Lubricating your nuts: A simple trick for making your guitar easier to tune

Jul 5, 2003 (Updated Nov 20, 2003)

The Bottom Line A simple trick to help with tuning and with keeping your guitar in tune through hard playing

If you're an acoustic guitarist, you know the frustration: You're tuning your high E string up just a bit, when you hear a little squeak, and suddenly your string is SHARP, when it had just been flat. Uttering an oath under your breath, you flick your left wrist, tune the string down a quarter step or so, and try again (you should always tune UP to a note).

What has happened is simple: The nut (the slotted piece that the strings lay across on their way to the peg head) caught your string, and as you increased the tension with the tuner, it suddenly released your string, causing it to be sharp when it had just been flat.

Your mind races with thoughts of WD-40, but you know that WD-40 wouldn't be good for your fingerboard. Fortunately, there is a simple solution to the grabby nuts problem (it can happen with any string, not just the high E): What you need to do is lubricate the slots in your your nut with something dry. The first dry lubricant that comes to mind is graphite, but where can you find graphite in your house?

It's in the lead of your pencil.

Unfortunately, trying to fit the tip on your pencil into the little slots in your nut is a pain. You either wind up with not enough pencil lead in the slots, or a big chunk will break off, clogging the slot. What I do instead is take a small piece of fairly fine sand paper, detune each string just enough that I can rest it beside its slot in the nut, and then sand a small pile of pencil lead dust onto the sandpaper (basically I write a small "scribble scrabble" onto the sand paper, near one edge). I then pour a small amount into the slot. If the dust doesn't release at first, I just gently tap the side of the sandpaper with my pencil. I then put the string back in the slot and tune it up.

Voila! The string moves freely through the slot, and you can tune precisely without annoying jumps over the note you're looking for. Doing all six strings takes about five minutes.

Not only does proper nut slot lubrication make your guitar easier to tune, it makes it STAY in tune better through hard playing. When you play hard, or when you bend strings, the nut can catch your string, making it flat (you've essentially elongated your string) when you release it. With proper nut slot lubrication, the string will return to its original tension level, your guitar will sound better through a given tune, and you won't have to tweak after each tune.

I hope this little trick is helpful to all acoustic players reading this. I invite comments from electric players as well.

Happy picking!

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