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Asher Guitars WD Music Products Amplified Parts Mod Kits DIY Nordstarnd Pickups Warmoth.com

Bone nut on an electric

Discussion in 'Tele-Technical' started by Obsessed, Sep 30, 2017.

  1. matrix

    matrix TDPRI Member

    Age:
    47
    73
    Apr 13, 2016
    Vancouver, BC
    Glad you posted this...I have had the same thing on my mind. I am more of an acoustic player and consider a bone nut (and saddle) non-optional. I have a PRS SE that I generally like, but the nut material always niggles at me. It just seems too soft and spongy. As soon as I get something else done on the guitar, I think I will do a nut swap. But reading this thread, I am starting to think maybe the need here is more psychological.

    The nut on my G&L seems like a hard and slippery material, and does not bother me as much.
     
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  2. Mr Green Genes

    Mr Green Genes Tele-Afflicted

    Feb 23, 2016
    MI
    I personally like bone nuts. Part (but not all) of that is psychological.

    I think you'll notice a difference, but the difference is incremental.

    For me, if I'm replacing a nut, I'd use a bone nut. If I'm doing a full setup, including level/crown/polish, I may replace the nut with bone whether it needs to be replaced or not, but for the most part, I wouldn't necessarily go out of my way to replace the nut based solely on tonal benefit. Then again, depending on my mood, I might.

    It's not an expensive upgrade ($5 or less), so it might be fun to change it out just to satisfy your curiosity. If that's where you're at, I'd strongly encourage you to go for it.
     
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  3. jaybones

    jaybones Tele-Afflicted

    I prefer Tusq nuts, only since I know I won't have to worry about friction at the nut.

    Of course I bend a fair amount and use the wiggle stick on my Strats.
     
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  4. Mr Green Genes

    Mr Green Genes Tele-Afflicted

    Feb 23, 2016
    MI
    In that case, I'd definitely change out the nut. It's not like it's an expensive or radical undertaking.

    Sometimes people throw the "psychological" thing around as though that somehow makes it less valid.

    If it changes the way you feel about your instrument and how you relate to it for the better, it's a positive and worthwhile change, whether the impact is physical or psychological (or even metaphysical, but I'll spare you from the esoteric diatribe on the subject).
     
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  5. Obsessed

    Obsessed Doctor of Teleocity Ad Free Member

    Nov 21, 2012
    Montana
    So, not have actually looked into the act of replacing a nut. What do I get for $5? I have replaced saddles on acoustics with Tusq, so I can sand this nut to size, but are we talking pre slotted and I assume different pre slotted nuts for different electrics?
     

  6. moosie

    moosie Poster Extraordinaire

    Age:
    60
    Jul 18, 2010
    Western Connecticut
    Yes, the only effect is open strings. Probably.

    I don't have a big issue with "standard" Gibsons that come with micarta nuts. Not bone, but cut like bone. Done well, with a full, dead flat bottom that makes good contact with the neck. If I need to change them for some other reason, I use bone, but they don't immediately get pulled.

    Fenders on the other hand... all my current Fenders came with bone nuts, but the ones that didn't... man, what crappy nuts. Plastic, with very clear mold marks, like someone snapped them off a chain. And instead of making firm contact, they sit on two raised feet, integral to the nut. I'm sure this is easier and quicker to install, and yes, I'm sure they get good contact on the areas that DO touch, but I don't like these nuts at all. I know I've seen and replaced several of these on standard MIM types, and I think on a standard MIA, too, but I'm not completely sure.

    Those nuts don't come out immediately, but at any excuse. Like if I'm bored.

    To sum up, I think both material and seating matter. Obviously the cut matters, too, but that's more of a setup issue, whatever nut you have.

    Note, that Gibson is putting 6/6 nylon nuts on some (all?) of their historic models. They don't look as nice as polished bone, but they seem to sound great. Seem to, because I've never replaced them. I don't think they bind as much as bone. Wonder why they stopped using it in production way back whenever...
     
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  7. moosie

    moosie Poster Extraordinaire

    Age:
    60
    Jul 18, 2010
    Western Connecticut
    20171001_225848.jpg


    I like StewMac bone unbleached bone blanks. These all have rough flat bottoms, no radius like on some Fenders. Those cost more.

    These are (left to right), Martin: $7, Fender: $4.50, Gibson: $6.

    They're not perfectly flat, square, or parallel. You're expected to get them this way on your own. I use sandpapers and a 1-2-3 block on a granite surface plate, and calipers.

    EDIT: S-M also sells preshaped and slotted Tusq for around $12. You'll still need to do SOME work on them.

    You'll also need to carefully clean the nut slot of any old glue, making sure you have a flat seating space for good contact.

    Then you need $50-$100 worth of nut files, including both slotters and shapers, and more sandpaper to polish.


    It's only a $5 nut if you do them frequently. Or if otherwise you'd be paying someone to do it. Around here a nut like this at a tech, is $10 for the blank, and $100 for the labor. That's exactly why I started doing my own.
     
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  8. BigDaddyLH

    BigDaddyLH Telefied Ad Free Member

    I believe G&Ls use bone -- at least the MIAs.
     

  9. Obsessed

    Obsessed Doctor of Teleocity Ad Free Member

    Nov 21, 2012
    Montana
    Yeah, I thought so. And then I suppose you buy a miter saw/box to get the cuts straight. Yeah, I think I'm getting the picture. Not that I'm not up to doing that, but it is why I asked about the advantages of a bone nut on an electic in the first place. Thanks though for the reality check. I really do appreciate it.
     

  10. telemnemonics

    telemnemonics Poster Extraordinaire

    Age:
    57
    Mar 2, 2010
    Maine
    Maybe if you get snowed in for a few days and have nothing to do, you could set to work fitting a new bone nut.
    A lot can be done without buying slotting files, if you have years of random tool gathering including maybe some jewelers files, bigger files, xacto saw, hack saw blades, feeler gauges, sandpaper, a small vice etc.
    For Fenders you want curved bottom nut blanks, meaning the slot has the same curve as the fingerboard, so if you move the nut to center it, it rides across the curve, and the heights stay the same.
    I used to be full of zeal to work on guitars, but now i just want to play them, and fix what's broke or annoying.

    You can make gauged files by cutting teeth into feeler gauges, which isn't as crazy as it sounds.
    You can also file or belt sand a hacksaw blade down thinner, I can't recall what gauge it cuts, might be near to .046.

    Beware, I have some packaged Fender "original bone nut blanks" with round injection molding marks in the bottom. Not sure why or if Fender figures adding "original Fender" to plastic stuff makes it magically better.

    Hard to say if there's a sound factor, but I have noticed I didn't like what a brass nut i installed did, because the open strings sounded different from fretted notes. If open and fretted notes sound the same, and tuning is fine, i doubt you'll hear an improvement.
    Would still be an improvement though.
     

  11. moosie

    moosie Poster Extraordinaire

    Age:
    60
    Jul 18, 2010
    Western Connecticut
    Not all Fenders, by any means.

    I only own modern era instruments, the earliest being from around 2002 (son's MIA Telecaster). None have radiused nut slots. The slot is dead flat.
     
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  12. Mr Green Genes

    Mr Green Genes Tele-Afflicted

    Feb 23, 2016
    MI
    You can get pre-slotted bone nuts, but they are usually a bit high, and will still need some adjustment to get your action where you want it.

    They are intentionally left a little on the high side, since it's pretty easy to file them a bit lower, but it's a lot harder to fix if they're too low from the outset.

    If you don't mind waiting for about 4 weeks for the (free) shipping, there are some that are ridiculously inexpensive. Personally, I have no problem spending $5 on a nut, and for $1, I don't know if I'd trust the quality of the bone.


    Some of the tools involved can be expensive, and if you're using them on a daily basis, it's worth it to spend the money, but for just doing a few nuts, you can find some that are pretty cheap.

    For what you're looking at, I don't see the need to spend hundreds on tools.
     
    Last edited: Oct 2, 2017
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  13. moosie

    moosie Poster Extraordinaire

    Age:
    60
    Jul 18, 2010
    Western Connecticut
    Custom miter box of some sort might work, though I'd not say it's common. Careful eyeballing, and lots of practice.

    In addition to straight slots, spacing is way-critical, and if you're like many, you prefer even spacing from string edge to string edge, not on centers. EDIT: Centers places the plain strings further apart than the bass strings. Spacing on center results in more space between the plain strings, and cramped wound strings. You can eyeball this, too, and you can compare to an existing nut for the same guitar that at least has this right. If you like a more formulaic approach, there's the StewMac string spacing rule, which makes that adjustment for you. A very useful, single-use tool. Like so many in guitar work...

    You don't want to cut deep slots. The thin files will bind, and wander off line. Ideally you'd only cut the slot perhaps twice as deep as the string on the plains, and (I like) the wounds to be peeking up a bit out of the slot, more so on Gibsons because the break angle holds them in place. Fender may need a bit more slot, since there's so little tension at the break point.

    But... to shape your nut all the way down to within two thicknesses of your high E string, where the bottom of said slot will turn out to be dead on your choice of setup, for the high E perhaps .008-.012. Low E perhaps more like .020 to .030.

    So you magically get all that just right, and then you make one tiny stroke too many, and ruin the nut by over-deepening a slot.

    You need to cut the slots such that the "perfect" height is right at the front of the nut. The slot should taper down from there, along the line of the string. All the strings slope differently, of course. And with 3x3 headstocks, you'll need to open the slots just a bit at the back, especially D & G.

    Overall, you'll want to sculpt the nut to look like the guitar it's being made for. Martin, Gibson, Fender, each has their own "look" and shape for nuts.

    When it's all written out like this, it sounds impossible. It's not, of course. It's actually quite fun. Very rewarding. But it's taken me a lot of practice and a bunch of failures before I've finally gotten to the point where a good outcome is normal, and not sheer luck. I've probably cut 30 nuts in the past few years, all bone, from scratch (raw blanks, not cow shins). Around 20 of them were useable, but only around 10 have I actually liked. The last five were all keepers... :)
     
    Last edited: Oct 3, 2017
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  14. Zepfan

    Zepfan Friend of Leo's

    Nov 30, 2013
    Horn Lake, MS
    Does everyone really think that fretting strings stops all string vibrations to the nut? Fretting only changes the pitch of the string's sound. The strings still vibrate to the nut, tuners, neck, body and bridge. You can pluck the strings between the nut and tuners or between the bridge and stop tail and hear the sound through the amp. So if the nut and bridge won't stop string vibrations, what makes you think your fingers will? There is a difference in what you hear when the strings are fretted, but that is mostly due to change in pitch and some to the frets and on to the nut. Nothing has been taken away at that point, something has been added to the chain and the pitch change on top of it.;)

    Just because plastic and other cheap materials can be used and work, doesn't mean it's as good. Some people can't tell a difference, some can and both are right for themselves.:cool: A guitar is a guitar, no matter how it's made or what it's made of. All the parts involved still do the same thing, pass string vibrations to be converted into sound.

    Pickups change vibrations into electronic signal. All vibrations, because all pickups are microphonic to some degree(small or large) and will convert vibrations from the body, neck, hardware and all other parts.

    Since pickups convert string vibrations and vibrations from the guitar's parts, all the parts matter just as much as they do in an acoustic guitar. A solid body still vibrates, the necks on both guitars are solid, the hardware makes it's contribution whatever the materials used. The only real difference in a solid body guitar from a hollow body acoustic is the lack of a sound chamber because it uses a pickup to deliver the sound instead. Don't believe it, listen to a solid body guitar with just a piezo in it. I'm not just talking about a bridge piezo, body mounted piezo's work just as well. Might need a little more volume, but the sound is there.
     

  15. moosie

    moosie Poster Extraordinaire

    Age:
    60
    Jul 18, 2010
    Western Connecticut
    No, I don't. That's why I said "probably". Weasel word, but I didn't want to divert the thread into a tone war. :)

    Now honestly I doubt - really really doubt - that I can hear the "bone" in the nut, when fretting the 5th. But like I mentioned earlier, all the little bits of a good design count. Bone is a high quality material, and wonderful for transferring vibration when seated properly. It doesn't matter how many notes are affected by it.
     
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  16. Zepfan

    Zepfan Friend of Leo's

    Nov 30, 2013
    Horn Lake, MS
    Hearing it on a video or audio clip may be hard to do dealing with someones recording techniques, cables, room they're in, effects and amps. I definitely could tell the difference in my guitars when I switched the nuts to bone and switching the trem block from the pot metal to steel on my Strat clone in my room through my amp with a clean signal and same settings. It was a definite difference that I heard.

    One guitar has a Tusq nut, hardtail bridge, string through to Brass inserts. Oak body and Maple neck with cheap ceramic mag Asian pickups and it sounds glorious. All the right parts come together to create a fantastic tone machine. Those pickups were crap in other guitars and the first set of pickups in this one weren't the right ones for this guitar. There's really a lot more going on in a guitar's makeup than people think about.

    I don't want to get into any tone wars either, it just irks me from time to time and I just have to share.:lol:
     
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  17. MA6200

    MA6200 Tele-Meister

    113
    May 12, 2017
    Maryland
    My luthier put an unbleached bone nut on my tele when I got a setup because that's all he works with.

    He charged what the local stores (both big box and independent) charge for just a setup. He probably could have just filed the plastic one a little as I doubt it was too low but I was happy to give him the business.

    As for the performance I suspect there's not much difference between it and a quality synthetic nut; the one it had on had never been properly set up so its hard to compare, but it suits the burst finish and mint guard nicely, and was expertly cut so I'm happy.

    That was a little longer than I intended so here's a TLDR:

    Go for it.
     
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  18. MilwMark

    MilwMark Poster Extraordinaire Ad Free Member

    Apr 29, 2013
    near Arnold's
    I have them on all four of my electrics. Unbleached bone seems to "glisten" a bit and I've never needed to lube it, so that's a plus. I feel like the same guitar always gets more tuning stable, a bit brighter and a bit more sustain. How much of that is the bone vs just a well cut nut, or confirmation bias, I couldn't say.
     
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  19. telemnemonics

    telemnemonics Poster Extraordinaire

    Age:
    57
    Mar 2, 2010
    Maine
    Ooops, guess I missed some changes since working as a tech in the '90s!
    Gettin old, ouch. All my Fenders have the radius, and all are older.
    Thanks for correcting that info, wrong parts are a PITA.
     
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  20. Obsessed

    Obsessed Doctor of Teleocity Ad Free Member

    Nov 21, 2012
    Montana
    Well, well, well, I suppose I should not be too surprised of the variance of opinions. I suspected we would touch the subject of tone wars, because of the string connections to the guitar. I get Zepfan's reasoning and totally agree on acoustics, but I think my inconsistent palm muting and pick attack affects my sound more than most of you, so I was wondering what I personally would gain by going to a bone nut on an electric. My guess is that I probably won't hear the difference of how the vibrations travel through the nut into the neck, but the spacing consistently is appealing to me. After reading Moosie's description of how to cut a nut keeping the distance between strings and the discussion of how the string slot tapers down in back or has a radius has convinced me not to cut my own for sure. What I do see in the responses is a lot of love for bone nuts for many reasons, so I think I will measure my nut spacing on my electrics and then determine which one to get a bone nut "made" and find out what I personally detect.

    Thanks everyone for your input. As an analytical kinda guy, it has been a very healthy conversation.
     
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