This guitar belongs to a friend of a friend, and it was the best strat I’ve had the chance to play. Maple neck and fretboard, super hot pickups that were the best sounding strat PUs I’ve ever heard (even the duck mode was great), and just really fun to play. That guitar has been through a lot – the guy owned it for 20 years, and I don’t think it’s ever been setup or cleaned. It was brought to me on a cold day without a case, and it was perfectly in tune (sans the high e string). Look at what it looked like when I got it.
The guy asked for a new nut because the original was chipped (reparing it wasn’t going to work), and I decided to go ahead and dress the frets. The first 5 frets had some deep divots, and I knew that would affect how well I can set it up when I’m done. The fret ends were also sticking out like crazy, so I had to take care of that as well. I didn’t charge him extra for the dress, because we didn’t agree to it prior, and I figured it’ll give me a chance to practice fretwork.
The fret dress went really well with two exceptions. The first is that the masking tape was pulling some of the lacquer (poly?) from the fretboard. I use drafting tape which is low tack, but it still lifted some of the finish, particularly in areas where the fretboard was already worn out. The second thing I wasn’t 100% happy about is how I finished the fret ends. I tried to replicate the triangular fret ends like they have on Santa Cruz guitars, I don’t have the right technique for it. I think they use bigger files so they can always keep the cutting angle constant. Mine kept changing, and therefore the triangles went from being isosceles to kind of skewed one way or the other. It looked ok though. I’ll do better next time.
This nut was a breeze to make. I didn’t blunder trying to compute the right string spacing, and I finally realized that using files to roughly shape the nut makes a lot more sense than doing it all with sandpaper. I do, however, really need to get a nut and saddle shaping vise.
The only grief I had from this guitar is that I broke 4 high e strings (010) in the process of setting up/shaping the nut. That was a combination of two things. One is that there was a little ridge on the tuning post, and the string kept getting caught on it and break. The other is that as I was making the nut, I didn’t sand down the high e string area very much. In other words, while the slot was the right width, it was very deep, and kept binding in the slot. Of course, I was going to remove all that excess material at the end, but I now realize that it’s good to remove the material as you go.
Lastly, I decided to try a new way of gluing in the nut. On a previous job (one of my guitars), I put a drop of Titebond under the nut and string the guitar to pitch. This time I put the nut in place, strung the guitar to pitch, and put a drop of superglue right where the fretboard meets the nut. I let it dry and then scraped it with a chisel. If it weren’t a finished fretboard, I would have wiped it off with acetone. An aluminum neck might be a whole different deal, though. Here’s what the finished nut looked like (forgot to take pictures of the fretwork).
EDIT: I forgot to mention I setup the action so that it’s at about 2/32″ on both treble and bass side. Relief was dialed in by looking at how straight the neck is vs. if there was any buzzing. Action at the nut was dialed in using Frank Ford’s method (look it up!)