Out of many questions beginner guitarists like to ask, one of them sticks out because of its simplicity: wait, should a guitar nut be level? Needless to say, finding out the answer’s even simpler. You’ll just have to keep on scrolling!

As always, here at Music Gear Heads, we’re there to help folks who are just starting out their adventure in the world of music. This article’s no exception! In it, you’ll find out everything there’s to know about guitar nuts, among other things: what’s their purpose and how do you adjust them? Also, we’ll consider the question that it’s in the title of this text: should a guitar nut be level?

Your guitar nut slots will have to be just a tiny bit higher than your frets. To be more precise, you’ll want the bottom of your nut slots .030 inches (0.7 mm) higher than your frets. You can adjust your nut to the desired height simply by using some sandpaper and feeler gauges. 

Alright, so a preview won’t do you much here. It’s best you continue reading!

What is the nut on a guitar?

Before we begin the discussion about our main question for today (should a guitar nut be level?), it’s better we first define the term you’ll see almost in each paragraph of this text. That being said, let’s find out what is a nut on a guitar?

First of all, know that a nut isn’t solely a guitar thing. You’ll find it on most stringed musical instruments. Anyway, a nut represents that little piece of sturdy material that supports your instrument’s strings. It’s located at the end of your guitar neck, the one that’s closer to the so-called guitar head.

Also, your guitar nut will regulate the string spacing and the action when it comes to the lower registers. Keep in mind that different nut materials will have a strong influence on the way your instrument will sound. Lastly, a badly fit guitar nut will cause your guitar to sound unlike the way it’s supposed to, and will strongly affect its playability.

What is the best material to use for a guitar nut?

Since we’ve mentioned that a guitar nut can be made out of many materials (that, subsequently, affect the tone of your instrument), let’s see what kind of materials are out there and what’s the best one of ’em? We’re able to differentiate between:

  • Bone nuts. They’re made to last and offer the desired resonance.
  • Fossil ivory nuts. They’re similar to their bone siblings. Also, they’ve got great acoustic properties.
  • Plastic nuts. These represent a cheap substitute for bone nuts. You’ll mostly find them on budget guitar models.
  • Metal nuts. They’re pretty durable and great for playing country music.
  • Graphite nuts. They’re very easy to work with and possess self-lubricating properties.
  • Ebony nuts. They’ve got sharp looks and they’re very affordable. However, they don’t resonate as well as bone or fossil ivory nuts.

Now that we’ve counted them all, let’s pronounce the winner: the award for the best guitar nut material goes to… BONE! That’s right, bone guitar nuts are hard & dense, yet remain pretty lightweight. They’re known for their amazing sturdiness against mechanical shocks. Also, they’re very reliable when it comes to fine-tuning, especially if you lubricate them every once in a while. For more info on bone guitar nuts, please pay a visit to this page.

What are the main functions of the nut on a guitar?

For our last addition to the introductory section, we’ve chosen to talk about why guitar nuts are so important. In other words: what are the main functions of a nut on a guitar? Here they are:

  • It provides support for your guitar strings as they cross the border between the headstock and the neck. 
  • Your guitar nut will help transfer the vibrations of the open strings to the neck. 
  • It determines the space between your instrument’s strings. Also, it regulates the height of the strings above your guitar’s fingerboards. 
  • Also, the distance between your guitar nut and the bridge will affect the vibrating lengths (scale lengths) of your open strings. 

Okay, so now that we’ve seen what exactly guitar nuts are and why they matter, it’s time we roll up our sleeves and dig deeper into what our today’s main issue is: should a guitar nut be level?

A close-up photo of a bone guitar nut.

Should a guitar nut be level?

Let’s rephrase that question so we’re able to find the answer more easily: at what height should your guitar nut slots be? Do they need to be leveled with the frets?

Okay, so here’s our response: your guitar nut slots will need to be just a tiny bit higher than your frets. How to know what’s the right height? Well, simply press down your guitar string on the third fret. Do you notice that there’s a very small gap between the string and the first fret? You’ll want to file each slot in the nut so the strings “scarcely” touch the first fret once you’ve pressed down the third one. To be more precise: the bottoms of your nut slots will need to be about .030 in (0.7 mm) higher than your fret height. 

Now that we’ve cleared that one up, it’s time we see how one adjusts the guitar nut in a proper manner!

How to adjust a guitar nut?

Here we’ll give show you a step-by-step guide on how to change the height of your guitar nut to make the bottom of the slots higher than your frets by .030 inches. First of all, let’s take a look at what you’ll need for this task:

  • Feeler gauges.
  • A craft knife or a scalpel. 
  • A hammer. 
  • Some sandpaper. 
  • A block of wood.

Gathered everything? Okay, let’s kick-start this adventure in guitar nut adjustment!

Step #1: Taking measurements

For the first step in this guide, you’ll need to employ your feeler gauges. These represent sets of very thin metal blades that all have different thicknesses. You’ll find the exact numbers written on each blade.

Anyway, place one of the feeler gauges on the top of the first fret and try to move it left and right. If it moves the strings as you’re positioning it around the fret, that means you’ll need a thinner feeler gauge. On the other hand, if there’s a gap between the feeler gauge and the string – opt for a thicker one. You’ll want to keep doing this until you’ve found the right one, the one that fits solely by touching the string but doesn’t move it up. Write the number (of the blade) down since that’s your measurement of the action at the nut.

Okay, so let’s imagine that the number you’ve come across is .040 inches and you want it down to .030. Let’s continue with that in mind.

Step #2: Remove the nut

The next thing you’ll have to do is to remove the nut. Make sure you do this with maximum care since you don’t want to ruin the wood around the nut.

First things first, remove the strings from your guitar (and here’s an article on why guitar strings are so long). Once the strings are removed, use your little craft knife or the scalpel to score around the edge of the guitar nut at points where it’s attached to your guitar. Next up, use that block of wood we’ve mentioned upstairs, put it on your fretboard so that the flat piece of it is pressed up against your guitar nut, and use a hammer to very gently tap the other end of the block. Do it a couple of times.

If this light-tapping doesn’t get the job done and the guitar nut’s still there, move your wooden block to the other side of the nut and do this same thing once more. Repeat until it comes off.

Step #3: Marking the guitar nut

Utilize your trusty pencil and make your guitar nut exactly where you want to sand it. Just try to leave more space than you’d like for some finer works later on. And, also, don’t go too far or too little. Be patient as it’s probable that you won’t get it right the first time.

Step #4: Grab that sandpaper

Anything from 150-250 grit is usually considered safe (unlike WD-40, but that’s a whole other story). Okay, so it’s of utmost importance you sand your nut evenly across the bottom of your guitar nut.

Step #5: Replace the nut (but don’t glue it yet)

Now you’ll want to put your back in place together with the strings. Re-measure everything like we’ve described above. Also, play your instrument to see how it feels and sounds. If that’s the sound you’ve wanted – simply re-glue the nut and the process is over.

However, if you’re still not satisfied (and there’s a chance that you won’t be), simply loosen your strings, remove the nut and repeat the sanding process. Once you’re satisfied with the height, glue your nut to the neck using wood glue. Ensure that it’s evenly spread across the bottom of your nut and glue it. PS. Don’t use superglue.

Oh, and speaking about loose strings, here’s whether or not you should loosen violing strings.

The bottom line

Alright, dear guitar-playing enthusiasts, that’s that on the subject of whether a guitar nut should be level. Also, now you’re well-equipped with some tips on how to adjust your guitar nut yourself! For more tips and various useful info surrounding this wonderful instrument, feel free to click here.