If you have been playing for a while or have just started to get to know the parts, you may have heard the name guitar nut. This is a very important part with a strange name, and I’m sure you are wondering by now, what is a guitar nut?
A guitar nut is a strip of hard material that holds your strings where the headstock and neck meet. It has a series of slots, one for each string, and keeps them properly spaced before they work their way to the tuners.
In this article, we are going to explore the job of a guitar nut and look at the different sizes and materials they come in.
What Is A Guitar Nut?
The guitar nut is a small strip of material, usually made of plastic, bone, graphite, or metal, that is fitted into the guitar’s headstock at the juncture where the neck and headstock meet. The nut has a series of grooves filed into it that work as seats for each string.
These grooves, or slots, work to keep the strings evenly spaced and are also responsible for the action or height. If the nut slots wear out of are too wide, the string height and spacing will be incorrect. This means that your guitar won’t play as well as it should, nor will it stay in tune.
The guitar nut also plays a role in how the string vibration transfers through the neck of the instrument. Depending on the material used to make the nut, the depth of resonance will be affected. This also contributes to how much sustain is produced by the guitar.
Do You Need A Guitar Nut?
A guitar nut is an essential part of the instrument. This little part is so important that without one, you would not be able to play the guitar at all. It’s responsible for the proper string spacing, and height, and has an effect on your intonation and tuning. It even plays a big role in the tone of the guitar!
So needless to say, you do need a guitar nut! There are many different types of materials and designs, so getting to know them all could be a benefit to your playing experience.
Types of Guitar Nuts
Guitar nuts come in a variety of materials, each with its own set of benefits and drawbacks. The most common materials used to make guitar nuts are found below.
Plastic is the most affordable option and is therefore popular among beginner guitarists. However, plastic tends to wear out quickly and doesn’t hold up well under heavy use. This material also doesn’t resonate as well as some of the others, resulting in less sustain.
You will find plastic nuts are also very common with cheaper guitars that are made in countries overseas. In order to keep prices down, they use parts that are not as high in quality as others. This doesn’t mean they are a poor choice, but it does depend on how hard the plastic is.
Bone is a more durable option than plastic and produces better resonance and tuning stability. However, bone is more expensive than plastic, and so they are not usually put onto guitars at the factory. Only guitars with a higher price point might come with a bone nut.
Bone nuts are considered to be some of the best and are highly sought after by guitar players who know of their benefit. They are quite noticeable when changing from a material like plastic. Both sound and performance will improve. In case you were curious, the bone comes from cows.
Graphite is another option that is somewhere between bone and plastic in terms of quality. Graphite is a little bit more affordable than bone, but doesn’t last as long. However, it does offer slightly better resonance than plastic.
This material is self-lubricating and so there is no binding between the strings and the graphite nut. This can be a great way to resolve any tuning issues you might have because of binding in the nut. It also makes any bending and tremolo work more stable, as the strings will remain in tune afterward.
Metal is perhaps the most durable option and can offer great resonance, tuning stability, and sustain. However, they are also quite expensive and not found on many guitars, even high-end ones. There are nuts made from different metals like brass, titanium, steel, aluminum, and more.
If you have a metal nut, you will find that it stays in tune better than any other type of guitar. The only downside is that they can be a bit more challenging to work with when making adjustments. Tonally they are also much brighter than other materials, and so they are used for certain music types like bluegrass.
Tusq is a synthetic material made by Graph Tech. It is designed to offer the benefits of bone and graphite, without the drawbacks. This material is quite affordable and offers great resonance and sustain. It’s also self-lubricating, which means there are no tuning issues.
This material has become increasingly popular in recent years as more guitar companies have started using it. You will find Tusq nuts on guitars from Fender, Gibson, PRS, Ibanez, and more.
Tusq is also so close to bone in terms of sound that guitars within many price points are made using it.
Ebony is another material that has been used as guitar nuts for centuries. However, newer ebony materials are much softer than what was used in the past. This material can still be used as guitar nuts, but the sound is a bit darker and the sustain is less than bone.
Ebony nuts can be a great choice when used with mahogany guitars that are already dark. If you prefer a more dark-sounding guitar, then this is a good nut material choice.
Ivory is a beautiful material that has been used on guitars for centuries. It’s also quite rare and now illegal to harvest in many countries. As such, it’s become quite expensive and is not something we recommend.
If you can find a fossilized ivory nut for your guitar, you will be rewarded with great resonance and sustain. This material is also quite hard and can be tricky to work with. There are better alternatives today, so there is no need to go to such lengths to obtain this material.
Guitar Nut Designs
There are 3 main designs when it comes to guitar nuts:
- Standard Slotted
The most common is the standard slotted nut, which is what we are focusing on here.
This design has been around for centuries and is still the most popular today. It’s simple and effective and can be used with any string type. A standard nut is normally glued into place where the headstock and fingerboard meet.
There are also some slotted nuts that have been compensated. This is essentially a technique used to reposition the point at which the string sits in the nut. Music man guitars come with these in an attempt to improve tuning.
If you have a Floyd Rose tremolo system, then you will need to use a locking nut. This is because the strings need to be locked in place, so they don’t come loose when you are using the tremolo. This design requires you to adjust some screws to clamp the strings in the nut to prevent movement.
Roller nuts are the third type and are becoming increasingly popular. These are designed to offer smoother string movement and less binding. This can be beneficial for both bending and tremolo use. The nut consists of a series of ball bearings that the string sits on, providing a mechanical rolling element. This way the strings can move freely without any binding or rubbing at all.
Are Acoustic and Electric Guitar Nuts The Same?
The necks on an acoustic guitar can be wider than some electrics. This is why you will find acoustic guitar nuts that are wider than standard electric ones. You will also find that an acoustic guitar has no use for locking or even roller nuts, and so these designs are never found on them.
But when it comes to guitar nut material, the electric and acoustic are very similar. Each guitar type can benefit from the many materials on the market today. So if you watch for the right-sized nut for your guitar, you will be just fine.
There is a lot to consider when it comes to guitar nuts. You need to think about the material, the design, and the size. But once you have all of that sorted out, you will be rewarded with better resonance, sustain, and tuning stability. So don’t overlook this important piece of hardware on your guitar.
Do guitar nuts make a difference?
The material of the guitar nut can make a difference in the sound and performance of the instrument. Harder materials like bone and ebony will give you better sustain, while anything softer like Graph Tech Tusq will give you more resonance.
Moving from plastic to graphite nuts can make a big difference in tuning stability and prevent binding. So if you want to make a noticeable difference for cheap, a new nut can be a good upgrade.
What’s The Best Guitar Nut Material?
There is no definitive answer to this question as it depends on the sound you are going for. Bone is a good option if you want more bright and twangy tones. If you want a darker sound, then ebony might be better. Ultimately, it’s up to you to experiment with different materials to see what you like best. But most players seem to prefer bone or tusq.
When should you replace a guitar nut?
If the guitar nut is damaged, then it will need to be replaced without question. But even if it’s not damaged, you might want to replace it if you are not happy with the sound or performance of the guitar. A new nut can make a big difference in sustain, resonance, tuning stability, and even sound.
What is a zero fret nut?
This is the first fret that is normally placed where the nut would be near the headstock. This fret is always engaged and is used when strings are played open. The zero fret also sets the intonation and the height of the strings. Guitars with the zero fret still have nuts, but they are only used to set the string spacing.