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Nut solutions to intonation problems?

Discussion in 'Tele-Technical' started by Cleantone, Apr 12, 2021.

  1. Cleantone

    Cleantone TDPRI Member

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    Hello! I'm new to t-style guitars, and new to the forum. I recently bought a G&L ASAT Classic Special Edition Tribute (Musician's Friend SDOTD, with the Alnico single coils, not MFDs). I intended it to be my project guitar to learn and practice maintenance and upgrades, and am glad I had that mindset going in.

    Out of the box, the guitar was unplayable. I honestly don't believe anything was done to set it up at the factory. I'll note the frets do seem quite level with each other, no significant high or low spots. I have followed all the basic setup guidance I have found here and elsewhere. I've adjusted the truss rod and saddles to the common specs and set intonation using open string/12 fret harmonic and fretting at the 12th fret. The action is higher than I want, but the guitar is generally playable. However all strings are sharp when fretted and each to different degrees. It is most noticeable on the low frets (playing open chords), and especially the low E string.

    When I compare it to my Strat and Les Paul (both professionally set up), the ASAT nut seems very high, which leads to my questions.
    • Is the problem nut height or slot depth? Which should I try to adjust?
    • Would a higher quality premade nut be set to a proper height, solving the problem for me?
    • What about compensated nuts? How would I know if that is a proper solution vs. just the nut height?
    Thanks for your advice.
     
    Last edited: Apr 12, 2021
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  2. Cleantone

    Cleantone TDPRI Member

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    As a side note, other factory issues are the electronics. The volume and tone pots aren't very responsive, takes a lot of movement before they start to change the sound. The tone knob was very sticky/grindy in spots. That reduced about 90% with some lube but isn't gone. I've already ordered a Tone Shaper 4-way switch kit to upgrade the controls.

    The pickups sound fine and maybe I'll spend some time building my playing skills before I get into that upgrade! I'm actually happy with the guitar, given my intentions in buying it. I'd love to hear about other experiences with G&L Tribute series fixes, mods, upgrades, etc.
     
  3. ScribbleSomething

    ScribbleSomething Tele-Holic

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    Welcome @Cleantone,
    The nut certainly can cause intonation problems.

    if you’re sharp fretting all the way up you’re either pressing too hard or the action is too high (or both).

    After the nut slots get filed down you’ll be able to lower the action. The problem/opportunity with new nuts (even preslotted) is they have to be finished and filed to the specific set up on the guitar.

    A set of files costs around $100. I’ve been taking apart guitars for 30 years and I’m still a scared of doing nuts. It’s an art to do it well.

    You can use this as a learning opportunity. Or you can use it as an opportunity to upgrade to a bone nut and have a luthier do it.

    if you’re impatient it’s worth paying someone to do it.

    Keep it fun. Keep playing.
     
  4. PhredE

    PhredE Tele-Afflicted

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    It sounds as though it *could* be a nut that is 'high' (string slots or bottom of nut higher than is appropriate). However, as many of the popular posters will suggest in posts such as yours here, they will say "please include some pics so we can get a better look as to what is going on!" So, there, I said it. :)
    Also, having a gauge to measure (thickness gauge or all purpose luthier measuring gadget, etc) is really important in fine tuning action and related issues (hint: do yourself a favor and get something that will work ok if you don't have one now).

    In my experience, I always end up having to do *some* sanding/filing even on a pre-formed / pre-fab nut like a TUSQ or similar to make it work ok. They are generally pretty good (pretty close to standard size, and geometry) but it seems a little extra work is needed to get it setup optimally. So, just be prepared for that.

    FWIW: in my experience I have observed similar problems after installing a new nut and I had to go through the proper procedure(s) and measure, measure, measure every time I do a tweak or change. The real trick is to embark on lowering the full nut (sanding down the bottom) OR filing individual string slots without going TOO FAR! If you do that, you either: a). try to 'fix' it or b). start all over again. Going slow and careful (especially if you have not done one before) will pay big dividends. So, bottom line is: know what to do and how to do it, and also be aware that having a good set of nut files is preferable (some will say necessary) when filing into string slots.

    I can't speak about compensated nuts. Haven't been there, haven't done that.
    IMO, there is some good reasoning/theory behind the idea, but in most cases for most people it is not necessary. A good conventional nut shaped and filed properly will work 99% of the time just fine.

    Welcome aboard! Good luck.

    Now, I'll shut up and wait for the more experienced folks to chime in. :D

    Edit: I'll concur with ScribbleSomething above. Tweaking a nut correctly can be a tricky and error prone procedure if you're not experienced doing so. If in doubt, it is probably worth paying a decent tech to take care of it.
     
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  5. Freeman Keller

    Freeman Keller Poster Extraordinaire

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    I am generally able to get a straight nut to intonate adequately but there are some strong reasons to consider a compensated nut. Most of the time when people do compensate the nut they also move the first couple of frets, which I think is more than you want to take on. If you would like to try it I can point you to some references (unfortunately not on line, you'll have to read books).

    As far as learning to do setups there are a bazillion ways to do it but I've put together a little description of how I do. The most important part is evaluating your guitar before you do any work - that way you understand what needs to be done and what order to do them in. Compensation is always the last thing you do, everything else can affect it

    https://www.tdpri.com/threads/basic-setup.952636/
     
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  6. Boreas

    Boreas Friend of Leo's Silver Supporter

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    If the nut slot is flat, it may be safer to sand the bottom of the nut rather than messing with the slots. Depends how the nut is shaped on the sides. If it is tapered significantly, doing this would likely leave a gap on the sides of the nut.
     
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  7. Freeman Keller

    Freeman Keller Poster Extraordinaire

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    Personally I think this is a bad idea. I like to see my first fret clearances rising gradually from the first string to the sixth - it is pretty hard to do that without filing each slot individually. I might measure all of the slots and if I decide they are all too high by a uniform amount I might take about that much off but once I'm close I file each slot with the right sized file.
     
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  8. TwoBear

    TwoBear Tele-Holic

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    Pick up height can really throw you out. Have you tried lowering them? Give it a shot lowering them as much as you can and then see if your intonation gets better, and then raise them from there.
     
    Last edited: Apr 12, 2021
  9. fattybrisket

    fattybrisket Tele-Meister

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    I have similar fears but they are kind of ironic considering how cheap a nut is. Something about the finality of going too far makes the thought of messing with it very daunting.
     
  10. TwoBear

    TwoBear Tele-Holic

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    I forgot to add you mentioned that set ups were done professionally before, are you setting your intonation and plugging your strings with the guitar in a playing stance? It can throw it off quite a bit if you have the guitar lying down when you set the action and then pick it up into a playing stance. Also I had a friend complaining about a guitar I sold him saying it wouldn’t Intonate and play in tune and it came to be that he was sitting on the couch reclined.
     
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  11. EsquireOK

    EsquireOK Poster Extraordinaire

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    Most guitars in the sub-$1,200 range just used popped-in pre-fab nuts, and the slots are usually not ideally matched to the fret level on the guitar. Having the nut custom slotted to match the frets on your exact guitar (after a level, crown, and dress, in many cases) is standard fare for a new guitar in this price range.

    G&L Tributes come off the boat pretty rough. They then each get a 15 minute once-over in the U.S. factory. That isn't enough time to properly dress frets and idealize nuts.

    And the Musician's Friend exclusive Tribute models are spec'd out more cheaply than the standard run Tributes. The neck finishes are like Squier Affinities: almost nonexistent matte sealer that looks like hell, feels like hell, and collects grime like crazy. The pickups are crap too, and the pots often leave much to be desired. And who knows if these ones get any labor time at all spent on them in the U.S. factory.

    Take that guitar and do this stuff:

    Fret level/crown/dress.
    Get stock nut properly slotted.
    Full electronics swap.
    Prep stock neck finish and add a nice finish to the neck.

    Then you've got a guitar that feels decent, sounds decent, plays decent, and is reliable...and that you have $700 into, without a case. Then, you see why these things aren't such a bargain after all, and you should have just bought a used U.S. model with OHSC for $700 or $800 locally.

    IME, even most MIM Fenders up to the $1,200 price point play only moderately well until they receive the fret and nut treatments listed above. And you are talking about a guitar that was blown out the door at $300.
     
    Last edited: Apr 12, 2021
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  12. trev333

    trev333 Telefied Ad Free Member

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    fret/capo at fret3 and see what sort of air gap that leaves under fret1....

    if that air gap is too big because of a high cut nut, it will sharpen the notes as you fret those upper strings...

    a quick test to see if your slots need lowering....

    nut slots 2.JPG
     
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  13. DugT

    DugT Tele-Afflicted

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    Here is one more vote to remove the nut and rub the bottom on sandpaper to lower the slots. First measure carefully to determine how much lower the slots can be. I use a micrometer to measure the nut before and after sanding.

    If you put a capo on the first fret and the action is still too high when fretting, you may need to adjust the truss rod or the saddles or both. It depends on where it frets out the worst. I lower my saddles until it barely frets out somewhere. If it frets out closer to the nut, you need to loosen the truss rod. If it frets out between the 7th and 12th frets you need to tighten the truss rod. Sometimes 1/8th of a turn can make it perfect. Then raise the saddles until it doesn't fret out.

    Compensated nuts are great but one wouldn't help your tonation problem if it is caused by high action.
     
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  14. schmee

    schmee Doctor of Teleocity

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    Adjust your nut/grooves so when capo'd at the 3rd fret the strings barely clear the 1st fret. Too high there is not only uncomfy but sounds out of tune on cowboy chords.
    I usually do about .005+ at the low E and near 0 at the high E.
     
  15. Lowerleftcoast

    Lowerleftcoast Friend of Leo's

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    If the nut is flat on the bottom it can be sanded down on a flat surface. Chances are the nut slots will need attention too.
    I doubt it would be right. Ime you will learn that you like to have the strings not equidistant from each other and you will cut your own nut. Tip: Put something on the fretboard to keep the file from going too deep. A coin or piece of metal of near thickness will be the stop.
    Try to get it to intonate with a proper set up, if it still won't intonate then you decide whether to live with it or go the extra mile.

    I know one of the guys that gives the guitars the cleaning, inspection, and correction. When they get an order for the STOTD, they do not have much time to get each of the guitars set up. The guitars get a once over but that's about it.
    The guitars come in the shipping container. After the boat ride they have schmutz (corrosion) on the frets that needs cleaning. Most need attention to the fret ends. The worst guitars get put aside to get refunded by the factory. On occasion a rushed job at the factory will have neck screws that are not driven all the way in etc. Anyway I hope this enlightens you as to what happens when the guitars get to the US. Most of what is wrong when it is shipped is correctable. For those of us that can do the finishing touches these guitars are fine. For those of us that do not want to... well... they are going to squawk. Occasionally one comes through that is a gem and the lucky buyer has a guitar that is worth more than they paid.

    I think you are on the right track. Learn how to do this yourself. Other people can set up guitars. They learned how to do it and so can you. Plan on going through several nuts while you learn. Put your mind to it. It takes patience and fine motor skills.
     
  16. Cosmic Cowboy

    Cosmic Cowboy Tele-Meister

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    Without actually checking out the guitar, this issue is almost always the nut. Especially on cheaper guitars the nut can be in need of some filing.

    Just be cautious. Good news is you cant file it out of tune, but beware of over filing to cause buzz.

    I would drop ur action to where you want it before filing the nut down.
     
  17. Killing Floor

    Killing Floor Tele-Afflicted

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    The nut and your bridge saddles are the witness points that set your intonation. The nut is fixed. But too high, too wide, too narrow, all those things can change your tuning.
    You can get a nut professionally cut and set for not a ton of money. $25-50 depending where you take it.
     
  18. lammie200

    lammie200 Friend of Leo's

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    I am definitely in the minority but I use Earvana compensated shelf nuts for all my Fender types. The slots seem to work with .042”-.047” height frets. I think that I may have lightly touched up a slot once or twice. I have had to usually file the shelf portion to fit into the neck slot but that is very easy to do. When they fit right the shelf bottoms out on the fretboard so they are pretty hard to screw up. Don’t even glue them in.
     
  19. Cleantone

    Cleantone TDPRI Member

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    Freeman, I have referred to your setup post often during this exercise. Thank you very much for all of that guidance!

    EsquireOK, I completely understand your point about what to expect from a $300 guitar and I got it to learn how to do to do a lot of what you listed myself. New controls are being shipped today. Pickups are in the grand plan. There are definitely details I didn't anticipate and the learning curve will be steeper than I thought. I'm hoping to end up with a $700-$800 guitar that is unique to me, and pick up some knowledge on the way.

    Interesting to hear the behind the scenes details. Thanks!
     
    Last edited: Apr 12, 2021
  20. Boreas

    Boreas Friend of Leo's Silver Supporter

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    I didn't get the idea the OP had a set of nut files. It sounded to me like all the slots were high. Even if they are not optimally cut, lowering the overall height of the nut may be all he needs for resolution without having to purchase nut files. But obviously it is impossible to troubleshoot a nut with insufficient information.
     
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