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Going Nuts - Putting a Bone Nut on the Telecaster

Hoo boy, hoo boy, HOO BOY are we getting close to finishing this puppy!

Now ve are goink to make ze nut!

What we have in hand is a 'vintage' bone nut from Stewart-MacDonald, aka Stew-Mac.  I believe there is a linky to their web site on my related links sidebar.

The nut is a 'Fender' size - basically it's pretty close to the size of a nut slot on a Fender neck.  It does need a bit of trimming, and obviously the string slots need to be cut.  But that's where we come in.

The nut is a bit too wide, so we just take a file, lay it on the bench and, holding the nut against the file, take off a bit of one side.  It won't take much at all.  I think eight, ten, maybe a dozen strokes did it.

I'd suggest taking a couple of passes and then testing it.  The fit should be tight...we're going to do some more filing and polishing later which will take a bit more off.  But obviously we have to be able to fit the nut into the slot so's we kin cut the slots.

Here's a look at the nut blank in the slot.  I forgot to say earlier that this is called a "blank;" it should be obvious why it's called that, yes?  Here we have a nice fit.

But, you will notice, the thing is real freakin' tall.  I mean like, whoa, that thing is tall.

What we're gonna do is file the slots a bit, then take off some height, file, take off, etc, till we got us a nice new nut.

How's that sound?

What we have here is another Stew-Mac device, which I find almost indispensible.  It's a string width gauge, and you use it to mark out where you nut slots will go.

I used one of my other Fender necks to lay out the two outside E's more or less an eight of an inch in from the edges of the fingerboard.  If you make them too far in, the other strings will be 'pinched' together.  If you make 'em too far out to the edge of the board...well, they'll fall off when you play 'em.

Then you use the gauge and line up two of its slots with the outside E's you have marked.  Then mark the other 4 strings using the gauge.  It's hard to explain, but easy to do in practice.  The gauge accounts for widths between the strings, which is not, as you might think, exactly the same.  For example, since the bass side strings are thicker, their width needs to be compensated for.  This cool little gauge does that!

Now that the slots are marked, I take a thin X-acto razor saw and cut a couple strokes to 'mark' each slot.  We don't need them to be deep at this point - just enough to work with them.

What we're gonna do is put the nut on the geetar, string it up, and then cut each slot with the appropriate width nut file.

One critical element of all this is that the strings must follow a curved radius that's the same as that of the fingerboard.  I suppose you could have them in the same horizontal plane, but it would be difficult to play in the lower positions.

I should mention that this curve holds true only for instruments where the fingerboard is actually radiused...classical guitars and ukuleles have flat boards and they would have a 'flat' plane for the strings to lie in.

Anyway.  How do we get a radius?  Bwahahaha.  We take our handy-dandy radius gauge and draw a curve on the nut blank.  This neck is a 7.25 inch (aka 'vintage') radius, but you could have a 9.5, 12, 16....whatever.  When I do setups, I use this same gauge under the strings at the saddle to set the saddle heights the same way.  If you don't, you'll wind up with the center strings too close to the fretboard and they will buzz and the geetar will play all weird.  Not a good thing.

I have a set of nut files I also got from Stew-Mac.  I have seven which can cover most guitar string gauges, which for me, means .010 or .011 on electric and .012 or .013 on acoustic.

I tried to line up the files with the gauge of string we'll be using them for here...the box o'strings is a 'standard' .010 set.  So the file gauges are .013 (for the high E or .010), .016 (for the .013), .020, .028, .035 and .043.

Each file is a few thousandths wider than the string that will go into each slot.  You can also fudge a bit (mmmmm fudge....) and turn the files as you file a slot which will also make the slot wider as needed.  Still with me?

Oh, I should note, all the dimensions are in inches.  It really is NOT rocket surgery.

The other mark we need to make here at the beginning is a 'depth' mark.  This is the absolute lowest depth we want to file any of the nut slots.  If we go too low, the strings will literally lay on the frets!  Don't ask me how I know this.

I just use a S-M height gauge - it's thin enough to be reasonably accurate.  Once we get close, we can eyeball it - some folks use feeler gauges too.  But at this point, we need some sort of reference to serve as a warning when we're Getting Too Close To The Bottom.

I laid the gauge flat across the first and second frets, and made a mark - pressing down the gauge a bit so it would follow the curve of the fingerboard.   In practice, the bottoms of the bass strings won't go quite as deep as the treble side.


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