In this blog, Guestblogger Marc offers a step-by-step explanation of how you can change the nut of your guitar. Whether it’s an electric mode, an acoustic, or classical guitar, or a bass, Marc fills you in on what tools you’ll need and why you would bother changing the nut at all. The conclusion seem to be that it rewards you with an instrument that plays better than it ever did. Read on to find out how and why.

How To Replace or Adjust the Nut of Your Guitar

Important to Know

As you’ll read below, replacing or adjusting your string nut is not necessarily as complicated as you might think. But, 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 of tinkering with your guitar or you’re not quite familiar with what every part does.

Why & When Should You Replace or Adjust the Nut?

I tend to replace the nut for one or more of the following reasons:

  • 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)

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 since the string tension is so 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 of a thin plectrum (0.1mm).

What Tools Will I Need?

It’s important to make sure you have the right tools before you start. And don’t worry, they don’t have to be expensive. Here’s a sum-up of the tools I use for this job:

  • Safety glasses (there’s a defintely a chance of stuff getting shot into your eyes if you’re removing the nut – especially at close range, which you will be)
  • Precision knife (like a scalpel)
  • Sandpaper (fine)
  • Superglue
  • A small chisel and hammer
  • A string winder
  • Pliers for cutting or loosening strings
  • Fretboard conditioner

Preparation

Before I start, I always make sure I 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.

Adjusting the Nut

  • If the nut is just a tiny bit too high, then you can lightly file down the grooves that the strings sit in. Specialised tools are required to do this so that you don’t make the grooves too large.
    • Note that the groove should be angled towards the head of the guitar.
    • The grooves also need to have the right width so that they match with the thickness of the corresponding string. When you try to put a thick string in a groove that’s too narrow, it’ll be difficult to tune and keep in tune since the string gets caught in the nut.
    • The ideal groove depth and width should allow half of the string to sit in the groove, and half to sit on top.
  • If the nut is far too high, it’s usually best to just remove the nut entirely and shave off a little of the height from the underside using a file. Read on for more instructions about this!

How To Replace or Adjust the Nut of Your Guitar

Removing & Replacing the Nut

Het vervangen van de topkam kan zeer eenvoudig zijn:

Removing the nut can actually be really simple:

  • The nut is sometimes just placed in the slot and not glued, so is held in place by the tension of the strings. Removing the nut is therefore just a case of removing the strings, pulling out the old nut, sliding the new one in and re-stringing your guitar.
    • Please note that, when picking out a new nut, the width must match the width of your old nut so that it actually fits.
  • If the nut has been glued-in, then follow the steps below:
    • Remove the strings.
    • Using your scalpel, or precision knife, cut through the lacquer along the edges where the nut meets your guitar.
    • Once done, the nut is now cut free from all the lacquer ‘joins’ and can be carefull tapped off using a scrap of wood. Tap the nut from the neck-side, aiming towards to headstock. If the nut has been slotted into the neck, then carefully loosen one of the sides using a small chisel.
    • Clean up the slot where the nut usually sits. Make sure to wipe away any glue residue, dust, splinters etc.
    • Now put a couple of drops of superglue in the slot, and place your new nut in
    • Give the glue a little time to rest then re-string your guitar.

How To Replace or Adjust the Nut of Your Guitar

What Material Should the New Nut Be Made of?

You have roughly four different kinds of nut materials to choose from: plastic, brass, bone, and tusq (synthetic ivory). Brass is used much less these day, and plastic is very cheap and, as such, doesn’t provide the best sound. Bone and tusq give a guitar a much warmer and more rich sound. The choice between bone or tusq depends on a few factors: playing style (a lot of tremolo-arm action or none at all?), the kind of guitar, the sound you want, and the price. If you have a vintage guitar, then the appearance of the new nut might also be a factor, since while there is a GraphTech nut available for most models, a brand-new white nut on an old guitar will look out of place. In this case, I would recommend looking for a nut made of unbleached bone. A bone nut wear less quickly and provides a warmer sound than a plastic one.

How To Replace or Adjust the Nut of Your Guitar

Polish Your Fretboard

Since you need to remove all of the strings before you can remove the nut anyway, you might as well give your fretboard a little care and attention. I always use a fretboard conditioner. It gives the fretboard a good clean, removes all that dried sweat and dirt and leaves the wood looking smooth and rich. Don’t any oils or conditioners if you have a maple fretboard since it will damage the wood. Instead, just use a dry polishing cloth and the moisture from your own breath where needed.

So, now you know how to adjust and remove your nut. Not that bad, was it? Why do you need to replace the nut of your guitar? Let us know in the comments!

See Also…

» Set Up Your Electric Guitar
» Locking Tuners On Your Guitar: How & Why?
» Ordering a Guitar Online: Why Hasn’t it Been Set Up Already?
» How to String & Set Up a Floyd Rose Tremolo
» Repair the Electronics of Your Electric Guitar Yourself? Really?!

» Guitar Tools
» Guitar Maintenance Accessories
» Guitar Strings
» Bass Guitar Strings
» All Guitars & Accessories
» All Bass Guitars & Accessories

5 responses
  1. Brian says:

    For setting the height to file to, I’ve fretted at the third (the G on the E strings, eg) and looked for relief over the first fret. The string bridges the nearest frets (2nd & 3rd) and will buzz if too close to the 1st. Unless I misunderstood your direction!

  2. David Hartwick says:

    Hi Ron,
    I’m seriously considering replacing the machine heads and the nut on my Gibson LesPaul studio. Unfortunately it’s got one of those auto tune gizmos on it and a metal nut! Should I take into account any special considerations when I tackle the job?
    Many thanks Ron,
    Dave

    • Dear Dave,

      Removing a G-force is rather easy. You unscrew the bushings on top of the headstock. Then the whole thing will let go from the headstock. Then measure the size of the holes. Only thing you have to do is drill holes for the screws of your new tuners. As for the nut. That should be the same procedure. You remove the old nut (might take some force if its glued). When its out you can replace it with the material that you want. Where in my personal taste tusq gives a nice balanced tone. Bone being the brightest option in terms of sound.

      Marnix | Bax Music

  3. Ron says:

    1st off keep in mind that the nut only affects an open string note. 2nd if a nut is too high it does NOT need to be replaced. You can best fix it by sanding the bottom of the nut to get it where you want your action and finish with adjusting the nut slots to achieve playability. 3rd, everyone talks about the hardest or dense properties of nut material. Plastic is way harder than most other materials to use as a nut. And again, the nut only effects open string notes. Back in the day most guitars came with plastic nuts and I have never been able to hear a difference. If you were in a stadium full of the greatest players could you tell what nut material each guitar had installed? I really doubt it. The main thing is the proper shape and set up of all components it takes to make a guitar play it’s best. I am a 45 yr veteran guitar tech.

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