How do I know if there's a problem with my guitar nut?

I had a question a while back about nuts:

Would love to have specific content about the nut. How do I know the nut is ok? When should I lubricate? When should I file ?

It’s a great question and, selfishly, it’s one I can answer quickly, which is important to me this week. Life finds a way to mess up your plans and I’m under pressure, so I’m taking advantage of a good question with a quick answer. Hope that’s ok.

How do I know if there’s a problem with my guitar or bass nut?

When we talk about the nut, we’re mostly concerned with the nut slots. That’s the business-bit.

So, your nut slots should NOT be:

  1. Too low. If your string buzzes when played open, it might be because the nut slot has worn (or was cut) too low. Filing won’t help as it’s already too low. Replace or shim nut. A rule of thumb for assessing slot height: Fret a string at the third fret and look for some clearance between the string and the top of the first fret. If it’s touching or has a very small clearance, it’s a good indicator your slot is too low.
  2. Too tight. If you get ‘ping’ noises as you tune up or if a string wedges/jams in the slot when you loosen it to restring, that slot might be too tight. Tuning will be difficult and tremolo will be a nightmare. You might want to file for this. Beware of making the slot too low, though. A little 800-grit sandpaper folded over — or wrapped around a string — might be enough to free up the bind. Worth a try.
  3. Too wide. If the string can move side to side in the nut, the slot’s probably too wide. That means the string will lose energy as it vibrates, impacting sustain and tone. Possibly tuning too. You might want to file for this but only if the slot has some leeway on the height side – otherwise it’ll end up too low.

Lubrication is great if the slot’s already good. If it’s too tight, lube won’t help much.

Obviously, any filing you do should ideally be with a properly gauged set of nut files. Yes, they’re a bit expensive but they’re a really, REALLY great investment if you plan on doing this more than once or twice.

Oh, and lastly, don’t stress deep nut slots too much. If the slots aren’t too tight, too wide, or too low, the depth doesn’t matter too much. Yeah, they look a bit rubbish like that but if they’re otherwise sound, it’ll be fine.

OK. I'm off to do life. I’ll try to beat it into submission so I can write more than five hundred words next time.

This article written by Gerry Hayes and first published at