What makes a "well cut nut"?

Elwin Ransom

Member
Messages
203
I'm no guitar tech so when I hear this term thrown around, I always wonder, what exactly does a well cut nut look like? Is it something that is visually obvious or is it subtle enough that it only reveals itself in tuning stability issues, and if so, how do you avoid one (other than the obvious try before you buy)? Can a poorly cut nut be fixed easily?
I guess I get a little nervous about my own guitars when people talk about this. After just dropping a bunch of cash on an LP standard, I'm biting my nails looking at it wondering, "is that nut cut properly?" It seems to play well and hold tuning as well as can be expected but then I wonder if I'm missing something.
What if all my guitars have poorly cut nuts and I'm completely unaware!?
I'd post a pic of the nut on my LP but I'm terrified that a bunch of people will shout "That nut isn't cut properly!" and I'll look like a stooge.
So... does anyone have any pictures comparing a poorly cut nut to a well cut one? Any advice on spotting the difference?
 

Json

Gold Supporting Member
Messages
226
There’s a visual and a functional aspect to a well cut nut.

On the sides it should be perfectly flush with the fingerboard and neck. It shouldn’t have sharp corners either.

As for the slots, each string should rest a very particular distance above the first frets as measured just in front of the nut. The slots should be straight with a very slight slope toward the pegs. There should be enough room for the string to slide through as tension changes. The slots should also be spaced apart correctly.
 
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crazymauler

Gold Supporting Member
Messages
273
It's not so much a visual thing, unless the slots are so deep that the nut comes up above (higher than) the strings, or the slots are ridiculously too wide.
If you're tuning is stable and open strings ring out nicely then most likely your nut is fine.
If you're having tuning issues or open strings sound funny or dampened or "ping" when stretched or using a trem, then you likely have a poorly cut nut.
I think most of the common problems with a poorly cut not are not going to be visually obvious (unless you're a luthier or guitar tech!).
 

hellbender

Member
Messages
23,788
check all the notes on the first fret fro each string. Some of mine were sharp making for a lousy sounding F barre. I had to deepen the slot to get the note back to pitch.
 

Rick51

Member
Messages
3,739
If a slot is too narrow, the tension does not equalize on either side. You bend a note, and on release it is a little flat. Bend behind the nut, it comes back sharp. You get the idea. That's something you can check out when you play.

A lot of new guitars have the nut slots cut too shallow, making the action higher than it needs to be. My guitars have open string height at the first fret about .015".
 
Messages
2,530
Proper height, strings aren't embedded in it. Strings contacting just on the high edge nearest the fretboard. Ideally no sharp edges that are gonna feel crappy when playing cowboy chords.

You can see right away if effort has been put in. But you won't know until you tune it or use the vibrato bridge if it is functioning well.
 

tfg99

Member
Messages
292
If you bought a pre-slotted Tusq nut, and used a standard string size - say 9s or 10s, would you expect it to be pretty much bang-on out of the box, or do they still require fiddling around with?
 

IanRubbish

Gold Supporting Member
Messages
484
I think a well cut nut is first centered properly so that the string spacing to the edges of the fretboard is good, either of the e strings is not too far towards the edge so you might pull it off the fretboard. I like solid contact all around between the guitar headstock and the bottom of the nut, and between the nut and the edge of the fretboard. If it could be flush and seamless all around, that is ideal, but not all Guitars make that part easy. Then I like the slots to be flat and level on the fretboard side, slightly wider than the string, and then at the back of the nut, they ramp downward slightly towards the tuning machine. If that slot doesn't ramp downward then you will get sitar sounds and sometimes I find it will be a dead lifeless string. I also like to polish the slots with light sandpaper after using the file, it's like another 10-15 minutes, and it's like the final step that ensures you will stay in tune. The gaps in between the string winds are such that a small imperfection in the nut slot in the right right spot can cause a tuning issue. I try and cut it low enough so that I fret the first note and that is a perfect semi tone up from open, that's usually very low, but not touching the fret. If the slow is too wide, it will sound like crap too. There so many ways a nut can be cut poor.
 

Jim85IROC

Member
Messages
2,290
If you bought a pre-slotted Tusq nut, and used a standard string size - say 9s or 10s, would you expect it to be pretty much bang-on out of the box, or do they still require fiddling around with?
right out of the box I've always found that they sit way too high, but sand the bottom side down until it's the right and most of the time you're good to go. I usually file the sides flush and heavily round the edges, but that's not a necessity.
 

mqqse

Platinum Supporting Member
Messages
463
Should not appear to be novelty or Billy Bob teeth. Sadly, I’ve seen a few cut like that.
 

OM Flyer

Member
Messages
5,856
With a mass-produced guitar, I usually assume that the manufacturer can get the slot spacing right, but lots of times the slots aren't cut deep enough, resulting in high action at the nut. The bottom of each slot should be between .015" and .010" above the height of the first fret, with bass strings on the higher end of that range and treble strings on the lower.
 

StratStringSlinger

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
3,253
Here are the checks I do...

1) Push each string at the second fret and look at the string clearance of that string and the first fret. Should be just a tiny gap to let light through. This is a quick check to see if the nut is cut to the correct depth for each string.

2) Playing test. I play a Fmin7 barre chord and pick each string to see if each note rings clearly w/o me having to push so hard my right hand fingers hurt. I may also just fret each string at the first fret to feel how much pressure it takes to make a clean note.

3) Tuning test. I don’t normally do this at the store. But I just check how cleanly the tuning peg goes to each string when adjusting the tuning up and down. If it gets caught on the nut and needs to be stretched/pulled or I have to fiddle with the tuners a lot the maybe the slot is not cut right, too narrow, not at the right angle, etc. some guitars might do this based on design; e.g. tuning peg placement forced a sharp turn for the string, crappy string t’s, etc.
 

sunking101

Member
Messages
1,579
Fender nuts are usually fairly decent but I had a Gibson once that felt like there was a piece of Lego glued to the end of the fretboard. So sharp and 'blocky'.
 

gunslinger

Member
Messages
3,280
A well cut nut won't buzz in the grooves. The action won't be too high or too low. The strings will be spaced just right. Also the strings' last contact with the nut will be towards the bridge. This will help insure proper intonation. And of course no sharp edges.
 




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