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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Nut height - Steel vs Synthetic strings

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SMDTMTL - Posted - 01/27/2009:  07:26:52

Just about to put some synthetics on one of my fiddles... Do you pro setup
guys leave the nut grooves a little bit higher for synthetics, or do you cut them the same?

Also, I've wondered this for a while: what happens if you cut the nut grooves lower than proscribed heights? ( I'm thinking proscribed heights are something like .011" or .012" - sorry I'm a carpenter- little or no familiarity with the metric system)... but I would think the string could be practically sitting on the fingerboard with no ill effect. Am I wrong in thinking this? There are obviously no frets for the string to buzz against... I'd almost think that it would be better to have the stings sitting on the fingerboard, rather than close... but perhaps some of this is because you can more easily replace a nut than a fingerboard... What are the accepted,(and not accepted) theories around this topic?


"Find a million dollars, pick it up
all day long you''ll have good luck." my nephew Chris

OTJunky - Posted - 01/27/2009:  07:32:28

Most of these questions are too hard for me. One of the luthiers will have to answer them

I'll only comment that I've switched between steel and synthetic strings several times on the same fiddle without doing anything at all to the nut and haven't encountered any problems with the height of the strings above the fingerboard.

"I can barely fiddle on four strings. Why would I want five?"

bj - Posted - 01/27/2009:  07:47:54

Disclaimer-- I am not a luthier.

But my opinion is that you're overthinking this. Just slap those strings on and give 'em a workout!

So many fiddles. So little time!

Me on the Web --
My inspiration:

Swing - Posted - 01/27/2009:  07:53:34

It has been said that the spacing between the strings and the fingerboard at the nut should be about the thickness of a good business card. The chance of buzzing at that point is very minimal. You can however get a good buzz going if the string height at the bridge end of things is too low.

Play Happy


SMDTMTL - Posted - 01/27/2009:  07:55:39

Thanks Paul and BJ,

but I'm also a part time instrument tweaker, and just love knowing such things... and I also love setting up my own instruments to give me all the advantage I can possibly get, which I very much need...

Yea, actually I've switched types of strings before too, and never noticed anything about the nut being a problem, but I know in the world of serious violin setup, people take the seeming smallest things darned seriously.... I'll like knowing about it even if it never makes much difference to me...


"Find a million dollars, pick it up
all day long you''ll have good luck." my nephew Chris

Fiddlemaker5224 - Posted - 01/27/2009:  08:56:53

When switching the strings, there is a differance with the gut string set up. The synthetic or steel string setup is close to the same and string nut height will not need to be changed. If the string nut is to high with the steel strings the string will dig in to your finger at first position. Lowering this will make it easy to play. You really need the correct height at the string nut for proper intonation.
Here is the string height at the bridge. I use these as a starting point and adjust the bridge before adjusting the string nut height.
Violin Steel E 2.5 mm Fiddle 2.5 mm
A 3 mm 2.8 mm
D 3.5 mm 3.5 mm
G 4 mm 3.5 mm
E 3.5 mm 2.5 mm
Gut A 4 mm 3.5 mm
D 4.5 mm 4 mm
G 5 mm 4.5 mm
I start with a buisness card and use a rounded fret file to make the string groove. I string the instrument up and test the height at the string nut. then lower the string as needed to get the correct intonation. Most folks will automaticly compensate for the intonation while playing. It's just good to have it correct to begin with. The string should not be deeper then 1/3 the diameter of the string in the string nut. This can cause binding and broken strings if it is to deep.

FiddleDoug - Posted - 01/28/2009:  16:37:51

The height at the nut doesn't change with string types. I've been taught to set the string height at the end of the FB at 3.5 mm for the E, and 5.5 mm for the G (maybe a little less for steel strings).

Doug Wall

SMDTMTL - Posted - 01/28/2009:  20:02:19

Well, there's quite a difference between what you guys, (fiddlemaker 5224 and FiddleDoug) are advocating for string height at the end of the fingerboard, and I'm grateful for that information but of course what I asked about was not that, but instead the height above the fingerboard at the nut... I'm getting from your posts that you actually measure that end-of-fingerboard height, but when it comes to the nut, you just use a business card and that's close enough? Is that the deal? Does the business card slide easily up to the nut, or does it get snug as it gets close? I guess tomorrow I'll get out my calipers and check the thickness of a business card. but I'll bet these vary, anywhere from 008" to .012"

Isn't this measurement, like countless other measurements related to a violin, spelled out in pretty exact parameters in the many books about, building and setting up violins? Do any books you know of spell this out? I'm imagining it would be a number something like .27 mm. ?

I found one website with a great number of very specific proscribed measurements for all sizes of violin, but didn't find the measurement I was looking for there.

I found another more historical account of early violin making, (though this page failed to load completely, so I can't say exactly what it was,) but anyway, this site, for the part of it I could read, said,

"It must be a separate piece of wood, as the grain of the finger-board runs along its length, whereas the nut needs a cross-grain to withstand the wear of ..."

No mention of the nut's purpose being to hold the string *away* from the fingerboard..but instead, separate just because it needs to have it's grain run the other way, ( and no-doubt also because it's much easier to replace a worn nut than to replace a worn fingerboard.) . but admittedly this is extremely scant information... I'll include the link to this at the bottom of this post... maybe it will load more completely for one of you...

So I'm back to the second of my original questions: Is there really a reason to hold that string up off the fingerboard at all?
Were original violin nuts actually holding the string at actual fingerboard height? How low have you experimenting luthiers ever cut a nut, and what were the ill effects you encountered as it approached zero distance above the fingerboard? Does the tone begin to get a little muted? I would think it would be at least a little less muted than it is when it's being stopped with a round, soft fingertip. I would think the violin would be easier to play, and the intonation would be more consistent if that nut height were almost dead-level with the fingerboard.

Any thoughts?

here's that link: (see page 63-64)

"Find a million dollars, pick it up
all day long you''ll have good luck." my nephew Chris

Ken Wise - Posted - 01/28/2009:  20:41:08

Strings must have a vibraing clearence to sound right and nut buzz. A nut needs to be slotted correctly and must give the string some height. Makers from all over the world like nuts to be higher or lower so this can be chalked up to style. It also depends on the type of music played and how hard of a player you are. This also depends on the material of the strings, tension and diameter.
Just slap your strings on your fiddle but be sure to put some pencil in the nut slot! It would be nice to have a nice swiss round mousetail file to adjust the diameter of each slot but with that said you will be fine throwing on those synthetic core strings without doing that..
Were original violin nuts actually holding the string at actual fingerboard height? Look at Baroque style fiddles.. They too were raised and hey had to be because gut strings were used. Plain gut at that!.
Does the tone begin to get a little muted? Buzzing is more like it and choked. The nut can be pretty darn close to the fingerboard but keep in mind that the vibrating length at the nut is the most intense and it needs room for that. Especially on the D and G.

Ken Wise

FiddleDoug - Posted - 01/29/2009:  15:16:24

The string will buzz if there is no clearance at the nut. My figures for the end of the FB are based on what I was taught, in a class, by a premier luthier.

Here are the figures for the end of the FB from Weisshaar & Shipman:

E: Steel 3.8-4, Gut 4.3
G: Steel 4.7, Wound gut 4.8-5

As for the business card, here's a paraphrase from my teacher "For the G, D, and A strings, I use my business card. For the E string, I use my competitor's business card (he has cheaper business cards)."

Doug Wall

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