testing.
 

RogerC

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A nut slot that completely encloses the sides of the string can choke the string.

When I cut slots to the proper depth, the last thing I do is plane off the top of the nut so the wound strings are no more than halfway in the slot. The plain strings are about 80% in the slot.

This way, the nut acts more like a fret.
^ This guy knows what he's talking about. Listen to him.
 

KokoTele

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A nut slot that completely encloses the sides of the string can choke the string.

That's the rumor, but I've never found that to be the case as long as the slot was cut to the right width.

FWIW, Fender doesn't ship a single production line guitar that meets that "ideal" standard, and neither do Taylor or Martin. I haven't found one yet where the sides of the slot enclosed over the strings without some other funny business going on.
 

Si G X

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A nut slot that completely encloses the sides of the string can choke the string.

When I cut slots to the proper depth, the last thing I do is plane off the top of the nut so the wound strings are no more than halfway in the slot. The plain strings are about 80% in the slot.

This way, the nut acts more like a fret.

That's basically how I cut mine.

I don't believe having more nut could choke the string though, providing it's clean and straight .. and not too tight of course.

a string is round, so the top half of the string is never in contact with the sides of the nut is it? once you get past half way up that's always going to be the case... so even the ones at 80% only the bottom 50% is in contact with the nut.

That's what I've always believed anyway and it makes sense to me but maybe I'm not seeing something?
 

RogerC

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For me it comes down to tuning stability. In a perfect world, you're correct. It wouldn't matter. However, I often find that too much nut binds the string and causes issues with tuning.
 

Peegoo

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That's the rumor, but I've never found that to be the case as long as the slot was cut to the right width.

FWIW, Fender doesn't ship a single production line guitar that meets that "ideal" standard, and neither do Taylor or Martin.

Keeping the slots shallow obviates the need to make the slots perfect for the string gauge. It also allows the player to switch guages later if they want to. Over the last 35+ years of doing it this way I've found more benefits than drawbacks.
 

KokoTele

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FWIW, here’s one I just did for a new MIM Tele.
 

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watercaster

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A nut slot that completely encloses the sides of the string can choke the string.

When I cut slots to the proper depth, the last thing I do is plane off the top of the nut so the wound strings are no more than halfway in the slot. The plain strings are about 80% in the slot.

This way, the nut acts more like a fret.
So, do you think a Floyd Rose nut causes choking of the string.
 

schmee

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Settle an argument for me. I have been taught - here and elsewhere - that nut slots should be cut so when you hold down the string at the 3rd fret the string just barely clears the 1st fret. If the slot is too high, the string can pull sharp, etc. Right?

But I can't tell you the number of times I have gotten into disagreements - arguments even - with people who take one look at a nut and claim the slots are too deep, judging from how deep the slot is from the top of the nut. It seems to me that's irrelevant. The only thing that should matter is the relationship between the BOTTOM of the slot and the TOP of the first fret. The top of the NUT would seem to have nothing to do with it. Yet people always tell me the slot should be just barely deep enough to hold the string. I don't get that at all. The nut could be two inches high and it wouldn't matter, as long as the BOTTOM of the slot is the proper height off the fretboard, in relation to the height of the frets.

Am I wrong? What am I missing here?
You are right, it's irrelevant... EXCEPT: if the slot is real deep and not cleared from the side of the string, it could cause a buzz I suppose.
 

Freeman Keller

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I think you asked two questions in the original post. First, how do you measure if the slot itself is the correct depth? I use two criterial - I measure the gap between each string and the first fret and have some numbers that most people like to play. The second is if I fret a string at the 3rd fret it is also touching the second, but there should be a hair of clearance at the first. Two or three thousands are enough, it the string touches the fret it is apt to buzz.

Second question is how deep should the string sit in the slot itself? My preference is for the wound strings to have a small amount of their diameter above the top edge of the fret, plane strings should be just barely buried. I also like to roll the back edge of the slot towards the tuner so the string exists cleanly. Probably not as important as the first question, just how I like it to look.
 

eallen

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I measure the slot depth to .010 over low e and .006 high e over 1st feet when fretted at 3rd.

As for height above slot bottom, I do half string on wound and progressively deeper on towards high e. I find too many players who learned poor technique from bad setup guitars that leaves them habitually lifting the high e out of the slot if not a couple times the string thickness. If doing slots for yourself without having an issue you can shave the nut top down as low as you want if it works for you.
 

Marc Morfei

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Thanks guys. This confirms what I thought. The reason I'm thinking about this is I picked up a used Les Paul and the nut looks poorly cut to me (pic below). So I asked on the Les Paul forum. Of course the comments were all over the place. People generally agreed that (a) it looks like a Gibson factory nut, (b) the slots are way too deep, and (c) I shouldn't replace it. Huh??

As for the slots being too deep, I can say the BOTTOM of the slots are exactly where they should be. The strings just barely clear the first fret, action is great, and it stays in tune fine. My bigger concern was the string spacing seems uneven. It just does not look like a factory nut to me. I have a Tusq nut sitting here all ready to go, but then the Les Paul guys kept telling me not to replace it.

I guess I'll keep playing it as is as make that decision down the road...
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