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  #1  
Old 11-01-2014, 03:04 PM
BothHands BothHands is offline
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Default STEEL SHIMS for raising Nut and Saddle?

First, THANKS for the excellent advice I've received here regarding my first (successful) attempt at making a new, lower saddle.

I've been playing the subject guitar for a week now, and I think I might be able to lower the action a bit more at both the saddle and the nut. I hope I can, because the guitar still plays a bit 'stiff' with light gauge John Pearse Phosphor Bronze strings mounted (25.5ish scale).

MY CONCERN: If I get "too adventurous" and lower either the nut or the saddle too much, it'll be 'Buzz City' with no recourse but to order new blanks online and start all over. I don't want that, so...

I have on hand a set of steel shim stock LIKE THIS, typically used for machinist operations. It's gauged in .001" increments, and very accurately, so it would allow me to regain whatever saddle or nut height was accidentally removed...BUT...will using a STEEL shim between saddle or nut and the wood of the guitar degrade the tone?

I have follow-up questions too, but would first like to know if the steel shims are viable.

As always, thank you.
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Old 11-01-2014, 03:13 PM
clinchriver clinchriver is offline
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Well anything is possible.

But on the other hand, If you bought a guitar, or got this one back from a tech and found "steel shims" under the nut and saddle......... Man up and do it the right way
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  #3  
Old 11-01-2014, 03:28 PM
BothHands BothHands is offline
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I hear ya, but if there's no problem with metal shims, that could be the right way as much as a wood shim under there. When I bought the guitar there was a short wood shim (about .020" thick) under just the treble end of the saddle. Man, the e and b strings were LOUD. So I know shims work, but I don't know if steel shims are known to cause any "weirdness".

Last edited by BothHands; 11-01-2014 at 06:48 PM.
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Old 11-01-2014, 03:37 PM
Ned Milburn Ned Milburn is offline
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There shouldn't be a significant tone difference with a thin steel shim. However, I stick to wooden shims - ebony, rosewood, or maple (left-overs from my purfling stock).

As long as the material isn't soft and spongy (thus absorbing or damping some of the vibration before it gets to the bridge), then there shouldn't be an issue...

The only concern could be with a very thick steel shim, by increasing the mass of the saddle, you will get a slightly different sound. Again, with any standard shim size (up to 1mm), I can't imagine much audible sound difference. Usually, sound difference due to mass won't be heard unless the saddle is changed from bone to brass, for example.
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Old 11-01-2014, 03:38 PM
John Arnold John Arnold is offline
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They should not cause a particular problem, but I do like to limit the number of shims....no matter what shim material is used. I think each separate layer is another interface which may cause a loss of some energy.
The best way I have found to shim up a saddle is to glue an ebony or rosewood strip to the bottom of the saddle with CA (super glue). This eliminates the loss of sound that I often encounter when using loose shims.
After the shim is glued on, I sand it flat on the bottom to make sure it makes good contact in the slot all the way across.
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Old 11-01-2014, 07:04 PM
BothHands BothHands is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ned Milburn View Post
There shouldn't be a significant tone difference with a thin steel shim. However, I stick to wooden shims - ebony, rosewood, or maple (left-overs from my purfling stock).
I see the logic in that, Ned. If the bridge is ebony and the shim is ebony (and the mating surfaces of each component are flat and level) I guess the sound transmission should not be uninterrupted at all. I have no "purfling scraps" or anything of the kind. If I did, I'd use them instead of the metal. Thanks for the insight.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ned Milburn View Post
As long as the material isn't soft and spongy (thus absorbing or damping some of the vibration before it gets to the bridge), then there shouldn't be an issue...
Another helpful general concept. Harder = better.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ned Milburn View Post
The only concern could be with a very thick steel shim, by increasing the mass of the saddle, you will get a slightly different sound. Again, with any standard shim size (up to 1mm), I can't imagine much audible sound difference. Usually, sound difference due to mass won't be heard unless the saddle is changed from bone to brass, for example.
1mm = .039". If I get into trouble, it will probably be in the range of maybe 1/3 that thickness, so your advice is 'music to my ears'. Hopefully I won't need to shim at all. Just knowing I have recourse using materials already on hand gives me the confidence to go ahead lower the action a bit more.
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Old 11-01-2014, 07:13 PM
LouieAtienza LouieAtienza is offline
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Some good advice here... I would add that a "stiff" playing guitar is not just caused by string height alone. The design of the guitar itself, such as break angle at the nut, and also whetherthe strings are sticking at the nut, or how much string length there is behind the nut, can be a factor. Also I find a neck with relief plays easier than one thatthat's dead straight. Top "compliance" can be a small factor. Finally strings. For example I find Ernie Ball aluminum bronze strings a little slacker than their Everlast phosphor bronze of the same gauge.
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Old 11-01-2014, 07:17 PM
Tom West Tom West is offline
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Right and Left : You now have the opportunity to answer your own question and then let us all in on the answer. I'll go out on a limb and say it will not hurt the tone................Just do it....!!
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  #9  
Old 11-01-2014, 07:32 PM
BothHands BothHands is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by John Arnold View Post
They should not cause a particular problem, but I do like to limit the number of shims....no matter what shim material is used. I think each separate layer is another interface which may cause a loss of some energy.
I'll keep that in mind in all cases, as a sort of 'Rule of Thumb'. Thanks, John.

Quote:
Originally Posted by John Arnold View Post
The best way I have found to shim up a saddle is to glue an ebony or rosewood strip to the bottom of the saddle with CA (super glue). This eliminates the loss of sound that I often encounter when using loose shims.

After the shim is glued on, I sand it flat on the bottom to make sure it makes good contact in the slot all the way across.
You know these little cartoon emoticons? We need to have one showing a guy smacking himself in the forehead and saying, "OF COURSE! Why didn't I think of that?!" What you describe makes so much sense now that you mention it - and thanks to Ned's prior comments, the whole concept is a big leap forward for me. So thank you, thank you both.

I won't be able to do what you suggest with the metal shim stock I have, but I see how your method is the best method. I once almost bought a guitar from a local shop, but the intonation was off and I noticed the saddle leaning forward, toward the nut. It turned out that the shop's tech had added a BIG shim under the saddle so there just wasn't enough of saddle projecting down into the bridge's slot. I'm sure they remedied it by making a new, taller saddle - or maybe they glued a shim to the bottom of the existing saddle and modified the combined assembly.

Is it possible to buy a small selection of ebony and rosewood shim blanks? Is there an online source for a kit like that?

I much, much appreciate you fellows enlightening me to this concept!

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Old 11-01-2014, 08:07 PM
BothHands BothHands is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by LouieAtienza View Post
Some good advice here... I would add that a "stiff" playing guitar is not just caused by string height alone. The design of the guitar itself, such as:

1) break angle at the nut, and also
Hey, Louie. Thanks for weighing in. What leads to stiffness? More break angle or less?
And you're definitely talking about the nut, and not the saddle...right?

Quote:
Originally Posted by LouieAtienza View Post
2) whether the strings are sticking at the nut
You mean as if the nut slots are too narrow?

Quote:
Originally Posted by LouieAtienza View Post
3) how much string length there is behind the nut, can be a factor.
Which leads to stiffness? More string length behind the nut, or less?

Quote:
Originally Posted by LouieAtienza View Post
4) a neck with relief plays easier than one that's dead straight.
Exactly the opposite of what I thought! Oh, brother... I dialed the neck relief down to .008" thinking it would result in minimal stiffness because distance from string to fret would be minimized at mid-neck... Where I am going wrong on this?

Quote:
Originally Posted by LouieAtienza View Post
5) Top "compliance" can be a small factor.
Can you explain briefly?

Quote:
Originally Posted by LouieAtienza View Post
6) Finally strings. For example I find Ernie Ball aluminum bronze strings a little slacker than their Everlast phosphor bronze of the same gauge.
Yeah, I've been chasing my tail on the strings issue. I'm trying to find strings that 1) sound good, 2) provide the lowest tension appropriate to the tuning and style of play, and 3) last a reasonably long time. Man, my head is spinning... There are just so many options, and I can't afford the time or money to buy "one of each" just to "test and toss".

I like D'Addario strings in general, and they're cheap and relatively ubiquitous, so I'm considering the following, just as a starting point:

A. I'm setting my dreadnought up for fingerstyle in standard tuning. EJ16
B. I'm setting up it's twin sister (with cutaway) for alternate tunings with more strumming. EJ24
C. I'm setting up my cherished Gurian JR for high-strung / Nashville tuning. EJ38H

The D'Addario tension seems a bit lower than some of the competing brands, and especially the High-Strung set at about 120lbs total vs. 180lbs for a competitor I researched recently. That's a BIG difference...
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Old 11-01-2014, 08:10 PM
BothHands BothHands is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tom West View Post
Right and Left : You now have the opportunity to answer your own question and then let us all in on the answer. I'll go out on a limb and say it will not hurt the tone................Just do it....!!
I will, Tom, now that I know it's not some crazy idea that wouldn't have worked. I will indeed try it and tell you all what happens...IF...I need to shim at all.

Who knows. I might lower the saddle and the nut to "absolute perfection" and not have to correct anything (yeah, maybe ).

Shims?! We don' need no steenkeen shims!
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Old 11-01-2014, 11:45 PM
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Frank Ford Frank Ford is offline
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Well, here I go with that same advice.

Don't spend so much time thinking, planning and calculating. Spend more time experimenting and learning by making mistakes. Assembling a large and diverse collection of methods and techniques will lead to confusion. Give a method a try - go for it and see what happens. Take a saddle out, cut it lower, make a new higher saddle. Rinse, repeat, etc. That's really how we all learn!

Shims can be just fine, but thinking in terms of .001" isn't appropriate for adjusting saddle action. The smallest measurement I use for that would be 1/64" and that's cutting things much closer than I need most of the time. Usually my adjustments are in increments of 1/32". Unless there's a compelling reason, I don't shim saddles to raise them any more than 1/32" for structural reasons. I make new saddles to go higher. But, after decades of doing this stuff, I have a quick routine for making saddles. Earlier on, I did more shimming.

I do raise nuts by shimming sometimes and there I do work with finer measurements. But, the fact is I NEVER NEVER NEVER measure how much higher to raise the saddle. I simply stick shims under, string up, and check nut action. My favorite shims are sticky labels and they are dead easy to make and use - read this:

http://www.frets.com/FretsPages/Luth...m/nutshim.html


Yeah, yeah, there are all kins of ways to get the job done, and all kinds of arguments to be made about tone, but until you master the simple stuff, don't waste your time trying to be perfect right out of the gate.

In the words of Bob Taylor, "Michael Jordan didn't get good at shooting baskets by standing and aiming for hours on end. He shot and missed, shot and missed, until he learned. You don't get good at making guitars by planning and reading - you get good at it by DOING it over and over."
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Old 11-02-2014, 01:38 AM
BothHands BothHands is offline
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Man, thanks Frank. That's good advice and I do take it to heart - and I much appreciate you taking time to set it out so clearly for me and others reading this thread.

I wish I had more materials and more budget for this work. I really do get what you're saying, and you're right. I tend to be too cautious and too analytical about these things - in fact, you write as though you know me personally. It's kinda surprising, and I certainly do appreciate it.

It's 1:30am on Saturday night, so I'm too beat to read your link right now, but I'll definitely study it tomorrow morning. Man, I've studied many of your FRETS.COM tutorials on many occasions, and I always thank my lucky stars that you make such useful information available to the rest of us.

Thank you, and if I have questions I'll post them here tomorrow.
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Old 11-02-2014, 03:17 AM
charles Tauber charles Tauber is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Frank Ford View Post
Well, here I go with that same advice.
Excellent advice.

BothHands,

Keep in mind the relationship of a change in string height at the saddle being twice the change at the 12th fret. Measure what 12th fret height you have for each string, double the change in height you want to have, and effect that change at the saddle - shimming if the saddle is too low, material removal if the saddle is too high.

For measuring string height at the 12th fret, I use a ruler marked in 1/32" - mm markings works also. It is sufficiently accurate to eye-ball subdivisions of 1/32". This makes it very easy to determine how much to raise or lower a saddle. Others use callipers and measure to multiple decimals in inches or mm. Doing so certainly works but will generally involve continued use of those two or three decimal places when changing the saddle height, shimming, etc. In my opinion and experience, it is an unnecessary level of accuracy for saddle height.

For example, most people are quite happy with a low E string height of 3/32", reducing to 2-1/2/32 at the high E string. For those that want it a little easier, remove 1/2 a 32nd. Those who want it 'lectric guitar like, take off an additional 1/2 a 32 nd, but they'll need very level frets and appropriate neck relief. Of course, removing 1/2 of a 32nd at the 12th fret means removing 1/32" at the saddle. Pretty quick and easy, removing most of the trial and error. The "sand a bit", restring, "sand a bit more"... isn't really necessary once one correlates string heights with playability and "feel".

I should also mention the "test" that I use for strings being as low as possible. For a particular player and their "style", the strings should just begin to buzz when played just harder than they would normally play. Thus, if I want to know if the strings can go lower, and not buzz, pluck them just harder than the maximum a player is going to. If they just begin to buzz, that's as low as it's going to go with the current fret levelling and settings. (Depending on the circumstances, the settings can be altered to get it a bit lower.) There isn't a need to lower the saddle (or nut), then discover after you've lowered it that it couldn't go any lower without buzzing and you now have a saddle (or nut) that is too low. This works for open strings (i.e. nut height) and fretted strings: check each fret, each string.

Last edited by charles Tauber; 11-02-2014 at 03:30 AM.
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Old 11-02-2014, 04:51 AM
clinchriver clinchriver is offline
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And I'll stick with doing it the right way, $33.26 plus shipping will buy a few nut and saddle blanks.

I've used steel shims on target rifle sights, and other gunsmithing endeavors and by the time you fiddle around cutting, grinding, shaping etc you could have had strings on the guitar and been playing in a new nut and saddle. I'd like to see a video of someone shaping a .032 shim to fit in a saddle slot, when you cut shim stock with sheet metal cutters the edges are serrated and curl, what now, files, sandpaper, stones? Good luck.
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