Saturday 15 October 2022

String spacing

Nut width: 52.5mm
High E: 3.8mm
Low E: 4.6mm

Hybrid Nylon
Nut width: 47.7mm
High E: 4.8mm
Low E: 5.1mm

Nut width: 44.4mm
High E: 3.0mm
Low E: 2.7mm

Strat Copy
Nut width: 48.0mm
High E: 3.0mm
Low E: 3.6mm

Tele Copy
Nut width: 43.0mm
High E: 3.1mm
Low E: 3.4mm

Nut width: 41.9mm
High E: 3.1mm
Low E: 3.3mm

So after cutting a nut for the custom neck on the Strat Copy, and then played a tune I realised I didn't like the nut I had cut. The string heights were bad on the bass notes, so it sounds out of tune - which can be fixed -  but what I didn't like was the string spacing. The top E was too close to the side of the neck. I had cut it to a fairly general specification - 3.0mm - but it wasn't working for me.

To find out why, I thought I would measure up the guitars I own, and how much I like or don't like their string spacing.

Quick note - the spacing is from the edge of the fretboard to the edge of the string, not to the centreline of the string.

I had hoped it was simply a "this is the distance that feels good" but it isn't.  It is a combination of several things, definitely the string gauge (nylon is much thicker than than steel for trebles!) probably string height off fretboard, probably neck radius, but other more subtle things like the radius of the front side edges of fretboard would make a difference.

It was a good exercise to measure though:

  • Classical is okay, the low E could be a tad closer to the edge and I'd be fine with that.
  • Hybrid Nylon is yuck! This exercise showed my why I stopped playing it years ago - the string spacing is gross!  You can even see it in the picture long before you take a measurement, both E's are too far away from the edge of the fretboard, which crams the strings up together.  I reckon if I cut another nut for this, it will completely change the way this guitar feels.
  • Acoustic is okay.  I reckon I could use a tiny bit more space from the side on the high E.  Surprisingly the very close low E string works out fine, especially when you are thumb fretting the bass. The advantage of a close distance to the edge of the fretboard means more distance available in string spacing, so you don't feel so cramped.
  • Strat Copy the high E is too close, low E is fine.
  • Tele Copy is fine, but the whole thing is too cramped with only a 43.0mm neck.
  • Electric is fine, but even more cramped than the Tele Copy.

So what do I think?  I'm estimating for a steel string (electric or acoustic) I would go with a 46mm neck, the high E at 3.5mm spacing, the low E at 3.0mm.  For a nylon, I'm estimating a 50mm neck with the high E at 3.5mm and the low E at 3.5mm.

This sure reinforces that the best way to know what you like is to play many guitars - I mean look at the differences in these string spacings I found! What suits me might not suit you - there is probably a cut for everyone - for instance somebody out there thought my hybrid nylon spacing was a good idea!

(Thinks wistfully about the $AUD4k Cole Clarke acoustic at Kosmic Music a few months back that just played so easily and beautifully - that must had the perfect string spacing for me.)