Guitar nuts are an essential component of any guitar setup. They guide each string to the right position, provide the ability to set their height, and must also allow the strings to move back and forth when playing, tuning, and bending. Eventually, they will wear down due to friction to the point that you can’t achieve the right setup anymore, and in more serious situations they break entirely, leaving the musician wondering if there is a quick way to fix a broken guitar nut.
You can repair a broken guitar nut using a mixture of gorilla glue and baking soda, but this will mean that the extra material will add length to the nut that will prevent the strings from being at the right height and distance from each other.
When you have a chipped or broken guitar nut, you have three options:
- Glue it back – Fastest but least effective and durable solution
- Take it to the shop – Costly but if the luthier is good it guarantees perfection in the execution
- Replacing it yourself – Cheaper but takes time, patience and a bit of skill.
Replacing the nut is a very good alternative. (And it doesn’t use gorilla glue, simple white glue will work just fine). In case you don’t get it right, you can always do some corrections or get another nut for cheap, and you’re always gaining experience as an instrument builder.
Replacing the nut is always a better choice
If you have any sort of interest in understanding the processes that guitar builders go through, then learning how to install and set up a new nut properly will be part of your skillset development.
A new and high-quality guitar nut will set you back only a couple of bucks.
Unless you have a really expensive and rare nut that you really cannot replace, there is no reason to cheap out and go with the easy “fix with glue methods” you’ll see out there. Not only the fix won’t last for long, but you’ll keep on using a nut that is already past its intended lifespan.
The procedure to replace guitar nuts is not so difficult, and you can do it at home with only a couple of tools:
- A blowdryer
- White Glue
- A set of guitar files
- Masking tape
Guitar nut replacement
- Loosen and remove the strings
- Blow hot air on the surface of the nut that needs replacement until the glue under it starts to melt. When you feel that the nut starts to move with a bit of pressure, you’re doing it right.
- Remove all the pieces of the broken nut. You can use any flat tool like a screwdriver, just make sure to be delicate with it and avoid damage to the neck. With the broken nut pieces, you can find a replacement easily, just by measuring and searching online or taking it to the nearest guitar shop and showing it.
- Remove the old glue in the slot. The glue used for the purpose of fitting in the nut to the slot in the neck is most likely , so after removing the thicker portion of the glue with the aid of the blowdryer heat, you can then use an object like a ruler or a thin screwdriver covered in a wet tissue to dilute and remove the rest of the glue.
- Not all guitar necks are the same, so In order to fit and stay in place, most nuts come with a little bit of extra thickness. You’ll likely need to remove some of the added material using fine grit sandpaper before you are able to insert it into the slot.
- After the slot is clean and dry, apply the white glue until it can make contact with the nut base after its insertion. The strings will keep the nut down in place while the glue prevents it from moving sideways.
- Insert the new nut into the slot, clean the excess glue on both sides and let it dry for a couple hours.
Now comes the fine work
The reason why they’ll charge you a seemingly absurd amount of money at the shop is this:
For the guitar strings to play as they should, it won’t be enough to simply install a new nut.
You’ll have to ascertain that each slot has adequate depth to fit the strings harmoniously with the fretboard.
Guitar fretboards aren’t flat, and to have the action adjusted properly to the radius you will need a bit of patience and work with different files until you get it right. Not to mention the right nut for your neck model to start with.
You can use the old nut as a reference, just pay attention to how worn it is and how it should have been when it was brand new and you got a good starting point.
Remember that patience is the key, since overdoing the filing of the slots is undoable and you’ll have to replace the nut once again.
Pay close attention if the strings are making contact along the entire surface of the nut slot, depending on the angle of the headstock. If the strings are making contact with just the edges of the nut slot, they’ll wear down the nut irregularly over time, which will require further maintenance that could be avoided.
Which file to use for each string
|1st string (low E)||.026″|
Finish it up – how to fix a broken guitar nut
When all the strings are sitting happily in the new nut slots, all that is left is to sand both sides of the nut until the neck feels smooth to the touch. You’ll use the masking tape to avoid damaging the neck finish itself.
Remember through the setup that some actions are irreversible (although there are means to correct some as we’ll discuss in a bit), so having the patience to do things in small increments and testing consistently is strongly advised.
Don’t worry too much if you couldn’t get it right. Yes, you’ll have to take it to the shop. But once you’re there, ask the Luthier what went wrong, and this will probably be the last time you’ll need to pay for this repair.
How to repair a guitar nut filed/cut too deep
If you eventually made the mistake of removing too much of the nut material for a specific string slot, there is a workaround to save you from having to replace the nut once again
- You can achieve a filler material with a similar consistency to the nut using a mixture of baking soda and gorilla glue.
- Powder from another nut made from the same material works as well. If you want, you can use the old nut for this purpose.
- Cover all of the nut surfaces except for the one that needs adjustment
- Carefully apply the glue until it fills up a good portion of the nut slot and with the aid of a file apply the baking soda over it, mixing it on the spot.
- Take care not to let any of the mixed materials leave the intended area, since they’ll harden very fast and become difficult to remove afterward.
- After a couple of minutes, you’ll be ready to start filing the nut slot once again. Once you’re done, proceed with finishing the nut setup as you would normally.
How to raise guitar nut
Unless the question is about how to repair a nut slot that has been cut too deep (which is covered in the paragraphs above), Elevating the guitar nut as a whole in relation to the fretboard is a much more advanced procedure.
It will require you the right tools to be able to remove the frets and actually sand down the neck to compensate for the lack of height of the nut itself.
Unless you’re confident on how to go about it, it’s best not to try. If you get it wrong, it’ll be impossible to get the neck back to its original measurements and correct angles, ruining the instrument in some cases.
Some necks are replaceable, yes. Sometimes easily, such as in the case of bolt-on necks. But between buying a new nut and a whole new neck, nuts are way cheaper.
Incorrect nut installation – The consequences
A nut that isn’t properly installed and adjusted for the specific guitar will become a very frustrating nuisance when trying to play.
Height relationship of the strings
Since the guitar strings have different gauges (0.10-0.46 as an example) Thicker strings will have to sit lower at the base of the nut to be at the same height as the other strings. This is without considering the fretboard radius, which will vary depending on the guitar.
This alone will make the guitar more difficult to play since the guitarist will have to press each string with different strings in order to make contact with the frets.
A nut that is too high makes the overall playability of the instrument much more difficult, although some musicians in some styles prefer it this way. But this is always a matter of preference, having the strings way higher than they should is quite a turn-off for beginners that haven’t yet developed adequate strength in their fingers.
You know how people say that if you learn to drive an older and more difficult car right, you’ll drive anything. It’s the same with guitars, but people, in general, tend to like making less of an effort…
When the strings are making contact with the wrong frets, due to the wrong height adjustment, they will make the dreaded buzzing sound, which will make open and closed chords/notes very difficult to make them sound right.
Although buzzing on open strings can be solved by leveling all of them just after the nut with the aid of a zero fret, this comes with the added trouble of carving the fretboard to install the zero fret, and then all the conditioning processes that must be made like crowning before it can be effectively used.
Irregular nut deterioration
If the nut isn’t filed so the strings make contact with their base perfectly, the friction will start to remove the nut’s material at an angle more than the rest of it. This results in reducing its lifespan and having to switch it earlier than necessary
The wrong positioning of the nut both horizontally and vertically in relation to the neck and the bridge can result in variations in tuning. Though they may seem negligible to the human eye, any decent tuner will be able to point out that the strings aren’t quite in the same note when played in their octaves(when played both in the 0 and 12th fret). What happens is that while some chords and notes will be okay after tuning, other spots in the fretboard will not. To play correctly, you should tune it once and it should work for the whole fretboard.
In conclusion – How to fix a broken guitar nut
There are a couple of different approaches to answering how to fix a broken guitar nut. While fixing broken or chipped guitar nuts is doable with small drops of superglue and baking soda, it’s only a temporary solution that will likely mess up with the overall guitar setup
You likely find that after effectively gluing the nut pieces back together, your guitar tuning abilities will be messed up, especially regarding the relationship between each string’s intended pitch.
The slightest variation in the nut length and height will make the playability more difficult and uncomfortable as well.
The solution is to perform (or have someone perform for you) the replacement of the nut. In comparison to gluing an old and worn nut, it’ll bring life back to your instrument, and allow you to tune and play it in an incomparable condition.
Learning to perform the procedures described here is definitely of extreme value to anyone interested in learning the craft of building or repairing string instruments, and experienced guitarists can tell a good from a bad job just by laying their hands against the strings.