The nut is one of the most important exponents in the overall performance of
any guitar ... electric or acoustic. A badly worn or poorly made nut can easily
ruin the tone and playability of any instrument.
Nuts are made from a variety of materials including; plastic, bone, brass
and graphite. Bone is perhaps the first choice of many guitarists and guitar
techs alike, mainly because of the tone ... many feel that bone nuts simply
sound better. For electric guitars with a vibrato system my personal choice is
graphite, or some other low friction material. (Using the vibrato bar
dramatically increases the chance of the guitar strings "snagging" at
The main reason for nut replacement is simply when the old nut is too badly
worn, with the string slots carved so deep that the strings tend to "fret
out" at the first fret. This can sometimes be corrected by placing a shim
(a small piece of material about the thickness of a business card) under the
old nut. But if the wear is too severe...a new nut is the answer.
A great way to check nut slot depth (and possible wear) is to press any
string down at the 3rd fret. There should be enough clearance between the
string and the 1st fret to slide in a piece of paper. If the string is touching
the fret then a new nut may be in your future!
Making a nut from scratch is a tall order requiring an experienced guitar
tech and about an hour or so of their time. The job also calls for several
special tools such as precision nut files, razor saw, small wood chisels, etc.
But for those of you who want to learn how to do it yourself there are a
variety of "how - to" books that can help you out. A great one is the
"Guitar Player Repair Guide" by Dan Erlewine. As well as a detailed
step by step explanation, there's a list of the tools you'll need and how to
Another alternative is to see if your guitar is a candidate for a
"pre-fab" nut. These are nuts that are manufactured with the width
and height predetermined and the individual nut slots "roughed in".
They're usually made of plastic and as long as the width and slot spacing
fit your guitar it should require minimal effort to install.
But for my money, having a nut made from scratch by a trusted and
experienced guitar tech using quality material is well worth it!
Greigg Fraser is a
guitarist/songwriter from London, Ontario, Canada. Click below to visit his web site and
listen to audio samples from his two CD's!