Paper or cardboard is usually a terrible, tone-sucking material to use as a shim. Unless you learn this one cool trick that Big Nut doesn’t want you to know. You won’t believe what happens next! 😉
Nah, seriously… It’s good.
A nut with a low slot (or slots) is a pain. It buzzes when you play the open string and sounds generally awful. You could replace it with a nice new nut but, sometimes you’re in a hurry or on a budget.
Enter the shim…
What we generally refer to as the ‘offset’ Fenders (Jazzmaster, Jaguar, Mustang, Jag-Stang) can sometimes be a quirky bunch and one of their more common annoyances is the bridge.
Often, notes can suffer from a lack of focus and sustain. Strings can ‘jump’ from their slots if played even a little too hard, and the bridge itself can be buzzy and rattly. Sometimes you’ll even have saddle height screws vibrating loose and rattling, or even falling out.
I’ve written about neck shimming a while back, but the world of shimming has moved on and it’s worth an update.
Well, here’s how you would not go about it:
It’s my opinion that shimming in this way can contribute to and/or speed a hump/ramp/ski-slope condition at the end of your fretboard. This can mean fretwork to resolve so you’d prefer to avoid it if possible.
Check out my How To Shim A Bolt-On Neck article for a more in-depth explanation.
You need to avoid any ‘air gaps’ between the neck and body. This means a ‘full-pocket’ shim.
That's a wedge-shaped piece of wood that will angle the neck backwards but will allow good solid contact between neck and body, with no gaps.
Now, if you’ve read that previous article, you’ll have learned what a pain in the butt it is to actually make these shims. It’s a fiddly job that used to be only for the bravest of shimmers.
Stewart McDonald have figured out a way to reliably manufacture full-pocket, wedge-shaped shims*.
Check it out.
You can buy a shims with different angles — a 0.25°, 0.5°, and a 1° wedge. The 0.5° should be enough for most jobs but it’s nice to have the option of something bigger (the bigger one is useful for the offset Fenders when you're deliberately trying to raise the bridge height).
The shims fit a standard neck pocket and even have a marked line to show where to cut for a squared-bottom pocket.
I’ve used them for the first time today and I’m a happy repair-guy. I’ve hated making these shims in the past and being able to buy them is one less source of stress.
When I originally wrote this article, only guitar neck shims were available. Now, Stew Mac has tapered bass shims too (and some 'blank' shims in case you've a weird sized pocket).
*It has been possible to buy ‘flat’ shims—a consistent thickness all along. You could use these to shim a neck but, because you’re not angling the neck, you need to add a much thicker flat shim to achieve the same result. It’s not the best solution.
I'm used to seeing rough and ready shims under nuts. Sometimes they're a makeshift repair to get a player through a gig or recording session but I've even seen these on guitars that seem fresh from the factory.
Like this one.
The nut is sitting on a 'ledge' of sorts. I can see that there's lacquer over the binding and it seems the guitar left the factory like this. It's a bit strange. It looks like the bound fingerboard was machined down for the nut slot but something went awry.
Whatever the cause, it's not ideal. The best tone comes from good coupling of strings and guitar. Anywhere that a vibrating string can lose energy is a potential tone-suck. A nut sitting on a narrow ledge like this qualifies as something to address.
Out with the old nut and a little slot clean-up. Remove that precipice and cut a nice, new, bone nut.
Ahh, that's better.