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Nut Height & String Clearance - same on all strings or more on heavier strings ?

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by guzzler, Jan 18, 2012.

  1. guzzler


    May 19, 2010
    I have read several posts about nut height and string clearance over the 1st fret. I was wondering if the general rule is to have the same amount of clearance over the 1st fret on all the strings or to have more clearance on the heavier strings and less on the lighter strings. I guess I am thinking how some people seem to like all strings to have the same clearance at the 12th fret for all strings. And some people like more clearance on the heavier strings. Thank you
  2. Zooberwerx

    Zooberwerx Gold Supporting Member

    Dec 21, 2002
    Virginia Beach, VA
    A properly cut nut will have ~.003-.005" clearance at the 1st fret while fretting at the 3rd. Once open, the gap / clearance will change as a product of bridge saddle height.

  3. guzzler


    May 19, 2010
    Hello, thanks for the reply. Do people aim for the same clearance on all strings or is that the range from low to high ?
  4. Hi.

    I cut the nut the same regardless of the string, but the thicker strings are raised from the bridge end to give 'em more room to vibrate over the FB.

  5. Zooberwerx

    Zooberwerx Gold Supporting Member

    Dec 21, 2002
    Virginia Beach, VA
    That's not a range, that's a tolerance. IOW, as long as my gap falls with .003 - .005, I don't mess with it. This applies to all strings so it's possible to see this and still be within tolerance:

    G - .004
    D - .003
    A - .005
    E - .004
    B - .003

  6. 202dy

    202dy Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2006
    The easiest way to cut a nut is to stack feeler gauges on the fingerboard next to the nut. Determine the height of the first fret and add margin. Work the slot until the file hits the stack.

    Generally speaking, start the bottom of the slot on the G string ~.010" above the first fret. Add a couple of thousandths to the D string, a couple more to the A, etc. These are starting points. Continue to refine the depth until it feels right. Don't forget to angle the slot toward the headstock.

    Riis's recommendation of ~.003" at the first fret when fretting at the third is a good benchmark.

    There is no magic formula. Cutting nut slot depth is one of the only procedures done to a guitar that is more "feel" than "science." Which means that it is easy to make a mistake. One extra stroke of the file and it is time to start over on a fresh blank.
  7. walterw

    walterw Supportive Fender Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 20, 2009
    i cut 'em with the same height for all strings.

    after all, once you fret them, the fret you're on and the next fret up are the same height for all strings, aren't they?
  8. JLS


    Sep 12, 2008
    Emeryville, Ca
    I setup & repair guitars & basses
  9. 202dy

    202dy Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2006
    Dan Erlewine taught it this way in either his book or video series. It is the reason I have always done it this way. The reasoning behind raising the nut floor on the larger strings is that they have less tension and vibrate in a larger pattern. Therefore, the larger string needs more space to move without clattering into the top of the first fret. Dan goes on to say that these are starting points and the slots can be refined to make the feel as comfortable as humanly possible. He warns that over-zealous file work, or even polishing, can instantly turn an hour and fifteen minutes worth of work into trash. I know this to be true from experience.

    I am embarrassed to say I never gave it a second thought. Nor would I ever promote anything simply because Dan, Frank Ford, Brian Galloup, or anyone else says it so. This is an appeal to authority and as such, holds absolutely no weight as an argument. Even though they are almost always right. I simply know that it works from my own experience.

    Balance this against the opinions and experience of Walter and JLS, who also know what they are doing. If these benchmarks are merely starting points, who knows where the bottoms of the slots end up? I've never measured them after finishing. All of this leads me to believe that I can save myself a few minutes of fooling around with extra feeler gauges by cutting to the same depth.
  10. Turnaround

    Turnaround Commercial User

    May 6, 2004
    Toronto Canada
    Independent Instrument Technician, and Contractor to Club Bass and Guitar - Toronto
    Pretty good balance I would say. A big +1 on their knowledge and experience.
  11. Growly Lytes

    Growly Lytes

    Dec 4, 2009
    Downunder Oz
    Bass player
    I do`em all the same height.
    BTW- i used a peice of computer paper as my guide for string height at the nut.Saw a video of a guy putting a peice of basic computer paper while fretting the third fret.The paper should be nice & snug under the string.
    It worked great for me & i did it on all my basses,it works.

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