You’d be amazed at how many problems your guitar’s “nut” can cause. You may be blaming some of them on your truss rod, your saddles, frets, tuners or even your poor cat!

Let’s shine a light on this likely culprit and some of their shenanigans.

Has your guitar mysteriously lost some of it’s tone or sustain? That could be your nut! Having trouble keeping your guitar in tune? That could be your nut also. What about those times you’re trying to tune your guitar and nothing happens when you turn the tuner key, so you turn some more..still nothing, so you turn a little more and suddenly – ZING! And now you’re sharp! Yup, that’s probably your nut also.

When you Google that Zing problem, everyone says you need “nut grease” or something similar, right? But hold up! Before you smear greasy goo on your guitar, let’s put your nut in the hot seat!

Even most “[Place name of major guitar manufacturer here] – certified “techs” don’t know how to properly cut a nut, unfortunately. And those pre-slotted nuts you buy, thinking you can adjust the slot heights by just filing down the nut bottom??? – Nope, you’re still gonna have nut problems!

filing nut slots
Filing nut slot with a StewMac nut file

Let’s start with the ZING problem. Most nut slots have an abrupt drop-off at the back of the nut slots. The edges are often sharp. And the slots are almost never cut at the proper angle, but cut flat, perpendicular to the base of the nut.

This forces strings coming from the tuner keys, to make a sharp bend at the back edge of your nut slots. A sharp bend against sharp edges. Especially with wound strings, that’s a recipe for ZINGS! The problem magnifies with 3×3 headstocks where D & G strings, especially, not only have to make downward vertical bends but also outward horizontal bends. Those nut slot sides tend to be as sharp as the bottom back edges.

I think you see where I’m going. Nut slots need not only to be filed down to proper string clearance over the first fret, but filed at a downward angle to allow the strings to continue their path to the tuner keys. Their back bottom edges need to be slightly rounded, as do the outer side edges for D & G strings (and sometimes A).

When properly filed, you do not need expensive, messy “nut grease”. But until you can properly get those slots filed, here’s a hint from cheapskate Hank: “Try Chapstick”. Apply a tiny dab with a toothpick, until you can get your guitar to Hank’s Guitar Shop, in Palm Harbor for a proper setup (which includes properly filing your nut).

Other problems with nut slots include high slots which cause you to play sharp down in the “cowboy frets”. (Which is actually “up” toward the nut). And low slots where strings can contact the first fret when played open. If they’re really low, you’ll hear an annoying buzzing. But if they’re barely low, you’ll just lose tone and sustain.

It can happen so gradually, that you may not notice for a long time because your ears will get used to the changing sound. When you do begin to notice, you may just think you need a new guitar.

Well, ole Hank will be happy to do a trade and fix you up with a guitar you’ll love, and my accountant will be happy too! But you’d likely be better off just letting us give your poor guitar the proper setup it deserves!

If you’re thinking of tackling that nut job, or nut changing job, yourself – let me know. If there’s interest, I’ll write a step-by-step article, with pix, on the proper way do a nut job. I say “proper way” not the “YouTube way”!