Why Is Nut Height Important?
Do you want a guitar that plays well and is always in tune? If so, then we need to talk about the nut. You may think this is boring, and it is, but it’s important if you enjoy having a guitar capable of intonation.
The height of your guitar’s nut can affect how it sounds when you strum chords or play melodies on individual strings. Properly adjusting the nut can significantly impact your guitar’s performance.
The height of the nut slot, or depth, is determined by how deep the nut is set into the fretboard. The width of the slots is influenced by both string size and distance between strings – wider slots for higher gauge strings.
You may have to adjust the height of the slots. We will discuss what happens when a slot is too high and when it’s too low and how to measure nut slot heights correctly.
Unlike the more common issues of neck relief and saddle height, action problems can also stem from your guitar nut. The problem is a lot worse if you haven’t adjusted it in a while because dirt accumulates under strings which increases string stiffness – thus making them buzz against the fretboard.
It can be difficult detect a nut-related issue. Neck alignment and saddle problems are more obvious, but when there’s a nut issue, the guitar becomes difficult to play. High action at the nut causes issues up the fretboard.
There are two measurements for this: slot angle or slot width, measured by how far from perpendicular they sit at each other at their widest point on either side of the frets. The first thing most people do wrong is have too narrow an angle between slots. They’re so close that one set goes over onto another’s backside before crossing into its space again, like that perverted game your second cousin tried to play with you in the shed.
Adjusting the action on your guitar’s nut can improve playability and make it buzz-free. The important thing is that you have enough clearance for your fingers without going too deep into the slot (you should still feel contact). If not, then you need to raise height of that particular slot.
Nuts can be made out of different materials ranging from cheap plastic material for beginners, or more durable bone that requires less frequent adjustment as you progress.
One popular variety is TUSQ, a synthetic material designed like natural bone which mimics its properties with consistency in quality and tone among guitars. It is permanently self-lubricating, but enough about my great aunt.
TUSQ nuts are designed with plenty of length and height, but the material is easy to sand to your required size. These bad boys contain PTFE (Polytetrafluoroethylene), a five times more slippery synthetic fluoropolymer than graphite. Hey, I said enough about my great-aunt!
Titanium nuts are cool because they are dense and lack porosity, meaning tone won’t be impacted in a negative way (you may gain a bit of high-end). This alloy is lightweight and prevents string sticking.
Remember that since this is titanium alloy, it will be more work to file it into shape. Another benefit provided is increased sustain. Like C3PO’s wife says, it’s always nice to find a metal nut.
Brass is good if you need it to withstand constant bending, while wood has been used by many successful artists such as John Lennon. I don’t know how many modern players use a wood nut.
Don’t forget Floyd Rose locking nuts. The nuts lock down on top of the strings and prevent movement during your insane dive bombing runs. This also prevents tuning at the headstock, which is why there are fine tuners on Floyd Rose bridges.
There’s plenty of choices when picking what will work best for each individual musician!
To give your guitar the perfect sound, it’s important to get those nut slots set just right. Too low and there won’t be enough pressure on the fretboard for when you begin playing- too high and the tone will become tinny.
Adjusting Nut Height on Electric Guitar
Since some nut adjustments are permanent, verify the source of a problem before commencing work. Check the neck alignment and intonation before “going ape” on the nut.
Tools you may need: Precision knife, files, action ruler, feeler gauges, sandpaper, Superglue, hammer, screwdriver, guitar cleaner and conditioner materials.
To measure the height of an electric guitar nut, use a capo on third fret and check the distance between the top of the first fret and the low E string.
You can measure for the correct slot height with a feeler gauge. There should be enough space at the front of your instrument that it doesn’t interfere when you play, but isn’t too deep or high to make playing difficult.
To make an adjustment you’ll need to know how high your strings should be relative to their position at the 1st fret: 0.2 mm-0.3mm (good range) high – too much above 0.5mm (not recommended).
Note that a string will saw itself into the nut over time, so if you’re very anal and like planning ahead, you can leave a bit of extra height in the slots.
While you’re pressing down on third fret, it is normal for the string to touch the second fret.
Guitar players can experience issues due to a guitar nut slot being too low. The correct height will leave the string sitting just above the first fret, but if the slot is too deep the string will hit the fret and sound jangly, like your step-sister drunkenly falling down the stairs while wearing too much jewelry.
What the hell is this?
You can raise the string by placing a mixture of Superglue and baking soda into the nut slot. Or Superglue and wood dust. Or Superglue and cotton. Just mix something with Superglue and shove it in there! Wait for it to cure and re-file, if necessary. See the video at the end of this article for a walkthrough.
Does your guitar’s tuning seem off? If so, it may be because the nut is too tight and the strings are too high above the neck. To fix this issue, file the slots in order to provide more width for vibration. Saddle height also impacts action, so you may want to make a concurrent bridge adjustment.
Clicking noises while adjusting tuning on your guitar could also indicate resistance from a tight nut that needs to be addressed accordingly. Lube won’t be much help in a too-tight nut. Sounds like my honeymoon!
A too-wide slot can also allow strings to vibrate excessively, which can affect tone. You can file the slot deeper if you have room, otherwise you need a new nut.
You can use “keyring files” which are generally kind of flimsy. I’ve never found them effective. Or a specialized set of files with the correct measurements for filing down the slots. These are more expensive, but definitely worth it in my opinion.
If the angle from the nut to the tuners is more severe, like on some Gibsons, file a “V” shape to prevent binding at the back of the nut.
The nut will affect your tone and intonation, so, unlike your step dad at the liquor store, don’t go as cheap as possible.
Bone, graphite, metal, high-tech plastic…it’s all good as long as it’s fitted and installed correctly.
If someone tells you you’re “going nuts”, you can thank them. You know it means you’re invested in your guitar’s quality, not that you’re dangerously insane.
Whether you need to replace a nut or want to install one for the first time, this article should have provided enough information on nuts and how they work.
You can now confidently go forth into the world of guitar playing with all your questions about nuts answered!
If you’re interested in seeing which nuts I’ve been using, please check out the store page for some suggestions.