The next issue of the catalog that is the guitar build is here...
It's not related to this article, but I'm always reminded of one of Dad's WWII stories when it comes to "NUTS!".. He (a lowly private and radioman) was talking with General McAuliffe on a bridge somewhere in either Germany or France in November of 1944, just a couple of weeks before his now-famous reply of "NUTS!" to Germans at the Battle of the Bulge when they asked for his surrender...
It was a rarity to have such a high ranking officer talk on a personal level with a regular grunt. He asked Dad about where he was from, what service he'd seen, and other minor chit-chat. It made quite an impression on Dad and was one of his favorite tales.
Anyway, apologies for the divergence and back to the present...
Now that I had the guitar bodies buffed and ready, it was time to get the necks ready to attach to them. I wanted to rough in the nuts first, so I started by fitting them into the slot I cut for them earlier. The finish on the necks made them a little tight, and I wanted bare wood exposed for the glue, so I used a nut file and cleaned up the slots first, then using a piece of stick-on sandpaper stuck to the nice, flat cast iron bed of my jointer I sanded the thickness of them so they fit snugly into their new home.
Then, using a carpenters pencil that had been sanded flat down to the middle on one side, I marked out the sides of the neck and the height of the frets onto the bone nut blank (a "nut" is the piece of bone or plastic that is the transition piece between the fingerbard and where the strings hook up onto tuning machines):
I then eyeballed a mark about 1/32" above that, and I filed the nut to that height and width using a standard bastard file about 10 inches long. After marking the 1st and 6th string locations in about 1/8" in from each end, using Stew Mac's string spacing ruler I mark the locations of the remaining four strings:
Something I should mention here - filing a nut requires you hold it in a way that allows you access to the top and sides of the nut at some angles that make using a standard vise impractical. You can buy a nut-vise, but the price is such it's a stretch for me - so I made my own nut-vise. Essentially it's a piece of scrap beech I had laying around of the right width, with a "stop" mounted at one end, and another scrap of thin beech on top that holds the nut in place.
Tensioning the "vise" is a nut embedded into the base with a screw and washer that tightens the "vise" onto the nut, which holds it fast enough that I need not worry about it slipping. Here's a photo of the opposite side of the homemade vise:
The length of the whole affair is about 12", which allows me to clamp it to the bench (on top of a scrap piece of plywood) and have the nut held out in mid-air allowing me to file from just about any angle.
Now that I have the spacing marked out, using a Zona saw I saw at each slot to just above the mark I made showing fret height on the nut:
With all the slots cut, I use a set of nut slotting files of proper gauge to file each slot to just a pencil-width above the fret height mark.
I put a 10-15 degree angle on each slot (aiming down toward the tuning machines) so that the high point of contact for the string in the nut is closest to the frets. I then file the thickness down on the nut to just above where I want it when finished.
That's where I left it until later when I strung up the guitars and did a full setup on them. When that time comes, I use the actual strings themselves - at least the wound ones - to round out the bottom of the slot to match each string, then continue to file the thickness of the nut down with a mill file so each string ends up sitting just proud of the nut in each of their respective slots.
When I was satisfied, I put a couple drops of hide glue into the nut slot and placed the nut, using the strings themselves as the "clamp" to hold the nut in place while the glue dried. I actually did the setup with the nut free so I could adjust it as needed.
While I'm at it - just before attaching the neck to the bodies I buffed them out the same as I did the bodies... but I don't like the shiny shiny fingerboard, it just looks plastic and, well - off to me.
Using a block of wood and some 1200 sandpaper (to get in as tight as possible to the fret) and then some 0000 steel wool, I sand and scuff the fingerboard to a matte finish.
I also don't like the finish on top of the frets - I think some may leave it, but it just doesn't look right to me. One lesson learned from this whole exercise is I think I should have stained the necks rather than tint the finish.... It would be easier to repair in the future if needed.
Anyway, using a fingerboard guide and and Exacto blade, I first scraped the finish off of each fret:
Then with the fingerboard guard still in place I polished each fret with 800 through 1200 grit sandpaper and 0000 steel wool. You can see the results in this progress shot:
I left the rest of the neck polished up just as it was straight from the buffer:
Next up, the penultimate entry of this project will go though installing some of the hardware and setting each guitar up, then the final entry will be of the finished guitars. I've been a bit slow posting, as the guitars are actually finished as of this posting - and I've been having fun playing them and not posting progress reports...