If your guitar doesn’t sound the way you want it to, there are usually a few reasons why. First of all, your intonation might be off, forcing your guitar to sound out of tune.
Secondly, you might have an issue with your neck or frets, causing your guitar to buzz or lack sustain. If you have tried fixing these things and something still isn’t right, you may want to consider replacing your nut.
It’s not as difficult a process as you might think, and it won’t cost you an arm and a leg—if you do it correctly, of course. Before we dive into the process, let’s first figure out what kind of nut you will need.
Choosing Your Guitar Nut
Before you settle on the type of nut, you need to choose whether you want a nut that is pre-cut or one that you cut on your own. Once you have made that decision, you need to choose the material of your guitar nut. There are tons of different options out there, including:
- Fossil Ivory
Plastic Guitar Nuts
Plastic nuts are the cheapest of the bunch. You’ll usually find that these are standard for low to mid-priced guitars. Micarta is a stronger industrial plastic option for those looking to upgrade from cheaper plastic.
Graphite Guitar Nuts
Graphite nuts are one of the most popular choices besides plastic. They don’t cost very much, and they have a pretty solid sustain. We’d be hard-pressed to find any serious disadvantages in using graphite nuts.
Bone Guitar Nuts
Bone nuts are old-school, providing you with a louder and more sustained sound. Plus, they have a shiny look to them.
If you go the DIY route and make your own nut, you’ll have a harder time filing a bone nut down. Plus, you’ll need to lubricate bone nuts every once in a while to keep them feeling optimal.
Metal Guitar Nuts
Metal nuts are typically made of either steel, brass, or titanium and are priced accordingly. Metal nuts help to give your higher frequencies a bit more ring. They also provide tons of sustain.
If you want your guitar to sound brighter, there isn’t a better nut around. Unfortunately, they are wildly difficult to cut on your own if you are looking to go that route.
Fossil Ivory Guitar Nuts
Fossil Ivory—a legal alternative to regular ivory—is the most expensive of the bunch. However, it does offer tons of sustain and a more pronounced tone overall. It is also similar to bone in that it is difficult to work with.
Pre-Cut Replacement Tools
- Tape Measure
- Wood Wedge
- Elmer’s Glue
- X-acto Knife
DIY Replacement Tools
Guitar Nut Replacement (Step-by-Step)
1. Remove The Nut
Typically, a guitar nut will only be stuck to the neck using a small dab of glue. This means that the string tension is the primary thing holding it onto the neck. Using a small blade, score the outside of the nut very carefully to lift it off of the neck slightly. Using your hammer, carefully tap the side of the nut so that it starts to loosen. Make sure to do this a little bit at a time, and let the vibrations work for you.
If your nut feels very stuck, you may need to use a saw or blade to cut it off the neck. Start by cutting away from the headstock instead of towards it as this could result in a scale length change.
2. Leveling the Nut
Before you glue down your replacement guitar nut, make sure that it is level across the bottom. To do so, place it atop a leveling beam or give it your best sighting. If one side is too high, use some sandpaper to sand it down.
3. Line Up Your Nut
Find the center point on your fretboard and your guitar nut. Mark the two with a pencil and stick your nut in place. Next, mark the two ends that are now hanging off of the fretboard. Then cut them with your hacksaw.
4. Install Your Nut (with Glue)
If you are using a nut that has been pre-cut, all you have to do next is place a small drop of Elmer’s glue between the nut and neck. That’s it, you’re almost ready to go! The only thing to do after that is to leave it overnight to dry.
❗️All the steps from here on have to do with DIY guitar nuts.❗️
5. Mark the Height of Your Nut
Using the first fret as a gauge, mark the baseline on your nut with a pencil. v you begin cutting, this will be the line that you refrain from crossing. If you cross the line, you will have to start over.
6. Space Your Strings
The best way to decide how far away each of your cuts should be is by basing it on the nut that was on your guitar previously.
If you want to do it differently, we recommend checking out some specs or instructions online. Once you have the spaces down, use your machinist ruler to measure and mark them with a pencil.
7. Cut the Nut
This is the part where you must be most cautious. So take your time and be careful. We recommend using cloth or cardboard around your neck and headstock so that you can protect it while cutting.
Cut each slot out, making sure to leave a bit of an angle that runs toward the headstock so that you can retain your proper scale length.
Feel free to run your strings through and tune it up a few times to see if it feels and sounds good. See if your strings run through the slots smoothly.
8. Polish the Nut
Once you’re done cutting and everything feels ready to go, we recommend polishing your nut. This will ensure a smoother tension without any snag that could possibly break your nut or cause an unwanted buzz.
You can do this with graphite powder or a polishing compound.
That Wasn’t So Nuts, Now Was It?
We hope that you now feel confident and ready to replace your own guitar nut. Of course, if you’re not totally comfortable doing so, we would recommend handing the job over to a technician. Whatever you ultimately decide, replacing your nut can completely change your tone, giving you better sustain and projection.
Good luck and go nuts!