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How do you guys set up a nut?

JockoJocko Posts: 6,870Member, Moderator
I have spent the last few nights doing nut set ups on a range of guitars. I blew one nut by taking one slot too low and had to end up shimming the nut. I will replace it eventually but the shim will do mean time.
How do you guys set up a nut ( almost typed "your nuts")?
I measure the fret height using a steel block and feeler gauges. I then add about 12 thou to that size and with a tattie set of gauges set to that size and placed behind the nut I file down to the feeler gauges.
With the string back in place I depress string at third fret and check for clearance over the first fret. I am looking for a barely perceptible gap between string and first fret.
I would appreciate any feedback from you guys as to how you do it, other methods, horror stories anything to help me improve my methods.


  • LesterLester Posts: 1,503Member, Moderator
    edited August 2016
    I wimp out. I am ashamed but have not acquired the tools to start having a go myself. That said, the only nut I have had to replace was on a brand new Gibson. Richard's chap did a great job, better than I could have.
  • MegiMegi Posts: 6,703Member
    The nuts I've done so far, I used a similar approach to you, i.e. depress string between 2nd and 3rd fret, and cut to a barely perceptible gap over the 1st fret - I can just hear a faint "ping" if I tap the string down to the 1st fret. Actually probably just a smidge more clearance for the bass E string seems about right to me, it seems to need it. Depends how hard you pluck the strings though!

    I've cut the slots using a variety of improvised tools, including those welding nozzle tip cleaners they sell for guitar nuts on ebay, also folded bits of fine sandpaper and bits of guitar string with fine sandpaper wrapped round. Some observations:

    1) it takes ages doing it like this
    2) the welding tip cleaners are rubbish, especially on harder materials like bone or graphtech tusq. Also the thin ones are really rubbish.
    3) in general, although I do get there in the end, it's obviously possible to do better!

    So, I'm biting the bullet and ordering a set of proper nut files. I baulk at the cost, but I guess in the end it's worthwhile, especially for guitars fitted with trems where you want the nut as smooth and well cut as possible, but for everything really. Probably going for this set: Tonetech set of 10 nut files but on the cheaper side I have found this: Boston guitar set up kit, including 3 double sided nut files - the description is a bit vague (e.g. does each file cover 2 different slot sizes or not?) and I don't know if the quality is up to the job - maybe worth a punt though.
  • stickyfiddlestickyfiddle Posts: 355Member
    I'd definitely go for the Tonetech set- they'll stay with you a very long time

    "Buy cheap, buy twice" is the classic mantra when buying tools \:\)
  • MegiMegi Posts: 6,703Member
     Originally Posted By: stickyfiddle
    I'd definitely go for the Tonetech set- they'll stay with you a very long time

    "Buy cheap, buy twice" is the classic mantra when buying tools \:\)
    And of course you are absolutely right Sticky - I just hate parting with cold hard cash for unglamorous things like nut files! If it was something more exciting like new pickups, or a cool FX pedal I would have no trouble at all talking myself into the purchase... As you say, they will stay with me a long time, and no doubt prove their worth many times over - OK, I'm ordering them today! \:\)
  • stickyfiddlestickyfiddle Posts: 355Member
    It's like buying guitar cases, isn't it? Not a fun purchase, but defintiley worth spending more on for top quality \:\)
  • Ape09090Ape09090 Posts: 2,744Member
    £90,heebus ,jeebus
  • MegiMegi Posts: 6,703Member
     Originally Posted By: Ape09090
    £90,heebus ,jeebus
    I know! they're expensive - in fact specialist guitar tools seem expensive generally - which is why if I can find a good method that doesn't use them, I will. But I can find no good alternative to proper nut files, and believe me I've tried.

    I guess I have 4 or 5 guitars that could use a well-cut nut, and also I have friends who might want to use my guitar tech services, so looked at that way, the value is acceptable - to me anyway (he said philosophically...).
  • Ape09090Ape09090 Posts: 2,744Member
    and there's definitely no alternative you can use in general tool suppliers?
    Have you looked in the screwfix catalogue?
  • stickyfiddlestickyfiddle Posts: 355Member
    Not to mention if you decide you don't want them any more they'll still be worth a good chunk of that money
  • MegiMegi Posts: 6,703Member
    The bullet has been bitten, the Tonetech set is ordered, eek! Although I hadn't thought of your point re re-sale value Sticky, and I guess that is true - I could get a chunk of the money back on ebay most probably. Anyway, the thing is I want to be able to cut the best nuts possible, and this is the way to go IMO.

    Andrew, no I didn't look through the screwfix catalogue, but something tells me they don't sell a set of round-edged, accurately gauged files from 0.056" down to 0.010" thickness. And when you think about it, that has to be what is required for the job, there's just no way around it. But feel free to look around!
  • MegiMegi Posts: 6,703Member
    Sorry for the unintended thread hijack Jocko...
  • Ape09090Ape09090 Posts: 2,744Member
    I have a Graphtec Tusq nut on it's way to me from America for my PRS SE guitar.
    I've not changed a nut before but this one is pre-cut for PRS guitars so I wimped out a bit by not getting a blank and filing it myself.

    No,screwfix don't go down to that gauge. I checked.
  • MegiMegi Posts: 6,703Member
    Well, maybe the cheaper set of nut files is worth a risk - after all, you haven't lost very much if they don't work. They might be less durable, but if you just need to do a few nuts it could be an OK option.
  • Mark PMark P Posts: 2,180Member
     Originally Posted By: Ape09090
    £90,heebus ,jeebus


    Managed to get a set of "Norman Guitar Nut File System & String Slot Template" on E-Bay just over two years ago - don't know if they're still on the go. But good quality and $68 including postage from the USA. I did buy a cheap set before that - the "files" were so flexible they just bent and didn't file.

    The Tonetech ones look very similar to the Norman files .. but ouch - that price. Though the price of StewMac looks even higher.
  • JockoJocko Posts: 6,870Member, Moderator
    I bought mine from Stew-Mac. I originally bought 8 which covered the sizes I required for my Strats, 335 and LP. I have just ordered a further 4 to complete the range 0.056 to 0.010. That little lot cost me £120 in total.
    I have still three more files to buy to cover bass sizes. They will cost a further £40. I will buy them later in the year.
    I am not a great craftsman and like quality tools to give me the best start.
  • MegiMegi Posts: 6,703Member
    I'm with you on the quality issue Jocko, certainly for the nut cutting game, especially since I've tried some "economy" options and not been happy with the performance. The nut files are expensive items for what they are (or they seem like that to me) but they are very much a minority, specialist kind of thing, and that does tend to put the price up, just economics.

    I did seriously think about the cheaper set I found, but for one thing I didn't know what I was buying exactly re gauges. Plus I did want to have 0.010 and 0.013 sizes, which I don't think any of the cheap sets include - they usually seem to start with a 0.016. Also, I need the 0.056 for heavier guage strings sometimes (I use 13-56 on my jazz guitar) and I want to always have a size close to the gauge of whatever string I'm cutting for - so the 10 file set makes sense. If I'd bought the cheap set, I would have ended up supplementing it with more single file sizes anyway. Plus the quality question of course. So on this occasion, it had to be the "posh" option for me!
  • BryBry Posts: 589Member
    My method.... I log on here and see how you lot would do it.
  • Ape09090Ape09090 Posts: 2,744Member
  • Rock'n'RollMouseRock'n'RollMouse Posts: 21Member
    Has/does anyone use razor saws?

    These blades are available in fine widths, the smallest I've seen is .008"
    They cut on the pull,rather than the push stroke.

    Seem like a good idea for top strings, anyone tried, used, or opinions?
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