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.
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."