The “nut” on your guitar is critical for getting the best possible tone and resonance. People tend to underestimate this as it such a small component.
Can a guitar nut affect your performance? In short, the guitar nut is a critical component for getting the best tone and resonance out of your guitar. If your guitar makes a pinging sound when tuning, rattles, string prematurely breaks can all be signs of Nut that requires servicing.
The Nut really does make a noticeable difference to the sound of your instrument and so it is essential to be mindful of this. In this article, I will discuss in detail how the nut can affect your guitar tone and how to correct it.
1. What is a Guitar “Nut”?
The guitar Nut is the small block of material that wedges at the top of your fret board and fixed to the headstock. The Nut is constructed with precise grooves that guide the strings from the fret board to the tuning pegs. These grooves also align the strings appropriately to the bridge. Making it one of two components that determine the space between the strings (the bridge being the other).
Nuts are made from a variety of materials (including plastic, graphite, wood, brass and bone). The nut directly contributes to resonance, transferring the vibrations from the string to the wood of the guitar. Meaning bone and graphite are usually preferred because they are a dense solid material.
Overall, this means the density of the nut material greatly contributes to the tone of your guitar. The more dense materials such as bone and graphite produce a better sound.
2. Why is the Guitar Nut Important?
The nut forms one of two anchor points on the guitar (The second anchor point being the bridge saddles), which the strings directly sit on. The vibrations from the strings create the sound, which is transferred to the wood of the guitar. A portion of these vibrations is transferred through the nut.
A badly fitted, nut will create noticeable anomalies in your tone. This means the Nut must be fitted well which includes the Grooves (the slots that the strings fit into), Size and Material.
If the nut is not the right shape and been fitted badly then the strings will not break across the fretboard as it should which can lead into tuning issues, resonance issues and intonation issue.
Nuts that have badly designed grooves can include grooves worn too wide or deep.
This will cause you further problems as the strings could slip out of the grooves or cause a buzzing sound. In addition, if the grooves are too tight they can pinch the strings and cause an issue of string slippage, which prevent your strings from tuning properly.
Overall, this small component should never be overlooked, as it directly is responsible to a good tone.
3. Servicing Your Guitar Nut Yourself!?
So, as discussed the guitar nut is a crucial component of your guitar tone.
With this in mind, if our guitar is noticeably having problems from the nut area then we can have the nut serviced or replaced.
This is a job that you can do at home, however it is recommended for an experienced guitar technician. But, if you have an old guitar then why not give it ago and learn it for yourself.
4. Tools Needed To Service Your Nut
If you decide to service your Nut yourself, then you will need some tools.
Tools will include:
- A file
- Masking Tape / Clamp
- Wood Glue
- Guitar Support Cushion
Once you have your tools you will then need to learn how to service your Nut. We will discuss this in more detail below…
5. How a “Nut” is Serviced?
So if you have decided to give it ago yourself then there a few considerations that an experienced Luther is aware of when fitting the nut.
A nut is serviced to ensure the strings are the right distance apart, with the grooves being the correct size and the right height from the fretboard.
Below we will explain this in more detail and go through the following
- Slot depth
- Slot width
- Slot angle
- Overall Shape
In addition, it is important to have the saddle height set right, and the angle of the guitar neck (set by the truss rod set properly) this need to be done prior to cutting the groves depth to determine the depth of the strings.
If you alter the saddle and trust rod after setting the nut correctly then it may put the nut wrongly again, and you will have to go back and reset the nut again. This is because it result as Cutting a slot too deeply which will result is buzzing as a deep groove will place the string against the first fret.
If your strings buzz when playing open notes (these are notes that are played unfretted) is a sign that your nut slots are too low.
This is because as the string is plucked it needs a bit of room to vibrate. If the slot depth is to low then as it vibrates it will catch the fret. This is what causes the buzzing. A good way to tell is that It usually, catches the first fret only when playing open notes.
In addition, if the nut slots are too high it will create high action. This means the strings are further away than necessary to the fret board making it harder to play.
High action creates discomfort when playing and sharpens intonation.
The width of the string slot is determined by what gauge strings your guitar is set up for.
This is because each string slot should just slightly exceed the diameter of that string.
For example, if you have a gauge 9 then the slot should exceed that width ever so slightly so the string fits snug.
It is important to note that if the string is tight you will hear a pinging sound when tuning up. This can cause the strings to bind and create tuning problems. An increase in string diameter sometimes requires an adjustment to the slots width, which can be easily done with a file.
If the slot is to wide you may experience to much give when bending notes, and feel loose overall.
The angle of the Nut also greatly contributes towards tone and resonance.
The slots must also be angled correctly.
As the strings flow over the nut they must rest in parallel to the nut.
This is because if they are not parallel it could obstruct the function of strings vibration. For example, if the angle is too steep the string may actually rest on just a small portion of the slot causing premature wear of the string as it is sitting on a small peak. This results in the peak slowly chiselling into the string.
Overall, the angle is especially critical for a clear, clean sound.
A poorly angled nut slot can create a buzz like sound that can often be silenced if downward pressure is applied to the string behind the nut (over the peghead). This is often a sign that the string is not contacting the nut slot properly. The sound very closely mimics the sound of the string hitting the first fret when the slot is too deep.
The nut height is determined once the slots are at the correct height away from the fret board.
Once the slots have been deepened, it is good practice to remove/shave material from the top of the nut just to avoid having steep walls that surrounds each string.
Its good practice to have the slots deep enough to keep the strings from popping out when plucked but not so deep that they are buried.
6. Salvaging an Old Nut
If you are the type of person that tries to avoid waste then there is a good to salvage an old nut.
If you have a vintage guitar then the chances are the original nut is made from ivory or ebony that have beautiful aesthetics. By keeping it original Nut will actually increase the lifetime value of your instrument.
Furthermore, by reusing an original nut (if made from bone or other premium material) could save you a lot of money.
If you are looking to salvage your old Nut then you are probably having one of three problems.
- Action is low and needs raising
- Nut is loose and needs securing
- Nut is worn and needs lubricating
Below I will discuss these in slightly more detail.
Raising the Action of an Old Nut
If you have a vintage guitar and looking to raise the action of the nut then there is a method to do this.
You can do this by gluing a material that matches the original and stick them together by applying glue at the bottom. Then you sand round the edges until they appear smooth. You can now file the nut down.
Fixing a Loose Guitar Nut
It is quite a common problem that guitar nuts can come loose.
If a nut comes loose then it is recommended to using a two drops of wood glue (one drop at each end of the nut) to reattach it.
You will want to avoid stronger/permanent glue as this can create problems if you were to want to remove it again in the future.
Lubricating Nut Slots
Friction on the nut can be a massive problem when tuning your guitar up. It can cause issues like string slippage, binding and pinging. Therefore, you may want to consider using some Vaseline or even pencil lead to create a slippery nut surface.
In this article, we looked at how a guitar Nut could be affecting the tone and performance of your guitar.
We discussed that there are four major considerations when servicing your nut.
These include Slot depth, Slot width, Slot angle and the overall Shape.
By having all four of the above your guitar nut will be performing fine.