# Roughing out a nut

Discussion in 'Tele-Technical' started by JuneauMike, Oct 7, 2020.

1. ### JuneauMikePoster Extraordinaire

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I'm nearing the end of a partscaster Strat that has vintage frets and a 7.25 neck radius and that means cutting a nut. I've done maybe 3 nuts in the past and none were really "wow" although one worked well enough, I guess. I'd really like to nail this one and so I think the key to a successful outcome is to be conservative about it and remove the most unreliable factor from the equation, namely, me. I want to unpack the process I plan to use so that people with more experience can critique it and maybe offer some helpful advice to someone who is making his own nut from a bone blank. I'm not buying a pre-cut nut and I am not taking this to a luthier. I want to do it myself. Please let that guide your advice.

1. So first off I'll take a nut blank and cut it to approximately the length it needs to be with some overhang.
2. Then I'll make sure the nut is reasonably square using a square and some sandpaper adhered to a thick piece of glass. I'll use that same piece of glass to reduce the thickness of the bone blank so that it fits in the nut slot.
3. I'll use the radius of the fingerboard to sand the bone blank to the radius of the nut slot (This is an Allparts neck and the nut radius measures the same as the neck radius) so I get a nice tight fit.
4. Then I'll use a straight edge and feeler gauges to determine the height of the first fret. Write that down.
5. I'll add 0.10 to the measurement at the high E string. That is approximately the bottom of the nut slot for the high E string.
6. Add 0.02 to the measurement for each subsequent string. That is the bottom of the nut slot for each string. Write those measurements down.
7. I add half the diameter of the low E string, A string, D and G string. Write those down. In my case I'm using Ernie Ball .10s so they go from 0.10-.46. That becomes approximately the top of the bone nut. The high E and B string will be completely inside the bone nut so I'll just use their actual diameter measurement.
8. With this information, I can strike a line across what should become the top of the nut. I'd saw and sand the nut to just above that particular line. The nut will not be shaped as a perfect 7.25 arc, but will bulge more on the low end of the nut to accommodate thicker strings.
9. Once that's roughed out, I would string it up, locate the high and low E strings approximately 1/16 from the top edge of the fret (frets are tapered, so I won't measure from the edge of the neck). Mark those locations.
10. Using a string space ruler, I'll mark out the rest of the strings from low to high.
11. Using a 0.10 kerf saw I'll start the nut slots.
12. Once I've got a good clean cut with a reasonable depth to lock the file into the slot without any side chatter, I'll start working on each string with a nut file.
13. I'll review my measurements for each string and stack the appropriate feeler gauges to create a safe slot, and generally file the slots out in a back and down manner to compensate for the fallaway of the string angle on a Fender headstock. The goal is so there's material to support the downward pressure on the string but that the takeoff point is right at the leading edge of the nut. When I hit the feeler gauges I've arrived at my approximate depth.
14. Rounding out the bottom and opening up the back to give a nice break angle for the string (There's not a lot of side break on Fender necks but there is some).

This ought to get me in the ballpark to start the setup. I can always take away more material from the nut to lower the strings, but I don't want to take too much.

This is mostly the StewMac process only without the expensive feeler gauge holder. The most dangerous element in this operation is me and so I've tried to take myself out of it to the extent that I could. And again, I am just roughing out the nut at this point. Anyone see any fatal flaws here?

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2. ### 2manytelesTDPRI MemberSilver Supporter

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That all sounds good. Make sure when you seat the nut that there are no gaps. You can tap test it with a fret rocker if you have one.
That is essentially my process but I don't write anything down. I measure the 1st fret hight and add 15/1000 using a combination if feeler gauges stacked in front of the nut. I mark at the E strings and in the middle. I then use a radius gauge to connect the marks and draw a line. When I sand down the top of the nut I keep the bass side a bit proud.
I don't bother starting each slot with a saw, I go right for the fret files. I've made hundreds - maybe over a thousand at this point- and I have it down to a pretty quick and consistent process.

Most important points;
-makes sure it is solidly seated- no gaps
-don't leave too much material to have to file through- your file can get stuck or you can lose your line the more material you have to cut through .

Also, use some 600 grit to polish the slot. That will lessen the chance of string binding in the slot.

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3. ### JuneauMikePoster Extraordinaire

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Thanks man, great advice. I suppose I could wrap sandpaper around a smaller gauge nut file to polish the slots. Or even wrapped around a pipe cleaner. Hadn't thought of that.

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4. ### BoreasTele-AfflictedSilver Supporter

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I also use sanding cord in various gauges to polish the slots, but I can't say it works better than any other option, but the flexibility can be an advantage at times.

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5. ### JuneauMikePoster Extraordinaire

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Yep, I've got a 10 pack from Philly Luthier and have cleared my Saturday. Hope 10 is enough.

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6. ### BoreasTele-AfflictedSilver Supporter

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Don't forget to light-test them or drop test them for defects, inconsistency.

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7. ### Fiesta RedPoster Extraordinaire

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Dear Lord, the title to this thread sounds painful!

Other than that, I have nothing to add.

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8. ### JuneauMikePoster Extraordinaire

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What am I listening for?

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9. ### BoreasTele-AfflictedSilver Supporter

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You will know a bad one when you hear it. Instead of a nice "ping" it will sound kinda like "pat".

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Day um all those numbers gave me a headache!

After fitting it in the slot I used pencil sanded down on one side so it marks a line at (a little above of course) the height of the fret tops, when laid and slid across the fret tops, like a straight edge.
In a vice I file down to that line which I think you determined with maths?
Then continue as you explained except no measuring or numbers or math of any kind.

Last edited: Oct 8, 2020
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11. ### BiffasmumTele-Meister

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Good point about light testing. The last one I did I found a tiny hairline fracture after I’d spent ages sanding for a radius slot.
One thing I’d add. On the string space rule, mark up the spacing of strings on other already finished works. That helps sanity check the spacing the rule gives you. I find the rule helpful but you still need to eyeball.

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12. ### schmeeDoctor of TeleocitySilver Supporter

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A lot of work for a \$10 nut!

13. ### gregulator450Tele-AfflictedSilver Supporter

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Your process is sound. It's basically the same process I've used to build dozens of nuts, and without the expensive StewMac Safe Slot (by the way, there is an old thread somewhere on TDPRI about how to build one yourself). You sound like you're ready to go!

Just a couple things that come to mind from my experience: stack an extra .010" feeler on when you're filing in the nut slots. When I go to exact measurements with my feeler stack, I have at times ended up just a little low in one or two slots. I find that by stacking an extra ten thousandths, that once I hit the feeler stack, I'm more like five thousandths higher than where I want to be. It's easier to stack my feelers high than to try to lighten my heavy hand, I guess; I believe it's because I go until I scrape the feelers with the file, and I always dig in to the feelers by a few thousandths with that last stroke of the file.

Then, once I have the strings on and check the string height at the first fret, I will file in that last few thousandths of depth into the nut slot.

Your idea of wrapping 600-grit around a smaller nut file to smooth the slots is EXACTLY what I do. I have fixed numerous pinging and out-of-tune G-strings on Gibsons (including my own, it pinged when I bought it) by smoothing the slots in this manner.

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14. ### JuneauMikePoster Extraordinaire

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Knowledge is priceless.

Not paying \$10 plus labor to a guitar tech for every single guitar you own for the rest of your life, that has a price as well.

15. ### schmeeDoctor of TeleocitySilver Supporter

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Well yeah, but you don't have to make a nut from scratch, installation is the easy part! At any rate, have fun!

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16. ### JuneauMikePoster Extraordinaire

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Thanks to everyone who helped. This process worked out pretty well. Adding an extra .010 to my height calculations I think helped to avoid a catastrophic mistake that would have ruined a nut. Thanks for that advice @gregulator450.

I wound up a little high across all the strings and over the top of the nut. And rather than slide into a precise depth using feeler gauges I found myself finishing this off the old school way by shaving a bit off the slot, replacing the string and just using my fingers to feel the action. In the end, I shot for .005 over the first fret when fretting the third fret on the unwound strings and slightly higher than that on the wound strings. That and a little Kentucky Windage got the strings to a pretty comfortable height. The wound strings are probably deeper in the slots than is recommended (I think the general goal is that half the string diameter proud of the slot) but I can live with where they are. There's more than a few techs out there who say that that rule is nice but not that critical.

I have slackened and tightened these strings countless times already in setting up this guitar and don't detect any binding at all. I've been banging around on this guitar all week and it stays in tune very well. It really plays like my new favorite guitar.

I really like a low action on this guitar and that was what I was shooting for. Unfortunately I also like about .010 in neck relief but even with 10s and the truss rod backed all the way off I could not get that. I think my relief is at about .008 right now. Maybe a few months under tension will allow me to review that. I really don't want to go to 11s, I just have kinda fallen out of love with that string gauge. In the end, this is a very useable instrument and I'm quite proud of it. Can't wait to get it dinged up a bit. It kinda makes me want to cut new nuts for my other guitars as well. It was actually a pretty nice way to spend a rainy Saturday afternoon.

So thanks to all.

Last edited: Oct 14, 2020
17. ### WallabyTele-AfflictedSilver Supporter

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I'd be very happy to have made that.

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18. ### glenlivetTele-Holic

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Marco.......Polo......

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19. ### ricardo1912Tele-Afflicted

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Well done. I've only ever used pre slotted nuts and adjusted to fit but after reading that I'm tempted to build one from scratch.

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