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FDP Forum / FDP Unplugged - Acoustic Instruments / 1st fret string height on acoustic

Mick Reid
Contributing Member


American-made in Oz!!
Sep 14th, 2015 04:35 PM   Edit   Profile  

Does the same "copy paper" rule apply to acoustic guitars in regards to string height at the 1st fret? (w/ string fretted at 3rd fret)

The intonation is good on all strings at the 12th but getting sharpness on the G & B strings at frets 1-3, so I'm presuming it's a nut slot depth issue.

This is on a 3/4 scale guitar if that matters.


Contributing Member

C-C-R is one letter

better than B-B-Q. Tastier too!
Sep 14th, 2015 06:03 PM   Edit   Profile  

Howdy Mick

Proper nut action (strings height over the first fret) is in the neighborhood of .020", which is about the thickness of yer garden-variety business card.

This height is with no pressing of strings to the frets...and it goes for all six strings. You can tweak to either side of .020" as necessary.

On guitars that have finely-tuned fret tops, you can go down to .015 " and still play clean. This goes for acoustics and electrics.

The fact that you mention it's a short-scale also drives me to recommend thicker strings. Are you using 12s? If so, go with 13s and the open chord notes will ring truer. Thin strings on short-scale guitars are very sensitive to finger pressure.

Cheers, brother.

(This message was last edited by Peegoo at 08:05 PM, Sep 14th, 2015)

Mick Reid
Contributing Member


American-made in Oz!!
Sep 15th, 2015 04:36 AM   Edit   Profile  

As always, thanks P.

I'll report back...

Steve Dallman
Contributing Member

Merrill, Wisconsin

Age is just a number...mine is big
Sep 15th, 2015 12:05 PM   Edit   Profile  

Press down the string at the third fret. While holding it down, the clearance between the string and the fret at the first fret should be as close as it can be without actually touching the fret...maybe the thickness of a yellow page from the phone book.

This always works for me.

Mick Reid
Contributing Member


American-made in Oz!!
Sep 15th, 2015 10:39 PM   Edit   Profile  

OK, a couple of things...

The nut was definitely not cut deep enough.
Particularly on the B string. It was significantly higher than the rest. The E,A&D strings (which were already playing correctly) were at about .018" so that's what I used as my target height.
The G was close but I took it down just that wee bit.
BTW, I still have to use feeler gauges with this stuff. I reckon you ol' timers would do fine by eyeball!

Also, I absolutely need to get myself some proper nut files. I was able to do what I needed without them this time but it would have taken me a fraction of the time had I had the right tools.

The second issue is/was string gauge. I have it strung with 52-11's (yeah, I know...)

I just don't play acoustic often enough to be able to handle the heavier gauges. And I know I have to develop a better "acoustic touch", but now with the nut slots lowered and being just a *little* more "pressure conscious", things are sounding much much better.
I still have to think about it when playing a F major barr chord, but that will get better if I put in the time.

So, another lesson learned. Thanks

Oh, and thanks to you too Steve!


michigan usa

Sep 16th, 2015 05:15 AM   Edit   Profile  

I like mine set so that the low e is .025" above the first fret and the high e is at .018 with the rest of the strings graduated to match. You can certainly go lower than that but I don't find it necessary.

Feeler gauges work fine though I use the stewcrack thingy now. Proper files are a big help.

A nicely set up acoustic shouldn't tax your hands too much though it'll take a bit more effort than with an electric.

Glad you got it fixed up!

Contributing Member

St. Louis

"Thumbpicks don't slide into soundholes"
Dec 29th, 2016 07:17 PM   Edit   Profile  

The 1st few frets define the action on acoustic for me although I don't linger there constantly but if it's not on the money there the neck will be a bear to play and you'll hate the neck forever because of a poor setup and tuning issues will make you crazy.


michigan usa

Dec 29th, 2016 10:47 PM   Edit   Profile  

Just to be clear, for good action, string heights at the first fret don't mean much without consideration of relief and string heights further up the neck (usually referenced at the twelfth fret). Nut slots get done last. I do it this way:

(As stated above, I have particular dimensions that I stick to for a starting point with regard to string heights at the 1st and 12th frets. In the following example I'll use .020" at the 1st and 1/16" at the twelfth for simplicity's sake.)

1. Fit nut blank and cut slots, taking care to not cut them too deep. Leave 'em high for now.

2. Make and fit the saddle. Shape the top edge to match radius of fret-board, again, leaving it high for now (not enough time here to go into saddle intonation, look that up for yourself).

3. String the guitar and adjust relief (I don't usually measure relief but go ahead if ya wanna). Do this by putting a capo on the first fret and pressing the string down at whatever fret (usually 12th or 14th) marks the point at which the neck meets the body and checking the string height at the half-way point (6th or 7th ish) and adjusting truss rod as necessary.

4. Place a .020" feeler gauge under the low E string at the 1st fret and, while pressing the string down ( making a fret/feeler/string sandwich) check the string height at the 12th fret. Since the 12th fret marks the mid-point of the given scale-length, any discrepancies between this measurement and the desired result (1/16" in this case) will need to be doubled. I.E., if your measurement is 1/8", you will need to lower the saddle 1/8" to end up with 1/16" at the twelfth fret. Get it? Now do the same with the high E. Assuming for the moment that you measure 1/8" at both E strings, you will then need to remove 1/8" from the saddle height. Do this by marking the bottom (flat side) of the saddle and remove extra material by your method of choice, taking care to ensure that you leave a flat and square edge.

5. File nut slots to final depth such that you have .020" gap between string bottoms and 1st fret.

I have just described my method for starting from scratch. You can use the same method to check your existing set-up, just beware that you may find that your nut slots are already too low; that is, if you find that string heights at the 1st fret are happy but are too high at the 12th then lowering the saddle to to satisfy the 12th fret heights may necessitate a new nut.

Finally, with regard to Mick's original post, guitars will always tend to read sharp at the first couple frets, it's the nature of the beast. Ensuring that string height is not too high at both ends of the fret-board will mitigate this but it'll probably never be perfect. This is why things like the Buzz Feiten system and fan-fret guitars exist. Just remember that many of our favorite artists never gave a crap about any of this.

FDP Forum / FDP Unplugged - Acoustic Instruments / 1st fret string height on acoustic

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