Carve the new nut (optional)
Now that the neck and body are in alignment, the next is to carve a new string nut. (If
you order a neck with a pre-installed nut, you
may skip ahead to Step 5.) The owner of our
Tele requested a custom carved bone nut—a
great choice for the project, because bone will
give this instrument a wider dynamic range
and better sustain than typical synthetic materials. However, carving a string nut is a very
painstaking process. One alternative is to buy
a pre-shaped and slotted bone nut from stew-
mac.com or other luthier suppliers. This typically saves many steps and requires only final
fitting and string-slot shaping (numbers 7-13
below). That said, the only way to guarantee
that a bone nut will fit a given neck is to carve
it from scratch. Here’s how I do it:
1. Sand a bone blank (Photo 18) to fit
the width of the nut slot and to sit
flush with its bottom. Some slot bottoms have a radius, while others are
flat, so check your fretboard to be sure
that you start with the correct bone
blank. The goal is to achieve a snug fit
with no visible gaps (Photo 19).
2. Once the basic shaping is done, slip
the nut into the slot and install the
6th and 1st strings. Tighten them just
enough that they sit on the nut and
hold it in place. Using a mechanical
pencil, mark the ends of the blank
where they extend beyond the edge of
the fretboard (Photo 20).
3. Remove the blank and sand the extended ends until the nut sits flush with the
edges of the fretboard. Work slowly, and
periodically reinsert the nut to check your
progress. This can take several passes.
4. Hold the blank in place again with the
6th and 1st strings, and use a mechanical
pencil and machinist’s rule to mark the
overall height for the nut. Lay the rule
on top of the frets and slide it up to the
nut blank. Then mark the blank along
the top of the rule as you move it back
and forth across the frets (Photo 21).
5. Detune the strings and slide them
aside. With the pencil, trace a second
reference line along the edge of the
fretboard where it meets the nut blank.
6. Remove the nut and sand the top of the
blank down to the first line you drew.
Be sure you sand the top to match the
fretboard radius. In this case, I used a
10" radius block to match Warmoth’s
10"- 16" compound radius (Photo 22).
18. Bone nut blanks come bleached or unbleached, and also sport either radiused or flat bottoms
to match your fretboard’s nut slot.
19. Check the fit frequently as you shape the bone blank into a
20. Marking the nut where it extends past the fretboard. This material will be sanded off.
Mark the overall height of the new nut with a mechanical pencil and machinist’s rule.
22. Using a
radius block and fine sandpaper to shape the top of the new nut. At this point, the blank has two
lines: One marks the top of the nut, the other marks where the fretboard meets the nut.
new nut is ready for string slots and final shaping and polishing.
24. Adding a drop of super glue to
secure the shaped nut.
25. Measuring the string spacing. The trick is to space the strings equally—
despite their different diameters—and this takes careful calculation.
When you’re done, the nut’s top will
follow the fretboard curve that’s referenced by the lower line (Photo 23).
7. Insert the nut back in the slot and tighten the 6th and 1st strings to hold the nut
in place. At this point, when I’m sure the
nut is shaped and fitted correctly, I put
a tiny drop of super glue on the end of a
plain string and let the glue wick down
into the slot to hold the nut in place
(Photo 24). Blot any excess glue while
it’s still wet with a white paper towel.
Now use the pencil to mark the location of the 6th and 1st strings, paying
close attention to the distance between
their outer edge and the edge of the fretboard. Different players have different
preferences here, but you want to avoid
getting too close to the fretboard edge—
you don’t want those strings sliding off.
8. With the outer strings marked, it’s time
to calculate the locations of the remaining
four strings. Use a fine ruler and take the
width of each string into account. The
goal is to create an equal space between
all six strings. Mark these locations
with pencil, as you may need to change
them during this process (Photo 25).