Dear Suzanne,

If your action is too high at the nut (and only at the nut), this is easy to fix, though making deeper grooves in nuts is not for the faint-hearted and you need a suitably small needle file and some means of polishing the grooves to make them smooth again. You could theoretically lower the nut by filing the bottom of it or cutting the shelf on which it sits a little lower but these are both strictly jobs for the luthier.

Bear in mind that the height of the string over the first fret should be only a little more than the string diameter (less if you have thick gut bass strings). You could use thicker frets, as you suggest, but the increase in thickness might have to be quite drastic.

It may be that the action is too high overall, however. On a lute of about 60cm string length, the string height (underside of string to surface of fingerboard) at the 8th fret should be about 2.75mm in the treble and about 3.75mm on the lowest string in the bass.

Correcting an action which is too high at the 8th fret involves either removing the fingerboard and reshaping the top surface of the neck or lifting the soundboard and reshaping the body so that the bridge sits a little lower. Either is a job for an experienced luthier.

Best wishes,

Martin wrote:

  I've been reading the thread about bending strings about frets with
  interest.  But my current problem is simpler.  I have a lute with
  action that is too high.  Using the test David  van Edwards gives in
  his little Care of the Lute booklet, it seems that the action is just
  too high at the nut.  I believe that one of the remedies for this is to
  cut the grooves in the nut a little deeper, so that the place the
  string starts from is simply lower.  I don't have much experience with
  that and I'm a little hesitant to make a change that might ruin the
  nut.  I believe I've also heard or read that another possible help is
  to change the size of the fret gut to make the frets taller.
  So my questions are these.  Are those two ideas reasonable things to
  try for a lute player not much used to maintenance tasks?  Which would
  be better to try first?  Any other advice?

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