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Awww Nuts - Tony Pasko talks Guitar String Nuts

Published: Thu April 23, 2009  News Feed

We are going to jump right in and cover a very important and over looked part of our guitar, the nut…

This is probably one of the most important spots on your guitar because this is where your tone begins. It’s where your strings resonate and is responsible for keeping your guitar in-tune.
Think of it this way. If the nut is cut wrong? That guitar will never play right. Your strings will buzz, or the action will always remain too high etc…
So what is it? The nut establishes both the spacing and the height of the strings above the frets. It must be cut to fit each specific neck width, fingerboard radius and fret height. There is no universal precut nut available for all guitars.

A professional nut cut requires doing a full set-up and generally follows a leveling of the frets. The nut is laid out and rough cut then finessed down to final height with the strings on the guitar.




You have many materials to choose from and they do offer their own tonal characteristics.
Bone:
  • Hard material with a vintage look must be cut cleanly to keep strings from binding in slots.
  • Bright and clear, with a detailed sound.
  • Hard, dense material.
  • Bad-smelling dust.
Graphite:
  • Self-lubricating material works well with tremolos and headstocks that do not have straight string pull through nut.
  • Warmer and even-sounding.
  • Easy to cut, less shaping required with pre-molded blanks.

Brass:

  • Hard material polishes well and looks good with gold hardware.
  • Great sustain for bass and slide guitar playing.
  • Bright with very good sustain.
  • Slow-working, dust can clog files, gets hot when power-sanded.
Nickel:
  • Made of the same material as fret wire (18% hard nickel/silver) so it matches sound & look of frets.
  • Polishes well.
  • Very bright with excellent articulation and sustain.
  • Very slow working gets hot when power-sanded.

Tusq:

  • Synthetic material with a look similar to bone.
  • Warmer and even-sounding.
  • Easy to cut, less shaping required with pre-molded blanks.
Corian:
  • Hard synthetic material takes a fine finish and is available in large oversized blanks.
  • Balanced, clear, even sound.
  • Cuts slowly but evenly.
The type of string and gauge can determine if one material is better for your use over another, again this is where your tone begins, so choose wisely.
Don’t assume that the nut is cut correctly from the factory either, the price of the guitar usually determines how much time they spent setting it up. A lower priced guitar is not getting the same attention to detail that a higher priced one is.
You can easily make a cheap guitar play like a million bucks if it is set-up properly. Many of my favorite guitars didn’t cost a lot but they play like they do because of how they are set-up.
You have three nut widths to choose from:
  • 1-5/8″ with binding
  • 1-11/16″ keeps strings away from the edge of the neck.
  • 1-3/4″ nut width
Depending on the shape of your neck and the radius of the fretboard will determine which nut is right for your guitar. See another piece of the puzzle.

Let’s move on to locking nuts, well the title kind of says it all. It’s a nut that locks your strings down and let’s you use your vibrato system for dive bomb effects etc… and keeps your guitar in-tune. Some say that it’s the ultimate way to keep your guitar “In-Tune”.
They are not wrong it does do that, but beware that there is a tonal difference you will experience. The metal locking nut does thin out your tone and doesn’t allow the strings to resonate as long, but if your playing style is one that depends on extreme whammy bar antics, then this shouldn’t be a big deal.
Now I know these seams like one extreme to another. I want tone and resonance, but I also want to use my vibrato bar and not have to re-tune every time I use it. There is a third option to consider.
In the last 15 years or so there have been some very cool new products that have come out that are more middle of the road. They sit between the traditional nut and the locking nut. They set out to give you tone and function.

The first one I’ll mention is the LSR roller nut. These can be found on some Fender Strats.
This is an interesting design, is uses ballbarrings to guide the strings over the nut and allows the string to return to a center point when the vibrato bar is used. I have this on one of my strats and it works really well. It does allow you to do those cool Jeff Beck vibrato bar effects and stay in-tune. You can get away with some Van Halen stuff but it doesn’t hold its tune as well as a locking nut will for that type of playing.
The second one I want to mention is the Earvana Compensating nut.
Very cool design and great concept. Intonation being another factor on how our guitars play and feel this is a wonderful upgrade for any guitar. Not only will it improve your intonation it does help keep your guitar in tune while using your vibrato bar. Now you won’t get strings cutting out when you use the bar, and they will ring a bit more evenly because of the compensation of the nut.
I’m not mentioning anything that I haven’t already used, own or experimented with, I had the Earvana nut installed on my Les Paul and it does everything it say it does. If you have a vintage type of guitar and want to improve its tone without altering the guitar? Try a

Earvana nut, you won’t be sorry.

Now I could go on cuz there are a few more cool devises in the market, but I’ll stop here because I haven’t tried any of them. I have been in-touch with the guys at Super Vee.
They seam to have come up with a very cool tremolo and nut system. They are sending me some stuff to review. So be on the look out for that review.

www.warmoth.com
www.earvana.com
www.floydrose.com
www.supervee.com

Source:Tony J. Pasko

 
 
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