4 tips to make a CBG play and sound better

Hi folks,

I thought I'd share a few of my tricks and techniques which I employ on my builds to make them sound and play better. Obviously to some of the more experienced builders out there these may seem obvious, but that aside these are all things I wish I knew when I began making these.

1. The nut

The nut is an extremely important part of any guitar's construction, and has a huge impact on the intonation and the clarity of the tone. All of my guitars are fretted so I set up my builds to play with fingers rather than slides. Some of these steps are unnecessary if you intend to only play with a slide.

My tips for nuts would be:

  • Use a hard material. I always use bone these days but a hardwood/corian works fine too
  • When you file the slots, do so at an angle down towards the headstock so that the string rests on only a tiny area right where the nut meets the fretboard. I use the same size small triangle file for all the slots and it works just fine.
  • The 'break angle' at the nut is important - the strings need to slope downwards towards the tuners. This will help open strings ring true. Where possible wrap the strings around the bottom of the tuner shaft a few times before feeding them through the hole
  • When setting up intonation, use your tuner to ensure that if the open string plays a G, the first fret plays a G#. If the note sharpens when fretted, you need to make the slot deeper. Be careful not to go too far of you may get buzzing on the frets, which would effectively mean a new nut
  • When you are happy with the intonation at the nut, take the strings off and sand down the nut so that the strings are resting in a shallow, rather than deep, groove - I tend to find they ring out a bit better this way

2. The bridge

Much like the nut, the bridge is very important for both intonation and allowing the strings to ring out as they should.

I use a floating bridge for all of my builds, as they are super easy to set up and I like the way they look. There is good information on setting bridge intonation all over the internet so I won't go into that here. My tips for bridges:

  • As with nuts, hard materials will transfer sound better than soft ones. I use bone and hardwood for mine. I made a blog post on how I make them here
  • I make the slots for the strings to sit in using a small triangle file. They are very shallow, with the break angle towards the tailpiece holding them firmly in place
  • I sand my bridges to a point at the top - this way the string is only resting on a very small area at the top. If the string is sitting on a flat surface this can cause buzzing
  • I tend to find bridges with a smaller amount of surface area contact with the soundboard (or cigar box lid) sound better (but please don't ask for the science behind this!)
  • You may have noticed my bridges are rather high (this one is 3/4" tall) - see number 3.

3. Back angle

I started using a back angle on the neck on roughly my 12th build. The difference in playability compared to a straight neck is huge. It is actually quite easy to achieve and well worth a try.

As you can see, using a back angle on the neck allows for a much higher bridge, and the action stays nice and low all the way up the neck.

  • Imagine that the neck is resting on 2 blocks, which are at either end of the box. Make the block at the front of the box slightly lower than the one at the tail, and you have a back angle. Easy! The tail block on this guitar is 10mm taller than the front one.
  • If you're a bit more of a perfectionist you can cut the blocks at an angle to the neck rests flat on them (recommended)
  • Coupled with having the fretboard sitting higher than the box, you will achieve low action and a good amount of clearance between the strings and the soundboard, making the guitar easier to play with fingers or a pick.

4. String gauge

Although it is standard CBG building practice to use strings 3,4 & 5 from a 6 string set, I have found better result using strings at equal tension, which is probably more important on instruments without truss rods to prevent the neck warping over time. I also find equal string tension easier to play.

  • I use the MPUSTC String Tension Calculator to work out which strings I need for a particular build. It's easy to use; just enter your scale length and tuning and it does the calculation for you
  • For this build I used GDG tuning, and went for 44,28 and 20w, with each string having a tension of between 10.4 and 10.8kg over the 630mm scale length. I tend to find anything below 9kg to sloppy, and over 14kg too tight
  • I also find that using equal tension makes setting the intonation at the bridge much easier. I usually manage to achieve close to spot on intonation at the 12th fret
  • If you want to give equal tension a try, just go to your local guitar shop and ask for the individual strings you need. If anyone's going to understand your needs, it will be a fellow guitar geek!

Well, I hope this is of some help to those of us just starting out with this rewarding hobby. I suppose my best tip would be not to think too much about it, otherwise you'll end up like me :(



  • the anonymous pick

    yup  ..  ps  ..  nice   bridge  on that  build  ;-)


  • Brown Water Jerry (Rice)


  • jabes

    all good points and well explained- the how and why...thankyou..

  • Paul Barbieri

    Thanks for taking the time to put all that down for us "newbies".

    I'm half way through my 2nd build, and your tips will come in handy for sure !
  • JL

    What's your preferred action height?

  • Richey Kay

    Cheers for the comments guys. JL, I don't really have a hard and fast rule on action height, but I suppose low enough to play in tune at the but, and somewhere in the region of 2/3mm at the 12th. Realistically though I just fiddle about until it plays well :-)
  • Richey Kay

    Damn autocorrect
  • Doug Krantz

    Good post, I never thought of equal string tension before, thanks for the link to the calcuator also.

  • Fake8pe

    Hope I can find this later. Great stuff.
  • Michael Fred Johnson

    Good post Richey

  • Richey Kay

    Thanks guys. I enjoy making these little articles :-)
  • Uncle John

    Richey, I wish I would have read this about 5 years ago.   The main things I did not know were about angling the nut and saddle.  Makes sense.   Wayfinder, I am bookmarking the page.

  • Andy Jach

    Thanks for the heads up,I was having trouble getting rid of the buzz on one of my builds,this helps a lot
  • gary sheldon

    Great article, Richie.  As far as neck angle goes, I don't measure it.  Too difficult.  But I typically make the but end of the neck inside the box 7/ 32 to 1/4" lower than the neck at the front of the box.  I am getting better at cutting the nut and nut slotsthanksto your help.  Also I discovered by myself about having the top of the bridge pointed.  I don't even have to file grooves, the string tension takes care of that automatically.

  • Corbin

    This is some great info Richey...

  • Calim

    thank you for sharing sir

  • gary sheldon

    Yes, Richey.

    That article should be required reading for CBG builders.  

    After I built about 8 gits, I discovered neck drop.  I took them all apart and put some drop on all the necks.

    On the subject of slotting the nut, your suggestion helped me a whole lot.  I also agree that the string should not be buried in a huge, deep slot.  I think that about half the string diameter should be above the top of the nut.   When I am satisfied with the slots and need to lower the action, I pop the nut out and sand the bottom surface to get the string height I want.  I have also been known to (carefully) shim up a nut with too low action. 

  • 14 buck bass (aka antonio)

    kudos my man, thanks for the tips

  • Richey Kay

    Thanks for the comments guys! Glad the article has been of some help.

  • Mad Mike's CBG's

    Thanks bro all good tips...

  • Richey Kay

    Thanks Mike! Glad you liked them.
  • Marcelo Vid

    LOL, If I end up like you this will be awesome, Very thanks for sharing this with us Richey!

  • Kalmario

    love this article, so much good information.  and so cool to see someone else who doesn't predominately use slide necks.  neck angle should be 2-3 degrees otherwise the bridge gets too high. would you be offended if I did a part 2? mind you it could be weeks off.

  • Richey Kay

    Thanks Marcelo and Kalmario. In my experience I haven't ever had a bridge seem 'too high'. I seem to prefer the geometry of a taller bridge. That said, I don't think mine have ever gone taller than 3/4" and that pretty small compared to a violin/double bass etc...
    Nope, I wouldn't mind if you posted more tips - if anyone else has any, share away! These are all things I wish I knew when I first started making these...would have saved a lot of frustration ;-)
  • music2me

    Thank you so much for your tips,just finished my second build and you answered alot of questions that have been swimming around my head!Thanks again!
  • Del Puckett

    good info mate !!!  thank you

  • Primitive Acoustics

    Thanks a bunch Richey! You are producing some great work, writing and building!
  • Chris Carlson

    Love the headstock design & bridge design! The string tension in new to me - I'll use that calculator to see what turns out. Thanks Richey!
  • Dave Collins

    Thanks Richey.

    some very useful info here, Cheers m8  =o)


    good stuff man

  • Richey Kay

    Thanks for the comments gents, happy to help. I might do a separate article on string tension and try to explain it a bit better.
    Glad to see you back Wayfinder!
  • Barry Simon

    When you angle the neck back - and you want the fretboard to hang over onto the box itself - do you add a shim under that portion of the fretboard? How do you deal with this gap?

  • Richey Kay

    I think I know what you mean...I don't think it would be a problem to have part of the fretboard suspended above the box...all mine terminate before the box lid. Have a look at a violin fretboard, is that what you mean?
  • Barry Simon

    Richey - thanks for this great post. I never considered the angle neck until I read this. So last night was looking at my Taylor GS-Mini - and the neck on that guitar DOES angle back slightly and noticed that under the portion of the fret board that overlaps the body - they do use a very small - angled shim - maybe 1/16 inch to fill in that gap. But true - violins and other stringed instruments float that portion of the fret board.

  • Hard luck chuck

    good stuff - I learned some of this the wrong way on my first couple builds.  I'll definitely use the nut slot depth and string tension tips.

  • Jim Morris

    Excellent info Richey. Even after 100+ builds I can find useful stuff from your posts. I'm gonna go back to your bridge making post to see what I can steal since yours are so very nice looking and sounding.

  • Richey Kay

    No worries, happy to help!

  • Muddbone

    Absolutely awesome. All of my builds have been slide action and this will help me take the next step. Thank you.
  • Richey Kay

    You're absolutely welcome. Let me know how you get on.
  • Rough Cut Guitars

    After reading your post "4 Tips..." I knew what I had to do and...
    It turned out AWESOME. Did a 2 degree angle and the volume and projection are ridiculous! I made my bridge a little different from yours but calculated the compensation and the intonation is dead-on. You can see the bridge at the link below. Life will not be the same; thanks! Owe you more than a few beers :-)
    Tom roughcutguitars fb & yt

  • Philip Hale

    Great information, many thanks
  • Andy R

    Good nuts, bridges and saddles do justice to any instrument, whereas lesser ones can make even the best come up short. Great advice on that. Have you ever come across a composite material called phenolic?
    I have used it on my dulcimers and it fits the bill for quality nuts and saddles. Easy to file and sand as well.
  • Alberto Magotti

    I Will use the back angle neck on my next build!