There’s no need to emphasize the fact that just about every tutorial on cutting nut slots requires you to use files. However, it’s not like we can’t ask if it’s possible to cut nut slots without files. Among other things, that’s how we chose our main topic for today’s article!

So, what’s the deal with guitar nut slots? Why do folks need to cut ’em? In which situations, and how deep should they be anyway? Needless to say, you’re minutes away from finding out. In the text that you’ll find below, we’ll introduce you to every little piece of info you deserve to know about guitar nut slots!

There are a few ways you can do this. For instance, you can use some sandpaper wrapped around the feeler gauges, or you can buy yourself some cheap abrasive cord you’ll be able to find in several thicknesses (0.05-0.001 in.) inside your local hardware store. Also, an Exacto knife is known to do wonders for treble strings. 

There’s much more from where that came from! Therefore, read the whole thing.

Table of Contents

What’s a guitar nut slot?

As always, here at Music Gear Heads, we like to do our little introductory section. That being said, let’s what do we actually mean once we say guitar nut slot. We’ll take a guess and say that you’re already familiar with what a guitar nut is, but let’s do a quick definition: it’s that little piece of bone or synthetic material found where your headstock begins. In other words, it’s that last thing your strings come into contact with before they reach the tuners. The main function of the guitar nut is to guarantee that all of your strings are placed in the correct manner and at the proper height away from the fretboard.

So, what about these slots you’ll find on the guitar nut? What’s their purpose? The main function of the guitar nut slots is to keep your strings firmly in position. They enable your guitar nut to act as something of an anchor point for your instrument’s strings. Okay, so let’s see if there’s anything else we’d like to mention in the intro segment.

Oh, and while we’re mentioning nuts, here’s a piece on why guitar nuts are made from bone!

How deep should guitar nut slots be?

Since we’ve said that one of the reasons why guitars have nuts near the headstock is because nuts keep the strings at the right distance away from the fretboard, one can’t help but wonder: okay, so exactly how deep should guitar nut slots be? What’s that ideal distance we’re talking about?

Here’s the thing: most guitar experts will agree that the slots should be deep enough to accommodate 2/3 of the string. Therefore, that last third should be above the top of the guitar nut. Anyway, here’s a little guide on how to measure the ideal guitar nut slot depth. Keep in mind that you’ll have to utilize feeler gauges and files.

  • Step #1: First of all, you’ll need to measure the height of your first two frets. Do this by laying a straight edge across the frets and putting in various combinations of feel gauge blades under it. Keep going until the blades come into contact with the straight edge, and get that measurement down on paper, or record it on your phone or PC.
  • Step #2: Next up, you’ll need to add somewhere about 0.005″ to 0.010″ to the measurement you’ve recorded. Record the total.
  • Step #3: Finally, simply stack a combo of feeler gauge blades that match your total score. Hold that stack against your instrument’s fretboard and up against the front edge of your guitar nut, and simply file your way down until the file touches the gauges.

Okay, so now we’ve basically shown you how to cut nut slots but not without the files. Let’s see if you’re able to do it without the help of files, and if so – how?

An acoustic guitar with guitar nut slots cut without files

How to cut nut slots without files?

Since you’re reading these words, there’s a solid chance that you’ve wondered whether one is able to cut nut slots without the assistance of files. Let’s find out together if such an action’s possible and if the answer’s positive – how will you do it? As we’ve already said, most guides on cutting nut slots see guitar nut files as your main tool for this ordeal, but is that the only way you can go about thIs?

You’ll be quite happy to know that cutting nut slots without files is absolutely doable! There are a couple of ways you can cut nut slots without files. Here are our suggestions:

  • You can use some sandpaper wrapped around the feeler gauges. However, you’ll need to be able to guess the right size to use. In other words: you’ll need to figure out exactly how thick is the sandpaper. 
  • Or: you can obtain the 12-piece needle file set that you’ll find for a very cheap price ($2.99) at Harbor Freight. Use this set to cut the slots. Polish your slots later with high-grit sandpaper. 
  • Also, know that an Exacto knife works quite well for treble strings. However, you’ll need to be real gentle & slow, and practice on a piece of plastic first. 
  • Lastly, you can use some cheap abrasive cord you can find in several thicknesses. They vary from 0.05-0.01 in. You’ll most probably find them in your local hardware store. 

Speaking of strings and all, here’s an article about whether you’ll need to replace them all once one of them breaks. So, now that we’ve shown you how to cut nut slots without files, let’s see how you’ll widen them!

How to widen nut slots?

Okay, how does one widen nut slots? As was the case with the issue above, there are a couple of ways you can do this. Let’s take a closer look!

Solution #1

You can simply wrap a piece of string in some sandpaper and file the slot using the next string size. What do we mean by this? Well, you can wrap your A string in sandpaper and use it to widen the nut slot where the E string comes. However, that leaves us to wonder: how to widen the low E slot? You might want to put into action some of the solutions we’ll share below these words.

Solution #2

Also, we recommend that you fold a piece of 600-grit wet/dry paper until it becomes thick enough so that your nut grooves can accommodate it. You’ll need to gently polish your nut slot floor and sides. Just be careful not to sand down too deep inside the slot or modify the angle of the nut slot floor.

Talking about angles, here’s why PRS have a neck angle!

Solution #3

If you’ve actually got some feeler gauges at hand, you’re able to wrap some sandpaper around them and handle this process. However, keep in mind that you should avoid wrapping the sandpaper underneath the feel gauges in order to do away with the I-might-deepen-the-slot-too issue.

Solution #4

We’ll be really quick with this one. If you’re not so sure about how you’ll do this, or if you’re a bit on the clumsy side, simply take your trusty instrument to a nearby luthier. There’s a good chance that the whole process will cost you less than a set of feeler gauges.

Okay, so that’s that on guitar nut groove widening. Let’s see if there’s anything we’d like to mention before saying toodle-oo!

Essential tips for cutting nut slots in fretboard

For our last section, we’ve chosen to introduce you to some of the essential tips when it comes to cutting nut sluts in a fretboard. Let’s dive deeper!

Anyway, if you’re building your own instrument, you’ll need to know just how you’ll cut the nut slot in the fretboard. A guitar can’t function properly without one, right? Right. So, here’s what you’ll need to do:

  • Obtain a 1/8 in. chisel. You can also use a file for this, but the whole process will end up being pretty darn boring. We’re sure you’d agree with us on that one if you’ve ever tried it before. 
  • If you’ve never used a chisel before, find something you’ll practice it on before demonstrating your skills on the neck of your homemade guitar. 
  • Some say that if you’ve got the nerve, you can opt for a sled or a table saw, but we wouldn’t recommend it. However, if you’re more comfortable with using them instead of the aforementioned chisel, go for it. 
  • Once you’ve got the right tools, start working from the sides of the fretboard toward the middle. 
  • When the moment to replace your guitar nut comes, you’ll need to carefully scrape out the old glue residue. That way, you’ll make the slot clean as a whistle without removing any of the wood. Since we’re on the subject of glue, here’s how you’ll remove a glued guitar saddle.

That’s about all there’s to say about the cutting-nut-slots-in-fretboard essentials. All that’s left is to say goodbye!

Final words on the subject of cutting nut slots without files

Alright, folks, it seems we’ve almost hit the bottom margin of this piece on how to cut nut slots without files. As always, we hope you’ve read this with a smile on your face, instead of a suspicious smirk. If that one sound’s a bit too much on the corny side, please don’t mind. Anyway, if you’re interested in learning more stuff about your favorite instrument, please pay a visit to this page.