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Effect of nut height on action and intonation?

Discussion in 'Guitars in General' started by MisterTV, May 24, 2011.

  1. MisterTV

    MisterTV Supporting Member

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    I recently acquired a '78 Guild S300-D and brought it in to a local tech for a set-up.

    When I picked up the guitar, the tech told me the nut was unglued, and that a sliver of a pick was placed underneath, acting as a shim. He removed the shim and properly glued the nut back in before re-stringing.

    Now the guitar is intonated perfectly, but the action is WAY too low. (Now I know why the previous owner put in that shim.) I attempted to adjust the bridge to compensate, but that only raised the string height from about the 12th fret up... no effect at all on the lower frets.

    Do I need a new (taller) nut? Will that throw off the intonation?
     
  2. rob2001

    rob2001 Member

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    A taller nut can make first position chords, or any kind of playing on the lower frets pull sharp. Why do you feel the nut is too low? Is it buzzing out on the lower frets?
     
  3. MisterTV

    MisterTV Supporting Member

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    It's a bit buzzy on the lower frets... and there's nothing to grab on to when bending strings... my fingers practically slide right off the top!
     
  4. Trebor Renkluaf

    Trebor Renkluaf I was hit by a parked car, what's your excuse? Silver Supporting Member

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    Does it buzz on the open strings only? If so the nut is too low. Does it buzz on the lower frets? If so the neck is too straight. Does it buzz on the open strings and the low frets? Then the nut is too low and/or the neck is too straight.
     
  5. Dave2512

    Dave2512 Member

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    You don't need to raise the nut much to make big differences in feel and playablility. Most tech's use little glue for nuts. Carefully remove the nut and shim it up a bit. Something thin like paper strips can be used to shim it up in small increments until you get it where you like it. An easy way to experiment and when you get it where you like you can either take it in for a new nut or buy a slotted nut and do it yourself.
     
  6. rob2001

    rob2001 Member

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    Thats a point I was going to make. There's a fine line between too low and too high....it doesn't take much.
     
  7. bluegrif

    bluegrif Member

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    The nut height will drastically affect the overall "feel". It's amazing really how little difference can make a huge difference in the overall playability. In fact, one reason so many factory guitars feel wrong is the understandable tendency for the factory setup to include a rather high action at the nut. But as you've discovered, too low is just as bad.

    It's one of those little things (along with perfectly level and properly crowned frets) that makes all the difference.
     
  8. bogdan101

    bogdan101 Member

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    Try to loosen up the truss rod a bit to increase neck relief (neck should be a little concave as you sight down the edge of the fretboard).
     
  9. GuitarTone

    GuitarTone Senior Member

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    Fret a string on the 3rd fret, now see if it's touching the 1st fret...if it is the nut is cut too low...try that with each string.
     
  10. Joe Naylor

    Joe Naylor Supporting Member

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    ^^
    What these last two guys said.
     
  11. musicofanatic5

    musicofanatic5 Member

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    Bingo!
     
  12. wizard333

    wizard333 Member

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    Unless you play slide down low, you don't need a nut cut any higher than absolutely necessary, which is pretty low. It doesn't affect anything but open strings, so if your lower frets are buzzing, dont blame the nut. If you dont like the action height, raise the bridge, not the nut.
     
  13. Trebor Renkluaf

    Trebor Renkluaf I was hit by a parked car, what's your excuse? Silver Supporting Member

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    Yes! The nut only needs to be high enough to clear the first fret, and maybe account for some wear. Any higher and it's just going to cause problems.
     
  14. Thepilot

    Thepilot Member

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    the posts above have it correct, but i would take it back to the tech if i were you. if you do any of what's above you'll most likely un-do what he worked on. take it back to him, tell him you can't live with the action as is, and ask him to fix it.
     
  15. direwolf

    direwolf Supporting Member

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    You might try another tech. Shimming the nut is sometimes necessary.
     
  16. Structo

    Structo Member

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    Everybody has a preference.

    I like a little higher action because of the reason the OP gave about bending strings.
    But, if the nut slots are too high, then the first few frets will usually sound sharp.

    When I dress a nut, I usually use feeler gauges and start with about .004" above the first fret, then I may take it down to .003" if it doesn't buzz.

    It is a juggling act to get everything right.

    The bridge and saddle height, neck relief and nut slot height all have to play nice with each other for a properly setup guitar.
     
  17. kevinhifi

    kevinhifi Member

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    If it doesn't feel right to you, raise it. If it actually fails the tests mentioned earlier, then it is legitimately too low and needs to be raised. But how it feels when you play is most important. I like my nuts a little higher than the "standard practice," which is nothing more than just that. I can deal with manipulating my pressure down low to keep things from going sharp as a compromise to be able to really dig in and bend strings down in that region. I also like my action a little higher than "normal" in general, and getting the nut action up a just a little bit makes a big difference in playability for me. I'll sometimes put a small piece of a business card in as a shim, which is on the thick side in the nut world.
     
  18. dspellman

    dspellman Senior Member

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    <G> If your nut is too low, you'll be buzzy on the lower (1-5) frets even when you raise the bridge. You need to raise the nut. You can shim it (as the previous owner did, but with a bit more precision this time) or you can replace it. Sounds like your tech was doing a very seat of the pants style setup that should have been very cheap. OTOH, you shouldn't need to pull the guitar sharp when you fret the first fret.

    As for bends; you may simply have frets that are too low. Go try a guitar with higher frets. If you're not a Gorilla Gripper (one of those refugee strummers from an acoustic guitar world where you feel you have to yank the strings all the way down to the fretboard), you'll begin to understand why high frets became popular. You can bend like crazy with very low action, maintain a light touch on the strings while fretting positively and keep your intonation from changing all at once. I've got a couple of fretless wonders (very low frets) from the 50's that simply don't work with a modern guitar technique. And it's one of the reasons that I don't care for "vintage" frets on guitars.
     
  19. 9fingers

    9fingers Supporting Member

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    If you need to raise a nut a little, instead of shimming you can spread a thin layer of CA (Super) glue on the bottom of the nut, let it dry & retrue the flatness on a piece of fine sandpaper laid on a flat surface. The CA actually becomes part of the nut.

    I was taught to check nut height by fretting the 3rd fret on the bridge side of the fret. You should then see the tiniest bit of space between the string and the 2nd fret (I do mean tiny!).
     

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