What Do You Think About Adding A "zero" Fret To Inprove Intonation?

Randy Constan

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Jan 30, 2017
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For a while I was buying some cheap "travel guitars", and enhancing them with internal amplifiers, and optimizing their action, intonation, etc. In the process I noticed something that has bothered me for a long time, not just in ultra cheap guitars, but even in some mid-priced ones, which is the nut is not exactly where it should be, and is often too far back. This discovery was based on calculated fret distances, and backed up with noted intonation problems. Lets face it, getting the nut groves so perfectly that the action on all strings is the same as if there were a fret in the '0' position is tough to do, and easy to screw up. I've come to the assumption that manufacturers take the shortcut of letting the nut position be a little too far back, so that they can let the nut groves be less deep then they need to be. That means the action isn't optimal, so that fretting a low note at the F position would probably be musically sharp, but they compensate by having the nut position render a slightly flat note. This probably reduces the occurrence of fret buzz, especially if the customer attempts to optimize the overall action via the usual methods.

Me? I like to have notes on the first fret be equally easy to play as notes on the 2nd fret, with a capo at the first. I do that by carefully filing the nut groves to optimal depth. And in doing so, this is where I've noticed that some (especially some CHEAP) guitars have the nut position SO far back, that my best remedy was to add a zero fret. Here's an example photo from my website showing the zero fret addition on one of those cheap travel guitars...



But now that I've become sensitized to this issue of wrongly positioned nuts, I'm starting to see it show up (not as drastically but still an issue), on some mid priced guitars like my Takamine acoustic. I always took for granted that you can't tune a guitar so that all open chords sound right, but on the guitar I modified, every chord sounds dead on once the thing is tuned. So now I'm strongly considering the idea of adding a zero fret on my takamine one too! Granted, the Takamine nut is not quite far enough off to do what I did to the travel guitar. I'd literally have to add material to to get a zero fret into that one. But I'm thinking it might still be a good modification, and i wonder what others think of doing this. Consider: a properly positioned zero fret means perfect intonation, and perfectly uniform action/string height right down to the first fret. It will work consistently with any string gauge, without the risk of filing nut groves too deep (in fact with a zero fret, you can just make the nut groves as deep as you want.)

Good idea?
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