In the compensated nut thread I made some experimenting and measuring. I realized that I didn't handle the nut action as I should. Somehow I was stuck in using a standard set of feeler gauges for each string. The same for my normal action at the 12th for an acoustic guitar as for electric guitars with lower action.

Now I know that the method given by Frank Ford  is a much better way to do it. By pressing down the string at the 3d fret the 12th fret action is irrelevant. The nut action you get that way is similar to what you get from a zero fret.

Having a guitar on my desk with an adjustable bridge I took the time to measure the nut action for the e and E string using a zero fret and different 12th fret actions. Measured with feeler gauges in steps of 0.05 mm.

E 12th / 1st
2.0 mm  0.30 mm
2.1 mm  0.30 mm
2.2 mm  0.30 mm
2.3 mm  0.35 mm
2.4 mm  0.40 mm
2.5 mm  0.40 mm
2.6 mm  0.45 mm
2.7 mm  0.45 mm
2.8 mm  0.45 mm
2.9 mm  0.45 mm
3.0 mm  0.50 mm
3.1 mm  0.50 mm
3.2 mm  0.50 mm

e 12th / 1st
0.6 mm  0.08 mm
0.7 mm  0.08 mm
0.8 mm  0.10 mm
0.9 mm  0.10 mm
1.0 mm  0.10 mm
1.1 mm  0.10 mm
1.2 mm  0.10 mm
1.3 mm  0.15 mm
1.4 mm  0.15 mm
1.5 mm  0.15 mm
1.6 mm  0.15 mm
1.7 mm  0.20 mm
1.8 mm  0.20 mm

Given the 12th action on the E/e strings you can find the nut action given by a zero fret in the table. I think the nut can be even lower than the zero fret without buzzing due to the extra stiffness of the string coming out from the nut.

The lowest action that was playable without any buzzing was 2.2/1.3 mm. But  even with 2.0/0.6 there was no fretting out.

If you start with a high 12th fret action and use the table or Frank Ford method, the nut action at the 1st fret is higher than it need to be. The 1st will not buzz with the lowest nut action in the table. That will make the guitar easier to play with a high 12th fret action.  But if you then lower the 12st fret action the 1st fret will probably start buzzing :-)

I have a question. When doing the saddle, the 12th fret action for the two E/e strings is the ones I always measure to set the action. What is the best action for the middle strings? The obvious way is to make a straight line between the E/e strings for a flat fretboard or follow the same curve as the radius of the fretboard. But maybe the A and D strings should be a little bit higher, the G and b strings a little bit lower? A and D seems to vibrate a bit more and the G and b strings a bit less.

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I think most of us here don't bother with feeler gauges, or predetermined specs for nut slot depth. Each player has different expectations regarding how low you can cut the nut slots. Some players expect their open strings to ring clean when played hard, so this requires less depth than for a player who plays with a light touch, or for a player who doesn't use open strings very much.

A good way to be sure each nut slot is at the correct depth is (with the rod and bridge height adjusted correctly) to cut it down conservatively until it looks about right for that particular player, and then play the open string as hard as you think the player will, and continue to adjust it until it just starts to buzz when it's played slightly too hard. The threshold for each player's technique will be different, so it's important to have an idea of how hard they play.

Regarding the saddle adjustment, I often measure to get the E strings roughly correct, and then (assuming each saddle is adjustable) I match the fingerboard radius by eyeballing it as close as possible. And then I play the guitar, approximating the customer's technique, and I will adjust it until the fretted notes don't buzz unless I play harder than I expect the customer to. The height of the D and G strings are always higher than the high E, and lower than the low E. For an acoustic saddle, if you get outside E strings to proper height and the saddle matches the fingerboard radius, the inside strings should behave about the same.

IME when the nut and bridge are at their optimum adjustment, the strings will match the fingerboard radius very precisely. Furthermore, if the strings don't have an even radius, it looks wrong to me, and I assume whoever adjusted it didn't know what they're doing.

Thanks. Doing a new nut and saddle today I had some use of the table filing the nut slots "blindly" without going down to low just knowing the height at the 12th I was aiming for. Made the process a bit quicker. I personally like to work with feeler gauges (no guesswork) , but there are many good ways to do it :-)

Actually playing and testing is great, I do that too.

I understand using feeler gauges to eliminate "guesswork". But a pre-determined nut height would mean that you're using the same specs for every player. I think it's best to make that decision based on the player's technique and expectations.

The 1st fret action is not as critical as the 12th fret action. To get a buzz on the 1st fret you need to have it set really low. My table emulates the hight from a zero fret. Can a heavy duty player make a zero fret guitar buzz on the 1st?

If a player puts a capo on at the first fret, plays hard,  and gets a buzz on the open strings,  my conclusion is that either the relief needs adjusting or that the saddle height requires raising, or both.

My conclusion is the same if the player plays hard and gets a buzz on the open strings playing without a capo.

Nix the feeler gauges they mean nothing.

1)  Cut the nut slots completely independent of the action at the 12th..... who cares, that will be addressed later.  This eliminates the variable of the nut slots.  Prior to cutting the nut slots adjust the truss rod first then cut the nut slots.  Fretting and holding between the 2nd and third and pulsing the string over the first once the rod is adjusted is all you need to do this perfectly (and lots of practice.......).

2)  With the nut slots cut for player comfort AND not pulling notes sharp when the slots are too high adjust the action at the saddle(s).

3)  Set intonation if adjustable or if you plan on addressing it with say a compensated bone saddle for an acoustic.

Bill client.  


Where you are going wrong and I am not trying to be impolite is you are not systematically and sequentially eliminating variables and then addressing what's left.  My way is not the only way but all ways that I know that others who are pros do all have one thing in common.  They systematically and sequentially address and eliminate variables or at least seek to do this.  

Once I cut the nut slots and I'm setting the action at the 12th for rattle free action for say a moderate player with 10's adjusting the saddle(s) I could give a rat's arse what the clearance over the fist fret is.  It's been taken completely out of play by the cutting the nut slots independent of the action by fretting and holding between the 2nd and the 3rd.

We don't set action with nut slots.....

Tables mean nothing, every guitar is different, it's up to us to know what to do and how to do it.

Food for thought.  It's very possible for a very well cut nut slot to not be measurable with a feeler gauge....  It can be less than .0005 of clearance in some circumstances.

What you did say that I agree with is this:  "I think the nut can be even lower than the zero fret without buzzing due to the extra stiffness of the string coming out from the nut."

Yep strings can bend over a fret and as such can be on the fret but still above the next fret of the exact same height.  This can be used to our advantage at times with techniques such as back filing for greater break angle and make a slot that is too low work better for a while.

Theoretically a zero fret of the same height as the rest of the frets would work fine because of the stiffness of the strings.  

Caution too, some zero fret makers use a taller zero fret.  There is no standard operating procedure here.

So much to discuss, so little time, back to the stinking Les Paul on my bench with a cracked neck.

Roger I've been reading your stuff and would suggest to you that adopting methods that sequentially eliminate set-up variables will greatly help you out.  If you want to come visit us in the People's Republic of Ann Arbor :) we offer classes and you can read about that on our web site.  Ann Arbor Guitars.

We don't offer all the amenities of Amsterdam but with this new POTUS who knows.....

We carry a five star rating, not easy to do and repair over 1,100 instruments annually.  We are NOT a music store.  This is all we do offer repair service, teach, an occasional special purpose tool, and throw out people who think that we sell stuff and want to hang out.  


The way you do it 1-3 is a great way. I've been fighting against the 2 and 3 method since I don't like using it (seems so arbitrary and non measurable, needs a lot of practice as you say), but it sure separates the 12th fret from the equation. Cutting the nut first of all gets it out of the way leaving only the saddle bone and the height at the 12th fret to adjust. That's great. I may have to change my ways.

I'm all for breaking up a problem into sequential steps. Equations with one unknown is way better than one with two unknowns...

The table I made is interesting though. As I said you may have high action at the 12th and very low action at the 1th too as long as you don't lower the action at the 12th! Another possible option, maybe not so useful. And if you have 3 mm at the 12th and know that you will never lower it more than 2.5 mm, then you can use the 1st fret action given by a zero fret for the 12th fret 2.5 mm case for the 12th fret 3 mm case (phew!). Another option, possible not useful.

It's a long way from Sweden, but thanks for the invitation :-)

Coming to this forum I had a gap in my knowledge for the setup, the 1th fret action. I think I get it now.

Good going!  There is theory and there is doing this over and over every day again and again.  People expect and deserve results.  With the methods that we rely on we are also able to set people's expectations as to what to expect when they pick it up as well.  That's important, setting expectations and it's also important for the provider, us to know in advance when to clearly indicate that something is not possible or will not be all that noticeable.

The very first thing that I do when I take an instrument in and since we are not a store we can personally take the instruments in.  This means no snot nosed sales person who does not know their butt wedge from their sound hole making false promises. :)

Hint:  We also ask out clients to try everything when they pick it up and before playing.  The very FIRST thing that they always notice are well cut nut slots which are very noticeable.  I can't tell you how many times I have heard someone talk about how much easier it is to make a F barr chord after the nut slot were properly cut.

Today I had a geezer like me who hates his .065 high frets.  We can't lower the frets although I did that on my own personal strat but it's not in the budget for this guy but because we cut the nut slots very low he's far happier than he was and the instrument plays in tune.

New f*ctory guitars these days are rarely set-up and many places in the states where people buy guitars these days either do not set them up or are so terrible at set-up that they still need a full set-up.....

Nut slots matter!  ;)

Thanks Hesh for another masterclass on our bread and butter stuff.

If it helps Hesh, I've taken a break from repairs over Xmas to do our 2017 new  guitar claws have almost retracted and my aches and pains have gone away and my children and cats have stopped running for the hills when I get home.   The prospect of resuming repairs (of which there are many) is filling me with chilling dread as does the latest influx of Ebay/Asian nightmares.

So, me old mate, have a good 2017 and I will make it a crusade to visit and buy you a cold one next time I'm State side.


LOL thanks Rusty and we would love to meet you and share a few brews my friend!!!

Dave Collins is where everything that I know about repairs and set-up comes from.  He was even able to teach an old fart marketing guy how to not castrate myself with a chisel.....;)  At least yet....


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