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Nuts, they're not just for squirrels

posted Nov 07, 2013 01:44:48 by MichaelWamback
One of the common complaints you get with Chibsons is the quality of the nut. Pretty much all of them are plastic, and a lot of them aren't cut too well. If you are lucky, the nut is high and can be filed down a bit to make the guitar playable. If you are unlucky, your nuts are hanging low and you are screwed. In a lot of cases, the nut slots may be a good height, but the nut itself is high and the slots look very deep and unappealing - not to mention can rob you of a bit of sustain. If you are considering replacing a nut, here's some things to consider.

Material

Most, if not all Chibsons come with a plastic nut. While this will work, there are some drawbacks with plastic.

First, the strings may have a tendency to bind a bit. The other issue is that plastic is going to dry out and become brittle over the years, so your nut is going to break at some point with stringing and restringing. It's really not the best material for a guitar nut.

Bone is an excellent choice. It tends to be hard and durable. A bone nut isn't going to bind like a plastic nut. It's what quality string instruments used for centuries.

But we didn't spend all that money putting the man on the moon for nothing. Let me introduce you to Tusq.

A tusq nut consists of a man-made material that is very hard. Not only is it hard, but that sucker is slippery. Tusq is impregnated throughout with PTFE, one of the slipperiest substances known to man. A tusk nut will allow for the greatest tuning stability. And the best part is that they are readily available for most Gibson and Fender guitars, pre-slotted by the factory! And they are relatively inexpensive.

If you are considering having a go at replacing the nut on your guitar, here's the process in a nutshell :)

Step 1 - measure the existing nut to make sure you are purchasing the correct size.

Obviously this doesn't apply if you are starting with a bone blank and shaping your own nut by hand. But if you are ordering a factory nut, they come in a number of sizes. Carefully measure the length, width and height of your existing nut to make sure the one you are ordering will be compatible with your guitar.

Step 2 - removing the existing nut.

There are a couple of steps in removing the old nut. The first thing you will want to do is to use a razor blade or hobby knife to carefully score around the exiting nut. It's possible that a bit of the paint on the neck has adhered to the existing nut, and you don't want to chip the paint when you remove the nut.

Gibson style guitars are fairly easy to remove the nut. There is no wood backing them. All you have to do is to mask off the fingerboard (to prevent damage) and then place a small block of wood (or a similar object) against the nut. You give this a few gentle taps, and the nut should dislodge.



If you are working on a Fender guitar, you will notice that there is wood in front of and behind the nut. To remove these nuts, it will be necessary to place an object on the side of the nut and knock it gently out of the guitar along the length of the slot.



In some instances, the nut on a Fender style guitar just won't cooperate. If this is the case on your guitar, you will need to take a razor saw and carefully cut a groove down the middle of the nut (across the neck) in order to remove it. Just be very careful not to saw into the neck.



Once you have cut this slot, you will be able to use a pair of nippers to squeeze the sides of the nut toward the middle, which should break it loose so that it can be easily removed.

Step 3 - preparing the neck

You now need to turn your attention to the neck slot. Chances are there will be a bit of glue residue or possibly chips from the old nut left behind. This needs to be a flat and smooth surface that we can glue the new nut to. Use a small flat file to remove any debris left behind by the old nut.



Step 4 - installing the new nut

What I like to do is to lay the new nut in place and string up the instrument with a bit of tension, just enough to hold the nut in place. It gives me a chance to see how everything fits before I glue the new nut in place. You can measure the string clearance at the first fret at this point. This way, if you decide you need to sand a hair off the bottom of the new nut, you can do that easily. Most times the new nut will be a pretty good height, and can be fine tuned later with your setup.

If you are happy with the new nut, all you need to do now is to cement it in place. Some people like to use superglue, but I always think about what might happen if I ever need to replace it again down the road, not to mention it's nice to have some time to position the new nut before the glue sets. The glue has to just be enough to hold the nut in position in the slot, so you don't need to go crazy with it. I normally use a craft glue, but go with what you prefer. Apply the glue sparingly, and then string the guitar to tension. The tension from the strings will act as a clamp to hold the new nut in place while the glue dries. You will need to leave the guitar alone at this point until the glue has fully cured.

Replacing a nut is not a super difficult job, as compared to removing frets for example. But if you are nervous about doing it, you can leave it to a professional.
The two most important things to remember in life: "The only time it's acceptable to work with amateurs is if you are making porn." "If you want to work with clowns, join a circus."
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17 replies
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sjcrowe6 said Nov 07, 2013 02:43:35
I understand that Tusq pre-cut nuts are intentionally made slightly larger than required to allow for a better custom fit. The Tusq nut I installed on my Chibson required just a little bit of sanding on the width and depth but quite a bit of sanding to get the height correct. Not having a decent string height gauge (just feeler gauges) I found another way to get the nut height correct. Install the new nut without glue, tune the open strings and check tuning for each string at the first through third frets. If the open strings are in tune but the first through third frets are sharp then you need to lower the nut. I had to repeat this process 4 or 5 times before getting it right and gluing the nut in place. Now the guitar plays great with the lower frets perfectly in tune.
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MichaelWamback said Nov 07, 2013 16:19:59
That's absolutely why I suggest test fitting the nut without glue before you secure it in place. It's better to find a problem then, rather than after you've secured it.

You can actually get it fairly close by eye. You press down on the 3rd fret, and you should see just a hair of gap at the 1st fret. Different luthiers will give you different answers as to what is the best gap, anywhere from .010 to .018 I've heard from reputable shops. But we all agree there should be a small gap. With the 3rd fret pressed, you tap on the string over the 1st fret. You don't want the string to move a lot, but you should hear a "ping" as it taps on the fret. If you don't hear that, then it means the string is laying on the fret, so it's too low.

When Installing a nut, if it is too low, you can always shim it - but personally I would just buy another at this point and start over. They are just not that expensive. You can get tons of them on Ebay pre-sized for most major brands for under $10.
The two most important things to remember in life: "The only time it's acceptable to work with amateurs is if you are making porn." "If you want to work with clowns, join a circus."
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WayneJohnson said Nov 14, 2013 12:21:42
So.

I installed a bone nut on my silverburst. It seems okay, intonates okay, action feels good. .

Is there anything specific to look for that says the new nut is not right?

Would I just be able to tell if it isn't?

Also. . I wsnt to improve. My nut slotting kit.

What tools are best?
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MichaelWamback said Nov 14, 2013 15:52:26
I'm currently in the market for some new nut files as well. I'm considering these on Stewmac:

Gaged nut files

They get pretty good reviews, and I like that there are a lot of sizes to choose from so you can really build a good custom set. I've checked around, and the prices on StewMac are not out of line with what I'm finding out there on the internet (sometimes, their prices can be on the high side.)

Obviously, you want to select gauges that are a bit larger than the strings you are using, so the string doesn't bind in the nut. A .013 gauge file would be fine for a .009 or .010 string.

As far as checking for nut problems, the issue is either going to be too high, or too low.

Too low is easy to check for. Press each string on the 3rd fret (using a capo is great here) and then tap the strings above the first fret. If the string moves or makes a "plink" sound, then you are fine. If the string doesn't move or make a sound, then your nut is too low. (It means that your string is resting on the 1st fret, rather than having a bit of separation. Low nuts can be repaired by removing and shimming them, or temporarily with baking soda mixed in crazy glue - but it's probably better to just replace them.

If the nut is too high, then your notes on the first fret or two will pull a bit sharp as the string is stretched too far. You will also find it uncomfortable to play an "F" chord, as there will be too much tension on your hand because of the excessive string height.

There is more than one method for measuring the string height above the nut. Some people advocate for pressing the string on the 3rd fret, and then measuring the gap with feeler gauges. I've seen suggestions ranging from .018 down to .010 using this method. I wouldn't want to play a guitar above .018 for sure. I tend to be in the lower camp, and like mine to be around .012

Gibson would just have you measure the string height at the first fret without the guitar fretted at the 3rd. Their suggestion is low "E" and "A" should be 2/64, "D" and "G" should be 1.5/64 and "B" and high "E" should be 1/64

If you are doing basic setups, all you should need is the nut files. If you are planing on custom making nuts, there are a few other tools that are ideal:

Nut file set
Gauged .010 saw (You make an initial cut with the saw to start the file)
A small mounted nut/saddle vice to hold the nut while you work on it
Nut shaping files

Stewmac also sells a nice set of nut seating files. One side is medium and one is fine. The come in the various nut widths, and you use them to level the slot the nut sits in (or for cleaning it of debris before you install a new nut.)
The two most important things to remember in life: "The only time it's acceptable to work with amateurs is if you are making porn." "If you want to work with clowns, join a circus."
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digidrums987 said Nov 15, 2013 23:40:33
Hi mate ,
Again great information ,
Thank you ,
Anthony.
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ChibsonsandMore said Jan 08, 2014 21:31:43
Sorry for bumping an old thread:

I just ordered up a few epiphone sized pre-slotted nuts for my chibsons last night. Surprisingly I found Amazon had the cheapest price I can find on the internet (and it's through Amazon Prime so free 2-day shipping if you have that).

http://www.amazon.com/Graph-Tech-TUSQ-Epiphone-Slotted/dp/B003HGFRO8/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1389216643&sr=8-2&keywords=tusq+xl+nut
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Rob said Jan 08, 2014 21:44:53
Michael,
Do you think it would be a good rule of thumb to replace the nut on any chib's right off the bat?
"Be the person your dog thinks you are!"
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ChibsonsandMore said Jan 08, 2014 21:48:09
While I'm not Michael, it's on my top 3 list (after replacing strings of course) on any Chibson.
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WayneJohnson said Jan 08, 2014 22:20:57
A new nut is about £6...

So I would say change it and have a go at cutting slots..
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MichaelWamback said Jan 09, 2014 01:47:27
I would definitely recommending a new nut as high on the list of priorities for most of these guitars. The nut may be cut to a decent depth, but chances are the slots will be very deep which will rob you of some sustain. The plastic nuts are also normally cut with a saw instead of a proper rounded file, and they really tend to bind which can create tuning issues.

If you are not going to play anything about .010 - .046, I wouldn't even bother with nut files. I would just order a Tusq pre-slotted nut. You can get the correct action height by sanding away some of the bottom of the nut to set it the correct height. You shouldn't even have to touch it with a file.

If you play anything bigger than .010 - .046, then you are going to have to use files to widen the slots in most cases. Pre slotted is still nice, in the sense that you can easily sit the files in the slots and make them a bit wider - so I still recommend the same nuts.

A decent set of nut files can be expensive - somewhere around $100 US for a set of four or five. You also want to use a file a bit larger than the size of the string if you are cutting your own slots - otherwise stings will bind.

Just remember that you need to score around the nut before you knock it off, or you risk chipping the finish on the neck/headstock.

Other than that, it's not a tough job.

I actually knock mine off with a wooden spatula form the Kitchen. I grab it when the Mrs. isn't looking, place the working edge against the nut and give a few gentle tapes on the end of the handle with the end of the light T-handle screwdriver in my kit. A couple of gentle knocks is enough to dislodge the old nut. You then just need to make sure the nut slot is free of glue residue and debris and then glue on the new nut.
The two most important things to remember in life: "The only time it's acceptable to work with amateurs is if you are making porn." "If you want to work with clowns, join a circus."
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Rob said Jan 09, 2014 02:31:17
Great info thanks dudes! So far, the chibs I have play very well with no "nut issues" but since I'll be switching PUPS out soon I thought why not!
"Be the person your dog thinks you are!"
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WayneJohnson said Jan 09, 2014 08:03:39
I have cut 3 good nuts using a stanley blade, hacksaw blade and home made files. I made the files by using superglue to glue a length of string to a piece of dowel. (46, 38, 26) and I play bigger strings than that.

I used the pre slotted bone nuts and just had a go. Takes a bit of time and patience but I got there. A decent set of nut files is on the wish list hut not a priority yet!
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drew said Apr 29, 2014 05:21:55
Has anyone tried using the slotted Tusq nut intended for Gibsons (the 6010) instead of the one for Epiphones (6060)? The height and length are the same; the Epiphone one is 1/16" wider (fatter). The Epiphone E-to-E distance is 1 3/8", which seems to be what the guitar I received has. The Gibson E-to-E is 1 7/16", which would give me a sixteenth of an inch to play with to get my low E string a lot closer to the edge of the fretboard and the high E maybe a smidge closer. Is there anything about the Gibson one that would make it unsuitable to use on a Chibson?
[Last edited Apr 29, 2014 05:23:06]
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MichaelWamback said Apr 29, 2014 15:26:33
I installed the Gibson spec tusq nut on the 6-string neck of my EDS-1275 from Rare Electric. No problem at all with the installation. The nut fit in the nut slot with no trouble. It was a bit long, so I did file/sand it down a bit to get the perfect length. But if the Epi nuts are the same length, that wouldn't be an issue. Guitar feels and plays great with the Gibson nut.
The two most important things to remember in life: "The only time it's acceptable to work with amateurs is if you are making porn." "If you want to work with clowns, join a circus."
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kaarel804 said Jul 04, 2014 16:59:16
Does a Gibson nut fit to an Epiphone guitar?
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