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 Shim Up a Nut on a Bass

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. Loosen all of the strings from your bass.
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. The steam will soften any glue on the face of the nut. Move the soldering iron and cloth up and down the length of the nut to evenly inject steam into the gap between the nut and the fingerboard.
5. 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, 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.

Reinstall the Nut

1. Place a very small dab of glue on the face of your nut (center). To much glue could create problems the next time you try to remove it.

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 bass.

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.

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How to Correct a Forward Bow on a Bass

The problem here is usually that your truss rod is too loose and isn’t exerting enough pressure against the strings and the strings are having their way and pulling the neck forward. Strings on a tuned instrument exert anywhere from 132 to 140lbs of pressure against a bass neck. In this case, you’ll want to tighten your truss rod to increase its resistance to the pressure 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.
2. Now, tighten the truss rod using an alan wrench, hex key or socket wrench by turning it a quarter turn or so counter clockwise.
3. Use a straight edge to see if you were able to remove the forward bow from your neck. (Step 4 in the assessment)

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). Repeat the physical assessment procedure outlined in the previous step.

last step

Do one more visual assessment on you 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 bass using a screwdriver, if you have one).

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

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How to Correct a Back Bow on a Bass

If your bass has a back bow in it’s neck, this means that the neck is arching away form the bridge of your bass. 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 fix a back bow, you’ll want to loosen the tension of your truss rod and allow the tension of the strings to pull your neck forward.

The Adjustment
Now it’s time for the actual adjustment. Use an alan wrench, hex key or socket wrench to do this. (The type of tool you use here depends on the truss rod in your bass).
1. First, if you have a truss rod cover, you’ll want to remove it.

truss_cover
2. Now, loosen use your truss rod with your alan wrench, hex key or socket wrench by turning it a quarter turn or so counter clockwise.
3. Use a straight edge to see if you were able to remove the back bow from your neck. (Step 3 in the assessment)
4. Continue steps 1 and 2 until the back bow in your neck is gone. (Be careful not to over do it. over loosening or over
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 of the assessment.
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 you’re done adjusting your neck. You can continue the setup. Some luthiers, including Al Markasky, 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.

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(1 of 5) How to Assess and Adjust a Bass Neck

bassfeeler

Tools

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

Physical Assessment and Diagnosis

electric_straightedge

2. Place a straight edge flat on the frets in the middle of your bass’ 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.

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 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 back bow.

5. 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

7. 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.)

Correct Bass Neck Forward Bow –>

Correct Bass Neck Back Bow –>

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(3 of 5) How to Set the Action on a Bass Guitar

Tools

Ruler that measures 1/64 in. ( millimeters if you’re using metric)
Hex Key
Electronic Tuner
Screwdriver
Now the first thing that should be said is that there is quite a lot of variation in electric bass Bridges. This tutorial focuses on Fender Stratocaster/Telecaster style bridges.

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 bass. 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.
Here are the recommended String Height Measurements for an electric bass (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 bass 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.

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(4 of 5) How to Set the Intonation on a Bass Guitar

Tools

  • Electronic Tuner
  • Philips Head Screwdriver

Your bass 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 bassists 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 bassists 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 bass 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.

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.
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 bass feels and sounds. Now it’s time for the last step: setting the pickup height.

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