The importance of the acoustic guitar nut

The acoustic guitar is the extension of the musician soul: ideally, the strings vibrate in unison with the emotions of the artist. To get the perfect connection between the player and his instrument, the talent and the technical part must be tuned to each other.

In addition to perfecting his manual skill, the guitarist must choose the acoustic guitar model that is best suited to his characteristics and to the type of tonality he seeks.

There is not a universal guitar, each guitarist has his favorite model, but often you have to customize the instrument to find your own sound.

The acoustic guitar nut

One of the elements that make the difference in the personalization of your instrument is the acoustic guitar nut.

The nut is the first of the guitar frets; it is the structure at the end of the fretboard, on the side of the headstock: its task is to give the strings the correct spacing and to transmit the vibrations to the neck.

The material of which it is made influences the instrument sound, mainly for the notes free-string played and for the difference between them and those played on the fretboard. Other factors influenced by the nut model are the sustain and the tightness of the acoustic guitar tuning.

Materials and technical characteristics of the nut

 

Originally the material with which the nut was built was bone. Today it is built in various materials that recreate different sound effects.

You can buy a nut in the following materials, let’s see their main features:

Bone: perhaps the best material that can be used for the nut construction, it combines volume and an excellent sound on all frequencies. It is also indicated for its sturdiness and for the tuning reliability, especially if periodically lubricated with graphite. It must be made tailored by a  luthier.

Ivory and Nacre: very similar to the bone for their technical characteristics, but more expensive. Being slightly brighter they are more elegant. They are also tailored according to obtain the desired distance between the strings and the guitar neck.

Plastic: you can usually found this kind of nut mounted on guitars of low economic value; its quality is low and it is advisable to replace it soon because of its perishability and because it does not have good sound characteristics.

Micarta, Delrin, and Corian: these synthetic materials sound very similar to the bone even if they do not reach its articulation of sound and sustain. However, they are more homogeneous than the latter which, due to its organic nature, may have parts of different consistency that vary the sound quality.

Graphite: the use of this material is almost mandatory if you use often the tremolo. The sonority is balanced and this material offers a good compromise between timbre and performance.

Graphtech: combines graphite with microscopic Teflon particles that guarantee greater lubrication and greater tuning stability; it produces a sound very similar to that of graphite.

TusQ: is the synthetic material that comes closest to the bone as sound features; it is made of polymers pressed at very high temperatures.

Brass: this is the material most similar to the fret itself so that it can guarantee the slightest difference between the sound of the free string and that of the note played on the fretboard. It also resists many years before consuming itself to the point of having to be replaced, and it is almost impossible to break it.

Steel: there are also nuts made of steel, equipped with bearings or small cylindrical supports where the strings rest. It is a great material if you are not looking for a particularly vintage sound and if you want a little more brilliance.

Wood: little used on the guitar, more in other stringed instruments; ebony is usually used for its aesthetic qualities and resistance, compared to other types of wood. A point to the detriment of this material is the lower resistance compared to bone and synthetic materials.

The relationship between the action and the acoustic guitar nut

Being a multi-part mechanism, every single component of the acoustic guitar affects the others and the overall quality of the sound.

In particular, nut characteristics affect the height and positioning of the strings, which on the opposite side are anchored to the harmonic case.

We have already talked about the action of the guitar, the distance between the strings and the neck, and how we can regulate it: at its highest value there is a greater cleaning of the sound, to the detriment of the playability; if the action is instead too low, speed and comfort increase, but the sound is less clear, there is the risk of unpleasant vibrations and the sustain of the note is reduced.

Before adjusting the action the acoustic guitar nut must be set.

It is not advisable replacing the nut by yourself if you are not an expert, moreover, for the models to be worked, it is better to rely on a luthier, who will help us to choose the most suitable material for the type of sound we have in mind.

[Photo credits: FreebirdRoadside Guitars]

ALWAYS IN TUNE!