What's the best tool to lower a cheap violin's nut action?

Edited: August 9, 2019, 1:45 PM · I've got a cheap Chinese VSO, and its nut action is too high. Can I lower it with just one tool, or do I need a few? Shall I just get a fine general purpose woodwork file, or is there something better? The end result will be given Helicores and be used for country music, so nothing fancy.

Replies (13)

August 9, 2019, 5:37 PM · https://trianglestrings.com/violinnut/

I've never done a violin nut, have done many a guitar and mandolin nut.

The main difference is you roll the file on the violin nut, and the grooves are flatter on mandos and guitar, so it takes a bit more care to cut the slots just right on violin.

The easiest mistake is to swipe the nut parallel to the strings with a file, one stroke like that can ruin a nut, you must start at an angle to the strings to get a clean break at the intonation point. Rolling the file also takes some practice, but worst case is you need a new nut so not a huge risk here. :-)

Nut files have a precisely rounded edge to match the string diameter they are made for, you won't get that with just any old file.

Nut files are available from stewmac and other suppliers.

$15 per file (and you need 4), seems to be the going rate.

I also highly recommend this tool, it transformed my setups to where I could make all my instruments feel the same because of the precision it gives. You can literally copy the settings for any instrument you like, down to 1/1000 inch accuracy. You can't do that with feeler gauges.
https://www.stewmac.com/Luthier_Tools/Tools_by_Job/Tools_for_Nuts_and_Saddles/Nut_Slotting_Gauge.html

But now you are into $150+ for tools.

August 9, 2019, 5:58 PM · I’m non expert. Sandpaper?
Edited: August 9, 2019, 6:20 PM · You can use an ordinary hardware store file to lower the nut. For making the grooves you can get a single mousetail file like this:

https://internationalviolin.com/ProductDetail/t467_mouse-tail-needle-file-round-cut-2-50mm-cutting-length

($14) instead of getting 4 individual files as Kurt H recommended.

August 9, 2019, 7:25 PM · Definitely no sandpaper. You'll ruin it. If you have a very narrow round file and you don't care much for the quality of the workmanship, I guess you can just use the same size tool for the lower strings and then cut the slot for the E with a knife.
August 9, 2019, 8:08 PM · thin triangle file, or better yet take it to your luthier, you'll probably screw it up if you try to do it yourself
Edited: August 12, 2019, 6:55 AM · VSO, "Country Music" - When is the last time you heard country music with perfect intonation?

The nut is only "heard" when an open string is played. Main problems are
1. to position the "peak" in the nut the same across the strings so the the fingering is parallel across the strings (and players correct for that while playing, anyway)
2. Don't cut the grooves so deeply that the open strings touch the fingerboard.
3. Don't cut the grooves so deep that the strings are "buried" in the nut.
4. Don't cut any grooves so narrow that a string is squeezed.

I think any of the above suggestions would work.

My attitude before doing one or two nut jobs (on my own fiddles) is that if I screwed up I just get my luthier to install a new nut. I didn't have to go for help!

It's like cleaning my bow hair - if that didn't solve the problem, it was time for a rehair, anyway! So far it has solved the problems - for the past 20 years! (Except when I really need to rehair, and that was so obvious I didn't even try cleaning.)

Edited: August 10, 2019, 12:42 PM · As to intonation, I only need the nut to resemble the nuts on my better violins, so that playing it doesn't harm how I play them.
In addition to my cheap Chinese VSO, I have a second one that a friend gave me that her daughter didn't want. It's not as good as the one I bought, but at least I have backup and material to practise my wood butchery on. I've been told to collect the ebony filings, as they can be used elsewhere. I've got a packet of needle files somewhere. Maybe I can use the biggest, flattest for the rough work.
August 10, 2019, 5:30 PM · You will find this chapter by Michael Darnton useful, I believe:

http://www.darntonviolins.com/violinmagazine/book/setup.pdf

August 11, 2019, 2:29 AM · Thanks, Guglielmus.
August 11, 2019, 9:05 AM · One tiny needle file is sufficient. The string should not fit in the groove but on top of a depression, so fitted files are not necessary. In fact the string can be damaged in a fit slot that squeezes the winding from the sides.
Edited: August 12, 2019, 6:02 AM · Surely it's just a matter of making the grooves deeper? I find the right string height is crucial to tuning F on the E string. Too high and you've practically got your finger on the nut!
August 12, 2019, 11:51 AM · I agree with Darnton, in that a single "mouse-tail" file will be sufficient. This is a file which varies in diameter from one end to the other. You need to use the proper portion of the file to correspond with the diameter of the string.

I haven't run across any high-level professional who uses separate files for each string.

August 12, 2019, 12:10 PM · I did some rough work by eye last night with flat and triangular diamond files. The nut turned out to be only cheap plastic. I've got a better bridge on order. When it comes I'll compare some nuts with a magnifying glass and finish off the job. Thanks for the advice everyone.

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