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Filing the nut was easy

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by Super Iridium, Mar 5, 2013.

  1. Super Iridium

    Super Iridium

    Jan 21, 2013
    I am a novice player and bought my bass (Gretsch Junior Jet) from a vendor on eBay. It's been great learning on this instrument, and I love the short scale, small neck and great sound. When I noticed that the strings were especially hard to fret down at the lower notes, I started to do some research on adjusting the string height at the nut. What kept me from taking the plunge immediately, however, were warnings I read that this adjustment should be left to a professional.

    Anyway, I went ahead with doing the adjustment myself, and actually, it was easy. I think the key is having the exact right size and type of file. These nut adjustment files are not cheap, and they need to match the gauge of each string that you're working on. I bought my files (a cool Japanese brand) from a vendor on eBay, and these worked just fine for my bass:

    In his YouTube video, John Carruthers says that he sets the string height at the first fret to a gap of .022 inches. I was worried about going that low with my bass, so I stopped at .030 inches -- and I think this gap works perfectly well for me. The strings are MUCH MUCH easier to fret, which means I can use my pinky finger in different positions and without having to jam down each string with the full force of my hand. I don't seem to have any buzzing either. I'm sure that with more filing I could have gone down to .025 or even .022, but then who knows if the buzzing would have started.

    So I just wanted to report this experience to the group here. If you're thinking of adjusting the nut height yourself, it's possible for a beginner to do this adjustment and get great results. My experience is pretty limited (just one bass!!) but from what I can see, you definitely need (1) the absolute correct size file for each string, (2) a feeler gauge for measuring the distance between each string and the first fret, and (3) a bass that doesn't cost more than a new car, in case you do mess up a bit on the nut and need someone with real skills to step in and fix what you did wrong (which didn't happen in my case, but I can see that having a relatively cheap bass definitely helps the confidence here!)
  2. Slowgypsy

    Slowgypsy 4 Fretless Strings Supporting Member

    Dec 12, 2006
    NY & MA
    Another tip...

    If this adjustment is to be a one time thing, you can get around buying a specific set of files by getting a drill bit that's the correct diameter for the particular nut slot, wrapping a piece of 600 grit sandpaper around it, and slowly and gently making your adjustment to the nut slot.

    Not the most perfect method on the planet, but for those who only need to do this adjustment once....
  3. ShonenCello


    Sep 21, 2011
    Just did that also to my Epi Rumblekat a few days ago.

    I used John Carruthers video also.

    It plays like a champ now, big difference.
  4. Ric5

    Ric5 Supporting Member

    Jan 29, 2008
    I like basses with adjustable nuts or zero frets. That makes the action lower. I have an acoustic guitar from the 60s and it has a zero fret. It does not suffer from the usual problem of guitars where playing different chords with different combinations of open and fretted strings makes the guitar sound slightly out of tune. Also with a high nut on the bass your fretted notes will be sharp and harder to play. But since most basses have the simple plastic nut then I try to get the nut cut low on all of my basses.
  5. Super Iridium

    Super Iridium

    Jan 21, 2013
    Love the look of that Rumblekat!! Almost bought that one instead of my Gretsch. How do you like the sound?

    Also, did you file all the way down to .022 inches, like John Carruthers says? If not, at what gap measurement did you stop the filing? The more I learn about the bass, the more I can see that this measurement is pretty crucial to the overall setup of the strings, but no one seems to give much guidance on the "correct" gap other than John Carruthers.

    Anyway, thanks for the reply!
  6. ShonenCello


    Sep 21, 2011
    With the right strings it's can be thunderous IMO. I'm using GHS Pressurewounds. Very happy with the sound.

    I stopped short of .022 also. Got scared I guess! Don't remember what I stopped at. I just stopped when it felt good to fret those low notes.
  7. Super Iridium

    Super Iridium

    Jan 21, 2013
    I would be very, very scared to do this adjustment with any kind of power tool. I have a Dremel tool with all kinds and sizes of bits in my workshop, but I've noticed that when using a powered, rotary tool on any kind of plastic or resin, it seems to cut through the material very, very quickly, like a hot knife through butter. I've never used sandpaper wrapped around a bit, but I have used lots of small, rotary grinders that do the same thing, and they are very, very difficult to control. Anyway, I'm no expert, as I said above, but just based on my limited skills and experience, I'd still recommend that a beginner stick with the files.

    I don't know if this helps anyone, but what convinced me to buy the files (for about $50) is that it would have cost me more to get the adjustment done by someone else at my local guitar shop. So if you know that it's going to cost $50 or more no matter who does the adjustment, why not buy the files and do it yourself? (And you can always sell the files to someone else on Talk Bass). That was my reasoning anyway.
  8. Slowgypsy

    Slowgypsy 4 Fretless Strings Supporting Member

    Dec 12, 2006
    NY & MA
    Power tool? I never said anything about a power tool. :confused:

    The drill bit is simply the "sanding block"... only sized to the diameter you want. This procedure is done by hand. Slowly and gently. You're essentially making a file out of a drill bit and sanding paper.
  9. Super Iridium

    Super Iridium

    Jan 21, 2013
    Ooooh!! I get it now! Yes, that would certainly work! :D
  10. BboogieXVII


    Feb 4, 2013
    I just got back from having a "sort of" repairman file the nut slots down on my instrument. Watching the gusto which he went at eyeballing everything and the great file whacks he was taking was a bit scary. In the end though he didn't over-file any slot and the results are no doubt better than what I had to start out with. The first position notes FBbEbAb are a heckuva lot easier to play now even with the slap dash filing job.

    If you are on the fence at all about getting this done go ahead and do it, find a reputable repairman with really great references from knowledgeable players. I personally am not going back to Mr. Slap Dash and will not recommend him, he did actually break the D string by overtightening, and I somehow remained calm through it all.

    I have come to the conclusion that I will slowly begin collecting some tools to avoid these weird situations in the future. Nut files are pretty high on the list.

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