A common mistake of guitar players and luthiers alike is underestimating the importance and the role of the the guitar nut.
Being involved in both guitar construction and repair, I can’t begin to tell you how much difference there can be between a guitar with a well set up neck as compared to a botched up nut set-up.
Also materials can play a very significant role in the tone quality of a guitar, especially when gravitating from a cheap plastic nut to a bone nut.
I will dwell on the nut in several articles ranging from the analysis of the guitar nut here to making the nut, material choices and making the perfect setup my precision adjustment of the string slots.
The Guitar Nut plays an important role in guitar making. The nut is at least in part responsible for:
- String Action
- Guitar Tone Quality
- Ability To Tune A Guitar Easily
- String Age
Let’s look at each one of these points to give you a greater understanding of what significance that little piece of bone, ivory or plastic has on our guitars and the importance and care that is needed in make the ‘Perfect Nut’.
Okay this one is rather obvious, and easy to understand, but there is actually a little more to it than it appears on the surface. Just minute changes in the groove depth can make incredible significance in the ease of playing the guitar. Go to low? Yes that is easy to do and you will ruin the nut and have to start all over. What is the ideal groove depth? We will cover that in the next article on how to make the guitar nut.
The intonation refers to the proper length of each strings’ scale to be in perfect tune. This relates to the nut in that it is assumed that the starting point of each string length is at the backside of the nut, where it joints the fretboard. If the string slots are not filed properly the string length can begin somewhere ‘within’ the nut, thus affecting the intonation of the instrument and making it hard to tune and play ‘out of tune’.
Guitar Tone Quality:
The Guitar Nut plays an important role in the quality of tone of the instrument. If you don’t believe me take an ivory nut out of a fine classical guitar and replace it with plastic. You will not believe how much difference that can make. The strings will sound ‘dead’ and the difference between the fretted notes and open notes will be much more pronounced.
So materials make a difference in tone quality we know that. The other thing about the nut and tone quality is how the nut is fit into the guitar neck. If it has full contact and is a nice tight fit, the vibrations of the strings will be more fully transmitted into the guitar neck and the strings will resonate better, thus reaction with the bridge will be enhanced.
Ability To Tune The Guitar Easily:
This one is caused by improper string slot widths. In order to use the proper string slot widths, you should by all means use gaged nut files to file the proper string slots for the strings. Proper string slots should posses the following characteristics:
- String slots should be round-bottomed to fit the string contour.
- The string slots should be slightly wider than the string gage to allow for free movement of the string in the string slot.
- The string slot should angle in the direction of the each respective tuning machine post to minimize the possibility of binding in the slot.
Obviously if all of the above conditions are met and the string slots are made properly the strings will not be stresses nearly as much at the nut and will age better. Introduce stress in the string – it breaks.