Hi everyone,

I'm shaping and slotting my first nut. I'm a little surprised at the lack of string spacing resources out there. I love StewMac and I've spent a few hundred bucks there already but at $21, their "string spacing rule" seems ridiculously overpriced, especially for such simple info.

How do you guys tackle the string spacing thing when slotting a nut?

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I use an elastic capo behind the nut, if you get the string tension right you can move the strings around until they look right. That's how I was taught. Sometimes I put the old nut behind the new one and use the elastic capo. I've used a compass, get the  outside strings in place and then eyeball it, try it, erase the pencil marks, adjust the distance until the compass works. It doesn't take many tries. I have one of the rulers too but I've been doing a lot longer the other way.

Hi L&G'S

If you are only making one nut a year I guess its expensive, but 20 bucks down here is 20 minutes of work at workshop rates. Matter of economics really. 

I have one of these and it just makes life so easy when a non standard spacing is required (otherwize its preslotted stuff, I seldom make nuts these days)  - its also great for templating old nuts to new material when replacement is required on the older stuff.  I have a perfectly good set of proportional 10 point dividers that will likely go rusty.




I had a similar idea...I have a few old nuts saved from each of the big 3 brands. I adhere it right behind the newly installed nut and just slip a marking saw in the old slot so that it lines up over the new nut.

From all the opinions here, it's pretty clear to me that the StewMac string spacing rule is absolutely worth buying. I could deplete my savings account on the StewMac site...but some of their stuff is just ridiculously overpriced. That comes with any highly regarded brand name though I guess.

Anyway, thanks very much for all the suggestions.

I should clarify, if I put the old nut behind the new one I also put the strings on so I can tweak it. I learned a long time ago that no matter how much you measure of it doesn't look right, it probably isn't. This is especially true when centering things and spacing things. With the strings in place I mark on either side of the string and cut in between the lines. 

My best advice on cutting the nut slots is to start all the slots with your narrowest file, not deep just enough to make sure you're right on the line. It will make it easier to start the larger lower string files on your mark.

Another nut making trick is lay a pencil on the belt sander until you're halfway through. When your finished fitting nut to the ledge, hold it in place, lay the pencil on the frets and mark across the face of the nut. It gives you a quick visual of the top profile of the nut.

Some pics of the half pencil thing - priceless and we use these frequently!

Stew Mac offerings actually represent real value to us and are often excellent solutions at a very reasonable price considering....  

We've dipped our toes in the pond of making Lutherie tools and let me tell you it is not an inexpensive endeavor to bring any Lutherie special tool to the market.  Nearly everything that one learns in business school that needs to be present for a successful product launch is absent when offering tools for Luthiers.  We also have Six Sigma training, expertise in JIT and Lean manufacturing, and in the past have made livings providing expertise in bringing new products to market....  Nonetheless producing Lutherie tools for such a very small market is very difficult and expensive to do and do well.

First folks are price sensitive and often come to the conclusion, wrongly I would add respectfully, that these offerings are over priced.  Next is the predisposition that many of us have to go to school on someone else's IP (intellectual property) and make it ourselves.  Nothing wrong with this mind you but it is a consideration in so much as it shrinks the potential market for any tool offering.

There is also the fact that many who participate in this trade do not do so to make their livings.  Instead it's a side line, supplemental income or even a hobby.  It's admittedly difficult to justify some of these purchases when the tools may only get used a very few times.

And then there are the costs associated with bringing any new tool offering to market something we know a lot about, unfortunately....

I would estimate that we have over $5,000.00 of Stew-Mac stuff and climbing.  We find their tools to usually be excellent for the intended purposes.  You also have to keep in mind that some of these tools such as say the neck jig may only represent a total lifetime sales opportunity of a couple dozen units.  No economies of scale there for Stew-Mac or Luthiers who may want one.

Lastly Stew-Mac has to walk a very fine line of serving industry pros who in my experience generally appreciate Stew-Mac greatly and hobbyists who may only wish to build one guitar and as such a couple of grand for tools is prohibitive.  How do you produce tools with high enough quality so that I can do 300 fret dresses with a diamond crowning file and the one time hobby builder can also afford the thing....  Not easy to do but on balance Stew-Mac stuff is generally excellent, innovative, appropriately priced for the two very different markets that Stew-Mac serves and backed by the experience in the trade of Dan, Eric and other industry pros including Frank with the excellent Jack the Gripper who have made all of our lives easier because of their contributions.

So it's relative as to if Stew-Mac stuff is expensive in anyone's view - in my view many of the Stew-Mac offerings are priceless, spot on for the intended purpose, competitively priced, innovative as hell, and most of all the stuff simply works and works very well.

Disclaimer:  I am not affiliated with Stew-Mac in any way, I'm just grateful to them - can you imagine life without Stew-Mac.....

PS:  The string spacing rule is excellent and mine has been used hundreds of times with never a problem.  Amortize my rate of usage with the price and the thing has very much paid for itself countless times and will continue to do so as long as I am taking up space... ;)

This is a really good point, Hesh.  As a hobbyist, I don't have much in the way of tools that I didn't make/adapt myself but I do have a few Stew Mac tools. One that I probably wouldn't have bought for myself is the jig for pressing necks off of the body. I have one only because it was given to me. I used it a couple of times and it work just as I expected, then I came across a "loose" neck and decided it only needed a bit of help so I didn't dig out the press. What I DID do was "wiggle" the neck until I broke most of the sloped edges off of the tail on the neck. I ended up putting a lot of my "free" time into rebuilding something I shouldn't have had to fix. New I keep the jig where it's easier to get so I won't be tempted to  skip it again.

Do I really need it. Probably not, but the point is that using it will probably keep me from adding hours of my "free" time to a project and it's just not working smart to NOT use it.  

The time I put into my hobby is "free" time but it's a mistake to think of that as the same as not having value. In some ways, my time may be more valuable than yours simply because I have much less of it available and I don't get compensation for what I "spend" on an instrument. I guess the lesson is that it's not really accurate to measure a tools worth by the number/ amount of times it is used. It should be gauged by the amount of time it saves and time has value even when you don't get paid for it.  

I usually don't/can't justify purchasing another tool for my work simply because I don't make money for what I do BUT having the right tool for the job is very valuable to me in conserving my limited time.  I have often looked at the spacing ruler and though it would be handy but I haven't sprung for it because I just don't do that many new nuts. I think you guys have convinced me that my valuable time is worth the price of a few trips to Starbucks.

Great post Ned!

Sure for both of us our time is valuable and if a decent tool makes the process more enjoyable as well that has value of course too.

There is also the issue of the quality of one's results to consider as well.  If a professional tool provides better results, faster, easier, more reliably and my personal favorite, includes less associated potential liability this has value as well.

Our view is that if we take it in and break it we have to fix it or buy it....  As such if a fret crowning file with internal angled offset has the possibility of avoiding a slip that may damage a top it's worth consideration as well.

Michael's point about how very decent Stew-Mac is to deal with is super important too and something that I am sorry that I neglected to mention.  I've personally experienced some of the best customer service of my life from Stew-Mac and this is a very welcome thing as well.

Regarding the neck jig I chuckled here because we built our's after Bryan Galloup's design and use it too.  But we don't use it all of the time and sometimes just getting on the floor and wrestling with the thing can work too.... kidding of course (we don't get on the floor....) but there are necks that will release at times with out the jig.  Problem is that you cannot be sure of this until your in the deed so it's good to have a plan B available too.

I also know for a fact that Stew-Mac rigorously tests their offerings prior to rolling them out for general sales.  We've been testers for nut files when SM switched suppliers and I've personally be asked to beta test new formulations of rattle can lacquer.  This is a responsible approach to the market in my view and it also lets some of us have some skin in the game in respect to what some of these offerings do and how they do it.

While we are at it LMI is also a high-quality company in my view as well.  Excellent customer service, great products, great people, etc.  

On balance we are actually pretty fortunate to have some of the fine companies available to us that play in the Lutherie space.  Let's face it too as a market we represent business concerns who make our livings from the disposable income of musicians..... ;)  Not exactly the most winning business plan mind you...  We also represent a market of some pretty capable folks who are usually keen to make our own or improve upon a commercial, repurposed offering.  Luthiers are not flush by any means IME... which means that purchasing special, limited use tools is not easy for us.

Lutherie suppliers play in a market that is fraught with reasons why no Harvard grad would ever come near us as a potential, lucrative market but here they are anyway and so too are we.

As such I believe that we are fortunate to have some of these companies that have our backs and I doubt if this is an all that common thing in any skilled trade to have this high level of satisfaction with suppliers.

I've been buying from Stew-Mac, since the mid 90's, and have often come to this subject of "wow...why so way !", while needing something they had. And I agree with Hesh completely, eventually just biting the bullet, and buying the thing.But just one thing I might add here, that has made a difference for me, all these that whenever I have a problem with one of these tools or parts, or whatever.....they take it back, refund it, or swap it out, quickly, and no questions asked, sometimes after as much as a year later. And sometimes sending the new one out ,before receiving the old one back from me.

The ruler mentioned here is worth the money, all things considered in my opinion.

Hi Pete- I have one of those shop helpers and I wouldn't be without it -- the greatest little helper since sliced bread.

I use it all the time but like Rusty says - if you don't use it but once or twice a year then its costly-- just my two cents worth  -- Pease and God bless

I completely understand, Donald, but sometimes when, for the tenth or twentieth time, I'm looking at a task that would be so much easier and quicker with a special tool, I wonder why I didn't just buy the thing all those years ago.  Of course, I almost never buy it now either because... well, it cost even more now. 

The collecting of tools is a never ending, fine and pleasant misery. 

The way I see it Ned is an old saying that I heard years ago and it goes like this

"The one who dies with the most toys wins"

Peace brother-- Donald


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