Crawls Backward (When Alarmed)

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Finishing the Neck, or "Nuts To You"

The excitement continues!

It's now a back-and-forth, not TOO tedious process to finish the nut.  I'm not so confident that I can just totally wing it, so I file the slots a bit, file the top, file the slots...etc, you get the idea.

I'm trying to get the slots to the point where the strings will clear the first fret by a mere few thousands of an inch (not sure what that would be in millimeters...).  I've found I get too 'greedy' and wind up going a little too far, in which case the strings may actually have too little clearance, and that means tons of string buzz and starting over again.

With the slots filed down a bit more, it's back to the vise, with the nut off the guitar, and file the top contour down some.  Again, this isn't rocket surgery, it's just a matter of being careful and watching your reference line.

The top curve is a bit freehand - although I do have the curve of the depth line to follow.

A note here:  I'm using my "new" vise for this.  It's a small one I picked up at a local estate sale.  Usually I'm too late to these things and all the goodies (if there are any) are gone.  But this one was good.  It was a house whose previous owner had a pretty cool wood shop in the basement.  I scored some tools and this vise.  The vise was marked $3, but I got it for half of that because the folks running the sale were closing and wanted to get rid of stuff.  Pretty good deal, I'd say.

Once the nut is where I like it in terms of height, I run a piece of fine (I think this was 600) grit sandpaper through the slots to smooth the sides and bottoms.  Hopefully this will make the strings not hang up in the slots - especially on string bending.

Stew-Mac sells some stuff that's like floss for this exact operation.  I thought about buying some, but it's not cheap and I can't justify it given the small number of nuts I make.

I've been meaning to add as an aside that while I have a bunch of tools and junk from Stew-Mac, that's not the only place to shop for this stuff.  Luthier's Mercantile is another good place.  Stew-Mac's stuff IS good, but it does tend to be a little pricey, and some of their stuff, such as jigs, you can homebrew if you're so inclined.

Now I'm doing the final shaping and need to make sure the thing actually plays ok.  I have been tuning the strings to pitch for the most part throughout this process, but now I'm gonna make sure I'm tuned up.

For this, I have my neato Planet Waves headstock tuner.  For years, I used one of those "needle" tuners, and then I graduated a couple of years ago to a Peterson StroboFlip, which is an amazing tuner.  But I started playing the occasional busking gig, and my old trusty Seiko tuner (with the window and needle) wasn't practical, nor was the Peterson.  

A couple of folks in my ukulele circle were using these little clip-on tuners - and I actually got one when I bought my Kanile'a. Making a long story a bit shorter, I wanted a full chromatic tuner and wound up with the Planet Waves one.  Let me tell you, this thing is worth its weight in gold.  It's not as accurate as the Peterson (what is?) but it's darn close and totally convenient.  It tunes by sensing the instrument's vibrations off the headstock, so you don't need to get it in front of the soundhole or plug into it.  So you can use it on acoustic or electrics and it works the same way.  The best part for me is that you can be standing on a street corner with your geetar and tune with it.  Or in a room full of twanging ukes.  Outside noises don't affect it at all. Very very very cool, and it gets my highest recommendation.

You may have noticed in the pictures that the nut is a bit wider than the fingerboard.  That's deliberate - to give you something to work with.  Now that our shaping is done, we just mark the excess on the ends, and saw it off with the razor saw.

I especially like being able to customize this because I find a lot of 'factory' nuts stick out the tiniest bit from the nut slot and I find my first finger rubbing on it on certain first-position chords.  I like to file mine so that the end is smooth and not protruding at all.

Another advantage of filing your own.

We're almost there.  I went over the nut with a fine file and some fine (800) grit sandpaper.  You need to be careful especially on the sides - that you don't take too much off.  The nut should slide in and fit snugly, and shouldn't be easy to push out of the slot from the side.  As with the saddle, this is the way string vibrations are transmitted to the body (neck in this case) of the guitar.

Now ve use the polishing compound and a soft cloth and polish it up!

It's a little hard to hold it and take the picture, but the vintage bone looks like ivory when it's polished.

Ivory was the real material of choice for nuts and saddles in the old days.  It's illegal now, unfortunately.  Bone is the next choice.

I'd love to have a pre-war Martin with real ivory on it.  How cool would that be?

Here it is on the guitar.  A lot of folks put a touch of glue in the slot to hold the nut in.  I usually wait until my first string change to do that so I can see if the nut is up to snuff.

You can see how much height I took off it, and how close the strings are down to the fingerboard.

When you're filing and get that close, just one or two strokes can make it...or ruin it.

I try to make the unwound strings just lay beneath the top of the nut, and the wound strings about 50% above.  I got it pretty close on this one.

Here's a beauty shot of the Tele on the bench post-nut. You can see the old neck on the bench too.

The body is very light - it's a MIJ '56 reissue made of ash.  It has the post-1955 whiter blond finish.  I put a real black bakelite pickguard from Callaham guitars on it - I really don't like white guards on blond Teles.

It's also got two Don Mare 50's pickups, 4-way switching, and heavy knurled knobs from Callaham.  The pickups are totally killer - the whole guitar is a beast. The neck is real thin - maybe just a touch TOO thin - and incredibly fast.

The bridge is a Callaham vintage with compensated brass saddles.  Absolutely first class construction.

It's interesting because a lot of Tele players say the Callaham bridge seems less 'twangy' than the Glendale bridge.  It's true that the Callaham is thicker, but at least on this guitar, it's more twangy than the Glendale bridge on my red '62 style.  I think a lot of the twang on this one comes from the light body.


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