How to Change Your Guitar’s Nut WiredGuitarist August 9, 2016 Articles, Tutorials, Uncategorized Is your guitar not performing like you want? Do you feel like you can squeeze a little more sustain out of it? Do you feel like it’s not ‘Toney’ enough? Strings won’t stop buzzing and you’ve tried everything else? Well maybe you need to look at your nut. One simple, yet often overlooked mod that many people don’t consider is changing out their guitar’s nut. This can be fairly inexpensive depending on the route you take, but can lead to great results if done correctly. (If you want to see some other affordable mods to upgrade your guitar check out our article, 3 Easy Mods on a Budget.) The first choice you need to make when changing a nut is: Do you want a pre-cut nut, have a luthier make one for you, or cut one yourself? Second, choose the material you want your nut made out of as there are quite a few options with different benefits. The options are: Plastic, Industrial plastics, Graphite, Bone, metal and fossil ivory (new ivory is illegal most places). If you go pre-cut, the tools you’ll need are: a ruler A small piece of wood A hammer White glue (yes that stuff from elementary school) Sand paper X-acto knife or razor blade For the D.I.Y. method you’ll need a few extra tools such as: Files corresponding to the string gauge you use (If you’re feeling brave you can use strings of a lower gauge wrapped in sandpaper, but this will take much longer and require extra care) Something to measure the fret height (Machinist rulers are great. I’ve used a coin before) Hacksaw or Razor saw String action ruler or something to measure the string height *If you’re cutting your own nut, safety equipment is important here. Use a dust mask at the very least to ensure you don’t breath in anything since most of the materials are pretty bad to inhale. That cheap plastic nut that most guitars come with can be definitely be improved on, even if it’s as simple as changing to a harder industrial plastic such as Corian or Micarta. I’ll go over a few of the different materials and their benefits: Graphite nuts have become fairly popular as of recent thanks to companies like TUSQ. Since they are inexpensive, easy to file, have good sustain, and are self-lubricating, there are really no downsides to graphite nuts, unless you buy a cheap one which may end up being a tone killer or fall apart over time. Now for the nut that is likely as old as guitars – Bone, good ol’ fashion bone nuts have great sustain, look great when polished, and notes ring out a little louder. Bone nuts are great, however they are kind of difficult to file and they do need occasional lubrication with graphite powder for maximum effectiveness. Safety equipment is a must when working with bone, the dust is really bad to inhale. Metal nuts are often made of brass, sometimes steel, and I’ve even seen one made of titanium (for those that hate their tech). These are great if you want to really bring out the top end in your guitar and make it ring like a bell, forever. Metal nuts will sustain wonderfully, but the brightness of your tone may be off-putting for some (great for bass though). Something to note is that metal nuts will be a huge pain to cut and file for a beginner. Finally, there are materials such as fossil ivory/mammoth tusk. That’s right, go check the Google and you’ll see that this is a thing people do. I won’t comment on their characteristics here as I’ve never had a chance to see or hear any of these in person, but for a decent expense you can have a nut made of this. Because, hey why not. Now that you’ve got an idea of what each material will do, you can finally begin the process of actually changing your nut: 1. Remove the nut. If it’s being held down with more than just string tension, it should usually only be stuck on by a tiny drop of glue or a tight slot. First score the perimeter of the nut with a sharp blade so you don’t chip the finish. Now, take the hammer and gently tap the top of the nut’s side with small wedge of wood to try and coerce it out, or if you’re brave you can try a pair of blunt end pliers and give it a tug. However, if your nut is really stuck in the slot and you’ve exhausted all options you may need to either saw it in half lengthwise, or cut a relief slot with the thinnest blade as you can find. If you cut the relief slot, cut behind the nut closer to the headstock so you don’t change the scale length. 2. Make sure the replacement nut/blank is level and sized correctly; use a straight block of wood or a leveling beam/straight edge wrapped in sand paper to size it if needed. 3. Find the center line on your nut and your fretboard and line them up. Place the nut in the slot, then cut off the sides of the nut if there is excess past the neck. 4. If you have a pre-cut, make sure it fits and lines up properly; put a drop of glue in if you want and you’re done, unless you have a blank or want to fine-tune the string height. In that case, move onto step 5! 5. Mark out the height of the first fret on your nut – this will be your baseline point that you do not cross. You can do so by cutting a pencil in half or by using something equivalent to a fret’s height. 6. Figure out the string spacing you want by either checking your guitar’s previous nut, finding the specs online, or just plain old doing the math yourself. 7. Mark where you want to bring your strings down to. If your previous nut was perfect for you, use those measurements, otherwise industry standard is generally around the 0.022” (0.55mm) at the bass side and 0.020” (0.5 mm) at the treble side above the first fret, and you can adjust from there. 8. If you’re cutting the nut while it’s in the guitar, protect the headstock with tape and cardboard, otherwise put the nut in a bench vise with padding to not crack it 9. Start cutting each slot making sure to leave a slight angle down towards the headstock so that the scale length begins exactly where the nut meets the fretboard. 10. Take your time, when you get close to your target feel free to string it a few times as you go so that you can get a feel for how the guitar will play. When you’ve gotten close to your marked goal, switch to a very fine grit sandpaper (220 and up, the higher the better really), wrap it around a string one gauge size smaller, and file the final bit of the nut with that so the groove is as smooth as possible to allow the string to flow with ease. 11. Once everything is cut down to where you want, this is a good time for a quick polishing! Lubricate the nut with a dash of graphite powder or something similar and bam! You should be good to go. 12. After you’ve replace the nut, be sure to give the guitar a final once over and set-up to insure maximum riffage by reading some of our other articles like How to Intonate Your Guitar or the How to Adjust Your Truss Rod. We hope you enjoyed this article! If you did, make sure to check out more, because we upload new reviews, technical articles, lessons, and more daily! This article was written by Keegan Connor, our editor located in Canada.