A very common mistake of guitar players and luthiers alike is underestimating the importance and the role of the the guitar nut. I have seen guitar nut setups ranging from totally messed up to a perfect nut and the difference between the two can be totally amazing.
The change in the nut material can also make a substantial difference in the tone of the guitar.
Also the nut can make an incredible difference in the playing ease of the guitar.
So you can tell that the guitar nut, that little strip of white plastic or bone plays a significant role in the guitar playing ease and tone. Here is a partial list of items that the guitar nut addresses:
Action of the Guitar Strings
The Intonation of the Guitar
Quality of the Guitar Tone
Ease of Tuning the Guitar
Now we will look at each of these elements in more detail, so you can see what importance that little strip of ivory, bone or plastic plays in our guitars, and how you can strive to have the ‘perfect nut’.
Although this point may seem rather obvious, there is in reality more to it than it seems on the surface. By making very minor depth changes to the string grooves in the nut, you can change a difficult playing guitar into an easy playing guitar.
Can you go too low? That is a very easy mistake to make. If you cut your channels too deeply, you will ruin the nut and have to start over with a new nut. So is there an ideal string depth then? That will be covered in another article on how to best construct a nut.
Intonation of the Guitar:
The proper length of the guitar strings as it relates to the guitar scale is intonation. Typically the guitar string length has a beginning point at the backside of the nut or the point where the nut and the fretboard join. Now if the string channels are filed improperly, the string length can fall somewhere ‘within’ the nut and not at the outer edge. This will throw off the guitar intonation off, and produce a guitar that is both difficult to tune, and it will play ‘out of tune’.
The Guitar Tone:
The Guitar Nut plays an important role in the quality or tone of the instrument. If you don’t believe me remove an ivory nut from of a fine classical guitar and replace it with plastic. The change in tone is amazing! The strings will sound ‘dead’ and the difference between the fretted notes and open notes will be much more pronounced.
As you will be able to see, the guitar nut materials are at least partially responsible for the guitar tone production. Also, to assure a outstanding guitar tone and sustain, be sure that the guitar nut is set properly into the guitar neck. The contact has to fairly tight and secure so the string vibrations will be fully transmitted through the guitar neck. The strings will additionally resonate better and the reaction of the strings on the guitar saddle will be improved.
Ease of Guitar Tuning:
If the string channels in the guitar nut have not been cut or filed properly, there will be a resulting problem in that the guitar will be difficult to tune. If the string slots are properly cut into the guitar nut with a set of gauged nut files, these files will permit matching the nut slot width to the string diameter.
When string slots are cut or filed into the guitar nut, they ought to posses the following characteristics:
String slots should be round-bottomed to match the string contour.
The string slots should be slightly wider than the string gauge to allow for free movement of the string in the string slot.
Finally, in order to minimize string binding, each string slot ought to be angled toward it’s respective strings tuning machine post.
Ability of Extending String Age:
If the above recommendations are followed very closely, the string life can be improved.