Most guitars come with a plastic nut. The nut is one of the most important parts of a guitar in means of transferring the string vibrations. But the nut also takes care of having the strings at the correct height plus that a nut should transfer the string when a string is bent. Besides this here is a visual aspect to the nut.
I prefer guitars without a nut, these guitars have a so-called zero-fret. Of course here is something like a nut on these guitars. Lets say the function of the nut is split between the zero-fret and the nut.
And of course you have the guitars with a locking nut. Most of the time floyd rose equipped guitars that allow you to make these crazy bomb dives.
What materials do nuts come in:
- Brass: used by Yngwie Malmsteen and Eddie van Halen. Not very popular with luthiers since it ruins your expensive nut files.
I prefer bone nuts. The look cool, sound excellent and are very easy to make. I always buy nut blanks that are made from cow bone. The come in Gibson and Fender sizes both white are yellow (vintage) colored.
Buy a few, they are not that expensive. Check with your guitar color and/or binding what looks best.
Other tools you need:
- string spacing rule
- sanding paper (grids approx 240, 600, 1000, 1500)
- nut files
- feeler gauges
- small metal rule
- shaping files and/or a drilling stand
- Precision caliper
- super glue
- sanding block
- fine saw
Yes, you need a lot of tools and they don’t come cheap. A good set of nut files will cost you at least €70.
First remove the strings and the original nut. 99% of the times you can just hit the nut frommthe fret board side with a heavy object like a fret leveler. But do it easy, don’t be too aggresive. If that doesn’t work you can saw the nut over the lenght and using a plier.
Ok, the nut is gone. Please check if there are glue parts left. You have to carefully remove them with a sharp (xacto) knife. Don’t cut away any of the fretboard wood! Just easily scrape the glue off.
Next step is to shape the new nut. With the caliper you can measure the size of the original nut or you just measure the fretboard width at the nut side. Take your nut blank and put a mark how long the nut must be. Now carefully saw the nut, but a little bit longer then the desired length. You can obtain the desired length by sanding the sides of the nut. Do it in such a way that you get perfectly straight edges.
The thickness of the nut can be obtained by sanding on a sanding block. Depending on how much material you have to remove, you use 240 grid or higher sanding paper. Please only sand from one side, so that the other nut side remains untouched. That side is going to be glued against the fretboard.
Your nut now has the basic shape. Put the nut in place and take a fine pencil to draw the curvature of the fretboard on the nut. Do this by moving the pencil over the frets.
A perfect nut should be slotted like this, so adjust your line a little bit until it becomes perfect.
Now the hard job, get the nut in shape. I do this using a standing drill with a sanding drum. It takes some practice but with the help of a sanding block and a check once in a while you can get your nut perfectly in shape. You should end up with something like this.
When the nut has the perfect shape, you have to sand it with 600, 1000 and 1500 grid sandpaper. But don’t sand the side that will be glued to the fretboard.
The nut is now ready to be installed. Glue the nut with one small drop of superglue on the fretboard side and two drops of superglue on the neck wood. Place the nut carefully and let dry for about 30 minutes.
The nut is installed now. The last step is to make the nut slots. Get your string spacing rule and define where the slots should end up. The trick is to make a mark at 2mm from the high e and 3 mm from the low E string. With your string spacing rule you must fit the rule in such a way that exactly 6 slots fit between the two marks. With anfine pencil mark all the string slots.
Now get out your finest slot saw (the one for 009 strings) and saw at the string marks you just made. Not too deep, just a little slot as a guidance for when you use a bigger saw. When you have sawn all the slots check again with the string spacing rule.
If everything is correct you can start sawing with the correct blades. But first we have to decide how deep the string slots must be. For this must use the feeler gauges. Get a small metal rule and put it on the frets. Now choose the correct feeler gauge that just fits between the fretboard and the rule. This is the heigth of the frets. Add 0.5 mm to this value and you have the distance from fretboard to the lowest point of the string slot.
Choose this feeler gauge value and hold the feeler gauge on the fretboard against the nut. Now choose a saw for the appropriate slot and saw under an angle of about 15 degrees until you hit the feeler gauge. You have reached the correct depth. Continue until you have sawn all slots.
Congratulations, the nut is finished!
It helps to lubricate nut slots to make it easier for strings tommive in the slot. You can do this by ‘lubricating’ with a fine pencil or you can use products like nut-sauce. Eddie van Halen used vaseline on his brass nuts.