What order for jobs on a partscaster neck?

Caffiend

TDPRI Member
Joined
Apr 5, 2021
Posts
72
Age
47
Location
Bristol
Ok, I have read around and found lots of opinions on this already and I have my own ideas from having done a few necks over the years (but never been a pro repairman or similar). I find myself wondering if there's genuinely a better order for jobs though.

You've just installed a readymade neck and it's well enough lined up that strings are where you want them relative to the board edges. You've roughed in relief over a day or two for settling and there's no obvious choking or buzzing. The action is a bit high but playable. The nut is as shipped and so also high. You've not even checked intonation beyond a bit of noodling to find it's in the ballpark but not right. Nothing has happened to the frets since the neck manufacturer boxed it.

What order are you going to do things? Bonus points for 'why' 🙂
 

Caffiend

TDPRI Member
Joined
Apr 5, 2021
Posts
72
Age
47
Location
Bristol
😅 tumbleweed...

I'm really interested in thoughts on focusing on nut first vs fret levelling as I'm suddenly questioning which i should be looking at first...
 

Ricky D.

Doctor of Teleocity
Joined
Oct 22, 2006
Posts
11,692
Age
71
Location
Marion, VA
If it was mine…

Finish up the nut. I do mine at 0.015” over the first fret, open strings. Get the strings back on and tune it up.

Relief next. Your preference as to how much you want.

Intonation next. Then saddle height last.

This is just my preference. Any sequence you want will work. If the nut and relief are right and you can’t get the action down where it needs to be, you may need to level frets.
 

Freeman Keller

Poster Extraordinaire
Joined
Aug 22, 2018
Posts
9,597
Age
77
Location
Washington

If I understand your question the neck is screwed to the body and nothing else has been done. Here is what I would do in order

- transfer the scale length and sides of the neck to the bridge location. Establish the true center line based on the sides of the neck
- confirm the overstand and neck angle will give you the geometry with the bridge you have selected. If not fix it
- move the saddles to the very farthest forward position, locate the bridge on the top with the high E saddle on the scale length. Run the StewMac fret calculator or Motolla's calculator to confirm that you've got the bridge in the right spot. Drill the mounting holes and the string thru holes, countersink for the ferrules.
- route for the bridge pickup. Route for the neck pickup. Drill the holes thru the body connecting the cavities
- drill and ream the tuner holes for the bushings you will use. Drill the little mounting screws and string tree(s).
- pull the neck, finish the body and neck, buff, admire your work
- when the finish is dry and buffed mount the neck again and the bridge. Do all the wiring, don't forget the ground to the bridge.
- make a pick guard if you are going to
- set the relief to zero, level and crown the frets
- make a nut, leave the slots 20 thou or so high. Set the saddles a bit high
- string the guitar and measure how much relief was pulled into the neck. Correct that to your standard
- bring the nut slots down to within 5 or so thou of your standard.
- bring the saddles down to 10 or so thou of your standard
- intonate the guitar using whatever method you like
- fine tune the nut and saddle
- adjust the pups to give the kind of balance and response you likee
- play the guitar for a day or two, fine tune anything that is not perfect
- now a great biggie - write down your final setup specs. I'm hard on strings while setting up a guitar, I change them at this point
- open a nice cold adult beverage and post a thread on TDPRI
 
Last edited:

Norrin Radd

Tele-Holic
Joined
Apr 19, 2008
Posts
923
Age
55
Location
Saint Paul
Well, regardless of how much relief is in the neck, it is not going to affect the height of the strings off the nut at the first three frets. So I always start with the nut and filing it down to the proper height.

Then, I will set the string height according to the manufacturers preferences. After that I look at the relief.

Then, if I’m having any issues with setting action to where it needs to be I try and figure out why. Many times, especially on fender guitars (and especially on offsets) I’ll need to shim the neck pocket to get the string height proper.

Then after I do all that, I do it all again! Seriously, I check the height at the nut and make sure everything there is where it’s supposed to be. Lots of times it isn’t so some refinement might be necessary. The next time through, I go right to string height. Why? Well hopefully your neck isn’t so messed up that it’s already had its relief changed from these minor adjustments! Then, check relief again.

THEN the fret rocker comes out. 2 or less issues get addressed with spot leveling. 3 or more = level, crown & dress. After that, check nut, string height, relief. Should be good to go.

THEN I play it for about half an hour with the saddle height adjustment & pickup height adjustment tools at the ready. I “tune” pickup height by ear and saddle adjustments by feel until the whole thing feels “right”.

That’s it.
 

Freeman Keller

Poster Extraordinaire
Joined
Aug 22, 2018
Posts
9,597
Age
77
Location
Washington
^^^ This is about 100% backwards from how I do a setup. After measuring everything (and writing it all down) I make sure the geometry is correct and then do the frets. A perfect setup starts with perfect frets. Relief is next, it will not change as I go thru the rest of the steps. I get the first fret action very close to my target, then the 12th fret action. Then intonation, followed by pickup height. In part it is understanding which adjustment affects another.

But if it works for you, go for it.
 

Caffiend

TDPRI Member
Joined
Apr 5, 2021
Posts
72
Age
47
Location
Bristol
@ freeman and norrin, you're illustrating exactly what I've confused myself over... nut or frets first.

I'm a player that occasionally bolts together a partscaster or does my own maintenance, not any sort of pro builder so none of this is stuff I do day in day out and my day job is completely unrelated. I've generally worked from a basis of TRAIN hence going for relief first, but TRAIN doesn't really account for a neck that's at tension for the first time or has a brand new nut. I can see good arguments for doing either first, but obviously they affect each other so I was concerned about chicken and egg over getting nut right for first frets vs frets then probably becoming lower.

As I understand you both, so long as i stick to one or the other of your workflows it doesn't really matter which comes first?
 

telemnemonics

Telefied
Ad Free Member
Joined
Mar 2, 2010
Posts
34,494
Age
62
Location
Maine
Nut cut vs fret level then certainly nut first if the neck is strung up.
But if frets are checked before stringing up and are clearly in need of L&C then dont string it up, dress the frets.
(IMO Stew Mac wants to sell jigs but necks do not need to be strung or under tension before L&C)
If it plays it may not need the frets leveled, since you didnt note problems?
Since its strung up you might as well cut the nut, remembering that leveling the frets cannot make the nut too low.
Cutting the nut with too much relief can make the nut too low though.
Didnt see mention of the relief setting?
 

Caffiend

TDPRI Member
Joined
Apr 5, 2021
Posts
72
Age
47
Location
Bristol
Thanks! I've set relief roughly and saddle height. Intonation is actually ridiculously close considering the saddles are where Fender set them before packaging the bridge and a lot of bridge location was done relative to existing string holes in body. Obviously it's going to want fine tuning once everything else is done. Relief is currently set on a basis of cleanly ringing strings. Action is playable but high and particularly in the lower frets as expected. I haven't shimmed and it looks like I'm probably not going to need to. I do have a Wudtone levelling beam for working a strung neck (essentially a piece of I beam that abrasive is fixed to) which I believe is pretty much the StewMac product.

I'll get the files first, then! 🙂
 

bgmacaw

Doctor of Teleocity
Joined
Feb 11, 2006
Posts
10,493
Location
Near Athens GA USA
I usually check the frets before installing it on the body, checking level, smoothing any rough edges, doing rounding and so forth. I check for any red flags like loose frets or bad leveling. And, I make sure the truss rod is in working order.

I figure that the nut is probably going to be cut shallow since that's the way most factory nuts are in the low price ranges I work with. I kind of expect the nut to need work, perhaps even to be replaced. This will usually be different if the neck came from a finished guitar or one that had a decent setup done before it was parted out.

I will mention that I've been very happy with the inexpensive KMise necks I've bought recently as compared to some other inexpensive necks I've bought in past or came in cheap DIY kits.

One thing to watch for is that the neck and body match up well. When assembling parts guitars from different sources, parts aren't always fully compatible. Check and double check measurements closely and watch out for ill fitting that can throw things off.

After that, I treat it almost like a setup job, including any necessary fret or nut work, on a new guitar out of the box.
 

Freeman Keller

Poster Extraordinaire
Joined
Aug 22, 2018
Posts
9,597
Age
77
Location
Washington
Fiend, did you read the link I gave you? Really read it? I go thru the whole process with eight by ten glossy photographs with circles and arrows on the back.....

Think of it this way. Lets say you are half way thru the work and you find out the geometry is wrong - take the neck off fix it and start over. Lets say you've got the nut slots right where you want them but you rock the second fret and its too high - fix the fret, redo the nut. We know that changing the relief does change the action, in fact some people think the truss rod is there to adjust action (its not) - what if you get the action perfect but find its buzzy at the 14th fret and you need a little less relief. The action comes down as you adjust it. Intonation is dramatically affected by action, the higher the string is the more you stretch it and the sharper it goes. So set the action first.

Every step that I do I do once. I have a target value for every setting on the guitar which I will modify depending on the player. I may make minor changes after its done and they play it but they will be very minor. Remember that I approach a fender style parts guitar and an acoustic in exactly the same way, on the acoustic I get one chance at the neck geometry and nut slots and action and intonation.

There are lots and lots of ways to assemble and set up a guitar and please feel free to do it any way you want. However you asked for order that I do things, and more importantly, why. I've given you that.
 

Freeman Keller

Poster Extraordinaire
Joined
Aug 22, 2018
Posts
9,597
Age
77
Location
Washington
One more minor thing before I leave this topic. If you happen to like the link but find it awkward to fight your way thru it as a forum discussion it has been converted to pdf format without all the chit chat. You can print out parts that are interesting and take just what you need out to your shop. It is still a pretty big file and I have to e-mail it but a number of folks have found it useful. I also include the spreadsheet and some instructions on how I use it.
 

Caffiend

TDPRI Member
Joined
Apr 5, 2021
Posts
72
Age
47
Location
Bristol
Aha, I managed to miss the link scrolling on phone and assumed it was a section of text from the OP quoted by hitting 'reply'.

Ok, thanks! I've always viewed electric setups as a job with potentially endless iteration and feedback until 'enough' is decided, and I can see why that would be a deeply unproductive way to do things when charging for time. Having target values obviously avoids that loop 🙂
 

schmee

Telefied
Silver Supporter
Joined
Jun 2, 2003
Posts
21,222
Location
northwest
-I usually would do the nut next from your description. I'm at .005" max on the higher treble strings and .010" max on the low E for clearance to fret 1, although the low E is fine at .005" also.. If there is any perceptible clearance to fret 1 when fretted at fret 3.... good to go. WHY? For nut adjustment I just want cowboy chords to be comfortable and in tune when fretted.. Once you move up the neck it matters not.
-If string clearance is playable, set the relief. I go for about .010 to start. WHY? I want this about normal when I adjust height so I can tell if it rings true.
-Then I'm final adjusting the string clearance, measuring at fret 15. My low strings are higher than my treble strings, but I maintain the neck radius more or less..... just tilted. Shim neck if the bridge segments are too high or too low.
-If there is no buzzing I dont worry about leveling any frets.
 

swarfrat

Tele-Meister
Joined
Jun 20, 2010
Posts
357
Location
US
But is fairly independent of the others and impacts everything. I think it almost has to be first.

Relief is next.

I don't get intonation before sadde height though. Saddle height does not depend on intonation but intonation does depend on saddle and nut height.
 

Wallaby

Friend of Leo's
Joined
Feb 19, 2018
Posts
3,027
Location
Here
I like it in this order -

Set the relief to zero - dead flat

Level frets - everything depends on the plane of the frets. Maybe they're already level, maybe not, now is the time to find out and take action if needed.

Perfect the nut slots - adding relief after this stage will only raise the apparent string height over the first fret, but only by a tiny amount

Set approximate action - somewhere in the ballpark, slightly high but still sane. I use 1/16" at the 12th fret but that's just me

Set intonation

Dial in action and relief together, they affect each other. The amount of relief actually needed might be surprising.

Tweak intonation.

Optional - Have a beverage! ( well, maybe optional :D )
 

Beebe

Tele-Holic
Joined
Jun 1, 2021
Posts
911
Location
Atlanta
I start with unfinished AllParts necks so for my finishing steps see * below

Set up usually looks something like this:

Set fretboard flat with truss rod adjustment and notched straight edge

Level, crown, dress, and polish frets

Place nut in slot and mark the fret height on it with a half pencil

Rough file the nut slots and roughly shape the nut. Keep the bone dust in case I need to mix it with CA glue to fill a nut slot that I made too deep.

Assemble guitar, but don't glue in the nut

Tune

Set action, intonation, and relief

Shim neck pocket if needed

Tune

Play the guitar

File the nut slots a little more

Tune

Set action, intonation, and relief

Tune (just tune after every change)

Play the guitar

Let the guitar sit for a couple of days

Play the guitar

File the nut slots a little more

Set action, intonation, and relief

... and so on, dialing in action, intonation, relief, and nut slot depth together over a week or two.

Looking for nut slot depths that allows for notes fretted on the first fret to not go sharp when squeezing down. And for a buttery feel.

File and sand nut to final shape

Polish nut

Glue the nut in with 3 very small drops of glue on the bottom of the slot. I use a tooth pick to place the drops.

The guitar is finally built when the nut is glued.


*FINISHING STEPS

Roll fretboard edges with a fret leveling beam

400 grit sanding sponge back and headstock

Water pop the back and headstock

400 grit sanding sponge back and headstock

Hard wax oil the whole neck (including Rosewood fretboard)

Spray 1 coat of Shellac including fretboard (even if Rosewood)

Tape off fretboard if Rosewood

Spray tinted shellac based varnish

Spray clear shellac based varnish

Level and polish finish

Spay a diluted shellac "flash coat" for an even satin finish and to hide my imperfect polishing job.
 

user name

Tele-Meister
Joined
Dec 5, 2008
Posts
288
Location
USA
I would set the neck straight with a notched straight edge before I even put it on the body.
Check the frets with a fret rocker and take care of any leveling before trying to set the string action and finding out to have a couple of high frets.
This also a good way to find out if the truss rod is working before you're too committed with a particular neck.
 




Top