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Doing your own setup - the nut


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Yesterday I made my first ever attempt to set up my own bass, aided by the various Youtube videos there are.  I adjusted the truss rod, lowered the bridge saddles and got the intonation just about perfect.  Quite chuffed!

 

But I wimped out on the nut.  I don't have the necessary files, and it seems like something that is irreversible if you get it wrong.  I was wondering whether other people skip the nut setup, or whether I should consider fitting just-a-nuts to my basses.

 

Interested to hear any opinions.

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I do my own setups but I tend to leave it to the usual truss rod, bridge, pickup height. 
Unless a nut is cut wrong or the slots too large due to a string size change I’ve never had a reason to alter one, if I do it’s usually a trip to the tech for a new one. 
I’m more than capable of doing the job but by the time I’ve got the new nut and set up to do it it’s just as easy to leave it to the pros who have the gear to hand. 

Edited by Bunion
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58 minutes ago, Bunion said:

I do my own setups but I tend to leave it to the usual truss rod, bridge, pickup height. 
Unless a nut is cut wrong or the slots too large due to a string size change I’ve never had a reason to alter one, if I do it’s usually a trip to the tech for a new one. 
I’m more than capable of doing the job but by the time I’ve got the new nut and set up to do it it’s just as easy to leave it to the pros who have the gear to hand. 

 

Thanks, that's kind of how I'm thinking too.  I'm not enormously handy, so really don't want to mess it up.  I guess once the nut is sorted for a particular gauge of string, it's sorted for good, so long as you stick to that gauge.

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If you go by the principle of making small changes and checking frequently, filing a nut is a simple operation. You learned, as a child, how to pick up an egg, right? Your body already understands the idea of enough force to achieve the desired result and not too much force so you break it. Same principle applies. Make small changes, check the result, stop before you go too far. Easy peasy. It's genuinely nothing to be intimidated by. A bass isn't set up if the nut is too high as it has such an effect on playability. For me, a nut should leave as much clearance over the first fret as a zero fret and no more. Anything above that is needlessly inefficient. Usually, I find the nut, as a whole, is left far too high on factory instruments, not even close to being correct, and, in those circumstances, pop out the nut and sand the bottom of it to achieve the desired result, rather than re-cut each individual slot, so you may not even need a set of round files.

 

Plus, you only need to get it right once. I have never needed to replace a nut because of using a different gauge of strings. The nut slot should be a U shape with the break angle of the string over the nut combined with the string tension pulling the string snugly down into the bottom of the U. 

 

Do it yourself or get a tech to do it, but make sure it gets done.

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My issue with nut-fiddling is the tools.  Good nut files are very expensive for what is a very occasional, maybe even once in a decade, job. Not so good nut files are hopeless and you just end up rubbing the slot for ever. Other bodges are available, like thin needle files, but the results can be a bit hit and miss. I hacve lived OK with the result though.

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I had to lower the nut slots on my Sterling Stingray SS. I wrapped strings in sand/emery paper and used that as a file. Just took it easy to get the height right. There was some flaring on the top of the slots, but as I needed to remove a lot of meat from the top afterwards, this wasn’t an issue at the end of the fettling.

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I've been doing my own setups for years - just basic things like action and relief. I'd never cut a nut until a year ago, when I did a course with Jon Shuker to build a bass from scratch.
The nut wasn't difficult job at all - though I was using Jon's files, which I can only assume are good quality. I also used a belt-sander to help pre-shape the blank a little.

 

Like mentioned by @lownote above - I think having the correct tools is vital - and if you're not using them often, they may not be worth the investment.

 

Working under Jon's supervision was also rather comforting!

 

George

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On 13/06/2022 at 08:36, Doctor J said:

If you go by the principle of making small changes and checking frequently, filing a nut is a simple operation. You learned, as a child, how to pick up an egg, right? Your body already understands the idea of enough force to achieve the desired result and not too much force so you break it. Same principle applies. Make small changes, check the result, stop before you go too far. Easy peasy. It's genuinely nothing to be intimidated by. A bass isn't set up if the nut is too high as it has such an effect on playability. For me, a nut should leave as much clearance over the first fret as a zero fret and no more. Anything above that is needlessly inefficient. Usually, I find the nut, as a whole, is left far too high on factory instruments, not even close to being correct, and, in those circumstances, pop out the nut and sand the bottom of it to achieve the desired result, rather than re-cut each individual slot, so you may not even need a set of round files.

 

Plus, you only need to get it right once. I have never needed to replace a nut because of using a different gauge of strings. The nut slot should be a U shape with the break angle of the string over the nut combined with the string tension pulling the string snugly down into the bottom of the U. 

 

Do it yourself or get a tech to do it, but make sure it gets done.

 

+1 to absolutely all of that. Good advice.

 

As for tools, I find the cheapo sets of 12 or 13 nut files (which were actually designed as some sort of industrial tip cleaners I believe) you'll find on ebay for a fiver actually work really well. They don't go small enough for a guitar, but for a bass they work well.

 

As always, though, its advisable to practice any new procedure on a non-critical instrument if possible.

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If I understand this correctly, these days most if not all mass produced instruments have their nuts pre-cut by machines and so are pretty much error-free for the factory strings and set-up. So don't think there is ever a need for re-doing this job unless something went awfully wrong and didn't get picked up at the QC.

 

Funnily enough I had mine replaced by a yamaha tech, turns out unnecessarily as it didn't fix the issue I was having.

 

But something else came up and apologies for piggybacking on this thread but when changing strings recently it turns out whatever glue the chap used is now all but gone and the nut is loose. I didn't care and assumed string tension would hold it in place - alas, I use roundcore strings and thin gauges and so when I bend like there is no tomorrow, the nut moves 😮

 

How do I attach it back without going to a tech, is superglue just fine or do I need something more special? Please advise, thank you!

 

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32 minutes ago, Romeo2 said:

If I understand this correctly, these days most if not all mass produced instruments have their nuts pre-cut by machines and so are pretty much error-free for the factory strings and set-up. So don't think there is ever a need for re-doing this job unless something went awfully wrong and didn't get picked up at the QC.

My experience, from cheap basses to very expensive (US PRS, for example) is that many bigger manufacturers err on the side of caution (and speed) when it comes to nuts and leave them far higher than they ought to be.

 

Alembic and Warwick, to their credit, come with adjustable nuts which are easy to adjust to taste.

 

Bacchus and Sadowsky come with nuts which have actually been addressed by somebody who knows what they're doing and gives a sheeeeeet. I'm sure there are more, but can only comment on ones I have experienced first hand.

Edited by Doctor J
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Doctor J, my experience is even more limited but I'll share just for collective insight.

 

Indonesian G&L L2000 from 2013 has a nut which the bass gallery tech deemed fine (I asked to replace if he thought it's worth it). It seemed too high for me but the frets are mega jumbo or whatever the jargon is so it needs to be that way, and I can get the action as low as it gets so it's fine.

 

Nut on a Vintage Modified Squire PJ is just fine, too (and the instrument itself is from possibly one of the best 'budget' instrument lines made in recent times).

 

Yamaha BB4 and another cheap Yamaha PJ fretless have issue-less nuts too, just right. It is when I went to the London yamaha store to have their tech look at the nut on my Pacifica guitar I learned from him they are pre-cut, the one he put on as a replacement came from a tiny zip bag from a drawer with pre-cut nuts, I loved this japanese efficiency but it might be that this is how it is done in the industry, not just their idea of making it human-error free.

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On 25/06/2022 at 21:06, Romeo2 said:

How do I attach it back without going to a tech, is superglue just fine or do I need something more special? Please advise, thank you!

 

Don't use superglue! If you need to remove the nut in future you'll risk ripping out the wood.  Ordinary white wood glue is fine, even for plastic or bone on wood.  You want the bond to be just enough to hold the nut in place , but not so strong you can't tap the nut off with a soft mallet.

Edited by lownote
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