4. Setting action at the nut
Having the strings’ height set correctly around the 12th fret, it’s now time to take a close look at the string height at the nut. The nut is the slotted piece of bone or other dense material where the strings cross over from the tuners/headstock into the scale length beginning at the fretboard. There is an ideal height for this area as well. If you’re serious about getting your setup to professional standards, you need files of various gauges.
The slots at the nut for each individual string need to be filed according to the gauge of the string. For example, if the string’s gauge is .32 you need to use the file from your set that is one size above .32.”
The ideal height for the strings at the nut is also somewhat subjective. I have been to many, many forums, websites, and videos. In simple, laymen’s and very effective terms, here is the best way to set the height of your strings at the nut:
- With the strings tuned to pitch, use a finger above fret #1 to push down on the Low E string until it touches the fret and then allow it to rise back up. Do this several times. Does the string move so much that you can visibly see it going up and down when you push on it? If YES, that particular string action at the nut is too high.
- Loosen and remove the string from the slot.
- Use the appropriate gauge nut file to remove a little bit of material from the slot (no more than a couple of decent scrapes with the file) and then tighten string and repeat the finger push test you did in #1. Knowing how much of a tiny bit of material to remove from each slot will take time. Start with two passes and note the difference. Then, try three passes and note the difference and then four. Always be aware at how much of a change there is in the string push test.
- Make tiny incremental adjustments until the finger push test reveals barely noticeable movement in the string.
- Move on to the next string.
- Repeat #1-4 for every string.
This can take a long time when you’re just beginning to do this. DON’T EXPECT TO MAKE IT PERFECT IN THE 1ST SITTING! Remember, you are making your guitar reach its maximum playability comfort zone and if it takes several days to a week of careful adjustments, so be it.
I recently finished a guitar was able to set the nut action in about 2 hrs. and felt like I had become a pro. Later, I went back and checked earlier guitars I made and was able to fine tune the string height at the nut a great deal on some I thought were near-perfect when I did them. This learning curve is long. Be patient if you are a beginner.