How To Replace A Guitar Nut

We live in a world full of nuts. There are the nuts you eat, the ones you turn, and the ones you know. But there’s another type of nut that most people are unaware of, and it’s the unsung hero of the guitar.
How to replace a guitar nut

Yes, the guitar nut. Guitar nuts serve a critical purpose that ensures a guitar sounds and plays its best, and if your nut isn’t doing its job, your instrument’s tone and playability will suffer. Today, we’re going to take a closer look at how to replace a guitar nut so you can ensure your instrument looks, sounds, and plays its best.

What Is A Guitar Nut, And Why Is It Important? 

A guitar nut is an integral piece of the guitar neck, and it supports the instrument’s strings and allows them to resonate freely, keeps them in proper alignment, and, along with the bridge, sets the scale length of the guitar. 

A quality nut should last you as long as the instrument does. But a nut can break or become worn down from repeated contact with the strings. It’s also possible for a nut to be improperly cut from the factory or just poor quality altogether. In that case, replacing it with a new one may do wonders for your tone.

When it’s doing its job, a nut is an easy component to forget about. But if a nut is broken, damaged, or poorly made, it will have a profoundly negative effect on your sound. 

What You’ll Need to Replace A Guitar Nut

Before we get started, take a moment to gather the tools and materials you’ll need to tackle the project.

  • Pre-slotted replacement nut
  • Ruler with millimeter scale 
  • 220-grit sandpaper 
  • Xacto knife (or a razor blade)
  • Mallet or hammer
  • Regular screwdriver
  • Painter’s tape
  • Wood glue
  • Workbench

Step-by-Step Guide – How to Replace a Guitar Nut 

Replacing a guitar nut is a relatively simple process that takes only five steps to complete. Here’s what you’ll need to do to get the job done. 

1) Identify The Best Nut For Your Guitar

Cutting, sculpting, and polishing a guitar nut from a blank can be a rewarding process, but it isn’t easy and requires some specialized tools. In other words, buying a nut that’s pre-cut and shaped to the exact specifications you need is much easier than doing it from scratch. 

To choose the best nut for your guitar, start by measuring the height, width, and thickness of the nut you removed. Next, measure the spacing of the first and last notch on the top of the nut. Write these numbers down because we will use them to find the best replacement options.

Most music stores stock several different nuts from top manufacturers, and brands like Graphtech and All Parts offer a complete catalog of different sizes and specifications, along with many other brands. You should have no trouble finding a replacement nut that matches your existing nut’s measurements exactly, either online or at your favorite shop. You can check out both Guitar Center and Thomann.

For some Fender guitars, the bottom of the nut follows the same radius as the fretboard. With these nuts, you’ll want to identify the radius of the nut in addition to the height, width, thickness, and string spacing. If your nut is radiused, it’s wise to ask for help at a local music store, and the store’s guitar tech can tell you the proper nut radius to order.

2) Remove The Existing Nut

The nut is mounted behind the fretboard at the headstock for acoustic and most electric guitars. With most Fender guitars, the nut is integral to the fingerboard, and it sits in a slot at the top of the neck, similar to a fret. 

To remove the nut on most guitars, remove the strings from the instrument. Next, place the guitar on your workbench or table and lightly score around the nut on the bottom and sides with a Xacto knife or razor blade. This ensures that you won’t chip the wood or remove any finish when you remove the nut. 

Les Paul by TT Zop. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Take your regular screwdriver, and wrap it in painter’s tape. Start by placing the screwdriver against the front of the nut at a 45-degree angle to the fretboard. Gently tap the screwdriver with the hammer. Repeat this process on the sides of the nut to help break the glue bond between the nut and neck. Before long, the nut will break free. 

If you’re working with a Fender guitar, the process is similar. Remove the strings and score around the bottom and sides of the nut with your knife. Next, place your screwdriver against the nut so that the tip of the screwdriver sits even with the bottom of the nut. Gently hammer the screwdriver into the nut until you can push the nut out of its channel. 

3) Clean Up The Area

If you’re lucky, the old nut will take all the glue with it when it breaks free. In most cases, some residual glue will be left behind on the guitar neck or in the channel the nut sits in if you’re replacing the nut on a Fender. 

Using your Xacto knife or razor blade, scrape the old glue off so that the new nut can sit perfectly flat when it’s time to install. 

4) Fit the New Nut

Take the replacement nut and put it in place to get an idea of how it fits. If you purchase a replacement that matches the specs of your original nut, you shouldn’t have much work to do before you’re ready for final installation. 

In most cases, the nut will be slightly larger than the original. Place the old nut against the new nut, and if the new one is wider or taller, use 220-grit sandpaper to remove the additional material. Sand away small amounts of material at a time, and check the new nut against the old one often until their shapes match. 

Put the nut in place for a final sizing check, and if you’re satisfied with the fit, you’re ready to install. If not, continue sculpting the nut with the sandpaper until you’re happy with the results. You can also take care of any final sculpting after the nut is installed.

5) Install The New Nut

Place two small dabs of wood glue onto the bottom of the nut, and use a toothpick to evenly spread a thin layer of glue across the bottom. Firmly press the nut into place, and clean off any excess glue with a damp rag while applying pressure to the nut. 

If you like, you can clamp the nut in place, but it’s not required. Leave the glue to cure for the night.

Final Words

While it’s an easy component of a guitar to overlook, the nut can significantly affect the playability and tone of your guitar. If you’re unhappy with how your guitar plays in the first position, you’re experiencing intonation issues, or strings are slipping out of their slots, a new nut can make all the difference. 

Follow the steps above, and select a replacement that mirrors the measurements of your existing nut, and your guitar will sound and play better in no time. And why not check out our article on string adjustment while you’re at it, Guitar Action -A Complete Guide.

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