An everyday, but important job!
Setting Nut Action
© Frank Ford, 5/27/98; Photos by FF, 5/20/98

Here's a simple job. All you do to set the nut action is file the little slots in the nut until they're the right height. No big deal, right?

So how do you tell when it's just right?
Click here to go to the nut action article that shows how I determine the appropriate action.

I think the approach is the key to this operation

With the instrument tuned to pitch, I grab the string in question and lift it:

In a quick motion I slide my hand toward the peghead:

On wound strings you can hear a high pitched "z-z-z-zip" as I slide right up to the peghead and lift the string clear of the nut:

I gently place the string aside next to its neighbor:

This is a big deal. It saves about 90% of the time necessary to set the action because retuning is not necessary between each time I test the action. Yes, it jams my fingers a bit, but it really doesn't hurt.

OK, I can't always lift the string out of the nut. On slotted peghead steel string guitars it's downright impossible to lift the first and sixth strings. I'll detune only as much as is necessary on the strings I can't lift by hand.

Now, all I have to do is to take my nut file and deepen the slot as needed:

Please notice the angle at which I'm holding the file. I try to split the difference between the angle of the peghead and the fingerboard, so my slot will hold the string through its length. For some detail on the ideal nut setup, see the
article on nut configuration.

If I want my new or reconfigured nut to look perfect, I'll set the action on all the strings, then remove the nut and reduce its height so that the string is a little more than half "buried" in the nut. After smoothing and polishing, it will look great, and work correctly.

Back to Index Page