1. Please take 30 seconds to register your free account to remove most ads, post topics, make friends, earn reward points at our store, and more!  
    TalkBass.com has been uniting the low end since 1998.  Join us! :)

Is there ANY good reason for the nut height to be higher than necessary?

Discussion in 'Setup & Repair [DB]' started by Hot Vibrato, Mar 26, 2013.

  1. Hot Vibrato

    Hot Vibrato

    Mar 26, 2013
    Hi All,

    Long time lurker, first time poster here. I am a novice when it comes to upright basses, but I've made my living repairing/maintaining/restoring guitars and other fretted instruments for about 18 years.

    It seems to be the general consensus that proper nut height should be roughly the thickness of a business card (.010" - .015"). However, I've known some upright bass players who have their nut much higher than that, and when I've asked about it, they say they prefer it that way. This just seems crazy to me! Why?! Is there something I'm missing here?
  2. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    I don't have a real answer with any specs/measurements, but when there's *any* sound coming from a nut that's too low, I lose my mind.
  3. Hot Vibrato

    Hot Vibrato

    Mar 26, 2013
    Could you describe the sound that bothers you when the nut is too low?

    Although I'm fully aware that an upright is an entirely different beast, the closest frame of reference I have is from working on electric basses. On fretted basses, I like the nut slots to be only slightly higher than they would be if the strings were laying on a fret. On a fretless, I like the slots to be cut so there is only a tiny bit of clearance between the strings and the fingerboard (a business card is generous). In the case of a fretless bass, I typically don't want the open notes to sound much different from fingered notes - should this strategy apply to upright bass as well?

    I have done some setup work on a couple of Chinese student basses, one of which I owned for a couple of years, but I didn't dedicate much time to playing it - On mine, I cut the bridge down, planed the fingerboard, and slotted the nut. I got it playing quite comfortably, and then sold it to a bluegrass playing friend. The next time I saw it, he had the nut raised so high I could hardly play it (not that I'm much of an upright player...). When I asked him about it, he just said "I like it that way".

    I'm currently the guitarist in a swing jazz band. Our bassist's old Kay upright's nut seems way too high - maybe 4 business cards (.040 -.050). I asked her about it, and her reply was, "I like it that way"...

    WHY would anyone put up with action like that on their instrument? Although both of these people are good players, I'm under the impression that they're simply misinformed, and they're just too obtuse to take advice from me... Could this be the case, or am I missing something?
  4. There is no good reason to do that. "Too low" means the slots are on level with the board.
  5. Maybe they always played bass with a high nut and are used to it. Playing on a bass with a lower nut might feel wrong to them.

    Having the nut a little bit higher than needed (for a certain set of strings) could be a good idea because what work with one set of strings might not work with another one if the nut is really low. But the two business cards space is high enough for any kind of string, I think.
  6. Jake deVilliers

    Jake deVilliers Commercial User

    May 24, 2006
    Crescent Beach, BC
    Owner of The Bass Spa, String Repairman at Long & McQuade Vancouver
    The only reason, IMHO, would be if the fingerboard dives at the end. I've been fooled a couple of times by badly planed boards that aren't straight all the way to the nut...not again. ;)

    Of course, if your fingerboard is rutted and bumpy and you do most of your playing on open strings, raising the nut and bridge height would save you the 'trouble' of getting the board set up correctly... :(
  7. on my bass (with steel strings), the nut height of the fingerboard is more than 1, but just a wee bit less than 2 business cards.

    If these blue grass player friends of yours had gut strings or 'weed wackers' perhaps they need a little more clearance?
  8. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    Yes. Next time you're around some guitarists, take a look at the difference in nut height on a Strat and then on a Martin D-45. This is an acoustic instrument, in order to get the string to move, you need to get some meat behind it AND it needs enough room to move on the fingerboard without hitting it.

    Sure, if you play with low height and get all your sound from an amplifier, you don't need to worry about that open string buzzing on the fingerboard because the nut is too low. But (and I have to imagine especially for bluegrass players) a lot of us like the sound of the acoustic instrument.
  9. In other words, we have to yank the **** out of our strings to be audible.

    Spanker -- n. One who plays an acoustic instrument with vigor.
  10. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    I was going to answer the first question, but the gentlemen following did an admirable job. I just checked, and my nut is at about 2 "cards" for the EAD and slightly over 1 "card" for the G.
  11. Clarkybass

    Clarkybass Supporting Member

    Apr 30, 2010
    Danny Thompson describes on his DVD 'Bassically speaking' how he deliberately raised the nut on 'Victoria' (his old French Gand double bass) to strengthen his left hand, but that was in an era when amplification wasn't the norm and acoustic volume was very important
  12. Greg Clinkingbeard

    Greg Clinkingbeard

    Apr 4, 2005
    Kansas City area
    KC Strings
    I don't get it. Once the note is fingered I don't see how making it harder to push down has made it any louder. At the shop we go by eye but end up with maybe a business card on the G and raise the heights progressively to about two cards on the E. I use a 6" ruler as a straightedge to ensure that the board doesn't show any light near the nut.

    I've got about a dollar bill on my G going to about a business card on the E on my personal bass and like it that way. It's loud and very easy to play. I did a trio gig last week with no amp and had power to spare.:smug:
  13. arnoldschnitzer

    arnoldschnitzer AES Fine Instruments

    Feb 16, 2002
    Brewster, NY, USA
    When the nut is high it can cause buzzing in the low fingered positions because of the string's resistance to bending. A high nut also can cause a choked sound because the pressure involved in getting the string down securely against the fingerboard ends up practically surrounding the string with skin. This damps the string and does not really allow the fingerboard to do its thing in creating tone. There is no reason to set the nut slots high unless, as Jake mentioned, the fingerboard dives at the top end, or the player has some sort of macho complex. A properly set-up nut will not buzz or rattle no matter how aggressively the open strings are played. Of course gut strings, because of their larger amplitude and inherent imperfections, need a slightly higher-set nut than steels or synthetics. The nut plays a huge part in a good bass set-up.
  14. I came out of punk rock and generally only play without amplification, so I play hard though I don't think I have a macho complex. I've played some very nicely set up basses with low-cut nuts that buzzed like crazy when I played the open strings. Maybe I spent too much time playing on the monkey bars as a kid.

    That said, I agree wholeheardly with your comments on setting up a bass for gut strings. One of my basses is an old German flatback set up by someone named Amiel DeLuccia fairly low at the nut and a good 3/4" above the end of the fingerboard. I have yet to pull those old guts hard enough to make them buzz.
  15. robobass


    Aug 1, 2005
    Cologne, Germany
    Private Inventor - Bass Capos
    If the board is perfectly dressed, then do you need even a business card's thickness? After all, you don't have any clearance at all when you finger a note. Or would too little height allow the length between the nut and stopped note to rattle against the board in low positions? I've got about .010" all around on my bass and everything works well.
  16. Jake deVilliers

    Jake deVilliers Commercial User

    May 24, 2006
    Crescent Beach, BC
    Owner of The Bass Spa, String Repairman at Long & McQuade Vancouver
    That's the problem, right there - you can get a nasty little 'sizzle' when playing in first and second positions.

    It all depends on the player and his/her style. Some people pull a lot of string and some don't - the bass needs to be set up to accommodate the individual player.
  17. Clarkybass

    Clarkybass Supporting Member

    Apr 30, 2010
    I should have been clearer. I think what Danny Thompson was trying to do with the raised nut was just to strengthen his left hand, his reasoning being that the stronger his left hand the better it would be for note production (he talks in his DVD about trying to make fingered notes have the same volume and power as open strings, hence strengthening left hand)
  18. Hot Vibrato

    Hot Vibrato

    Mar 26, 2013
    Thanks for all the thoughtful responses.

    I've been absent from this conversation since yesterday morning because my wife and I drove to Tulsa yesterday (we live in Fayetteville, AR - about 100 miles away) to buy her an upright bass - a Shen SB-100 (man, it sounds good!). She's an excellent electric bass player, and this is her first upright. We christened the new upright by jamming with some friends in Tulsa, and she took to it like a fish to water.

    We bought the bass from my friend Jacob at Tulsa Strings. He's a respected luthier, so I asked him about nut height. He said a good rule of thumb is 1/4 the thickness of the string. I just measured the string diameter on our new bass, and the G string measures .050" and the E string measures .110". So .050"/4 = .0125" which is about one business card. And .110"/4 = .0275" which is about two business cards. This tells me that the business card method is a relatively accurate means of achieving the appropriate nut height.

    Again, my line of work is guitar repair/maintenance/restoration, and I NEVER measure nut height. I go by the way it looks and how it plays, while taking into account the player's technique (for a heavy handed player, I might leave the nut a little higher in order for the open strings to ring clearly). I assume this approach would apply to upright bass as well, at least for someone who works on them all the time. I think for the rest of us, using feeler gauges or a business card is a good way to get it in the ballpark. Of course, using the correct size nut file is imperative for achieving professional results.

    In the case of my wife's new bass, this is all more or less moot because Jacob at Tulsa Strings did an excellent setup on it, but I'm always happy to learn new aspects of lutherie, which is my passion (that and music).
    Excellent point (and one I hadn't considered).
    Both of the players I mentioned in the OP use gut strings - I hadn't considered that string type may be something to take into account when determining correct nut height.
    A high nut on an acoustic guitar strung with .013's is very uncomfortable to play. I slot acoustic guitar nuts so that they are only slightly higher than as if the strings were laying on a fret (even for bluegrass players).

    In the case of an electric guitar, depending on the player, I sometimes don't take the slots quite as deep as I would on an acoustic. The reason for this is that light electric guitar strings (.009's or .010's) have less tension, so they are more prone to rattling, much in the same way that gut strings are more prone buzzing than metal strings.

Share This Page