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DIY: Installing your own nuts & bridges?


PhilMan99

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I'm wondering how common/realistic it is for a do-it-yourselfer to install their own nuts and bridges?

 

I've got a $600 Ibanez with good body & neck, but everything else is rubbish. I don't want to sink too much money in the bass, since at some point, it makes more sense to buy a new bass.

 

How precise are the "tolerances" when installing a bridge (without routing...) or nut?

 

For the bridge, I was planning on using the position of the current one as a "centering" reference (marking with masking-tape before I removed it), and likewise, marking the length of the typical string (intonation). Sources of error I can see are:

* Not having a sufficiently precise measuring tool

* Not drilling the holes sufficiently accurately

 

Any "words of wisdom" from those who have tried and either succeeded or failed?

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When the saddle is fully extended toward the neck, you should measure just a tiny but under 17" to the crown of the 12th fret on a 34" scale bass (17 1/2" on a 35" scale bass). The saddles have to be moved back to compensate for the thickness of the string (a thicker string's vibration point is farther from the witness point of the bridge than a thinner string.) You should never have to go under 17".

You can stop now -jeremyc

STOP QUOTING EVERY THING I SAY!!! -Bass_god_offspring

lug, you should add that statement to you signature.-Tenstrum

I'm not sure any argument can top lug's. - Sweet Willie

 

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PhilMan99,

 

I have replaced nuts on a couple of basses, and on a steel-string acoustic guitar. If you can buy a nut that already fits and is already slotted in the right positions, it's not hard. You might still need to fine tune the depth of the slots, but if you have the right files it's not difficult. The most important thing is that you don't go TOO DEEP. And take precautions to avoid damaging the finish on the headstock.

 

If you have to start with a blank nut and make it fit, then cut the slots for the strings, that could be a lot of work. The tolerances for getting the strings in the right position and especially at the right height above the frets are relatively small.

 

But I can't describe all the steps of how to do that in a post; I use Dan Erelewine's Guitar Repair Guide. There is probably somewhere on-line to read about it, too.

 

But if you're not comfortable with going at your axe with sharp tools, this might be a job for a luthier.

 

Bruiser

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NUTS: You're in luck, Ibanez sells graphite replacement nuts for its current bass line through parts distributors at certain music stores. Trick is if you have an older bass to match the nut up with one of the current models. For instance, the SR400-405-406 nuts fit most of the equivanent SR-series instruments without routing or filing.

 

If yours won't help, mine in Union City NJ would be happy to help you if you need one. (201-863-3424, ask for Jerry the owner or the older John to help you) IIRC I paid about $6-8 plus tax (unless he mails it to you) for an SR406 nut, and it was a drop-fit replacement. At that price I'd order spares.

 

The Carvin nut is different, though, it's one you have to glue against the board (not a slot-type) but the dimensions are almost identical to the older Ibanez models.

 

BRIDGES: Finding the classic bridges (Musician, Roadstar) outside of eBay is difficult unless you try the Ibanez collectors forum.

 

I've used Mighty Mite (almost an exact fit) and ABM bridges ( ALLPARTS carries those and other brands), but you're gonna need a good steel ruler (Sears) to measure the distance between strings and such - millimeters and inches. Ibanez may or may not carry replacement bridges, so ask the distributor about that.

 

As for filling and drilling: I use hickory dowels (Home Depot) and Elmer's wood glue to fill up the old holes, then stick on some masking (paper) tape over the area to keep the wood/finish from chipping. Then I stick a paper label over the tape so I can mark the area out with a Sharpie fine-point. You can trace the old bridge position in green, then trace the new bridge and holes in red or black. This way you should be aligning it close enough so that it'd sit correctly.

 

I prefer using a Dremel tool to a standard drill because it's easier to control with your hands. Practice on some wood scraps first (it's harder to drill through particleboard without making a mess, so that'd give you some good practice) to get your technique down before tearing up your baby.

 

Hopefully this is good advice for you: patience and practice - measure twice and cut once! :wave:

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Originally posted by PhilMan99:

Fred - Do you happen to know how to get the old "nut" off a typical Ibanez SR? Isn't it glued too?

 

I'm thinking "chisel and hammer"...

Think "tiny chisel, tiny hammer"...

I think they use a drop or two of "crazy glue" to hold it in place, but I could be wrong. I used a tiny screwdriver and a little carpenter's hammer and tapped it loose. If it's been on there forever a couple of taps (not hits) on the side will loosen it because the glue dries up eventually. Tap it so that it follows the slot out the other side; you don't want to yank it out. And you may get a few slivers of fretboard sprinking out, but it won't be missed; a drop of glue will more than make up the gap.

 

I wouldn't use a solvent because it would eat away at the finish around it, but OTOH sometimes you might get a finish crack there if some of it adhered to the nut when it was originally applied.

 

The ivory (bone?) nut off the SR506 broke off at the E or A, so I used a needle point and pried the rest off there. If yours is ivory or plastic, it'd probably crack after a couple of taps.

 

It's easier done than said. You'll get it. :thu:

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BRIDGE: When I replaced the bridge on my Toby with a Hipshot B (think Carvin), I started by making a template out of 1/4" Plexiglass. There were four screw holes and four holes for strings through the body. During that process I discovered a wonky drill bit - I was glad I didn't go straight for the bass without the template. You're on the right track with masking tape and a few marks for centering and intonation.

 

I also invested in a $59 drill press. With the neck removed from the body, I had good control of the workpiece and three of four string-through holes are in a straight line. You probably wouldn't notice that one is a bit out of line, but I know it's there. If you are only drilling for screws, you may find another way to guide your bit so the screw heads don't sit at funny angles.

- Matt W.
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Originally posted by Matt W:

I also invested in a $59 drill press. With the neck removed from the body, I had good control of the workpiece and three of four string-through holes are in a straight line. You probably wouldn't notice that one is a bit out of line, but I know it's there. If you are only drilling for screws, you may find another way to guide your bit so the screw heads don't sit at funny angles.

Thanks, Matt, I forgot to mention that taking off the neck DOES help steady the instrument.

 

Here's my fifty-cent alternative to the drill press (handy for apartment dwellers than myself): I use a brass ferrule or a large hex nut that's bigger than the screw's diameter but smaller than the securing nut on the drill. Remember since I use a Dremel tool I can hold the drill in one hand and hold the nut with the other. Unless your hand's too shaky, it works for the initial drilling.

 

But I also make TWO drill passes: one with a thin drill bit to make a guide hole for the second drill bit that's just a hair thinner in diameter than the screw. This way when you put the new screw in you've got some wood to grip the threads when the screw's in place. If the first drill passes through straight, the second drill will follow the path of the first hole and can be done without the washer. The extra work also reduces the risk of cracking the finish.

 

The important expense is in the drill bits. If you notice the bit's not cutting properly, either sharpen it or throw it away and use a new one, because it's gonna rip up more wood than you want. A drill bit's not that big a budget item, especially a wood bit; I'll buy a dozen cheap ones here and there and just throw away the ones that aren't sharp any more.

 

Another good investment is in a Dust Devil or other handheld vacuum cleaner; you don't want to keep finding wood filings around the house weeks after you're done.

 

BTW, Matt, you made a good investment on the drill press; cutting new pickup holes or a battery cavity is too much for a Dremel and will burn it out prematurely. I have an old burned-out Dremel to remind me of that experience.

 

Also, save the wood debris (especially the rosewood and ebony ones): if you mix them with wood glue they make a better hole filler than anything else. You can tamp them into smaller holes with a toothpick or the rear of a wooden match stick.

:wave:

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I'm thinking I need to proceed as follows:

* Fix my busted amp. Per another thread here, my Bassman has a bad connection internally.

* Buy another bass (early next year, if I don't have to buy a new amp)

* Then look into upgrading my old bass (a year from now)

 

I have to budget pretty far ahead, since bass is just a hobby (read: passion) for me. With my bass-amp being a problem, I'm thinking "if it ain't broke, don't fix it".

 

In looking further, I don't think replacing the bridge would do much for me as compared with new pickups/preamp. On the other hand, I really should locate a spare nut in case mine goes bad.

 

Thanks for asking!

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Thanks for the props, Fred!

 

Which reminds me about a drill press tip for the first time home shop luthier wannabe:

 

Bolt a wood table to the stock cast iron table on the drill press. I used 5/8 x 14" square particle board. A few countersunk carriage bolts and a coat of polyurethane, plays like butta.

- Matt W.
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PhilMan - looks like you're in the same boat I'm in. Bass playing is fun, and we'd like to spend lots of money on quality gear. It's hard to stir up the funds when other things must take priority.

 

Today I get to spend $1200 for a new A/C system in the car.

- Matt W.
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Matt, thanks for the tip, I always appreciate advice from another handyperson! Perhaps someday this will expand into the "official DIY thread".

As "Tool-Time" Tim Allen would put it, "woof-woof-woof-woof-snarl!"

 

PhilMan, it's good to know someone who knows how to prioritize. We may not have the money, but we sure know how to make those dead presidents cry!

:D

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