Disclosure: We may receive commissions when you click our links and make purchases. Read our full affiliate disclosure here.
How does the material of the nut affect the sound?
Which nut is the best suited for you?
What are the benefits of one guitar nut material over another?
Read on, as we dive deep into the fantastical world of guitar nuts.
One of the most often overlooked aspects of a guitar’s sound and feel is the nut. Guitars at first glance can seem fairly simple in that there’s a body, a neck, and strings that make the sounds.
While it’s true that the materials and construction of these main components contribute a great deal to the sound of the instrument, the reality is that there are also many smaller factors that play into the overall sound or timbre.
Just like guitars themselves, the nuts can be made of different materials, which in turn produce differences in sound and playability.
How Do Guitar Nuts Affect The Sound?
Resonance through material properties
Action, and height of strings from the fretboard
Stability of string tuning
Guitar nuts affect the sound of your guitar in a few key ways. The most notable would be the inherent resonant qualities of the nut material that will affect the way the strings sound.
A metal nut quite noticeably creates a more metallic sound compared to the softer sound of a bone nut. This will also tie into the sustain of a note after it is strummed.
Second, the action, or distance from the strings to the fretboard. Strings that are too close to the board can rattle easily if strummed too vigorously.
Action that is higher than this will affect how the guitar is played by the musician as more force is needed to press the strings down, the higher off the board they are.
Lastly, the stability of the tuning of the strings can also be affected by the properties of the material. Some are strong and stiff which promotes stability, while others are weaker which adds to tuning instability via friction.
So which material works best? Let’s dig in!
Cheap alternatives common in entry-level gear
Certain plastic types can mimic qualities of other materials
Sound is not considered to be very good as it does not resonate well depending on the type of plastic
Brittle and can break easily with pressure
Plastic nuts are the most common type of nut as they are generally used in more budget-friendly and entry-level gear. They are also on the easier side to work with in adjusting or shaping.
While in most cases it will certainly be serviceable in a musical setting, they do not quite offer the rich tonal quality that can be achieved with other materials.
Resonance is a huge part of what creates the particular sound of each nut material. Plastic does not resonate well as the material is not very durable or dense. Users going from a plastic nut to a bone or graphite will notice the difference quite readily.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t quality plastic nuts out there that will offer better sound than your run-of-the-mill plastic nut. Some modern plastic nut materials such as TUSQ and Micarta offer better resonance.
These are meant to mimic the behavior of more resonant materials such as bone or graphite.
Naturally, these will be more costly than the standard type of plastic nut.
Plastic nuts are by no means a bad way to go, as it’s more than likely you’ve been listening to them in most settings, but there are other materials that offer some great benefits over them to consider.
Considered the most desirable material for tonal quality
Solid, dense, and lightweight
Very durable and long-lasting
Found in older and high-end guitars models
Can be inconsistent due to inherent features in the piece of bone used
Much more expensive than other nut materials
As mentioned, bone nuts are generally considered the top-of-the-line material to use for guitar nuts. Noted for their great resonance response and easy-to-work-with qualities, it’s no wonder they are mostly found in top-end models and vintage gear.
Bone is known for offering a bright resonant tone that really helps the combination of your strings, neck, and body shine through. In addition to this, a bone nut’s resonant properties, while being dense, are also very light and easy to work with in making adjustments.
This makes bone a favorite with players and luthiers alike.
This isn’t to say that bone is perfect by any means. As bone is a naturally occurring material, there can be inconsistencies from nut to nut, even if they are made by the same manufacturer.
Additionally, there can be what are called “soft spots” that can affect the consistency of sound across the strings in a single nut. Some say that bone can grab the strings, causing issues.
This can be alleviated with some filing and possibly lubricant.
Bone nuts remain the standard for pro guitars, but still, there are other materials that can even outperform bone in certain ways.
Perfect for those with a very bend and tremolo happy playing style
Have been noted as not lasting long
Can be difficult to work with
Graphite nuts are a favorite among modern guitarists for several reasons. The most prominent feature of having a graphite nut is its self-lubricating characteristics.
Part of what gives some nuts tuning stability issues is the friction at the nut catching the string while playing or bending. The smoothness of contact created by the self-lubricating properties is what grants graphite nuts their much-touted stability.
So, if you love bending your strings and really working that tremolo, graphite is the best way to avoid harsh dissonance after raising the tremolo bar back up (outside of using a locking nut).
Sound-wise, graphite is considered to have a bit more mellow tone that doesn’t quite capture the bright highs of the bone varieties. This can be more or less desirable depending on your style and sound palette.
Some consider graphite to be a downgrade in sound over the benefits of note stability. It has also been noted as a bit difficult to work with and can wear down easily. Still, I think you’re much better off here than with a standard mass-produced plastic nut.
There are also different grades of graphite nuts, so be careful in choosing as lower-end ones can be just as flat as a plastic nut.
Which Guitar Nut Type Is Best?
In short, bone is still the #1 choice for guitarists and luthiers across the globe. There are some high-quality synthetic nuts such as TUSQ, which very much do approach the tone and benefits of using bone, but bone still takes the crown for its benefits and aesthetics.
Finally, there are many factors to nuts that should come into play when choosing. We didn’t cover some other materials such as metal, which lasts longer and adds a bit of twang to your sound.
We also didn’t cover nut technology such as locking, compensated, and rolling nuts (we’ll save those for another article).
Regardless, when choosing a nut, it’s important to keep in mind what potential benefits you will find in honing that perfect sound and feel for your setup.
Are graphite nuts better than bone?
Depends on what you’re looking for. Graphite excels in stability for bendy playing styles, whereas bone is known for its tonal and sustain qualities.
Is a bone nut better than plastic?
In just about every way, yes.
What is bone nut made of?
In general, bone nuts are made of cow bone, but can be made from other types of bones. There are also cheaper ones simply made of bone powder and epoxy.
Does nut material affect guitar tone?
Yes, they affect the resonant tone of open strings and sustain.