Nut material - a proper assessment

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by donepearce, Feb 13, 2020.

  1. donepearce

    donepearce Well-Known Member

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    The main probelm with the nut is the tendency to ruin tuning stability. With this in mind I've devised an actual test of how unstable tuning is with various nut types. The test is this:

    Take the tuning high, then carfully tune down to true pitch, being careful not to overshoot. Now give a gentle tug on the string to draw the slack into the main body of the string and out of the headstock. Now measure the tuning and see how many cents the note has dropped. This is the instability cause by the nut. The small the number the better. Here is what I find:

    Epiphone plastic nut: 16 cents (all average of twenty tests)
    Tusq nut: 11 cents
    Strat roller nut: 25 cents
    Homemade bone nut: 4 cents

    The Strat actually didn't surprise me. I've hated that nut since I bought the guitar and always had trouble tuning with it. A locking nut will answer everything of course, but it's a rel pain to use - unless you have a rack of guitars and an on-stage tech.
     
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  2. dub-setter

    dub-setter Well-Known Member

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    thanx..

    glad i changed my epi one to a bone nut...;)

    sg-bone -nut.jpg
     
    Last edited: Feb 13, 2020
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  3. plankton

    plankton Well-Known Member

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    Thanks, great idea on how to test them!

    I've only upgraded the nut on one guitar, swapping an Epi plastic one for Tusq, and I was a bit underwhelmed with the difference. Although that guitar does hold tune pretty well, there's still some grabbing and that "ping" noise when making adjustments, especially on the G string.

    I was already thinking that any future upgrades would be bone, thanks for the additional data.
     
  4. Col Mustard

    Col Mustard Well-Known Member

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    Do you have any idea what kind of plastic Epiphone installs?

    I've replaced Epiphone plastic nuts with Tusq on three differerent guitars,
    and been satisfied that it improved the tuning stability and the tone
    each time.

    But maybe we hear what we want to hear. If it turned out that Epiphone was
    using Corian, for example then simply cutting the slots to the right gauge
    and smoothing them to the correct angle and curve down point might be all
    that was necessary.

    I have a Corian nut on my 2012 SG, and it works fine. No grabbing or pinging.
    My luthier checked it carefully for me, when the guitar was new
    and he said a couple strokes with the right gauge file was all it needed.
    I've had no problems since.

    In my opinion, grabbing and pinging are due to burrs in the nut slot
    or an improperly cut nut slot. Your test seems pretty definitive in favor
    of bone, but it's possible that your hand made nut was made with more
    attention than standard factory nut production. Not only possible, but
    very likely. Unless you treated all the other nuts to the same care.
    And in that case, my above opinion is likely wrong.

    Most pro luthiers recommend (and install) bone, so there is that.
    One of my luthier friends said he thought the Tusq
    nut was like cheating. (I think he was mad because so many of us can
    install our own Tusq nut now, it's cutting into his business).
     
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  5. donepearce

    donepearce Well-Known Member

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    I did make sure that grabbing was not happening in any of the nuts I tested . These were all clear slots
     
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  6. Bonzo21

    Bonzo21 Well-Known Member

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    fold a piece of VERY fine sand paper and go through the slot 6-7 times back and forth (with no real pressure and matching the angle of the headstock not the fretboars) then put pencil graphite in there. The ping is not the material, its that the string is binding on a bur or the slot is too narrow. Legit, 30 seconds and its usually fixed good enough.

    Note: when I say fine paper and no pressure I mean that AT MOST you should see a faint steak on the paper, you shouldn't be creating dust from the nut (you'd be taking too much off). The only time you'd want to take material off is if the slot is so narrow that the string doesn't even touch the bottom of the slot. In your case I'm guessing its a burr or its just a half-hair snug...
     
  7. Bonzo21

    Bonzo21 Well-Known Member

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    This is actually an ingenious test. I like it! Were they all different guitars though? Not knocking on this preliminary data, but I do think that would be a variable. Epiphone to Epiphone test wouldn't be too bad, but I'm guessing with the roller nut you did some epiphones and some strats?

    I have 2 epis with Tusq and my daughter's guitar that has the stock nut. I'll be doing this myself out of curiosity. I'll post the results when I do to add to your data!
     
  8. donepearce

    donepearce Well-Known Member

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    Thanks The guitar typewill make some difference because of the break angle the strategy was doubly disappointing in that regard because it is almost flat and will have very little force on the nut
     
  9. Gahr

    Gahr Well-Known Member

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    Thanks, Don! I've been thinking about changing the nuts on a couple of my SGs. This gives me a pretty good idea of what material to choose.
     
  10. flatrockmobile

    flatrockmobile Well-Known Member

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    I'm not so sure about your methodology. When you tune DOWN, then the tuners come into play. If you do the same tests after tuning UP to pitch, this would take all the slack out of the tuners, then only the nut would be in play. Might give more accurate results.
     
  11. donepearce

    donepearce Well-Known Member

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    What tuner slack do you mean? The string tension takes up all the free play whatever direction you turn
     
  12. flatrockmobile

    flatrockmobile Well-Known Member

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    This is copied from a Dan Erlewine book. I had read the same thing in a Guitar Player magazine many, many years ago and have always done it that way. Never had a problem with nuts either, of any material that a little graphite didn't solve.
    • Never try to tune down to a note—first tune below the target pitch, then stretch the string, then tune up to the note to avoid problems caused by the “play” in 99 percent of tuning machines. Make a couple of deep bends (you don’t have to actually play the note, just bend to settle tension), then fine tune.
     
  13. donepearce

    donepearce Well-Known Member

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    He's right. Tuning down to a note, as I did, is the best way to expose the stickiness of the nut. If you have a floating trem all bets are off because one way or another a lift or a dive will put you out of tune. So you have to discipline yourself to always finishing a trem movement the same way.
     
  14. flatrockmobile

    flatrockmobile Well-Known Member

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    I get it now
     
  15. flatrockmobile

    flatrockmobile Well-Known Member

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    Just a thought Don, if you placed a capo BEHIND the nut and repeated your tests, that might reduce more of the variables (concerning the tuner, wind, etc.) when you give the strings your gentle tug.
     
  16. donepearce

    donepearce Well-Known Member

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    A capo would add a huge variable, I think. And of course if it was tight enough to clamp the strings firmly it would effectivley fix the nut problem I am trying to assess, a bit like a locking nut.
     
  17. Robert Lazich

    Robert Lazich New Member

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    Anybody try a Les Paul Brass nut ? The Spacing is a lil different.
     
  18. Von Trapp

    Von Trapp Well-Known Member

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    That's actually very interesting. Surprised about the Tusq though!
     
  19. GrumpyOldDBA

    GrumpyOldDBA Well-Known Member

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    What about a titanium zero fret nut?

    I think the results are interesting but possibly off ... you would need strings exactly stretched and used the same on the same guitar changing the nut each time and making sure the action and bowing have not changed to get a little more certain. Plus 100 tests on each string each time maybe.

    Evil cackle!
     
  20. donepearce

    donepearce Well-Known Member

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    Titanium is a high friction material so not at all suitable.
    And talking of fiction (see what I did there?) Strings don't get stretched. All my tests were done on strings thaycwere perfectly stable at the pegs.
     

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