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Have you ever tried going for a particular sound, but weren’t able to get your tone quite right? Allow us to lend a hand. Gibson Tone Tips can help you achieve the guitar sound of your dreams. In this installment, we’re shining the spotlight on what a nut can do for your tone.

Many players give little thought to that thin, slotted strip of organic or synthetic material that lies across the end of the fingerboard and guides your strings on their way to the tuners, but the stuff your nut is made from plays a big part in shaping your tone. In partnership with the bridge saddles, the nut is one of the two “anchor points” that determine the speaking length of your string — the components that denote the break between the section of the strings that vibrates and makes all the sound and the “dead” portions — and it greatly affects both the way in which the strings ring, and the amount of vibrational energy that is transferred into the neck and body of the guitar.

Early quality acoustic guitars usually had bone nuts, and often still do, and this traditional material contributes to a warm, rich tone. Players are frequently surprised to learn, however, that Gibson electric guitars from the golden age of the solidbody — the 1950s and early ’60s — had nylon nuts. There are many formulations of this plastic, but the one commonly used was known as nylon 6/6. Although it sounds counter-intuitive and not at all a tone-inducing material, it actually did the job very well, and was a small but significant ingredient in some of the best sounding guitars of all time, and now the most expensive on the vintage market! A nut made from this hard, dense form of nylon is sturdy enough to be long wearing, and contributes to a surprisingly full, resonant tone.

At the lower end of the synthetic spectrum, some more affordable guitars carry nuts of solid or even hollow plastic. These aren’t generally considered to be tone-enhancing components, although they might be necessities of a certain price point. A well-cut plastic nut can still provide a decent sound and function, but in order to get the most out of the guitars they come on, many players choose to upgrade them to a nut made from bone, or one of the other synthetic materials that are popular today.

There’s a wide range of excellent replacement nuts available, many of which have been inspired by players who make heavy string bending or vibrato use a part of their playing styles. Graphite-based nuts provided an early form of self-lubricating nut that offered excellent return-to-pitch capabilities along with good wear and tone. The Graph-Tech company’s black Tusq XL nuts carry on this tradition, while their white Tusq nuts offer a more traditional-looking alternative. Super-slippery Delrin nuts have also become popular lately, and these are all good alternatives for players who either ask a lot from their whammy bars, or simply want nut slots to remain slick and snag-free.

Other modern synthetic materials that are not in the self-lubricating camp, but which still offer popular alternatives to bone, are Corian and Micarta. The former is the same material used for many kitchen counter tops, and is a hard yet workable substance that provides good sustain and pleasant all-round tone. Mikarta, a compound of phenolic resins, is a little softer and easier to work than bone, but still dense enough to provide a tonal upgrade on cheaper plastic nuts.

Whatever material you use to upgrade or replace your nut, if such is necessary, it’s important to get the job done right. This might look like a simple part that you could knock into shape with a hacksaw and a file, and in theory you can, but a poorly cut and slotted nut will impede both your tone and your intonation, so this is a job for a professional. Nut slots need to be not only spaced correctly, but cut to precise depths and at accurate angles too, so that all strings have the same break point at the front edge of the nut. The bottom of the nut needs to be seated firmly and tightly into the slot at the end of the fingerboard, too, or you will loose a lot of sustain and resonance. Look after your nuts, and get them done right when repair or replacement is required, and they’ll reward you with years of toneful and in-tune service.

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thx for posting this Dan, some very valuble info . But i still perfer a bone nut, not just because i have an unlimited supply but i found that a bone nut produces the sound that i`m most after. Clean highs and strong bass sounds. Although i have experimented with hard exotic`s such as ebony and ironwood and have found a nice sound from these also. Also buffalo horn seems to produce a good sound , being alittle softer then bone it seems to lubricate the strings better.

Good stuff, Now were do we start the Ban the bolt bridge discussion?

Why?     G.

jim said:

Good stuff, Now were do we start the Ban the bolt bridge discussion?

Speaking acoustics, bolts are not very good for mechanical energy transfer. Too much weight that resists the energy transfer.

And they're ugly

So I got these bones. What do you wack them up with? band saw or ???

a bone saw of course....

i always use a zero fret and the nut just spaces the strings apart. this keeps the tone the same for open and fretted strings. mike

The zero fret is used more in the dulci fretted scales then the traditional guitar scales. Being you hardly ever use a slide on a neck with a zero first fret, the action is just way to low. The traditional " nut " will work the best.  Cow bone, buffalo horn, corian, exotic woods such as ebony, koa, ironwood will all produce a great sound. As for slotting the nut for the string action i always used the " jim fret " method, using a dime against the nut and slot the nut till the string touches the dime. But it`s all in relation to nut to bridge to get the prefect string action. As should be in another discussion.

Naw, zero frets are real common, just not on American guitars. A lot of euro and Asian guitar makers do em. They certainly don't keep you from sliding, just need to learn a lighter touch. We rarely slide below the second fret anyways. I always do em, your intonation is better. All those high tech compensated nuts, earvana and buzz feiten only seeking to sound like a zero fret

I never had a guitar without a zero fret, until I bought a Fender. Based in the U.K. the main source of decent shop bought guitars (Eko,Hofner,etc) all have zero frets, so I thought that was how it was,and put one on the ones I made.

No problem with sliding, but I think the zero fret is a basic design flaw.

With one, the action has to increase as you go towards the bridge.

Without,you can have your strings and fretboard in parallel, and set it up how you wish.

I would now never choose to have a zero fret,  playing is so much easier without one.

i make my zero frets slightly higher in profile than the rest so sliding is ok. some guitars set up for sliding some lower for other use. One set-up can't do everything !!

Neck relief should be set ( for low action play) to give adequate string clearance. For slide you can have it set more. 

 Think of the shape a bottom E string makes in when played on the 1st  fret as opposed to how it vibrates when played higher up the fretboard.  At the first fret each end of the string hardly moves, whereas the middle moves not just sideways but up and down, as much as 1/4 inch. Played at the 7th fret you have a similar pattern but far less movement at the half-way point along the string.

from this it seems you dont want a board-straight fretboard but one with a barely perceptable curve to accomodate the needs for string clearance as you go up the frets. ....... my feelings anyway !!!!!!!  mike

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