Is your guitar’s nut on the fritz again? Need to learn how to replace guitar nut yourself? Want to evade the hefty fees of a tech?
Then step forth as we show you how, as well as why it’s important, and how to pick a nut that suits you and your own styling.
Introduction to Guitar Nut Replacement
Whether you’re new guitar players or seasoned luthiers, you’ll need to maintain your instrument to keep it sounding great. This includes replacing your guitar’s nut – that grooved strip of material at the top of the neck that holds your strings in place. Changing the nut can improve your playing experience and give your instrument a richer sound, affecting the overall tone in more ways than you might think.
Replacing or adjusting your string nut is not necessarily as complicated as you might think, though it is the kind of job that does demand a little patience and a lot of accuracy. If you know that you’re not that precise when doing little maintenance jobs, then it might be a better idea to speak to a guitar luthier. Also, it might not be the best idea to start doing anything to the nut if you have no experience in guitar maintenance or you’re not quite familiar with what every part does.
The importance of a properly functioning nut cannot be overestimated. So, if your guitar nut is not up to scratch, then you will need to know how to go about replacing a guitar nut, and when for that matter!
Identifying When to Replace a Guitar Nut
Listed below are some of the reasons you might choose to replace your guitar’s nut.
- The nut is too high
- The nut is too low (the string grooves are too deep)
- The string grooves in the nut are too wide
- The nut is broken
- The guitar doesn’t sound so good anymore (often a plastic nut – deemed by many an inferior material for the nut)
- The nut width is too great
When it leaves the factory floor, the nut is usually set too high. This means that playing the first few frets can be less comfortable because the string tension is high just after the nut. The ideal nut height is a fraction higher than the height of the first fret. You can test this by pressing down the strings just after the second fret. If you then look from the side, you should see a gap between the strings and the first fret that’s about the same thickness as a thin plectrum (0.1mm).
String buzzing and tuning issues are typical signs that your nut is not serving you so well – don’t worry, it’s only natural for the wear and tear of an instrument for certain parts of, say, an acoustic guitar to degrade over time.
Tools and Materials Needed
Before you begin, make sure you have all of the following tools – you don’t want to be left with your pants down later on in the process.
- Safety glasses (there’s definitely a chance of stuff getting shot into your eyes if you’re removing the nut – especially at close range)
- Precision knife (e.g. scalpel)
- Sandpaper (fine)
- A small chisel and hammer
- A string winder
- Pliers for cutting or loosening strings
- Fretboard conditioner
Before you start, it is also useful to make sure that you have a fresh set of strings ready since the old ones are going to be removed. Keeping a string winder handy for removing and re-stringing just saves a lot of time and possible wrist ache for this precise reason.
Of course, you will also want to do some research on precisely what types of nuts are best suited to you, information upon which can be found below beyond the instructions.
Removing the Old Nut
Follow these tips for safe nut removal and careful nut extraction:
- First of all, remove all the guitar strings so you can access the guitar nut, removing the bridge saddles if there are any. If your guitar strings are old or need replacing, then this is a great opportunity to replace them with new ones.
- Use a craft knife with a fresh, sharp blade to score around the guitar nut. Trace the finish around all the edges of the nut with the tip of the craft knife to prevent the guitar’s lacquer coating from sticking to the nut when you knock it loose. Trace around each edge of the nut where it meets the wood of the headstock 2-3 times.
- Place a small wooden block against the long back edge of the nut, then use a wooden block approximately the width of the guitar nut and thick enough that you can hit the back edge with a hammer, placing it on top of the fingerboard against the long edge of the nut where it meets the wood of the fingerboard.
- Tap the back edge of the block lightly with a hammer to knock the nut loose, then hold the wooden block in place against the long edge of the nut with 1-2 fingers of your non-dominant hand. Carefully wield a hammer with your dominant hand and gently tap the back edge of the wooden block to knock the nut free from the wood of the fingerboard.
- Use a ruler to measure the nut’s exact height, width, and length, making sure to note the shape of the nut as well. Your replacement nut should be the same shape as the original nut, and as close as possible to the original’s dimensions. It’s better to choose one that’s slightly too big since you’ll be able to sand it down later.
Preparing the Slot for the New Nut
Most of the time there is usually some glue left over in the slot from when you removed it. You will need a tool to file down the glue or debris in the slot.
Be careful while you file the slot down – it must be straight, so don’t take too much material off any one side. Once the slot is clean, you can set the nut in place.
Fender inlaid nuts should fit snugly in the channel and Gibson nuts should sit flat against the fretboard. Both styles of nuts should not hang out over either side of the fretboard. If it does, you will need to file down the edges until it is smooth.
Selecting the Right Nut for Your Guitar
Guitars have many different styles of nuts made from many different types of materials. Nuts can be made out of bone, ivory, tusk, wood, metal, corian, Tusq, plastic, and other synthetic materials. All of these materials will work for a guitar nut, though some evidently better than others.
A “good” nut that produces “good” tone should ideally be made of extremely dense material, just as certain woods are better for guitar necks than others. Some of these materials are denser and better suited for nuts than others. Each one of these materials is slightly different to work with.
Generally, there are four main nut types from which to choose a new guitar nut:
- Plastic, though this is generally only used on entry-level guitars
- Bone, a denser material offering better sustain and tuning stability
- Graphite, less dense than bone, though self-lubricating and offering improved tuning stability
- Tusq, a man-made ivory credited with improving sustain.
Installing the New Nut
Installing a guitar nut is easy when following this step-by-step installation process.
- Test how your new guitar nut fits where the old nut was by placing a new, pre-slotted drop-in nut where the old nut sat against the wood of the fingerboard. If the edges of the new nut stick out slightly from the guitar’s neck, the nut is too wide and you’ll need to sand its edges down in the next steps – remember guitar necks come in all sorts of shapes and sizes.
- Place a piece of fine sandpaper on a flat work surface and secure it with masking tape. Sand the bottom and sides of the nut a little bit at a time, testing its shape as you go by placing it on your guitar.
Fine-Tuning and Adjustments
Now you can go about doing those finishing touches to really set your nut in place for the final nut setup.
- Squeeze out 2 small dabs of wood glue onto the underside of the nut, fit it carefully into the slot, and press it firmly into place, leaving it to dry for 24 hours.
- Avoid using permanent glue, such as super glue. These glues will make it difficult to remove the nut in the future.
- Restring the guitar with the old strings or new ones once the glue dries.
- Once you’ve finished restringing all six strings of your guitar, check the height of the strings by pressing down on the third fret of the top string. There should be a tiny gap (roughly 0.25 mm, or 0.01 in.) between the string and the first fret.
How Much Does it Cost to Replace a Guitar Nut?
This will ultimately depend on the kind of nut that you choose to go with in the end, something that will ultimately depend on your own budget and personal preferences.
A cheap but fairly standard quality nut will cost you just about $10, per slotted to a common string gauge. You can get a nice Graph Tech Tusq nut for that price, though, as seen above, you will need to adjust it to the right height by sanding the bottom.
Some say that the best way is to just go to a technician or luthier so that they can install the nut for you and also set up your guitar in the process. It’s much more expensive that way, but you will have an excellent playing guitar without any aggravation later on, especially when you get to know the anatomy of a guitar.
Conclusion: Ensuring Optimal Guitar Performance
With grooves that guide the strings from the tuning keys down the neck, the nut forms one of two anchor points making up the length of string that vibrates and creates sound.
Not only are the grooves important but the nut’s material can also affect your tone. And, if the nut is not cut and fitted well, the strings won’t break across its front edge perfectly, causing endless tuning and intonation headaches, possibly even when your chromatic tuner says otherwise.
Hopefully, through this article, you can now see just how important the nut is in achieving your overall tone as a guitarist, helping to foster sustain, tuning stability, and confidence in one’s own abilities as a musician.
FAQs How to Replace Guitar Nut
This will depend on the material you use, though most guitar nuts average around $10, though this is to say nothing of the materials required for its installation.
It will either be too low, too high, or you might simply wish to change it for reasons pertaining to overall tone.
Indeed they can, though they are so cheap, they are more often replaced entirely than simply repaired.
Indeed you can – the process is relatively simple, though you must ensure not to take any shortcuts for this is how many people end up ruining things.
This is not too difficult an exercise and, thus, shouldn’t take more than an hour or two of protracted effort.
Indeed they do, alongside a whole host of other different services – they are your local guitar technicians, etc.