Strat Nut Slot Height

You may even use wounded strings to file the nut with. Use a low E-string for the A nut slot, an A-string for the D nut slot and so on. If the nut slot is too tight and narrow, i.e. You are using thicker strings than the nut s used to, your guitar will get out of tune when you’re using. If your string reaches the feeler gauge (.018 inches is the best gauge to use for optimal nut action height) you are all set. If it doesn’t, you need to file down the nut. Start by loosening the string, not taking it off. Select a file that best fits the fret, and file the fret down a small amount. Then tune back up, and use the feeler gauge to check the distance once more. Repeat until you reach the proper height, and then move on to the next string. Having the slot cut too high above the frets (or an unfretted board of some type) means that the act of pressing the string down to the first few frets actually stretches the string, raising the pitch and throwing the intonation off in the process. Ideally, the nut slot height is identical to any other fret.

The one I got was. It was pre-slotted but flat bottomed, and I had to shape it to the curve of bottom of the nut slot, and work on it until the height was correct. It was a Graphtech PT-5042-00 It looks like the 5010 is even taller, but with a slightly shorter E-e string spacing. I don't know how high you want to go, but the 5010 is 1/16. A low nut slot is going to buzz on the 1st fret before causing intonation issues. For nut slot height, capo the low E string between the 2 & 3rd fret. Cut the slot until you have about.008.010' between the string and the top of the 1st fret. Do the same for the high E with about. 006' between the string and top of the 1st fret.

Today we are going to go look at one of the most iconic guitars in history; the Fender Stratocaster.

We will go through the setup process and show you a couple variations on how they can be set up and the proper way to do it in each configuration.

Evaluation

The first step in the setup process is the initial evaluation of the instrument. You want to go through the guitar and find out as many possible problems beforehand so they can be properly fixed or addressed so you don’t waste any time going back to correct them later on.

Electronics

The first thing you want to do is plug in the guitar and check out all of the electronics. This includes the pots, pickups, jack, and switch to make sure everything is working properly. This will alert you of any electronic issues the instrument has now that can be fixed when the old strings are cut off later on during the setup process.

Neck Relief

The next thing to do is straighten out the neck if it is not fairly straight already. Doing this will help flush out any fret or nut issues that can be taken care of now before we go any further.

To straighten the neck you want to check how much relief there is first. You can use a straight edge ruler that lays across the top of most of the frets of the neck or a notched straight edge that rests against the fretboard. You want to lay the ruler down the middle of the neck between the D and G strings.

If there is too much relief, there will be a gap between the bottom of the ruler and the frets or fretboard near the middle of the neck.

You will then need to grab your truss rod tool and turn the truss rod nut clockwise until that gap is gone on the bottom edge of the ruler.

If the neck has a back bow, the ruler will rock back and forth at the ends because the neck is bowed up in the middle. You will want to adjust the truss rod nut counterclockwise until the ruler is resting flat and even across the frets and/or fretboard.

Strat

If you don’t have a straight edge or notched ruler, you can use a capo, a .005″ feeler gauge, and your hands to check the relief of your neck. Place the capo at the first fret. Then with the thumb of your right hand, fret the low E string down around the 17th fret.

Take the .005″ feeler gauge with your left hand and slide it between the bottom of the E string and the top of the 7th fret. You want this much relief in the neck. Adjust the truss rod until the feeler gauge fits between the bottom of the string and the fret.

Unfortunately, most truss rod adjustments on a Stratocaster’s neck are located at the heel. So in order to adjust the neck, you will need to take the neck out of the body to get to it.

The easiest way to do this is to capo the strings at the first fret, loosen strings at the tuner, take out neck screws, pull the neck out of the body slightly in order to adjust the neck. After adjusting the truss rod, clockwise to reduce relief and counter-clockwise to add relief, then reattach neck in the body with the screws and retune the strings in order to recheck the relief in the neck.

Frets

Now with the neck straight we can check if there are any fret issues. It is important to take care of any problems with the frets now so we can make sure that we can setup up the guitar as best we can without any buzzing or dead spots on the neck.

We will use the fret rocker tool to check all the frets on the neck and make sure there are no high frets. You also want to make sure that none of the frets are loose and popping up out of the fret slots. If there are loose and uneven frets then they would need to be reseated and glued down. Then a fret level and crowning would need to be done to them before moving on.

You can check out our fret level article that shows you step by step how to go about one. If you are not comfortable or have the right tools then please let a qualified luthier or repair shop do this for you.

Nut

This is also the best time to check the string heights at the nut and see if the nut needs to be replaced or shimmed. You want to check the nut slots to see if any are too low that strings might be resting or buzzing on the first fret when the neck relief was adjusted straight. If there are issues like this at the nut or you prefer a different material, then it will have to be taken out to be either replaced or shimmed.

Remove Old Strings and Clean Up

After the initial evaluation of the guitar is finished, and we didn’t run into any issues listed above, then we can continue by removing the old strings and giving the guitar a good cleanup.

It is a good idea to slacken the strings before you cut them off. This will help reduce any stress or potential damage to the headstock from the sudden loss of tension.

Now with the old strings off you want to clean up the guitar before we put the new strings on.

I like to polish up the frets and clean and oil the fretboard, if made of a hardwood other than maple, first. You can use 0000 steel wool or a 320 grit Klingspor pad to polish the frets and break up any dirt that might be on the fingerboard.

I also like to tighten up any loose screws or nuts at this point, especially on the tuning pegs which can cause tuning issues if they are not secure.

And make sure the strap pegs and neck screws are nice and secure.

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After everything is secure and cleaned up we can throw on the new strings!

New Strings and Neck Adjustment

New Strings

Ok, now with the guitar all cleaned up we can restring it with a fresh set of strings.

Traditional Strat bridges are strung through the back body and up through the block of the tremolo. There is a hole drilled out in the block for each string and pops up out of the baseplate on the top side of the bridge in the middle of the saddles.

Pull the string to the tuner. Then you want to cut off some of the end of the string in order to get it wound around the tuner posts correctly.

For the low E and A string you want to cut the string about 2 & 1/2″ behind the tuner. Take the end of string and put it down into the hole of the tuner and bend it over to the right and manually wrap the string once around the tuner like the pictures show below and tune the string up.

Do this for the rest of the strings cutting about 3 & 1/2″ behind the tuner of the D and G strings. Don’t cut the B and high E, but just use the whole string to make sure you have the correct string break behind the nut for them since they are smaller in diameter than the wound ones.

Put on all the strings and tune up to pitch. Grab each string individually and pull it gently up and around in a small circular motion near the middle of the fretboard to “stretch” the string and make sure the wraps around the posts are tight and are not going to move or constrict later causing tuning issues.

Be sure to hold the strings behind the nut with your fretting hand to make sure they don’t pop out of the nut when you are stretching them.

Then retune the string to pitch. Do this a couple of times for each string.

Adjust Neck

With the new strings on and stretched, we can adjust the neck. We did this step already in the evaluation so most of the time the neck is already straight and ready to go, but if not, repeat the process we went through above until the neck is straight and there is a .005″ gap of relief between the bottom of the E strings and the top of the 7th fret.

String Action

With the neck straight we can adjust the height of the strings which is called the string action.

Adjusting the Saddles

Adjusting the string action on a Stratocaster is pretty straightforward. Using the proper screwdriver or allen wrench, rotate the small height adjustment screws that are threaded into the saddle to raise or lower them.

Using a ruler or a string action gauge card and holding the guitar in playing position, measure from the top of the 12th fret to the bottom of the string. This is how you get the string action measurement. A good place to start for the action on a Strat is 4/64″ on all the strings.

Depending on the guitar and playing style, the action can be adjusted slightly lower or higher from this starting point to get a comfortable action without buzzing.

String Action at Nut

A critical adjustment that is easily overlooked is the string height at the nut. A correctly adjusted nut can help improve playability and intonation on the first couple of frets especially for barred or open chords.

To measure the height of the strings at the nut, measure from the top of the first fret to the bottom of the string. We then will use the proper nut files for the string gauges used to cut each slot in the nut to the proper depth. It is best to start slow and a little higher to make sure you don’t go too low and cause the string to buzz on top of the first fret when played open.

It is also important to cut the nut slot in a slight downward angle. If the nut slot is flat, then the string will rattle and buzz when played open.

A good place to start is at the factory heights which are 1.5/64″ or .022″ for the Low E, A, D, and G strings, and 1/64″ or .018″ for the B and high E strings.

From here you can lower each slot until you feel each string is low and comfortable enough for your playing style. I wouldn’t go any lower than just above the 1/64″ mark for all the strings except the B and high E strings. These two strings can go down slightly further and still play and ring out normally, but proceed with caution.

After each slot is cut to the right height, clean up any dust or debris. Recheck the action and tuning. Then apply a nut sauce or lubricant to each slot to keep the strings moving freely and prevent any binding.

I also like to throw some lubricant on the areas of the E and B string that rests under the string tree to help prevent any dragging there and keep the string moving freely.

Intonation

The final major adjustment is setting the intonation for each string.

The most common Strat bridge has 6 steel saddles with each one holding a string. They are threaded, with a spring inbetween to keep tension, on to screws located in the back of the bridge that can move the saddle forward or backward to adjust the length of the string in order to set the intonation. This will make the notes below and above the 12th fret as in tune as they can be with each other.

Using a strobe tuner is highly recommended in order to set the intonation as in tune as possible.

First, start by hitting the string open or the harmonic at the 12th fret. Lets say the low E for example and tune it to pitch.

Then fret the low E string at the 12th fret and play the note. If the saddle is in the correct position, the notes should be the same pitch.

If the fretted note is higher or sharper than the open or harmonic note then the saddle needs to be moved back. Use a small screwdriver to adjust the saddle. Retune the open note and check the fretted note again. Adjust until the 2 notes are the same.

If the fretted note is lower or flatter, then the saddle needs to move forward. Adjust the saddle and repeat the steps above until the notes are the same.

Repeat for all the strings until each strings saddle is in the correct position and proper intonation point.

After the intonation is set, apply some of that nut sauce or lubricant to each strings notch in the saddle to help reduce friction at this contact point for better tuning stability.

Pickup Height Adjustment

Pickup height adjustment is usually a pretty simple task on a Stratocaster. The pickups are attached to the pickguard by 2 height adjustment screws on either side of each pickup. These screws are used to change the height of the pickup higher or lower in relation to the strings to achieve the best tone.

You want to make sure that the pickups are evenly matched volume wise when you are adjusting them. Do this through your amp with the volume and tone all the way up and wide open. You want the notes to ring loud and clear without any distortion or warbling, which can happen if the pickups are too close to the strings.

Pickup height is measured by fretting the outer two E strings at the last fret and measuring from the top of the pole piece directly under that string to the bottom of the depressed string. You can .do this with an action gauge card, ruler in 64ths of an inch or mm, or feeler gauges.

Conclusion

And that wraps up our Fender Strat setup article. If you followed all these steps, your Strat should be playing and sounding better than it ever has!!!

Nut slots
..with principles that apply, as appropriate, to bridge slots as well

Here's a gnat's-eye view at the face of a nut as seen from the leeward side of the second fret. The slots for these two strings are cut so that they completely support the string.


The sketch above relates to fretted instruments, but the basic principles are no different for violin family and other unfretted instruments. I'll try to explain the clearance in a minute.

Here's an idea of how it works on a bass:



Having the slot cut too high above the frets (or an unfretted board of some type) means that the act of pressing the string down to the first few frets actually stretches the string, raising the pitch and throwing the intonation off in the process. Ideally, the nut slot height is identical to any other fret. But remember that strings can 'saw' themselves through a nut just through normal use. I ordinarily leave a nut slot a little higher than necessary at first, to allow for the string to cut itself a little lower. I also avoid synthetic and elephant ivory, both of which are too soft and rubbery to make good nuts for steel strings.

Here's a shimmed-up mess of a nut that has all the problems:


These slots are all too deep, but the B is still so high it doesn't play in tune, so someone shoved a piece of ebony under it to try and correct the intonation. Big 'Ugh' for this one.

People often comment on certain strings (e.g., mandolin A strings, guitar G strings) being more troublesome, always seeming to go out of tune during play. Mandolin A's are always the most troublesome because they have to make compound bends from the nut: back as well as to one side. And the length from the nut to the post being the other important factor. And being plain strings, they tend to bind if the slots aren't cut right. (The D's, being wound, tend to refine their own slots.)

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When you tune, you always tune up to a note, never down, right? Right.

It's about friction in the slot.

And with a poorly cut nut, when you tune up, the tension on the length of string between the nut and the string post is greater (per unit of length) than the part you actually play, that's between the nut and the bridge. After getting the pitch just right, a bit of actual playing works the string, making the tension on both sides of the nut equalize, and voilà: you're out of tune in mid-phrase. It has nothing to do with the tuning machines, which people just love to blame, but everything to do with setup, particularly how precisely the string slots at the nut are cut.

A quick word about creaking guitar G strings: this issue is fading as elephant ivory nuts are fading. Bone is superior to ivory for a nut material because it's harder and burnishes better. Ivory is soft and actually registers the imprint of string windings. That irritating creak is the sound of the windings skidding over grooves impressed inside the nut slot. Once again: setup is everything. (You can resurface string slots in an ivory nut by inlaying bits of with pearl or bone, if you like.)


How do you easily determine the ideal height of the string slot in the nut? OK, start with ⓵:


The string is a superb straightedge when it's under tension. This assumes the frets are really true and level.

The sketch below illustrates how - and how not - to shape a slot for any string.

Left: like the messy nut above, the nut material is too high. You need only enough to support half the diameter of the string. Anything more is just in the way. When the string is way below the top of the nut, you have great difficulty telling whether it's seating properly.

Next: a slot that's cut with a saw has a roughly flat bottom and also affords poor acoustic coupling. Saws seldom match the precise width of the string, which can roll side to side in the slot.

Next: strings will work their way down a v-cut, often bottoming out on frets (or the board, as the case may be with fretless instruments). The signal transfer is compromised because of the limited contact, and the string sizzles on the fret or the board. They also tend to bind and squeak. They can ruin your day.

Right: the slot really fits the diameter of the string, the nut material does not go above the halfway point of that diameter, and leaves the string a trace of clearance above the fret or the unfretted board surface.



How much is a trace? I'm reluctant to assign a measurement—it's very little. You can still see a bit of light.
If you hold any string down on any fret of a well set up instrument, you'll see that same preferred clearance at the next fret up.

Before going further, here's how to correct a string slot that's too low. Often it's wiser to repair a blown slot than it is to replace the whole nut.

Quick fixes like some kind of dust (bone, acrylic, baking soda) with superglue are really temporary. It takes little more effort to implant a little patch of bone (or even pearl) into the nut and recut the slot. It's as good as the original, and if done well, is quite invisible.



I have a couple of saws I use for widening and deepening in preparation for an implant. One is a fine hacksaw blade in a short handle, which is for wider strings. It leaves a nice flat-bottomed slot. The other is a backsaw such as one would use for cutting fret slots, which does the same and is good for finer strings. Avoiding hitting the first fret, assuming there is one, I cut down below the blown slot, sometimes almost to the board itself, angling the saw back a bit. Then I prepare the piece of bone (or whatever: ebony for a violin or cello) by carefully filing a piece of the material with a fine flat file until it slips snugly into the slot. I usually use old saddle scraps for this. A drop of CA and a tap and it's in there:


Trim and dress the nut as if it was new and uncut, then cut the new slot.

Strat Nut Slot Height Dimensions


The slot itself needs to be shaped in a way that it not only fits the diameter of each individual string, but also such that the string has firm contact with the nut at the very front of the slot. This defines the end of the vibrating string length, and if it's not right, intonation will be impaired at the very least, and you may well find your string sizzling like a sitar string.

I prefer to shape my slots in the shape of a horn's bell:

The point of this is to offer a smooth surface for the string to travel from the tuning machine to the critical point of final contact at the front of the slot, where it is held firmly to define the end of the vibrating string length.

Strings have to make a compound bend at the nut, and to make tuning easiest while ensuring complete firm contact at the front of the slot, this horn bell shape makes certain the string glides smoothly, no matter the angle of approach. Here's a treble side view:

The bell here is imaginary. The nut is in yellow, the fingerboard is dark brown. The string is the green line, and the tuning machines are off to the right somewhere. Notice that the string connects with a smooth curved surface, no corner or edge. Whether the string is coming from the top or the bottom of the string post, it will slide smoothly into the nut slot. The string is in complete contact with the front 30% of the nut. There's plenty of substance there to keep the string from sawing its way deeper into the bone.

Fender Strat Nut Height

Here's the same slot seen looking straight down from above:

The string's other curve, from, say, the farthest peg on the bass side of the headstock, also elides with the inside of the bell-shaped slot, guided gently and directly to the front where it's held firmly by its own tension inside the confines of a well cut slot.

If the slot isn't properly angled back, several problems can arise.

If it's too flat (some repair books actually advocate this!) the string soon wears away the front of the slot and the functional point of contact is as much a 40% of the width of the nut back from the front edge, which can cause the note to ring poorly (because it's vibrating along a surface, not held to a point) and perhaps cause intonation problems. This is bad:

If the slot is angled back, but left a straight line, it will bind on the back edge, and the front edge will wear down from playing and the string is at risk for sizzling on the first fret or on the surface of the board. This is also bad:

The precise shape of the slot at the front edge is extremely important for sound quality, stability of the setup, and intonation.

More on bridges in due time, but the principles here apply to bridge slots on the viol and violin families, guitars, mandolins, and so on.
Here's a page on the files and so on you need to cut nuts.

Back to the repair index page.