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May 2014
more... DIYHow-TosGuitar & Bass ModsBaritoneMarch 2012

How to Convert Your Axe to a Baritone

How to Convert Your Axe to a Baritone


15. Check how the neck fits into the body. You want to neck heel to fit securely into the pocket, and any fretboard extension to sit just above the pickguard so it’s not forced down against it. A miniscule gap below the extension is good. 16. Attaching the neck. Go around the neck plate tightening each screw a little at a time.

Attach the Bari Neck
Next we’ll bolt on the new neck, string up the guitar, and check the neck alignment.

17. Getting ready to install the outer strings to check neck alignment.
  1. Place the baritone neck heel in the neck pocket to see if it fits properly. On this guitar, the fit was perfect— not too tight, not too loose—and the fretboard extension that includes the 24th fret cleared the top of the pickguard, exactly as it’s supposed to (Photo 15).
  2. With the guitar face down and the neck seated in the pocket, thread the original neck screws through the neck plate, work them down through the body, and gently introduce their tips into the screw holes of the replacement neck (Photo 16). During this phase, I was delighted to see that the Warmoth’s pre-drilled holes lined up perfectly with the holes in the body. If you’re installing a bari neck on a Fender guitar, this is a real benefit to buying a licensed Fender neck.
  3. Tip: Rather than fully tightening one screw and then another, I like to tighten all the screws a little at a time, moving in a crisscross pattern around the neck plate. This gradually joins the neck and body using even pressure. Make sure the screws are nice and snug, but resist the urge to over-tighten them—you don’t want to strip the screw holes in the neck.

  4. Once the neck is attached, install the 1st and 6th strings and use them as straightedges to check neck-to-body alignment. I used the temporary, preslotted nut to hold these strings in place while measuring the distance from the strings to the edge of the fretboard. On a pre-slotted nut, you have to widen the 6th string slot to accommodate the low B.
    This is also where you confirm that your 6th string fits the tuner (Photo 17). If you’ve done your homework, you’ll be good to go.
    Again, we were lucky: The two strings lined up exactly where they should, and the distance from the edge of the fretboard to the strings was perfect. Could this project go any more smoothly?


18. Bone nut blanks come bleached or unbleached, and also sport either radiused or flat bottoms to match your fretboard’s nut slot. 19. Check the fit frequently as you shape the bone blank into a nut. 20. Marking the nut where it extends past the fretboard. This material will be sanded off. 21. Mark the overall height of the new nut with a mechanical pencil and machinist’s rule. 22. Using a radius block and fine sandpaper to shape the top of the new nut. At this point, the blank has two lines: One marks the top of the nut, the other marks where the fretboard meets the nut. 23. The new nut is ready for string slots and final shaping and polishing. 24. Adding a drop of super glue to secure the shaped nut. 25. Measuring the string spacing. The trick is to space the strings equally— despite their different diameters—and this takes careful calculation.

Carve the New Nut (Optional)
Now that the neck and body are in alignment, the next is to carve a new string nut. (If you order a neck with a pre-installed nut, you may skip ahead to Step 5.) The owner of our Tele requested a custom carved bone nut—a great choice for the project, because bone will give this instrument a wider dynamic range and better sustain than typical synthetic materials. However, carving a string nut is a very painstaking process. One alternative is to buy a pre-shaped and slotted bone nut from stewmac. com or other luthier suppliers. This typically saves many steps and requires only final fitting and string-slot shaping (numbers 7-13 below). That said, the only way to guarantee that a bone nut will fit a given neck is to carve it from scratch. Here’s how I do it:

26. Measuring neck relief after the strings are tuned to pitch. 27. To adjust a vintage-style truss rod, you need to remove the neck. 28. When cutting nut slots, tilt your file down toward the headstock. 29. Using a radiused block to sand down the top of the nut.
  1. Sand a bone blank (Photo 18) to fit the width of the nut slot and to sit flush with its bottom. Some slot bottoms have a radius, while others are flat, so check your fretboard to be sure that you start with the correct bone blank. The goal is to achieve a snug fit with no visible gaps (Photo 19).
  2. Once the basic shaping is done, slip the nut into the slot and install the 6th and 1st strings. Tighten them just enough that they sit on the nut and hold it in place. Using a mechanical pencil, mark the ends of the blank where they extend beyond the edge of the fretboard (Photo 20).
  3. Remove the blank and sand the extended ends until the nut sits flush with the edges of the fretboard. Work slowly, and periodically reinsert the nut to check your progress. This can take several passes.
  4. Hold the blank in place again with the 6th and 1st strings, and use a mechanical pencil and machinist’s rule to mark the overall height for the nut. Lay the rule on top of the frets and slide it up to the nut blank. Then mark the blank along the top of the rule as you move it back and forth across the frets (Photo 21).
  5. Detune the strings and slide them aside. With the pencil, trace a second reference line along the edge of the fretboard where it meets the nut blank.
  6. Remove the nut and sand the top of the blank down to the first line you drew. Be sure you sand the top to match the fretboard radius. In this case, I used a 10" radius block to match Warmoth’s 10"-16" compound radius (Photo 22). When you’re done, the nut’s top will follow the fretboard curve that’s referenced by the lower line (Photo 23).
  7. Insert the nut back in the slot and tighten the 6th and 1st strings to hold the nut in place. At this point, when I’m sure the nut is shaped and fitted correctly, I put a tiny drop of super glue on the end of a plain string and let the glue wick down into the slot to hold the nut in place (Photo 24). Blot any excess glue while it’s still wet with a white paper towel.
    Now use the pencil to mark the location of the 6th and 1st strings, paying close attention to the distance between their outer edge and the edge of the fretboard. Different players have different preferences here, but you want to avoid getting too close to the fretboard edge— you don’t want those strings sliding off.
  8. With the outer strings marked, it’s time to calculate the locations of the remaining four strings. Use a fine ruler and take the width of each string into account. The goal is to create an equal space between all six strings. Mark these locations with pencil, as you may need to change them during this process (Photo 25).
  9. Install the remaining strings and tighten them up—but don’t tune them to pitch just yet. Recheck the strings to confirm they’re spaced equidistantly. Gently carve shallow reference slots into the blank using nut files (each file should match the gauge of the slot’s corresponding string). For now, these slots only need to hold the strings to check their spacing.
  10. When the spacing of each string is correct, tune the guitar to pitch. Measure the amount of relief in the neck (Photo 26). Before you finish cutting the nut slots, make sure the neck doesn’t have too much relief (forward bow). The final nut slot depth depends on having the correct amount of relief, which is approximately .012" to .020", depending on a player’s technique and string gauges.
    Once the guitar is tuned to pitch, you can expect to adjust the truss rod to get the relief dialed in. On a vintage-style neck, you adjust the truss rod at the heel. This necessitates removing the neck (Photo 27).
  11. Cut the string slots to the proper depth, beginning with the 1st string, which should have a distance of 1/64" (.015") from the top of the 1st fret to the bottom of the string. This height will gradually increase to just slightly over 1/32" (.032") for the 6th string. Go slowly! Remember, you can always deepen the slots, but you can’t undo what you’ve already cut.
  12. Tip: When cutting the slots, tilt your file down toward the headstock (Photo 28). A gently angled slot keeps the strings seated firmly as they slope down toward the tuners.

  13. Sand the top of the new nut so that the string slots aren’t surrounded by too much material (Photo 29). But don’t sand too much, otherwise the strings may slip out of the nut when you bend them or dig into the guitar. Then polish the nut with 600-grit paper, and finally buff the bone with a polishing cloth.
    With the mechanical pencil, color the inside of the string slots. This bit of graphite will prevent the strings from sticking in the slots.

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