How to Shim Up a Nut on an Acoustic 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 pull them to the sides of your neck so that the nut is exposed.
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 joint where the nut makes contact with your fingerboard.
4. Now use the soldering iron to force steam into the the space between the nut and the fingerboard, moving the soldering iron and cloth back and forth from one end of the nut to the other. (The steam will soften the glue that holds the nut in place.)
soderingiron
5. Use a scribe to seperate the finish between the nut and the headstock overlay. Note: Sometimes  the finish that was used on the headstock will be stuck to the nut. If you don’t use the scribe to separate the nut from the headstock finish, you could cause some damage to the headstock finish.
6. Use a block of wood or plastic block, and a mallet, to tap 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,  clean up the bottom of the nut by passing it over a flat block or table with 220 grit sandpaper then clean up the slot where the nut was sitting with a flat file. (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 (make sure its over sized) and and stick it to your nut. Transparent pick guard material works well for this job.  If you’re using wood, you’ll need to glue it in place and let it set overnight.

2. Use a razor blade,  shave off any excess plastic and make sure your shim is flush with all sides of the sides of the nut.  If your using wood, it should match the neck (usually Mahogany).  Again it should be over sized before you glue it to the nut. After it dries, chisel, then sand the wood flush with the nut.

Replace the Nut

1. Place a very small dab of glue on the face of your nut, in the center with tightbond or any other aliphatic resin type glue that your local hardware store carries.

dabofglue

2. Carefully slide 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.

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.

Next Step –>

<– Previous Step


How to Sand Down a Nut on an Acoustic Guitar

Sanding Down the Top the Nut

As a general rule, the top of the nut should be sanded down so that half of each string’s diameter sits above the nut. When strings sit too deeply in the nut, they tend to creak during tuning and can break more easily. Sympathetic buzzing is also a common symptom of strings sitting too low in the nut.

Sanding Down the Bottom of The Nut

When sanding down the bottom of a guitar nut, the most important thing is to be able to sand slowly, on an even surface and check the nut often, taking care not to remove too much material.

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 sanding job.)

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 that the nut sits at the desired height.

5. Replace the nut, 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 correct 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.

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

Next Step –>

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How to File Down Nut Slots on an Acoustic Guitar

Filing 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.

nutfile2

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 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 to 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. Now you may have some strings that are to high. Just repeat the former process with the feeler gauge until you have the perfect string height.

Next Step –>

<– Previous Step


How to Shim Up a Low Saddle on an Acoustic Guitar

Tools

Sanding Block
Ruler
Pencil
Pliers
Nippers
Shim Material
Razor Blade (for Cutting out Shim)

In general, raising a saddle is a fairly simple operation. You’ll want to do it when your action is too low at the 12th fret. You’ll need to remove your saddle, create a shim, place the shim material in the bridge slot and then replace the saddle [on top of the shim]. In this tutorial we’ll explain how to carry out this adjustment.

Remove the Saddle

You’ll want to either remove your strings or loosen them enough to remove the saddle to do this.

1. Remove or sufficiently loosen your strings.

2. Use your fingers or nippers (if its to tight) to pull the saddle up and then out of its slot in the bridge.

Making a Shim

There are many different possible materials which can be used to make a shim. In Fret MD: Acoustic Guitar Setup and Maintenance, Al Markasky uses 1/64 in. ebony for the job. The thickness of your shim is a matter of the difference between your desired and actual string height at the 12th fret of your instrument.

Procedure

1. Measure the width and length of your bridge slot.

2. Use a ruler and a razor blade to cut a long strip from your shim material which is the width of bridge slot.

ebonyshim

3. Use nippers or a razor blade to cut the shim to the length of your bridge slot.

4. Place the shim inside the bridge slot.

shiminbrdg

Replace the saddle

1. Slide the saddle back into the bridge.

2. If you removed your strings, you’ll want to restring your guitar and tune it back to pitch.

Congratulations! You’re done, with your setup!

Chances are, if this is the first time you’ve had your guitar set up, you’ll be amazed by just how much better it sounds and feels. If you’d like to actually see how a setup is done from start to finish, we recommend Fret MD: Acoustic Guitar Setup and Maintenance. Some things are better on video. In our DVDs you’ll learn tips and tricks which, for the sake of conciseness and clarity, we have omitted from our setup tutorials.

If you have any questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to post them either on our forum or in the comments sections of tutorials and articles.

Happy playing!


Sanding Down an Acoustic Guitar Saddle

A saddle that’s too high usually causes intonation problems and can make a guitar harder to play by making the action to high. In general, sanding down an acoustic guitar saddle is pretty easy. It’s something you’ll want to do when your action is too high. In this tutorial you’ll learn how to sand an acoustic guitar saddle down to the right height.

Tools

Sanding Block
Ruler
Pencil
Nippers or Pliers

Steps:

Remove the Saddle

replacesaddle

You’ll want to either remove your strings or loosen them enough to remove the saddle to do this.

1. Remove or sufficiently loosen your strings.

2. Use nippers, pliers, or your fingers to pull the saddle up and then out of its slot in the bridge.

Draw a Line

Now you’ll want to determine how much to take off the bottom of your saddle by using the formula below:

The Formula

(Actual Height – Desired Height) x 2 = amount saddle should be lowered.

Once you know how how much to remove from your saddle, use a pencil to draw a line that far above the bottom of the saddle. For example, if you used the formula above and found that your saddle should be 2/64 lower you’ll want to draw a line 2/64in. above the bottom of the saddle. (This will serve as a reference when you begin sanding.) If the amount the saddle should be raised  is negative, then you’ll want to place a shim underneath it or replace the saddle completely. If you don’t know how to determine your desired saddle height, click here.

saddleline

example.

Your E6 is at 7/64″ and your E1 is 6/64″ you’ll want it to be at 6/64″ and 5/64″.

Desired String Height = 6/64″ and 5/64″ at the high E

Actual String Height = 7/64″ and 6/64″.

So . . .

7/64 in. – 6/64 in = 1/64 in.

WAIT!

You’re not quite done yet. Now multiply the difference by two to find out how much to lower your saddle.

1/64″. x 2 = 2/64″.

So you’ll want to draw a line across the bottom of the saddle, 2/64″  above the bottom of the saddle.

saddleline

Sanding

Now it’s time to sand down the bottom of the saddle. Using the example above, this means you’d be sanding 2/64 in. off the bottom of your saddle.

Procedure

1. Attach adhesive sand paper to a sturdy, flat, hard surface.

2. Holding the saddle with the bottom facing down, make gentle passes, checking often to see how much saddle material you’ve removed.

You don’t want to remove too much!

saddlesand

3. Once you’ve removed enough material, the line you drew, should be the bottom of your saddle.

Check the Arc at the Top of the Saddle

The neck of any halfway decent acoustic steel strung guitar will have a natural radius ( There are many stringed instrument that have no radius: classical guitars, banjos, mandolins,etc) across the fingerboard. The radius can be anywhere from 9 to 16 feet (2.74m – 4.88m). The images below, illustrate this concept, using the example of a saddle and neck with a 12 foot arc.

saddle_arcneck_arc

Replace the saddle

1. Slide the saddle back in to the bridge.

replacesaddle

2. If you removed your strings, you’ll want to restring your guitar and tune it back to pitch.

Voila! You’re done, with your setup!

Chances are, if this is the first time you’ve had your guitar set up, you’ll be amazed by just how much better it sounds and feels. If you want to learn how a setup is done from start to finish, check out our DVD!

This DVD is packed with useful information and insights on guitar setup. You’ll learn how to get the best possible sound and feel out of your acoustic guitar through doing a proper setup. There is no gimmick, no smoke and mirrors pure content. The host of the video, Al Markasky is a renowned luthier with over thirty years of experience. In this video he will share insights he’s gathered, techniques he’s perfected and secrets not included on this website, all for less than the price of a professional setup.

Don’t wait!

Learn how to set up your own guitar today! Your purchase comes with a 60 day, 100%  money back guarantee. If you’re not completely satisfied with your purchase just send us an email within 60 days explaining why and we’ll refund your money. We’re confident in our product and are sure that you will find it incredibly valuable.


How to Correct a Forward Bow on an Acoustic Guitar

forward-bow

Fixing a forward bow is usually pretty straightforward. The problem here is that your truss rod is too loose and isn’t exerting enough pressure against the neck, and the strings are having their way and pulling the neck forward. In this case, you’ll want to tighten your truss rod to increase its resistance to the force exerted by the strings.

The Adjustment

Now it’s time for the actual adjustment. Use a hex key or socket wrench to do this.

1. First, if you have a truss rod cover, you’ll want to remove it with a screwdriver.

truss_cover

2. Now, tighten the truss rod using your hex key or socket wrench by turning it a quarter turn or so, clockwise. (A guitar’s truss rod is usually accessible through the sound hole or at the head of the guitar).  If the nut is to tight and hard to turn,  you should abort this mission before you snap the rod. You’ve most likely ran out of threads. You can take the nut off and add a washer or two, (this will give you a few more turns). If that’s not enough, you have a serious problem and should see a luthier.

tighten_trussrod2

3. Use a straight edge to see if you were able to remove the forward bow from your neck. (Refer to the “physical assessment” procedure detailed in the previous step.)

Continue steps 1 and 2 until the forward bow in your neck is gone.

Now you’ll want to do one last check to make sure you didn’t tighten your truss rod too much. (This would cause a back bow). Carry out one last “physical assessment,” as detailed in the previous step to make sure you’ve removed any forward bow from the guitar’s neck.

Okay, last step. Do one more visual assessment of your neck to be sure you’ve completely eliminated any forward bow and haven’t caused any other neck problems. If you don’t see any signs of other problems then you’re done with this part of the setup. Give yourself a pat on the back. Refasten your truss rod cover to your guitar.

Completion

Now you’re done adjusting your neck. You can continue the setup, but some luthiers suggest letting the neck rest over night before continuing the setup. This will allow the neck to settle in it’s new tension position before continuing a setup.

Next Step –>

<– Previous Step


How to Correct a Back Bow on an Acoustic Guitar

back-bow

If your guitar neck has a back bow, then there will be a high spot in the middle of your neck will. A back bowed neck can cause all sorts of intonation and playing problems, including fret buzz, so if you have one, it’s the first thing you’ll want to fix as you run you guitar through a setup.

The normal cause of back bow is an over-tightened truss rod. That is, your truss rod is too tight and is exerting too much pressure on the neck. In order to remedy this, you’ll want to loosen the truss rod and allow the tension exerted by the strings to pull the neck forward.

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 truss rod in your guitar).

1. First, if you have a truss rod cover, you’ll want to remove it.

truss_cover

2. Now, loosen your truss rod with your hex key or socket wrench by turning it a quarter turn or so counter clockwise.

tighten_trussrod2

3. Use a straight edge to see if you were able to remove the back bow from your neck. (“Physical Assessment,” in the previous step.)

4. Continue steps 1 and 2 until the back bow in your neck is gone. (Be careful not to over do it). If you loosen it to much, to the point where theres no tension on the truss rod at all, the nut your tightening could begin to rattle when playing. So make sure the nut is left snug.  If the neck still has a back bow, you have more serious issues. You either heat up the neck and force it into a straight position or pull the frets or  sand the fingerboard level and refret. These jobs are for another show.

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 the “Physical Assessment,” explained in the previous step.

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.

Completion

Now that you’re done adjusting your neck, you can continue running through the 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.

Next Step –>

<– Previous Step


How to Improve Your Sound

saddleadjust_electric

My name is Orion Kubow and I want to explain a simple method which I used to completely improve the sound and feel of my guitar. Rather than just throw a bunch of information at you, I thought I’d begin this post by asking you some questions.

Questions:

  • Have you ever wondered why some guitars have fret buzz?
  • Have you noticed that chords sound out of tune on some guitars even when the guitar is perfectly tuned to pitch?
  • Have you ever noticed that some guitars just feel better than others to play?

The reasons for these problems used to be a mystery to me. I assumed that some guitars were just better than others and that was that.

Let’s go back in time to 2007:

I was playing guitar on a regular basis, but I didn’t know much of anything about the mechanical elements of my guitar. I had a Fender Stratocaster and I was always a little unhappy with the way it sounded. The intonation was always a little off, the low E string tended to buzz a lot and one of the tone knobs never seemed to work. One day I was playing it in my living room when my roommate walked in . . .

“Nice guitar,” he said.

“Not really” I griped and proceeded to complain to him about all of the problems that I was experiencing with it. My roommate was a guitarist too and he told me to take my guitar to Al Markasky and ask for a setup. Al, he happily explained, was a local luthier with a shop in Santa Cruz. I took my guitar in to Al the next day and asked him to do a setup. I wasn’t really expecting much.

I picked up the guitar a couple of days later and was amazed!

All of the problems were gone and the guitar sounded better than ever. It also seemed easier to play and I could play faster than before. I asked Al what he had done to make the guitar so much better and he proceeded to tell me all about his setup work. A few weeks later I came back to Al and asked him if he’d like to co-produce a DVD on guitar setup. He thought about it for a while and then eventually agreed.

Al and I produced two DVDs and created this website to help share the knowledge that completely changed the sound and feel of my guitar for the better. We’re sharing this information with you in three different formats:

1. DVDs

Our DVDs sell for the incredible value of $29.95 on CreateSpace.com (less than the cost of a professional guitar setup) and both come with a 100% satisfaction guarantee. If you’re not absolutely satisfied with our DVDs we’ll refund 100% of your purchase price. Just send us an email at editor (at) fretmd (dot) com within 60 days of your purchase and we’ll send you instructions on how to get your refund. More information on our guarantee here.

As you can see, we’re passionate about our products and believe in their value. Our money back guarantee is proof of that. If you’re still not convinced, just browse our product reviews on Amazon.com to see what others have to say about us.

Please make use of this website to the max and don’t be afraid to sign up and post a comment if you’ve found our site useful.

2. Video Clips

We’ve taken some great clips from our DVDs which you can view for free here. Some of the clips are embedded in our interactive tutorials.

3. Free Tutorials

We wanted to give our customers a way to read all of the information that they learned in the DVDs. One of the weaknesses of the DVDs is; it’s hard to remember the numbers of certain measurments and the various types of tools that Al uses in the DVDs; (and you don’t really want to keep rewinding). For this reason we decided to publish tutorials. We spent hours writing and rewriting these tutorials together. They’re now available to you, 24/7 free of charge.

I hope you make maximum use of all of the resources we’ve made available to you on this website. Please leave comments and make use of our share links to share our articles and tutorials with friends when you find them useful.


(2 of 3) Nut Assessment and Adjustment on an Acoustic Guitar

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 up some walls and assess and adjust your 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 annoying fret buzz when you play. If they’re too high, then you might be having a lot of difficulty playing chords and scales around 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.

feeler_guage1

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.

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

Results/Diagnosis

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 adjustments):

A. All or some strings sit too low.
Adjustment: First shim up the nut so that the lowest string is raised to the correct height, then file down the nut slots for the strings that are too high. You’ll also want to sand down the top of the nut if necessary.
How to Raise a Nut with a Shim –>

B. All or some strings sit too high.
Adjustment: File down the nut slots for the strings that sit too high and then sand down the top of the nut if necessary.
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. You’ll also want to sand down the top of the nut if necessary.
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 –>


(1 of 3) Neck Assessment and Adjustment on an Acoustic Guitar

Tools

  • 12 or 15 in. 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)

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 your neck and make adjustments based on your diagnosis.

Visual Assessment

1. 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.

sitedown_neck

Physical Assessment

2. 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 between the ends of the ruler. If the ruler rocks up and down at all, then you probably have a forward bow in your neck.

neck

4. 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 for this. If you notice a gap between some of the frets and the bottom of the ruler then you probably have a forward bow.

neck_backdrop

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

Now you should have a good picture of the overall health of your guitar’s neck. If you assessed your neck’s condition correctly, you should know if you have a back bow or a forward bow; or if you’re lucky and your neck is perfectly straight.

Adjustment

7. This is where the variations start in your setup. During your visual assessment you should have determined whether your neck has a back bow or a forward bow.  If you neck has a bow in it, click on one of the links below to determine how to correct it.

How to Fix a Back Bow –>

How to Fix a Forward Bow –>

Next Step –>