Ever had issues with your string binding on the nut while tuning only to have them go horribly flat (especially the “G” string) once you’ve starting wailing and bending notes?! I have had this problem on my Les Paul for years and I’ve just lived with it as part of the Les Paul playing experience.
I’ve recently built a new project Telecaster (body/neck from Warmoth.com) and had Graph Tech style nut installed on the Tele neck and it plays like a dream without all the tuning problems. This made it impossible for me to go back to the “tuning hell” of playing the Les Paul. I decided it was time to upgrade the low quality plastic nut with a high-end nut from Graph Tech called the Black Tusq XL. After searching the ‘net for a good deal on Graph Tech stuff, I found a seller on eBay with a good selection of guitar nuts. I bought two just in case I happened to ruin the first attempt (cheap insurance).
Installing a nut was way easier than I thought. Graph Tech has a fantastic walk-thru for this sort of thing (with big pictures)! It’s one thing to read this manual of sorts, but it’s another thing to actually do it. So, here are the highlights of how I did it. I started by removing the strings and the truss rod cover – check out the cheap plastic nut and the graphite paste I was using to cut back on the binding.
Next step is to score every exposed joint surrounding the nut. This serves to weaken and finally loosen the glue enough to pry the old nut out of the slot – it’s a tight fit, so don’t expect it to fall out on it’s own. Once you’ve got the old nut removed, it’s time to use a chisel and scrape out the remaining glue and level the nut slot as flat as you possibly can.
Once the slot has been prepped, it’s time to “shape” the nut to fit the neck/slot. This is the longest and most time consuming part of the entire process. I used a mill bastard file for this part – you can find them at an hardware store. The bottom and backside of the nut should be filed completely flat and smooth. The front of the nut is curved and only the bottom 1/8″ should be filed flat. Next, the sides needed to be shaved down to match the curvature of the neck profile. The last step was to check the fit and file down the backside if needed until the nut fits extremely snug in the prepped slot. Once everything fits just right, apply some quality super glue, press the nut in as tight as you can by hand and then re-string the guitar. The strings should be tuned to pitch and then you should let the guitar sit for several hours – overnight would be preferable. Here’s the nut installed and waiting for fresh strings.
Next, I decided to polish the frets/nut, install the strings, setup the truss rod, adjust the action height and finally replace the truss rod cover. After installing the strings, I checked the string height at the first fret and found that every single string was within 1-2 thousandths of an inch of recommended specifications. Wow! That is simply amazing luck. So, no need to file the nut slots.
Without further ado, here’s the final picture: