9. Install the remaining strings and tighten
them up—but don’t tune them to pitch
just yet. Recheck the strings to confirm
they’re spaced equidistantly. Gently carve
shallow reference slots into the blank
using nut files (each file should match
the gauge of the slot’s corresponding
string). For now, these slots only need to
hold the strings to check their spacing.
10. When the spacing of each string is correct, tune the guitar to pitch. Measure
the amount of relief in the neck (Photo
26). Before you finish cutting the nut
slots, make sure the neck doesn’t have too
much relief (forward bow). The final nut
slot depth depends on having the correct
amount of relief, which is approximately
.012" to .020", depending on a player’s
technique and string gauges.
Once the guitar is tuned to pitch,
you can expect to adjust the truss
rod to get the relief dialed in. On
a vintage-style neck, you adjust the
truss rod at the heel. This necessitates
removing the neck (Photo 27).
11. Cut the string slots to the proper depth,
beginning with the 1st string, which
should have a distance of 1/64" (.015")
from the top of the 1st fret to the bottom
of the string. This height will gradually
increase to just slightly over 1/32" (.032")
for the 6th string. Go slowly! Remember,
you can always deepen the slots, but you
can’t undo what you’ve already cut.
Tip: When cutting the slots, tilt your file
down toward the headstock (Photo 28).
A gently angled slot keeps the strings seated
firmly as they slope down toward the tuners.
12. Sand the top of the new nut so that
the string slots aren’t surrounded by
26. Measuring neck relief
after the strings are tuned
27. To adjust a
vintage-style truss rod, you
need to remove the neck.
28. When cutting nut slots,
tilt your file down toward
a radiused block to sand
down the top of the nut.
too much material (Photo 29). But
don’t sand too much, otherwise the
strings may slip out of the nut when
you bend them or dig into the guitar.
Then polish the nut with 600-grit
paper, and finally buff the bone with
a polishing cloth.
With the mechanical pencil, color
the inside of the string slots. This bit
of graphite will prevent the strings
from sticking in the slots.
Add string trees
Once the guitar is strung and the nut is
slotted, it’s time to install the string trees.
1. Suspend the string tree over its corresponding pair of strings to determine
where you want to position it (Photo
30). Typically, it’s midway between the
tuner post and the nut.
2. With a sharp-tipped tool, mark a pilot
hole, countersink it, and drill the screw
hole. Follow the procedures you used
for drilling holes for the tuner mounting screws. Remember to measure
screw depth and mark your drill bit so
you don’t go too far into the headstock.
3. Set string tree height. String trees only
need to apply enough downward pressure to keep the high strings firmly in
their slots as they stretch back toward
the tuners. Stand-offs—washer-like
cylinders that fit between the tree and
the headstock—of different heights
allow you to precisely adjust a tree’s
downward pressure. To get the height
I wanted, I clipped a brass ball-end
from a bass string in half and use this
as a stand-off (Photo 31).
Tip: Some necks require a pair of string
trees—one on strings 1 and 2, and a
second on strings 3 and 4—to keep
the strings from buzzing in their slots.
Other necks only need a tree on the top
two strings. A sitar-like buzz or lack of
sustain when you play an open string
can indicate the need for a string tree.
30. Determine the string location, then mark a
pilot hole for the screw.
31. Use a stand-off to
set the string tree height. If the slots are cut correctly, you only need to apply gentle downward
pressure on the strings.