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Bone vs. Teflon nuts

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by lovethegrowl, Jan 12, 2014.

  1. lovethegrowl

    lovethegrowl Banned

    Oct 30, 2013
    I am sorry for being a bit redundant. I did make some inquiries into the durability of Teflon nut grooves. I got enough input (from BT & Wammi) that I am convinced the grooves will not wear lower. Thanx everyone!

    Now my Luther has raised some questions regarding timbre. He says Graph tech nuts give warmth to the sound, brass makes it metallic, & bone is kind of neutral in comparison, nice tone, resonance & sustain. (What he prefers, but he'll give me anything I want). I told him that once you put your finger down on the fret, the nut goes out of the equation. He says the nut still vibrates & contributes to the sound even w/the frets activated.

    I am pretty sold on the Graph Tech, it usually is recommended with my Kahler/Wammi bridge. But I have about one day to send the Graph tech nut back. Should I give my tech's advise (regarding tone & sustain) more consideration?. I could use a little more input, this stuff is new to me.
  2. lz4005


    Oct 22, 2013
    You are right that nut material only impacts tone on open notes.
    Find a better luthier.
  3. Hi.

    Unless You have a headless instrument, or one that has a zero fret, the nut material affects all the notes to a degree.
    Unless damped, the overhang from the tuner post to the nut (not with a headless, of course) and the fretted -> nut portions of the string still vibrate when the body/neck/HS resonates.

    That said, unless it's an acoustic instrument, I have been unable to tell the difference between decent nut materials over these couple of decades I've been playing, making and repairing stringed instruments.
    OTOH, the fact that I am unable to tell the difference, obviously doesn't mean it can't be there ;).

    Graphtech products have been my choice based on durability, ease of cutting and low cost.

  4. walterw

    walterw Supportive Fender Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 20, 2009
    i once made an experimental nut out of the "worst" material i could think of, a hunk of pink rubber eraser!

    i heard no obvious difference in tone or sustain on fretted notes.
  5. Zooberwerx

    Zooberwerx Gold Supporting Member

    Dec 21, 2002
    Virginia Beach, VA
    Whatever looks better on the bass, IMO. As mentioned, you probably won't hear any difference among the various materials available.

  6. lovethegrowl

    lovethegrowl Banned

    Oct 30, 2013
    Part of the choice of graph tech is that it's black & the Squier bass is black (even the fretboard is a dark ebanol). The existing white plastic nut is too light, as well as bone. I'll stick to the graph tech. Thanx y'all.
  7. pfox14


    Dec 22, 2013
    When in doubt, always opt for bone. It's the best nut material there is.
  8. Hopkins

    Hopkins Supporting Member Commercial User

    Nov 17, 2010
    Houston Tx
    Owner/Builder @Hopkins Guitars
    That's a rather bold statement. Just because it is the most common doesn't make it superior. While I am of the opinion that no material is vastly better than any other material, my opinion is that a graphite infused material like tusq is better than bone because of its self lubricating properties. A metal nut like brass or aluminum will make open notes sound more like the fretted notes (very minor difference) the same would be true for using a wood nut on a fretless bass. Bone has the advantage of being cheap and easy to work with, but it is not the best material.
  9. Mvilmany


    Mar 13, 2013
    Upstate NY
    I would think that any difference that the nut makes to tone on a FRETTED string would be insignificant.

    I would make the decision on the OPEN string tone, and aesthetics.

    I'm on the fence considering ordering a Carvin, and if I do, I would get their Tusk "bone" nut.

    Guthrie Govan (guitarist) avoids graphite nuts ON GUITAR because the thinner guitar strings and whammy bar wear them out. (Graphite is softer) This should not be a prob on bass however.
  10. fhm555

    fhm555 So FOS my eyes are brown Supporting Member

    Feb 16, 2011
    I'd be afraid of a bone nut on a bass. Just too rigid for me to have an confidence in it to hold up under hard use with the larger strings on a bass. I'm sure this will bring at least one "never had a problem with a bone nut" response, and I'm sure there are plenty of people who've played a bone nut on their bass for years and that is all good. It's strictly a personal thing to me and it's because anything as stiff as bone will be more prone to stress cracking under enough pressure and vibration, and as is the case with most natural materials, density varies within individual pieces so you may get a sold nut on one end and an iffy nut on the other. Having been there at 1AM getting ready for the last set and noticing a broken nut (and no backup bass), I just don't ever want to be in that situation again so I'll err on the side of caution whenever possible.

    I've also seen plenty of plastic nuts crack, and I've cracked 2 myself on the same bass so it now has a brass nut that's been working fine for the last 21 years.

    For standard J basses I use the stock nuts. If they need to be replaced due to failure I'd go with a brass nut. If they needed replacement because I was going to a radically different string gauge or screwed up the OEM nut during setup, I'd give one of the plastic/graphite nuts a try.

    I know players who use dry graphite, wax, oil, etc., in their nut slots. I've never done this but I don't wank near as hard as some do. I pull real hard with my right hand, strong enough to pull the strings out of place on a standard Fender L plate bridge, but never hard enough to break a string.
  11. When in doubt, always opt for zero fret. It's the best nut material there is.
    Typo fixed :D
  12. lovethegrowl

    lovethegrowl Banned

    Oct 30, 2013
    Actually I AM putting a Wammi bar on my bass. That's what inspired my original thread about this. I was concerned about durability.
  13. Hopkins

    Hopkins Supporting Member Commercial User

    Nov 17, 2010
    Houston Tx
    Owner/Builder @Hopkins Guitars
    If I were in your shoes, I would go for functionality over durability. The teflon not is by far the best material for the string to not bind on. If it needs to be replaced slightly more often then I could live with that.
  14. Hans Gruber

    Hans Gruber

    Jun 18, 2003
    Los Angeles
    Anytime I hear a great bass line on a classic recording, my first observation is the sound of the nut material. Leaves a huge impression on me every time!
  15. Hopkins

    Hopkins Supporting Member Commercial User

    Nov 17, 2010
    Houston Tx
    Owner/Builder @Hopkins Guitars
    In the OP's case the nut material is pretty important. With a wammi setup you need a nut with minimal friction so the bass will stay in tune after using the wammi. Tone is a non issue here
  16. Hans Gruber

    Hans Gruber

    Jun 18, 2003
    Los Angeles
    Ah, yes of course, I was only talking about the rest of the thread, which is fine, really. Wammy thing is totally important for sure.
  17. Lownote38


    Aug 8, 2013
    Nashville, TN
    Bone really isn't that rigid. It's just as rigid as what comes standard on most basses if not less so. I've broken the Fender synthetic bone nuts, but never a bone one. I don't use graphite, because as long as a competent luthier carves the nut, the string shouldn't hang up on anything which in turn negates the need for something like graphite.
  18. fhm555

    fhm555 So FOS my eyes are brown Supporting Member

    Feb 16, 2011
    While I've never carved a nut from bone I have made several things from bone and I wouldn't characterize it as having much flex, especially cow bone which is the only bone I know of thick enough to do something like a nut.

    I once carved a set of knife scales out of bone and did them up with some fancy file work and dye so they looked really nice. When I laid them on the knife shank, one side was about half an RCH from being dead flat. Being lazy I decided that little bit wouldn't hurt anything since all the edges laid down nice when I put a little pressure on the scale down the middle. When I put the rivets in to hold the scales on, the rocking side cracked around one of the rivets. No much but just enough that I knew it was there so I had to toss out that set of scales and start over again because I didn't have time to do it right the first time, but had plenty of time to go back and make up an entirely new set of scales.

    As I said before, it's strictly a personal thing and I am in no way saying I don't think those who like bone should not use it.

    It's more like my preference for small stainless fasteners made from 316 instead of 18-8 kind of thing. Either would work for most any situation, but because 18-8 is softer I always pick 316 because I'd rather the screw fracture than bend if it takes a major blow.
  19. Turnaround

    Turnaround Commercial User

    May 6, 2004
    Toronto Canada
    Independent Instrument Technician, and Contractor to Club Bass and Guitar - Toronto
    There seems to be plenty of personal preferences about nut material. And I have mine, but rather than state it, I would like to share my experiences over 50+ years of guitar and bass maintenance. I will not state my preference since this post needs to be about facts, not preferences.

    Most broken nuts I have seen by far were made of some kind of plastic, and most of them were hollow. And they show up on some instruments that are not to be considered really cheepos. That's true for steel-string acoustic, electric and classical guitars, basses, ukuleles and the like.

    A few well-known brands of basses have used wooden nuts - presumably ebony, but I never tested to be sure. Many have suffered from wear when they became old enough to be vintage instruments, but were also the brand of instruments that players were prone to put flat-sound strings on. But in those cases where round-wounds were used there was often a bit more tendency for the strings to bind a bit in the nut in tuning.

    A few brands, and many more custom luthiers, have used brass as a nut material. We all have heard the reasons for this which are primarily that it lasts longer and sounds the same as a fretted note. From my experience, they do not last particularly longer than many other substances that are not metal, especially when used with steel strings. And a number of years ago brass fell from favour because of claims that brass was a "tone sink" that sucked out desirable frequencies. I do not believe that those claims were ever scientifically substantiated, but I can't say for sure.

    Aluminum has been used by a few luthiers on occasion. There were a number of studies that compared the sonic qualities of aluminum to brass and they seemed to favour aircraft (stressed) aluminum over brass. But aluminum nuts were not widely accepted by players who generally felt that aluminum was too soft a material for a nut. The difference between the aluminum used on storm doors and the hardened stuff seems to have been lost on them. One notable hardware maker continues to use "aircraft aluminum" on their parts, but they do not offer aluminum nuts. There is one retro-style bass that has used, and continues to use (AFAIK) an aluminum nut, but other tha that it seems to have dropped from favour.

    Bone has been the material of choice for a few centuries. That doesn't mean it's the best given modern technology. But it is interesting that a large proportion of today's custom builders continue to use this traditional material. For those who put their instruments in the uber-echelon, the material of choice is ivory. Since you can't use newly-harvested ivory these days, fossilized ivory is the choice now. Even recycled ivory can be a huge problem for makers when the onus is on the maker to prove the age and source of his materials - but I won't go into that here.

    There are a number of "space-age" products available to us now, including such as Tusq, NewBone, Corian, etc. The advertising copy for all of these claims better sonic performance, longer wearing, better intonation, etc. than "conventional" materials (whatever that means). By and large, they seem to offer a better consistency of material than natural sources such as wood, bone, or ivory, and claim to allow the strings to better return to pitch when string bending or using a whammy bar. The reasoning is that "graphite" or "teflon" nuts self-lubricate the string slot, so the string is freer to move in the slot during bending. There may be some truth to this, though many well- polished plastics as well as bone and ivory do not seem to cause hang-ups if the slots are cut well.

    As I have said, there seem to be lots of differing opinions as to what is "best". I can't even say what is worst - it all depends on the criterion you want to measure by. If lowest price is the measure, then the hollow plastic is your best-buy. But it won't offer the durability of Tusq or the sheer beauty of ivory. Decide what's important to you and take your pick.
    JGbassman likes this.