How to Sand Down a Nut Properly on a Bass

As a general rule, the top of the nut should be sanded down so that no more than half a string’s diameter sits submerged in the nut slot. When strings sits too deeply in the nut, they tend to bind and make a creaking sound as your tuning up the string.  They can also prevent the string from moving and then your in the middle of a song and you stretch a note, now the added tension forces the string to unbind in the nut slot. The result, out of tune and the audience puts their hands over their ears.

Process for Sanding a Nut Down*:

1. Using a sanding block, sand the bottom of the nut so that the nut sits at the desired height.

2. Check to see how low the strings are sitting in the nut. If any are more than halfway down in the nut slot, then you’ll want to use your sanding block or sanding surface to sand down the top of the nut.

We used 3D computer animation to illustrate this concept in Fret MD: Acoustic Guitar Setup and Maintence.

* This process is the same for all guitars with a bone, plastic or graphite nut. (e.g. Electric guitars, acoustic guitars, basses etc.)

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How to Sand Down a Nut Properly on an Electric Guitar

Editor’s Note: It should be noted that the process below is universal for all types of guitars with removable nuts. The images used in this tutorial were taken from Fret MD: Acoustic Guitar Setup and Maintenance, but they still serve to accurately illustrate the processes and ideas that are used to sand down an electric guitar nut. (Also, some electric guitars (hollow bodies for example) have a nut and headstock construction, similar to the images below.)

Sanding Down the Top of the Nut

As a general rule, the top of the nut should be sanded down so that half of the diameter of each string sits above the nut. When strings sits too deeply in the nut slots,  over time (due to string friction)  they tend to work there way down from tuning,  stretching notes, and changing strings.  If you file these slots at an in correct angle you can hear a sympathetic buzz and if you file to deep you’ll hear the string vibrating on the first fret.

Sanding Down the Bottom of The Nut

When sanding down the bottom of a nut, the most important thing is to sand slowly, on a flat surface and check the nut often, taking care not to remove any material. your just removing the old glue.

nut

The image above shows a guitar nut in which the strings are submerged too deeply.

nut_crssec

Cross section of a guitar nut and strings. You can see that the strings are sitting too deeply in the nut.

nut_crssec2

The image above illustrates how much material will need to be removed from the top of the nut so that only half of the diameter of each string sits above the nut.

Process for Sanding a Nut Down*:

The process below is the same for sanding down the top, or bottom, of a guitar nut.

1. Loosen your guitar strings and then move them to the sides of the nut. DO NOT cut or completely remove the guitar strings! (You’ll want to be able to replace the nut and put the strings back in the nut slots to check your nu adjustments.)

2. Remove the nut.

3. Draw a line (or Not)

(In general, sanding down a nut involves removing tiny amounts of material, so measurements and drawing lines usually aren’t necessary. More often than not, getting a nut to the right height is a matter of trial and error. Of course,  if your nut needs 1mm, or 1/64 in., or more, material taken off, then drawing a line as a guide is recommended.)

4. Using a sanding block, sand the bottom (or top) of the nut until  the nut sits at the desired height.

5. Put the nut back into its nest, tune the strings back to pitch and use a feeler gauge to determine whether the nut has been sanded down enough. (If you were sanding the top of the nut, then check to make sure that half the diameter of each string is now sitting above the nut).

replacenut

6. If your strings are still too high or still sit to deep in the nut, or both, then repeat steps 1 through 5 until your strings are at the right heights.

We used video footage and 3D computer animation to illustrate this concept in Fret MD: Acoustic Guitar Setup and Maintenance.

If, after sanding your nut down, some strings are now too low, find out how to shim up your nut.

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* This process is the same for all guitars with a bone or other material you might be using. (e.g. Electric guitars, acoustic guitars, basses etc.)


How and Why to File Down Nut Slots on an Electric Guitar

Filling Down Nut Slots

First of all, it should be said that this procedure works for any type of guitar with a wooden or plastic nut, including electric guitar, acoustic guitar and bass.

1. Take out your nut files and get ready for some filing.

2. Loosen the string you want to file a slot for.

3. When the string is loose enough, move it away from the slot and over the side of the nut. (If you have a Fret MD DVD watch the nut section on how to do this).

4. Keeping your nut file at an approximately 35 degree angle, make just a few passes at the nut.
electric_file2

5. Replace the string in it’s slot, and tune it back up to pitch.

6. Use a .006 feeler gauge, use the string height assessment method discussed in the physical assessment section of this tutorial to determine if the string is at the proper height.

7. Repeat steps 1 – 6 if necessary. (It’s better to file too little than too much. If you file too little than you can just file away a little more. If you file too much you’ll need to either shim up your nut or replace it, and that will be a huge pain, so try to avoid it if you can!)

What to Do if Some of Your Strings Sit too High, Others Sit too Low and Some are Just Right:

1. Shim up the nut and raise the strings that are sitting too low.
2. File down any strings that are too high using nut files.

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How to Shim up a Nut on an Electric Guitar

Remove the Nut

Now the first thing you’ll need to do before you shim up a nut is to remove the nut. In order to do this, you’ll need a soldering iron and a wet paper towel or rag (a cotton rag or cloth would be best – avoid highly flammable and/or synthetic materials).

1. Remove all of the strings from your guitar or loosen them enough to pull them over to the side of your nut, so that you can remove it.

2. Heat up your soldering iron and wet your cloth or paper towel.

3. Once your soldering is hot, place the damp cloth on your nut, being sure that the damp part of the cloth covers the crack where the nut makes contact with your fingerboard.

4. Now use the soldering iron to shoot steam into the the space between the nut and the fingerboard. Move the soldering iron from side to side, from one end of the nut to the other. (The steam will loosen any glue on the face of the nut.)

electric_soder

5. Use a block of wood or plastic block, and a mallet, to tap (or pry) the nut out and remove it.

How to Make a Shim

Now that the nut is out, it’s time to shim it up. First, use a razor blade to cut out a small shim of self adhering acetate or wood. (Some players are purists and reject this step on principal. Others don’t mind. If you can’t bare the thought of placing a shim under your nut, then you’ll need to replace it.)

1. Cut the shim out and attach it to the nut. If you’re using an adhesive back as your shim material then this is very simple process. You just remove the backing from the acetate and and stick it to your nut. If you’re using wood, you’ll need to glue it in place and let it set overnight.

2. Use a razor blade to make your shim flush with the sides of the nut.

Replace the Nut

1. Place a very small dab of glue on the face of your nut (center)  and spread it across the surface with your finger.

glue_nut_electric

2. Carefully put the nut back into place and and wipe away any excess glue that overflowed onto the fret board with a damp cloth.

3. Restring your guitar.

4. Assess the height of your strings with a feeler gauge.

electric_feeler1

5. Hopefully, if things worked out right, your strings are either just right or a little too high. If some strings are still sitting too low then your shim wasn’t thick enough and you’ll need to remove the strings again and raise the nut a little higher (better a little too high than too low this time; you don’t want to have to keep removing the nut and shimming it up).

- If your strings are sitting at the right height, then you’re done with this step and can continue your setup.

- If some strings are too high now, then you’ll want to file down your nut slots to get them to the right height.

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How to Fix Back Bow on an Electric Guitar

A back bowed neck can cause all sorts of problems, so if you have one, it’s the first thing you’ll want to fix as you run your guitar through a setup. The good news is, a back bow is usually easy to fix. In this tutorial I’ll explain the full process of detecting and fixing a back bow, from start to finish.

Cause

The normal cause of back bow is an over-tightened truss rod. If your truss rod is too tight then the neck will usually bow backwards. In order to fix this, you’ll want to loosen the truss rod and relieve the pressure it’s exerting on the neck. You can do this by turning the truss rod nut (or bolt) counter clockwise with a hex key or socket wrench. As you do this, the tension exerted by the strings will pull the neck forward (this is why it’s important to keep your guitar tuned to pitch when you’re trying to straighten out your neck).

The Adjustment

Now it’s time for the actual adjustment. Use a hex key or socket wrench to do this. (The type of tool you use here depends on the type of truss rod in your guitar).

1. First of all, obey the golden rule of setup and TUNE YOUR GUITAR TO PITCH. (E, A, D, G, B, E)

1b. If you have a truss rod cover, you’ll want to remove it now.

2. Loosen your truss rod using a hex key or socket wrench by turning it a quarter turn or so counter clockwise (counter clockwise = to the left).

3. Use a straight edge to see if you were able to remove the back bow from your neck. (If you don’t know how to do this click here ).

4. Continue steps 1 through 3 until the back bow in your neck is gone. (Be careful not to over do it. over loosening or over tightening a truss rod could cause it to snap, and you don’t want that to happen.)

5. Now you’ll want to do one last check to make sure you didn’t loosen your truss rod too much (this would cause a forward bow). Repeat step 4, above. If you loosen your truss rod too much, then you might notice a forward bow in the neck. This is easy to fix. Just repeat steps 1 through 3 above, but tighten the truss rod by turning it to the right this time. (Remember the rhyme: “lefty loosey, righty tighty.)

6. Okay, last step. Do one more visual assessment on you neck to be sure you’ve completely eliminated any back bow and haven’t caused any other neck problems.

Complete?

Now that you’ve fixed the back bow in your guitar’s neck, you’ve completely changed your guitar. You’ll want to continue running your guitar through a setup at this point. This will help eliminate any other problems that straightening your guitar’s neck might have caused or may cause in the future.

WARNING! – Running your guitar through a setup could cause it to sound and play better than it ever has before.

Continue Setup –>

- Tip -

Some luthiers suggest letting the neck rest overnight before continuing the setup. This will allow the neck to settle into its new tension position.

If you found this tutorial helpful please leave a comment below, bookmark this site or use the “Share This” link below to share this tutorial with your friends. – You can also find out out how to make you guitar sound 100% better by buying one of our DVDs. All purchases come with a 100% satisfaction guarantee. See Details–>

You can also continue this tutorial and find out how to run your guitar through a setup, by clicking the link below.

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(2 of 5) Nut Assessment and Adjustment

Tools (Hover Over Links in Tools Section to See Examples)
Nut Files
Feeler Gauges with a .006in (.152mm) gauge.
Metal Straight Edge
Clear Acetate
Soldering Iron
Sand Paper
Flat-ended Chisel or Flathead Screwdriver
Wooden or Plastic block
Wood or Plastic Mallet
Cloth or Paper Towel

Assessment

We’ve set a firm foundation with proper neck assessment and adjustment, now it’s time to put some walls up and assess and adjust the nut as necessary. The goal here is to make sure that the action is set properly at the nut. If your strings are too low at the nut, then you’ll almost definitely be experiencing some fret buzz when you play your guitar. If the strings are too high, then you might be having some difficulty playing chords and scales close to the nut. In this tutorial you’ll learn how to determine if your strings are too high or too low and how to adjust them accordingly.

Assessment Process

1. Tune your guitar to standard pitch (E, A, D, G, B, E).

2. Lay your guitar down on your work surface. Rest the neck on a brace if you have one.

3. Fret your E6 string at the fourth fret.

4. Now, while still fretting the string, slide a .006 feeler gauge between the first fret of your guitar and the bottom of the E6 string.

5. What you’re looking for here is a slight drag. You should be able to slide the feeler gauge between the bottom of the string and the top of the first fret fairly easily, but not without a little drag. If it’s very difficult or impossible to slide the feeler gauge between the bottom of the string and the top of the first fret, then the string is too low and your nut needs to be shimmed up or replaced. If it’s too easy and there is almost no drag or no drag at all when you slide the feeler gauge, then your E6 is too high and you’ll want to file down the slot that it sits in.

electric_feeler1

6. Continue assessing each of the remaining strings (A, D, G, B, E).

Results

Okay, so now that you’ve assessed the condition of your guitar’s nut and made a diagnosis it’s time to make some adjustments. Depending on the results of your assessment you may either need to file down some nut slots, raise your nut with a shim, do both, or do nothing.

Here are the possible outcomes of your assessment (paired with actions):

A. All or some strings sit too low.
Adjustment: First shim up the nut to raise the lowest strings or strings to the correct height, then file down the strings that are too high.
How to Raise a Nut with a Shim –>

B. All or some strings sit too high.
Adjustment: File down the strings that sit too high.
How to File Down Nut Slots –>

C. Some Strings sit too high while others sit too low.
Adjustment: In this case you’ll want to shim up the nut so that the strings that are sitting too low are all raised to at least proper height. Then you’ll want to use your nut files to file down the strings that are sitting to high.
How to Sand Down a Nut Properly –>

D. All strings sit at the desired height already.
Adjustment: Well aren’t you lucky. Move on to the next step in the setup.

Next Step –>


(3 of 5) How to Set the Action at the Bridge on an Electric Guitar

Now the first thing that should be said is that there is quite a lot of variation in electric guitar Bridges. This tutorial focuses on Fender Stratocaster/Telecaster style bridges.

Tools

  • Ruler that measures 1/64 in. ( millimeters if you’re using metric)
  • Hex Key
  • Electronic Tuner
  • Screwdriver
  • Assessing the Action

    1. Use the ruler that measures 64ths of an inch (or mm) to check the string height at the 12th fret of your guitar. The ruler should rest on top of the 12th fret. You want to be measuring the space between the top of the 12th fret and the bottom of the string that you’re measuring.

    electric_action

    Here are the recommended String Height Measurements for an electric guitar (this is really a matter of personal taste and you should feel free to experiment with other measurements. These are only recommendations):

    Standard
    E6 – 5/64 in.
    A5 – 4.75/64 in.
    D4 – 4.5/64 in.
    G3 – 4.25/64/in.
    B2 – 4.15/64in.
    E1 – 4/64in.

    Metric
    E6 – 1.98mm
    A5 – 1.87mm
    D4 – 1.78mm
    G3 – 1.67mm
    B2 – 1.63mm
    E1 – 1.57mm

    These are extremely fine measurements. The main goal is to achieve a gradual tapering down of the height of the E6 string to the E1 string.

    Adjustment

    If any string is too high or too low, you’ll want to use the small hex key to either lower it or raise it.

    1. Tune the string to pitch.

    2. Lower it or raise it (depending on your measurement) using the small hex key you have. On fender style bridge, this is accomplished by turning the very small screws in each saddle of the bridge (there should be two in each saddle). Be sure to raise or lower each saddle screw by the same amount. If you raise or lower one screw more than it’s mate, it could result in a sympathetic buzzing of one of the screws against the surface of the bridge (this sounds nasty, so you want to avoid it).

    3. Each time you raise or lower a saddle, you’ll want to tune it back to pitch. (Raising a saddle raises the pitch of the string. Lowering one, lowers the pitch).

    4. Once the string has been tuned to pitch again, measure its height again.

    5. Repeat steps 1 – 4 as necessary, until the string is at it’s desired height.

    If this is the first time your guitar has ever been setup, you may be amazed by just how much better it feels to play. Now it’s time to really take your sound to the next level by setting the intonation on your instrument properly.

    Next Step –>


    (4 of 5) How to Set the Intonation on Your Electric Guitar

    Setting Your Intonation

    Tools
    Electronic Tuner
    Philips Head Screwdriver

    Your guitar should be feeling pretty good to play at this point in the setup, but you may still be experiencing some intonation problems. In this section we’re going to add the icing to the cake by helping you get that clean and clear sound all serious guitarists strive for. Warning – you may be amazed by how much better your playing sounds after you carry out this step correctly.

    Setting the intonation on an instrument is something a lot of guitarists do without carrying out the first three steps of the five step setup. Using our house analogy; that’s like trying to build a beautiful house out of sheet rock, windows and shingles – (good luck). You need a foundation, walls and a roof first!

    Straightening your neck and setting the action at the nut and at the bridge were the foundation, walls and roof of your setup. They all set the stage for the warm, clean and bright intonation that you’ll learn how to set in this tutorial. If you’ve taken the time to walk through the first three steps of the five step electric guitar setup, then you’re in a great position to get started on this fourth step.

    Assessment

    1. Play the harmonic of the low E string (E6).
    2. Make sure the string is perfectly set to pitch using your electronic tuner.
    3. Now play an E at the 12th fret of the E6 string and check its intonation. The tone of the the E played at the 12th fret of the E string should be dead on. If the note comes up as sharp or flat on your tuner then you’ll want to adjust the intonation of the string at the bridge.

    intonation_electric

    What to Do

    “If the note is higher, stretch that tire. If the note is lower, bring her forward.”

    The quote above is from the one and only Al Markasky. It’s a good way to remember what to do once you’ve made a diagnosis of a given string’s intonation. If the fretted note is sharp, then you’ll want to increase the length of the string. If the fretted note is flat then you’ll want to bring your saddle forward and decrease the length of the string.

    Adjustment 1 (Naturalizing a Sharp Note)

    If the note at the twelfth fret is sharp, then you’ll want to increase the length of the string by bringing the saddle of that string back (stretch the tire).

    1. Using a screwdriver, bring the saddle back, by tightening the screw at it’s base just an 1/8th of a turn or so.

    saddleadjust_electric

    2. Tune the string back to pitch.

    3. Check the intonation of the string using the assessment method above.

    4. Repeat steps 1 – 3 until the harmonic played at the 12th fret and the fretted note at the 12th fret are set to the correct pitch.

    Adjustment (Naturalizing a Flat Note)

    If the note at the twelfth fret is sharp, then you’ll want to increase the length of the string by bringing the saddle of that string forward.

    1. Using a screwdriver, bring the saddle forward, by loosening the screw at it’s base just an 1/8th of a turn or so.

    2. Tune the string back to pitch.

    3. Check the intonation of the string using the assessment method above.

    4. Repeat steps 1 – 3 until the harmonic played at the 12th fret and the fretted note at the 12th fret are set to the correct pitch.

    Play a few chords and notes at different point on the neck to check the intonation. Chances are you’ll be amazed by just how much better you guitar feels and sounds. Now it’s time for the last step: setting the pickup height.

    Next Step –>


    (5 of 5) How to Set the Pickup Height on Your Electric Guitar

    Tools

    Screwdriver
    Ruler that measures 64ths of an in (or mm)

    There are many variations in pickups. In this tutorial, we’ll talk about setting pickup height on Fender style double coiled pickups. Now, just like setting the action at the bridge, pickup height is a matter of personal taste, a preference. Almost everybody wants to avoid the following problems with pickups, though:

    1. Strings buzzing against the pickup
    2. Magnetic pull of pickup effecting intonation
    3. Uneven pickup height –> (Causes uneven volume)
    4. Weak signal (caused by low pickups)

    Fret MD Recommended Pickup Heights:

    • 1/8th of an in. (3.18 mm)

    Assessment

    Assessment can be done by measuring or by ear.

    Measurement

    1. Press down on the very last fret of a string (your E6 string for example).

    2. Now use your ruler to measure the distance between the top of the pickup sensor and the bottom of the fretted E6 string.

    pickup_electric5

    3. Repeat this for all pickups and then take measurements of the E6 string. All pickups should be even and at the same height. You want to avoid slanted pickups and having pickups set at different heights.

    By Ear

    Use the pickup selector switch on your guitar to alternate between pickups. Play the same chord and listen to how it sounds on different pickups. Does it sound louder in certain positions than others? If yes, then you’ll want to measure and adjust your pickup height.

    Adjustment.

    1. Use a screwdriver to raise and/or lower the pickups to your desired height. making sure that all pickups are evenly set to the same height.

    pickups2

    Congratulations! You’re done with the setup. Enjoy the sound and feel of your beautifully setup instrument. If you have any questions or encounter any difficulty with your setup then please feel free to post on our forum. If you found the images used in the post helpful, it may be of use to you to know that they were almost all pulled from our DVDs.

    Happy playing!


    (1 of 5) How to Assess and Adjust an Electric Guitar Neck

    A bowed neck can cause all sorts of problems. Poor intonation and fret buzz are among the top two. In this tutorial you’ll learn how to check the straightness of a guitar neck and make adjustments based on your assessment. A properly adjusted neck lays the foundation for a good setup.

    Tools

    • 12 or 15 in. (30cm or 40cm) Metal Straight Edge
    • Alan Wrench, Hex Key or Socket Wrench
    • Light Piece of Paper, Paper Towel or light cloth to use as a backdrop
    • Phillips Head Screwdriver (if your guitar has a truss rod cover)

    Visual Assessment

    First, hold your guitar up and sight down the treble and bass sides of your instrument’s neck checking for any signs of a bow.

    Physical Assessment (and Diagnoses)

    1. Place a straight edge flat on the frets in the middle of your guitar’s neck between the E and A strings. Now check for any rocking by alternating slight pressure downward on the opposite ends of the ruler.
    Diagnosis: If the ruler rocks up and down at all, your guitar probably has a back bow.

    2. Now check for any signs of a gap underneath the frets. (You should use a white piece of paper or a light colored cloth as the back drop when you do this.)
    Diagnosis: If you notice a gap between some of the frets and the bottom of the ruler then you probably have a forward bow.

    3. Repeat Steps 3 and 4, first between the D and G strings, and then between the B and E strings.

    Once you complete your assessment you should have a good picture of the overall health of your guitar’s neck. If you were able to assess your neck’s condition correctly, then you will know whether you have a back bow or a forward bow; or if you’re lucky and your neck is perfectly straight.

    Adjustment

    During your assessment you should have been able to determined whether your neck has a back bow or a forward bow. Click one of the links below to determine how to correct a back bow or forward bow. (If your neck has no bow in it at all then you should move on to the next step.)

    How to Fix a Back Bow –>

    How to Fix a Forward Bow –>

    Next Step –>