Yesterday I took my Epiphone Les Paul Pee Wee in to have the nut lowered. I’ve had a few intonation problems with this baby with the neck prone to shifting (tightening the screws helped here) and the bridge being at the limits of its adjustability. Having recently taken to greasing the nut with some silicone which has improved its tuning stability the final piece of the puzzle was to have the nut lowered somewhat.
The action wasn’t terrible, but due to the short scale of the neck (about 19″) the low string tension meant that bends were incredibly easy to do and if one pressed too hard you’d get inadvertent microtonal bends which makes things sound a bit Wild West piano, i.e. horribly out of tune. This is particularly acute right down at the 1st to 3rd frets, exacerbated by the nut being slightly too high, so pressing say, an open C chord would be a nasty sounding cacophony given that three of the fretted strings would be slightly sharp. Remedy – lower the nut slightly and the action at the first fret.
I took the little fella to a local guitar store (won’t say who) and asked them to lower the nut slightly, explaining that I wanted to eliminate those microtonal bends. The tech looked at me blankly, then gathered up his tools, whipped off the neck plate and started adjusting the truss rod. Within seconds he’d handed it back to me saying ‘the neck was twisted’ and asked me to start playing it. It was exactly the same with the micro bends except that now the intonation was off at the 12th (which I’d spent ages tweaking). I asked him again to lower the nut or deepen the string slots at which point he started conferring with the shop owner presumably to ask him to talk me out of it, which he tried. “It won’t make any difference – the neck was twisted and now he fixed it. Lowering the nut will cause string buzz.” he said.
“Please lower the nut. That’s what I want – I don’t want anything else done but that.”
“Fine, fine – you’re the boss.” He signaled to the tech to carry out my bidding which he undertook begrudgingly. A couple of minutes later he passed me the guitar with much deeper string slots and a marginally lowered action. I plugged it into their little Randall combo and started wailing, drawing a small crowd of onlookers, jaws and eyes agog as I shredded like Tony Macalpine for about 10 minutes (also checking out their resident T-Rex Swamp double gain pedal which I might buy btw…). The guitar played much better than before. The intonation had miraculously returned to as close as it would ever get given the fixedness of the bridge and the microtonal bends had all but disappeared. I was happy with the adjustments and told them so.
“Great. That will be $35.” said the tech. I turned pale.
Hmm.. I wonder how the cost breakdown for that 10 minutes of work was, including the dispute over giving me what I had requested in the first place. Not a bad hourly rate there – no doubt the way they internalize their charging ratio is probably along the lines of ‘parts and labor 1%, experience/knowledge/having the facilities 99%’. Think I deserved a 99% rebate there given it was me who knew the solution all the time, albeit they had the tools.
$35…. feh… Time I got myself some of those setup tools methinks.