Beginners Luthier Tool Kit (Nut Files, String Action Gauge, etc): What do you recommend?

Bob T.

I hope this post is in the right forum; I'm looking to pick up a relatively inexpensive luthier tool kit as a newbie into the realm of setting up and maintaining my own guitars. I'll be doing some extensive work on a Squier in the weeks to come, and I would like to put my hand to the test for a real nice setup on this guitar.

I've seen a few luthier tool kits that are $30-$40 and include just a few basic setup tools: string action gauge, understring radius gauge, 10-13 nut files of varying sizes... I would think at a minimum, I would need those pieces to get a better setup for my guitars. This is more about making minor changes to an existing guitar and its parts rather than building a new instrument or dramatically changing an existing guitar (Ex. I will not be learning to install a new nut at this time; maybe down the road!).

Does anybody have a recommendation for a simple tool kit to get me started? I really need to keep the cost down, so pushing the budget beyond $30-$40 may not be doable at this time. If this budget is unrealistic, feel free to say so.

Thanks, TGP!


Silver Supporting Member
for string height i just use a metal ruler, and a lot of it is feel for me.
i'm a big fan of the zero fret and then just use a nut behind it as the guide, it just works for me, and i use locking tuners. I mostly have standard trems, so i just use a small phillips screwdriver to adjust intonation on them.
i guess i've been building guitars since 2000, so you start to accumulate lots of tools in the process....

Dana Olsen

Platinum Supporting Member
I hear you.

I personally would skip the under string radius gauge - it's not gonna help you, practically speaking. Just set individual string action and the radius will take care of itself.

I agree with Sahhas - an inexpensive engineer's 6" ruler in 1/32" increments marked will do just fine. Couple screwdrivers, couple allen wrenches, maybe a feeler guage or a used string end to check relief.

Pardon me sounding like a broken record, but a couple hours instruction from a qualified tech luthier is worth a hundred Youtube videos for learning how to set up guitars, IMHO. Understanding the interaction of all the component 'systems' on a guitar is key to proper set up - it's a really good idea to get some training. Technique and the right order of tasks are key too.

I think your cost estimate is low for tools. I paid around $60 for a decent, not great, set of nut files 10-56. Tryst me - you'll need files for all 6 string slots.

To repeat, the best thing you can do to further your goal is get a couple hours of instruction from a pro, in my opinion. Then practice, practice, practice.

Hope this helps, Dana O.
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You're never going to put together a "luthier" kit from $40, so suffice with just enough to adjust the truss-rod, action, pickup-height, & intonation.
Nut files are going to cost more than your budget.

No need for radius-gauges or action-gauge, just use a machinist's rule.
I do everything short of leveling frets & filing nuts w/o those.

Filing a nut is better left to a pro anyway, IMHO.


The small "kits" on ebay are often one or two useful tools and the rest usually a waste of time (and money). They are put together by people who have seen a money-making opportunity in bundling a few cheap tools as "guitar tools". The few small kits that are OK are limited portable emergency kits for road adjustments, ie not how you would begin to equip a workshop. At the other end of the spectrum the Stewmac kits are way over-priced and often contain unnecessary tools or poor choices for a given job. You can get some good cheap tools individually on ebay/amazon, but you need to know what to look for. I've found all of the following to be fine ...

Action gauges (metric/imperial) go for a couple of bucks ... also has scales for pickup height etc
Fret rocker likewise ...
Feeler gauges from your local hardware store or ebay/amazon, in metric or imperial.
Truss rod wrenches that fit whatever guitars you have (buy them as you need them).
Understring radius gauges ...
The same model of notched straight edges that were several times this much are now less than US$10 ... which also gives you a straight edge (ie between the notches !) which some people feel is more important ...
They are as straight as the more expensive notched edges IME. But it's good at some point to have a way to verify your tools, eg a precision straight edge from a reputable source.
As others have said, you're not going to get a decent set of nut files for under US$50 (eg Hosco double-sided).
Pot spanner / knob lifter for $2 (sand any rough edges first) ...

But don't think initially in terms of tools. Think in terms of jobs you want to be able to do. Fender describes some simple setup jobs, with simple tools ....

What other jobs do you want to do ? eg do you want to get into fret levelling / crowning (ideally on cheap guitars at first) ? Or electronics ? (eg soldering iron, multimeter, deoxit).
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Watch youtube videos by: Frudua, Daves World Of Fun Stuff, Sam Deeks and see the tools they use. Also TDPRI forum has a thread "leveling yer tele" by Kirn that shows low cost and how to for leveling frets.


Bob T.

But don't think initially in terms of tools. Think in terms of jobs you want to be able to do.
This was incredibly helpful. I thought about what I want to be able to accomplish on my first project, and that really narrowed down what I thought I would actually need. Got myself a few pieces, and saved a few bucks along the way. Thanks!

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