Hey everyone. I recently worked on an instrument with a Zero Fret. I was wondering about others approaches to these. I removed the Zero and dressed the frets. After dressing I put a new zero fret in that is about .008 taller. It plays well now.. Any dressing or re fret info is appreciated. Thanks


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Thanks for all the talk about this. Very thought provoking. Paul I think you capo thoughts are right on. It was a "Kimberly" Teisco Model. Very gummy neck. It's a buddy's guitar that I have been working on in my free time. Fixed a rising tongue and got it going. I used the old nut that was on it ( my buddy wants it to look as natural as it can). With the zero fret the nut is only for string spacing, right?

Hi David,

That is correct, the nut is only for spacing and to keep the strings from moving laterally at the nut position.


So, I measured the FB under string tension to get the fall away I needed to fix the rise in tongue. There is some choking on the last 3-4 frets. Minor but it is there. A couple of the neck mounting screws do not feel like they are biting in very well when I put the neck on. They snug ok, just feel very easy to go in. Could these looser scews allow the neck to come up a bit at the end of the FB causing the choking? If so how should I attempt to snug em down? Toothpicks? The dress is money I know that much. Thanks

For dressing purposes I treat a zero fret as just another fret meaning that the zero fret shares the very same level-set that I seek for the rest of the frets.  There are exceptions though which would make both the higher-zero-fret folks and the same-height-zero-fret folks all correct here in terms of what has been posted so far.

The nut in a zero fret configuration is relegated to no longer being an integral and important part of the scale length system of the instrument and instead is semi-retired... to only addressing string spacing.  As such if the nut slots are high enough or the instrument lacks the set-back angle necessary of the headstock to provide a decent break angle for the strings when they break over the zero fret the zero fret may have to be slightly higher.  One could also, often, increase the depth of the nut slots to gain greater break angle.  But if this is not possible and the instrument in question simply lacks sufficient break angle over the zero fret AND the nut slot depth won't contribute to greater break angle for say reasons of a headstock set-back angle that is too shallow the zero fret may have to be a bit higher than it's brother/sister frets.

However one of the benefits of a zero fret is that it takes absolutely precise nut slot cutting and depth somewhat out of the picture for a decent set-up because the strings break over the zero fret and not at the nut face.

If your struggling with the concept of the zero fret being the very same height draw it out on paper and remember that strings do not "bend" immediately and exactly over the fret, zero fret or any fret at any position on the fret board.  Instead the strings arch over the frets and do not assume the exact height of the fret, any fret in any location, that they are breaking over.  Instead they bend over the fret in a curve if you looked at it with a loop and when this happens the bottom of the string just beyond the last fret that they broke over remains ever so slightly higher than the fret height.  This is why and how a zero fret can work if it is exactly the same height as the other frets.

So... provided that sufficient break angle over the zero fret exists in the set-up I dress the zero fret exactly as I dress the other frets as part of the "system" that the string paths and fret plane represent to me.

How much break angle is needed?  Not sure but I would still be looking for a break angle of approximately half the headstock set-back angle as I once many years ago read here on FRETS and was shared with us all by Frank.  Thank You once again Frank for all that you do and have done for all of us and the world of Lutherie!!!

Thanks Hesh, that'll do me for a good answer - I see how that works now and  now have the knowledge to blind subsequent zero fret customers with science and reason!   Good stuff.


I also appreciate that Hesh - the "break angle over the headstock" was good stuff, and made me realize yet another important factor I should consider when setting up a Zero Fret... It makes me wonder if using appropriate string trees would work on a Zero Fret guitar, if the desire is to keep ALL the frets level on a guitar with a shallow or stepped headstock?  Any thought on that?

Hi Jason and a very good question from you too!

I don't know would be my answer but when I sit down and try to reason it out in search of a solution my mind considers the other end of the string path too or more specifically if we considered an acoustic gutiar where the saddle is too low for enough of a break angle over the saddle.

What we see there is that a traveling wave along a string may and does, when the saddle is too low, at times lift the string ever so slightly from the saddle, not in contact mind you although that's possible too, but to the degree where the saddle no longer terminates the "speaking length" of the string sufficiently for a clear note to sound and result.

Moving back to the nut/zero fret end of the strings it's really no different in so much as if sufficient break angle over the zero fret does not exist we get that infamous sitar sound....

String trees to my way of thinking are in place say on a Fender style neck to help induce greater neck angle where Leo's wonderful and innovative designs may have lacked enough break angle.  String trees are in place to increase the break angle especially in the Fender world at times for the high e and b strings as well as others at times too. These strings since they are paired with the tuners most distant from the nut suffer from insufficient break angle without the addition of string trees.  And this fix works and has worked as many times as guitars with this Fender style arrangement have been created.

As such I think that you asked a good question and my guess is that string trees which are commonly used to increase break angle would be a good solution, if you don't mind looking at em, for a set-up with insufficient break angle.  One would also have to cut the nut slots, again relegated to spacing the strings only in a zero fret set-up, low enough so that the string trees are increasing the break angle over the zero fret and not just the back side of the nut slots.

As such your idea of augmenting a set-up with a zero fret and insufficient break angle with string trees would likely work in my view.  Please also take this answer with a grain of salt, I don't know and don't mind telling folks that I don't know either.  But one of the most surprising things that I learned in my own lutherie journey is that there often are no "SOPs" or standard operating procedures where everything that we may encounter is in some chapter of a book or posted on a web site.

Instead to my surprise some of the best Luthiers that I know are not only knowledgeable of proper procedures or one way or another to do this or that.  Instead they have also learned what it takes to have the ability to reason things out for themselves.  Perhaps the solitary nature of being a Luthier necessitated this?

As such my answer to you is my own reasoning and may or may not be accurate.  I'm simply taking what I know and have learned from some of my mentors and using it as a basis for expanding a thought in a different direction.

So I hope this helps but please also know that I don't have all the answers by any means.  But I am fortunate enough to have had some great mentors who instead of teaching me procedures only also taught me theory too and the rest, the reasoning it out part, is ultimately up to all of us. 

Sorry for being long winded too.... ;)

re: Fender style construction.....or guitars with insufficient break angle at the headstock.....

I wish that Leo would have gone with this super simple design instead of the 'string tree'.These 'bars' are imperative on these style guitars with zero frets.  Many MIJ beauties have lost theirs over the years but they are simple to reproduce.  The last 3 Teisco style guitars I worked on were missing theirs, so I took some steel round-stock, polished it, cut it to legnth, cut threads on their ends, bent them and installed them in the existing holes. 

Without the "tension bar" the guitars sounded wonky at the zero fret. With the bar, they all sang like birds and were stable.  What I took away from this experience is that regardless of how finessed the "guide nut" is cut, the real trick is the break angle pressure behind the nut. I also came to the conclusion that the string guide (the 'nut') works best when cut right down to the FB.  I take them off the instrument & cut their slots to a depth a half mm below the FB.  I also gently chamfer the end of the FB between the zero fret and the guide for a 'smoothed' transition. I have to keep reminding myself that the 'nut' is ONLY a guide.

However, I'm most happy that very few, if any, medium to large scale makers use zero frets nowadays.

This has been a VERY interesting thread.  There's a lot of good old fashioned imaginative thinking and problem solving going on.  Kudos to all responders (:

Two questions.

 1. Does the nut need to be as thick if it is only used for spacing or would a thinner nut help with the break angle issue?

2. Do the string trees, or the bars contribute to an increase likelyhood that a head will snap if the guitar falls?

Hi Ned.

GREAT questions!!!

1. I think that a thinner (1/8") guide nut would be beneficial.

2. No.  I can't recall ever seeing a Fender style headstock snap-off from a fall.  If Hendrix and Townsend couldn't snap them off with repeated & deliberate abuse, it's a good old fashioned & time proven "built like a tank" neck design. 

I look at it like this: If a couple of 3/32" holes in the headstock had a detrimental effect, the six 1/4" or 10mm tuner holes would already be the weak link.

And I forgot....the picture was indiscriminately borrowed from the web. My appreciation and apologies to the photographer.

Thanks Paul, I was thinking that the holes AND the tension on the bar might contribute to a weaker head but, now that I think about it, I can see why it wouldn't matter, given how the head is cut flat/setback rather than at the steeper angle of an acoustic.

I really am going to have to buy/build one of these new fangled 'lectric guitars.

Somebody get this man some oxygen, STAT. :)


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