What are nuts made of?
Nuts are made out of a myriad of materials. Some popular synthetic materials are: micarta, tusq and graphite. Some natural materials used in nut fabrication are cow bone, ivory, ebony, pearl and various animal horns. Our default nut material here at Finger Lakes Guitar Repair is bone although we frequently fabricate nuts from other materials when requested or in order to maintain historical authenticity on collectable instruments.
Repair or replace?
Nuts made from bone or ivory may sometimes be repaired by filling and recutting the nut slots. We do this with a dental filling composite which is very hard and wears just about as well as bone or ivory. This repair can only be done if there exists enough nut material above the slots to allow for proper string protrusion.
When should a nut be replaced?
A nut should be replaced when it is cracked or broken. Especially with synthetic materials, nut slots will sometimes wear faster than frets. As this happens the strings will buzz on the first fret when played open and become difficult to tune.
Nuts sometimes must be replaced in conjunction with other repairs. Refretting an instrument, for example, typically involves fabricating a new nut.
It is best to replace the nut during a set up. This will allow us to ensure optimal playability when the nut is completed. At the very least, however, a truss rod adjustment is necessary to ensure the proper depth of a new nut’s slots. We highly recomend bone as a replacement material in most cases.
Bone is an excellent choice for nuts because of it’s high polished beauty and resistance to wear. Bone is also inexpensive, readily available and environmentally sustainable.
What does bone sound like?
We abstain from debates regarding which materials for nuts have the best sonic advantages. However, we can say from experience that bone resists wear better than any material we’ve used. That said, some popularly held opinions regarding the tonal characteristics associated with bone are: clearer tone, more volume and an increase in sustain. On the other hand, synthetic materials such as tusq are commonly believed to be better suited for nuts because they lack density inconsistencies sometimes associated with bone.