The choice of guitar nut material
Hello everyone, it’s time for the COVENANT guitar class again. Today, the editor will talk to you about the topic of guitar nut materials, and then we will officially enter the theme~
The nut is one of the smallest parts on a guitar, and it’s also the most discussed. It’s very important as the first place where the strings hit the guitar. The materials used to make the nut are varied and have a variety of effects on the tone – both good and bad – so I think this important part of your guitar is worth looking into.
First, it’s important to understand that the material of the nut only directly affects the timbre of the open strings. A good nut allows open strings to sound balanced and open, in harmony with other notes. Indirectly, the nut also contributes to the overall tone of the guitar, as it conducts the vibrations of the strings to the neck, so its material and density are critical.
It appears that the material of the nut should be the same material that the frets are made of, and this idea was the original intention of the “Zero Fret” design. “Zero fret” refers to an ordinary fret installed in the position where the nut should be installed. The additional nut installed in the front is only responsible for the fixed guidance of the strings at the zero fret position. This method was popular in the 1960s and is still used by some manufacturers today.
The materials of guitar nut are mainly divided into the following categories:
Plastic nut is the most common – even some high-priced guitars also have cheap plastic nut installed. The plastic nut is not very stable, and the strings will wear out the grooves after too much use. On top of that, a low-quality plastic nut will ruin your tone, especially sustain. If one of your guitars has a plastic nut installed, it’s a good idea to replace it. Also, the plastic nut’s standard “faux stone white” look isn’t very sexy, which is one reason to replace it.
High-tech plastics refer to materials such as TUSQ, Corian or Micarta, which are industrial products of high density and uniformity that mimic the structure and color of natural aggregates. The advantage of these materials is that because they are man-made, they are superior to less stable natural aggregates in terms of uniformity of density.
Black graphite nuts are also very popular, especially on guitars with tremolo bridges. The biggest advantage of graphite is that it is a “self-lubricating” material with relatively low friction. A good graphite nut helps with intonation stability when used with a tremolo bridge. However, cheap graphite nut may weaken the sustain, so be careful to choose a high-quality product.
Brass and metal nut were very popular in the eighties and some companies still use them today. They are the most stable and probably never break, but are heavier. Brass has a very unique tone, and you have to try it out to see if you like it. The sound of open strings can become loud and high-pitched, so some heavy metal players like the metal nut because it keeps the sound clear and defined when using high-gain tones.
Aggregate remains the “king of the nut,” and it’s also the historic choice for vintage guitars. On a whole maple neck, nothing is sexier than a polished bone nut. The tone of the bone nut is very balanced, the open string tone is not too loud or sharp, and it lasts for a long time. When choosing aggregates, be careful not to choose bleached ones, as its natural self-lubricating properties can help you keep your pitch better when using tremolo. In addition, in terms of appearance, unbleached aggregates can be cast brighter than bleached ones. I prefer unbleached camel bone because it is very close to ivory in tone and appearance, and has a very uniform density.
Ivory is said to be the ideal material for a guitar nut and provides the best tone. However, the use of this material is controversial from an ecological standpoint, and buying ivory means that an elephant or walrus may be slaughtered for it. The only acceptable way to get ivory is to buy fossil ivory (commonly known as mammoth ivory in China). Fossil ivory comes from animals that died naturally millions of years ago and is found all over the world. To my ears, it has a warmer and softer tone than the bone, with a little more definition, and the difference is subtle but audible. Another advantage is its color, which can be seen from creamy white to pale yellow to dark brown, and the polished ivory fossil is breathtakingly beautiful. Fossil ivory isn’t cheap, so you’ll have to judge for yourself if it’s worth it.
As we’ve seen, there are many options for nut materials, and there’s always one that’s right for you. Personally, the unbleached camel bone nut is my go-to for its sweet tone and attractive look.
That’s it for this issue, see you next time.