Are your nuts binding? Well, try wearing boxers. Seriously, look at all the crap in the nut slots on this '65. They will work a lot better if you keep them cleaned and lubed. And that goes for your guitar's nuts too.

In December, 1944, General Anthony Clement McAuliff was acting Commander of the 101st Airborne Division and other attached troops during the siege of Bastogne, Belgium. When they became surrounded and the Germans demanded their surrender, he sent back a one-word reply “NUTS.” This is probably the most famous quote of World War II.  This is also the topic of today’s post. No, not the celebrated General (I don’t think he was even a guitar player) but nuts. Guitar nuts, which are not some special kind of nuts that you eat while playing the guitar like “Beer Nuts” that you would eat while drinking beer. Nope. I’m talking about that plastic thingy that the strings go through on their way to the tuners. Most mass produced guitars have inherent design flaws and for all the time I’ve played 335’s and their brethren, the only real flaw seems to be the nut. The nut on a vintage 335 is made of nylon which in 1958 was probably something of a miracle substance. It was durable and versatile. It could be molded and cut and was relatively slippery which made it ideal for guitar nuts. I’m not changing the subject here, really, but why do so many ES-335s go out of tune so easily? Almost every one I’ve owned will slip tune after playing some big bends. I can’t imagine how many times this was blamed on the tuners. Well, given the vast number of  335’s with Grovers, I’m guessing a lot. But try this: The next time you are wailing away playing you’re big fat blues bends and your guitar goes out of tune, take a second and listen to how it’s out of tune. If it was a slipping tuner, it would be flat. A long time ago, I did exactly that and noticed, to my great surprise, that the string was sharp. How does this happen? It defies the laws of physics doesn’t it? How can a string get tighter on its own? Well, it doesn’t do anything on its own, it’s the force of you bending the string that supplies the energy to make the string sharp-thats what you do when you bend a string-you make it go sharper. But it’s the nut that causes it to stay that way. You see, the nut slots are cut the same on every 335 but the strings aren’t all the same that are being used on it. Add to that, the amount of crud that accumulates in the nut slots and you’ve got a “binding nut” which sounds like a painful condition but is really mostly painful to your ears. By bending the note sharp you pull the string tighter and on its way back to its normal position, it binds in the nut slot and stays very slightly sharp. So, it has nothing to do with your tuners (unless the string goes flat). So, what’s a note bender to do? There are a number of solutions, some less invasive than others. You could change the nut to a graphite or other material which is more slippery but that will hurt the value of your all original vintage piece. You could file the nut slots but you best know what you’re doing because a too big nut slot will cause other problems. there are also those who will squawk that a filed nut slot isn’t “original” on a vintage piece (which I think is a bit nutty, pardon the pun). How about this? Clean the crud out of the slots and lubricate them. I take a piece of dental floss-you know that stringy stuff that you never use on your teeth but you know you’re supposed to? Yeah, take that a run it through the slots to remove the dirt and god knows what else that gets in there. And don’t use the mint flavored stuff or your guitar will smell minty fresh which isn’t really what you want. Once you’ve cleared out the crap thats causing it to bind, lubricate it. You can use any of a number of stupidly priced preparations on the market or you can use graphite-either from a can of graphite lube or from a pencil. That’s what I’ve been doing for years-just “write” in the nut slot with a pencil and your string will slip slide their way through when you do those big bends and your 335 will stay in tune. If that doesn’t work, then you might want to consider taking the guitar to your luthier to have the slots widened. And you thought you needed new tuners.

2 Responses to “Nuts”

  1. RB says:

    Am I NUTS for thinking about buying a clean original ’75 Blonde Fender Starcaster with wide-range p’ups? Do they fall on the “stoopid” side or the “edgy” side? Ever play one? And I suppose a vintage Hofner Veri-Thin is out of the question.

  2. OK Guitars says:

    I dunno. I think the Starcaster actually has a shot a being a future collectible. It’s distinctive and unusual but then, so is the RD series. I think that if it was priced cheaply, a Starcaster would be an interesting guitar to own. I’ve never played one but I would hope that it plays like a Fender and sounds like a 335.

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