Crawls Backward (When Alarmed)

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Bone Becomes Nut

Next we make a few passes with each of the appropriate files.  The idea here isn't to go to the full depth, but to get enough of a slot started so we can string it up.

This is probably a better angle of the nut.  You can see I also made a pass with a 'nut file' across the top - it follows the curve of the fingerboard.

None of this is too difficult to do in terms of the actual labor/craft.  The most critical elements are the slot depths, the slot widths and the distance between the slots.  I've made a handful of nuts and I find I tend to make the slots too deep.  But you live and learn with experience.

I've mentioned the files I have a number of times.  I have seven that are for filing nut slots, and two that are small nut files for shaping.  The slot files are gauged, while the nut files are two-sided - to include a coarse, medium, fine and extra fine file. Do you need all these specialized tools?  Not necessarily.  A lot of folks online claim they can just use razor saws for the slots and use woodworking files for the shaping.  The files I have weren't overly expensive, and I figured they'd be worth the investment.  Plus, I just dig neat tools!

With the nut beginning to (ahem) take shape, I'm a-gonna string up the geetar.  I'm using DR "Pure Blues" nickel strings these days.  I really like the tone - not as bright as GHS Boomers (which I used to use), and I think they tend to last longer (corrode less) than the Boomers.


Here we are strung up to pitch.  The string height is obviously way way too high.  The process now is simple, just a bit tedious.  I'll file each of the slots down, and also take some of the height off the top of the nut.

It takes me three or four passes of this process - nut on, tune to pitch, detune, file, nut back on, etc., until it's done.  I don't do this enough to get it in a couple passes.  Even Dan Erlewine says it takes most pros a few times of taking the nut on and off the guitar to get it perfect.

You may be wondering, "But Mr Yr Fthfl Blggr man, I have seen 'pre-cut' nuts for sale online, why should I cut one?"  The answer is simple.  Each guitar is different.  Even though a Fender (our example) is standardized, you'll get a better playing instrument by custom-making a nut to fit.  And you can also customize to your playing style.  Most production-line guitars will need a good setup - of which is nut is an important part - to play their best.

Before I get too far into the nut-cutting (nutting?), I'm going to put the string retainer on.  The string retainer is the circular thingy in the pixture on the right (red arrow).  This is the old style Fender round retainer.  The earliest Stratocasters (from '54 to '56 I believe) used them until they switched to the "butterfly" style.  Most all Telecasters until the late 60s/early 70s used the round style, until they, too, were changed.  Of course, they're more or less interchangeable.  I'm not sure one's better than the other since functionally they do the same thing - keep the string angle on the E and B strings correct as they pass over the nut and go up to the tuners.

I like the round ones better, and since this is a more-or-less '55-'56 Tele style geetar, I'm going with that.  So there.

I took the measurements off the old neck - see my scrawled dimensions.  Then it's just a matter of transferring the measurements over to the new neck and marking it.  I lined up the new retainer and used its screw to make a small center hole.

Then I used a small (I can't remember the exact size, might have been 1/16...) bit to drill a hole. It's a good idea to "flag" the depth - unless you want to drill a hole all the way through the headstock.  Your choice.

Here we have the retainer in place.  Staring to look like a real geetar at this point - too bad it's pretty much unplayable.  But, ve vill feex dat soon enough!

I like the round retainer so much I changed out my main Strat with one...and also did some other junk to it that I'll be getting on here too.


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