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DIY: How to Convert a Flattop to Nashville Tuning

DIY: How to Convert a Flattop to Nashville Tuning

Step 1:

1. Before restringing for Nashville tuning, measure the action in standard tuning with normal strings. This dial caliper provides precise readings in thousandths of an inch. 2. A close-up of the dial caliper used to measure action.

Take Preliminary Measurements
Before you start any guitar project, first analyze the instrument’s general setup. Write these measurements down, so you can refer to them later if you decide to return your guitar to its original configuration.

1. Tune the guitar to concert pitch. To measure the string action—the height of the strings from the frets—I like to use my trusty old dial caliper, though alternatively you can use a precision metal ruler or string-action gauge. I typically measure from the top of the 12th fret to the top of the low E string (Photos 1 and 2), and then record the measurement. I do the same for the high E string.

2. Note the amount of relief in the neck, and then measure the string height at the nut. (For a detailed explanation of how to measure neck relief and string height at the nut, see “DIY: How to Intonate a Flattop Guitar,” April 2012, or go to YouTube to view the companion video for that PG article. YouTube search term: DIY: How to Set Up and Intonate an Acoustic Guitar.)

Step 2:

Restring the Guitar
Now you’re ready to remove the old strings and install the new ones.

1. Be sure the new strings are the correct gauge. The easiest and most popular way to do this is to string your guitar with the four octave strings from a light-gauge 12-string set, as well as one each of the set’s doubled 1st and 2nd strings. From 1st to 6th string, these high-strung gauges are typically .010, .014, .008, .012, .018, and .027. Simply install the strings as you would normally.

2. Tune to pitch as follows: High E (1st string) and B (2nd) are tuned to standard guitar pitch. Next, tune G, D, A and E (3rd–6th) one octave higher than normal. Strum the chords to a favorite song and dig the jangly, soprano-like sound.

Step 3:

3. After removing the standard strings and restringing with high-strung gauges, check that all open strings vibrate freely when seated in the original nut. 4. With Nashville tuning, strings 4–6 are replaced with thinner gauges and tuned one octave higher. Only one string is wound—the 6th. In most cases, these thinner strings can actually be played in the wider, original nut slots (shown here), in which case you’d stop at this point. But for optimum sound and playing comfort—string spacing is noticeably affected when using these thinner strings in the original nut—savvy guitarists equip their instrument with a new nut that’s cut for the specialized high-strung gauges.

Check Playability

1. Check action. If it needs to be altered, either adjust the truss rod for the proper relief (it should have a slight forward bow) or adjust the saddle height, or both.

Tip: If you have any doubts about how to adjust a truss rod, get a guitar repair book or study the manual that came with your instrument. Many manufacturers offer free online instructions for adjusting the truss rods on their guitars.

2. Examine how the strings sit in the nut slots. Even though the new strings have much smaller diameters and look out of place in the large nut slots, it’s only the slots’ depths that matters in relation to the frets, and that remains unchanged. To check string height at the 1st fret, hold each string at the 2nd fret and tap the string down onto the 1st fret to determine if there’s a small gap between string and fret (Photo 3). If so, you’ll be able to play the guitar as it is and bask in the sound of Nashville tuning.

Even if all the open strings clear the 1st fret and vibrate freely, the string spacing will be noticeably affected, and the new low strings may look and feel considerably spread out (Photo 4).

You have two choices here: One is to do nothing further—if the guitar plays and sounds great, then you are ready to roll (and rock). But on our particular guitar, the strings no longer lined up perfectly along the neck, so we opted for the second choice: Make a new nut.

Step 4: (Optional)

5. To loosen the original nut, use a small hammer to gently tap a wood block against the front and back of the nut. 6. Carefully pry out the original nut.

Remove the Original Nut
Before you remove the old nut, take a moment to look at the distance between the low E (6th) and high E (1st) strings, and also notice how each one lines up along the edge of the neck.

Now you are ready to remove the old nut.

1. If there is a build-up of lacquer around the nut ends, use a razorblade to score along the nut edges. This prevents the lacquer from chipping when you remove the nut.

Tip: It’s a good idea to measure and record the distance between the two outside strings, as well as their individual distances from the fretboard edge at the 1st fret. These three measurements will allow you to calculate string spacing on the new nut.

2. Next, using a piece of scrap wood (approximately 6" x 2" x 1/2") and a small hammer (I use my fret hammer), gently tap on the front and back edges of the nut until it is loose enough to remove (Photo 5).

Tip: The wood block needs to be wide enough to span the whole front or back of the nut, so there will be equal pressure along the nut surface when you tap the block.

3. A jeweler’s flathead screwdriver works well for prying out the loose nut (Photo 6).

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