Saturday, May 11, 2013

GUITAR AND BASS NUT! materials and characteristics.

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we're going to talk about a topic usually overlooked by most of the players, but since we are GUITAR NERDS we're going to analize it, and maybe we will also tweak our instrument accordingly: I'm talking about the GUITAR and BASS NUT!

The nut is a small strip of material, usually plastic or bone, placed at the joint where the headstock meets the fretboard.
"Its grooves guide the strings onto the fretboard, giving consistent lateral string placement. It is one of the endpoints of the strings' vibrating length. It must be accurately cut, or it can contribute to tuning problems due to string slippage or string buzz. To reduce string friction in the nut, which can adversely affect tuning stability, some guitarists fit a roller nut. Some instruments use a zero fret just in front of the nut. In this case the nut is used only for lateral alignment of the strings, the string height and length being dictated by the zero fret." (Wikipedia).

The nut marks one end of the vibrating length of each open string, sets the spacing of the strings across the neck and usually holds them at the proper height from the fingerboard; this small but essential piece has been produced with any kind of material, but today the most characteristic materials are essentially four: Plastic, Bone, Graphite and Metal.

- Plastic: it's the cheapest material, but today it represents also a very technological replacement to bone: new materials like Tusq features almost no difference from a real bone nut (plus, no animal killing is involved :D).

- Bone / Ivory: bone is considered one of the best materials to be used for nut construction, as it features volume, a wide open tone, strength against mechanical shocks and offers a fine tuning reliability. Best results are achieved with periodic lubrication.

- Graphite: the use of graphite is very common in case of a Tremolo-equipped guitar; the result is a good compromise between tone and performance. Today is also available a similar material: Graphtech, which is graphite mixed to teflon, and it assures an even better lubrication and tuning stability.

- Metal: in this category we may find many kinds of nuts, but the most characteristic type is the Steel one, with rollers to ease the strings slide. Steel is a fine material for nut if we're not after the classic "vintage" tone, or we need for more brightness on our sound.

The material a nut is made of influences the tone of an instrument on the open strings, and on the difference between them and the fretted strings; the ideal would be to have the open strings to sound as similar as the fretted ones as possible;
The best way to achieve this result is by using a so-called "zero fret", which is basically a fret installed right after the nut, sometimes equipped with a strings guide itself, which holds the strings in the correct position. By using a metal nut, a "zero fret" is usually not required.
A way to lube the string guides it's just to use a needle, with a little bit of lipstick (like the lip protecting ones with cocoa butter), and to put a small quantity of the lipstick directly on the slide.

Finally, speaking of Tremolo-equipped guitars, we must not forget the locking nut: this kind of nut, usually used in conjunction with a Floyd Rose system, clamps the string before the node point. This system greatly improves tuning stability when using the vibrato bar, however a drawback is that the locking nut must be loosened using an Allen wrench, to tune strings outside the range of the fine tuners on the bridge.

Click here for a dedicated article about Locking Tuners!

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