Keeping Your Guitar in Tune: The Nut of a Guitar
An overlooked yet important thing to do! So many guitar players live without the satisfaction of having a guitar that stays in tune simply because their nut is not made properly or is as dry as a bone (no pun intended). The first and most important thing you can do to ensure that your guitar stays in tune is to make sure your guitar has a good nut.
For those of you who may not know what it is, the nut of a guitar is the sliver of bone, plastic, graphite (some are infused with Teflon), etc., that lies in between the neck and the headstock. The strings of a guitar rest over the nut in the little carved-in slots and are always in contact with them. So, naturally, the condition of the nut directly correlates with the condition of the strings and, therefore, the tune of the guitar. Good nuts have smooth slots that are about half as deep as the string’s diameter and are also carved out as a half circle; “V” or other shaped slots will pinch the string, putting it out of tune. Properly-shaped slots are also wider at the headstock side than the neck side so as to not pinch the strings as they angle towards the tuning machines.
When a nut is properly lubricated, the strings will glide and slide within those slots easily when you do your bends or tune the guitar to pitch. With a poorly lubricated nut, however, the strings begin to stick to the nut when you do a bend or even just play normally, putting the strings out of tune. Not only will your guitar be easily put out of tune, but your nut and strings will wear away. Therefore, it is important to keep your nut properly lubricated; even nuts that come pre-lubricated may not stay lubricated forever. A properly-lubricated, well-made nut is especially important when using a tremolo. If you hear a ping or a click as you tune your guitar, your nut is too dry. This is the sound of the string being yanked out of the spot on the nut that it was stuck in. But fret not! Lubricating the nut of your guitar is a fast and easy thing to do!
The first thing to do is get yourself some nut lubricant, which is easy to find online and fairly cheap too (usually around $10). Once you have your lubricant, it is just a matter of applying it. When your guitar is unstrung, put some lubricant on a cloth, take something thin like a toothpick, scoop up a small amount of lubricant and gently dab it into the slots of the nut. Then, put on your favorite strings and play away! An alternative to lubrication is just upgrading your guitar’s nut to a better-made, pre-lubricated nut.
* On the left you see a picture of a well-made nut – slots not too deep. On the right is a nut with slots that are too deep.