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Nuts!

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by Mud Flaps, Aug 2, 2005.


  1. Mud Flaps

    Mud Flaps

    Feb 3, 2003
    Norton, MA
    How can nuts affect the tone of basses? What different materials are used to make nuts besides the standard graphite and bone and what are their advantages? What is one looking for in a nut (softness, hardness, etc.)? How much can a nut affect the sound of the bass?

    Thank you for answering my questions about nuts.
     
  2. JSPguitars

    JSPguitars

    Jan 12, 2004
    Grass Valley
    I have no idea what different materials do as far as "tone". There's all kinds of materials. Bone, Brass, corian, MOP, graphite, TuSQ, .....some people even make them out of a hard wood like ebony. I'm curious to try making one out of wood, myself.
    I know for guitar I can hear a diff. on my G-string between a brass nut vs. bone, it just feels different for that specific string for some reason. The brass nut seems more "ringier" than others. I'm not sure if I like it or not. I know that Silvertone used to make a model with an Aluminum (I believe) nut, such as the one Jimmy Page plays on White Summer or whatever that song is called......
    Anyhow, Nuts seem easy enough to make. Make some out of different materials and experiment for yourself.
     
  3. nateo

    nateo Schubie Fan #1

    Mar 2, 2003
    Ottawa, Ontario
    I'm planning on a birdseye maple nut for my EUB, probably coated liberally with CA. Like you said, if it breaks apart or otherwise doesn't work, I can always make one out of something more resilient (brass is a personal favourite, mostly because I've got some lying around). I just thought a wood nut would fit well with the instrument in general.

    -Nate
     
  4. JSPguitars

    JSPguitars

    Jan 12, 2004
    Grass Valley
    I agree. Why NOT use wood?
    Also, Submerge the birdseye nut in some of that MInWax wood hardener stuff for a day or two, and I bet it will be hard as hard need be.
     
  5. Suburban

    Suburban

    Jan 15, 2001
    lower mid Sweden
    Yeah, why not wood? There are hard woods to use, near your back yard. And then you soak it in CA or whatever, and you're on.

    Also remember, that you usually put a finger between the nut and the bridge, when playing. Thus taking the nut out of the sound chain!
    You should make the nut out of flesh and bone! :p
     
  6. there is a luthier in sweeden, Odd Helge Listerud, that uses wooden nuts on his fretless basses, he says it gives a more uniform sound between fretted and open notes.
     
  7. Fasoldt Basses

    Fasoldt Basses

    Mar 22, 2005
    Stevens Point, WI
    Karl Thompson, Builder (Formerly Fat Karl)
    Concerning the tone of nuts:

    I am no expert on this subject, but a very basic principle is that a harder nut will add to the sustain of the strings. In other words, less vibration is dampened by a more solid nut. With a softer nut such as wood, one might expect more mwah, especially from the open strings.
    How well the nut is made also affects the tone to some degree. A narrow slot will pinch the string and deaden the plucked open string. If the slot is too wide it may not properly stop the vibration from travelling past the nut, and may result in annoying rattles and buzzes.
     
  8. pilotjones

    pilotjones Supporting Member

    Nov 8, 2001
    US-NY-NYC
    And all of this is effective only when playing an open string. If you fret a note, the nut could be titanium, or could be foam rubber-- it would make no difference in the sound.

    If you use a zero fret, you are pretty much guaranteed that the open string will sound consistent with the fretted notes.
     
  9. Fasoldt Basses

    Fasoldt Basses

    Mar 22, 2005
    Stevens Point, WI
    Karl Thompson, Builder (Formerly Fat Karl)
    To a point you are right, but the nut is still the connection between the neck and the string, and therefore it will still have some effect on the tone of fretted notes.
     
  10. Rodent

    Rodent Supporting Member Commercial User

    Dec 20, 2004
    Upper Left Corner (Seattle)
    Player-Builder-Founder: Regenerate Guitar Works
    :confused: If I am fretting a note, it is the fret material that is connecting the string to the neck - there is no vibration happening at the nut. Only in the case when playing an open string will you hear the impact that nut material has.


    I favor a zero fret for exactly the reasoning that pilotjones shares in this thread.

    R
     
  11. pilotjones

    pilotjones Supporting Member

    Nov 8, 2001
    US-NY-NYC
    The nut may still be a point of contact between the string and thge neck, but, it is a contact with the non-vibrating part of the string. So, it should have as much affect on the tone as the contact between any other two non-vibrating parts-- such as the string and the tuner, the tuner rotation screw and the headstock, the output jack and the side wall, the pickguard and the body-- zero or near zero. And don't forget that from the second fret up, the nut contact isn't even the "next contact after the active fret"-- at the nth fret, the n-1th fret (behind your finger) is the next contact, then the nut secondary, then any string retainer tertiary, etc.
     
  12. Fasoldt Basses

    Fasoldt Basses

    Mar 22, 2005
    Stevens Point, WI
    Karl Thompson, Builder (Formerly Fat Karl)
    As I said, you are right to a point. However, according to your theory, nothing that is not imediately attached to the strings has NO effect on the tone of the instrument. An obvious example would be the headstock; it is a pretty generally accepted idea that the material and size of the headstock can have a significant effect on the tone. Also, according to your theory, the body (or body sides, at least) have no effect on the tone since they are not participating in the anchoring of the strings to the body.

    But, each to his own! I guess you could argue that the body has no effect on the tone.:eyebrow: :ninja: :scowl: :bag:
     
  13. Suburban

    Suburban

    Jan 15, 2001
    lower mid Sweden
    He is Norwegian(!), and he is right. A wooden nut is more similar to the finger in hardness etc.

    Absolutely correct, Peter, as usual (not "as always" :p )! The zero fret is a much underestimated feature, when it comes to sound.

    Somebody cued me?? :D OK, here goes:
    The headstock has a great effect, but not as a string ancorage (as long as it does anchor the strings...). It is a part of the resonance mass of the neck, which has a great effect on the string vibration. If the resonance is out of phase to the string, the sustain will suffer, and some overtones may be killed. Thus, the most interesting issue for a luthier, is to tune the neck stiffness/weight ratio to the tonal spectrum of the instrument! I do not envie the multistring makers :eek:
    The body center and the body joint has similar influence. The body wings, though, are not directly in the sonic chain, why their influence is very much less. To the point where I say, that on a neckthru, they are merely aesthetic :eek:

    However, those issues are about resonance. This thread is about fretting. The influence of the nut is about fretting - only.
    All the string anchoring is in the headstock (or other, when headless), and of course, somewhere around the body. I.e. tuners and neck angle/string retainers. The nut is merely a sideways link, to make the string stay in the same place, for you to find it. Which is also the reason why you find strings that are tapered at the bridge end - but never tapered at the nut end. It would be futile!

    Which leaves the interesting issue to be:
    How do I design my fingerboard, to have the same board contact tone throughout the board?

    Answer:
    Fretted board: zero fret (or, as second choice, bescause it's much more difficult do get right: nut made of fret material)
    Unfretted board: wooden nut (I like oak, personally), or integrated in the board.

    And I will not hide! :D :hyper: Here I am! :hyper: :hyper: :D
     
  14. Frank Martin

    Frank Martin Bitten by the luthiery bug...

    Oct 8, 2001
    Budapest, Hungary, EU
    Favourite nut-type:
    Height adjustable
    :p

    There's a company that still makes the brass J-A-N I of the old Warwicks... I'll have it on my next bass :smug:
     
  15. pilotjones

    pilotjones Supporting Member

    Nov 8, 2001
    US-NY-NYC
    Exactly. And, I see how Karl and others could have misinterpreted my not-too-clear response. (And I'll add that I might more properly have said "little effect" rather than "no effect" at some points.) Let me clarify:

    The string witness points (bridge, and nut or fret) have a massive effect on the tonality. They are the points where the string energy (motion), to varying extents, either reflects back into the string, is absorbed at that point, or is transmitted to the rest of the body- and is transmitted from the body back into the string.

    Beyond those two points, the effect is important, but less so. The energy in the body is "reshaped" by resonance, absorbtion, and even addition by outside sources (think feedback, or even just knocking on the body). The resonance is highly affected by the materials used, and their masses and shape/distribution. This resonance would be most strongly effected by neck and headstock design and execution, followed by the body. It then re-enters the strings through the witness points. So, the wood of the body, the hardware, the force with which you clamp the body against your belly, are all important- but to a degree less than the string and the witness points themselves.

    While playing a fretted note, the point where the string passes over the nut, since it is beyond the active fret contact, the finger contact, and the one-above-the-active fret contact, is one of the many minor players in the equation.
     
  16. Fasoldt Basses

    Fasoldt Basses

    Mar 22, 2005
    Stevens Point, WI
    Karl Thompson, Builder (Formerly Fat Karl)
    I agree with you. I apologoze for being so picky and arguing this point. I understand that your "foam-rubber" nut was hypothetical, since there are always open strings to play. :) Thus my argument had a sort of hypothetical slant, since, hypothetically, every part of the bass contributes something, however small, to the overall tone. Don't get me wrong- I am not one of those if-you-use-the-wrong-knobs-your-bass-will-sound-like-crap freaks. It just bugs me when people say something will have NO effect. But you have conceded that point!:)
     
  17. fivehawks

    fivehawks

    Aug 4, 2005
    It is amazing how many people talk about things and only know the myths of instrument building, tone, sound, sustain, etc.

    Go to Musician's Institute in CA, and learn something before spouting off stuff. This is amazing! I want to thank you all for keeping me in business for many years thanks to myths and people trying stuff that messes up their instruments.

    Please educate yourselves. This is Luthier's corner, not Myth's corner.
     
  18. Suburban

    Suburban

    Jan 15, 2001
    lower mid Sweden
    Hmm, Musician's Institute...
    What 'facts and myths' exactly do you learn there? Their website speaks about playing and recording, but naught about physics and instrument physionomi.
    Perhaps this is off topic, but since you mentioned it, fivehawks... You got me seriously curious.
     
  19. pilotjones

    pilotjones Supporting Member

    Nov 8, 2001
    US-NY-NYC
    Urban, if you look farther down their page, you'll find and entry, "Guitar Craft."

    Fivehawks, would you please clarify-- what part of what's been presented here do you consider mythology?
     
  20. Fasoldt Basses

    Fasoldt Basses

    Mar 22, 2005
    Stevens Point, WI
    Karl Thompson, Builder (Formerly Fat Karl)
    Mr. Hawks:
    It is pride like yours that make these discussions absolutely futile. This is an open forum, and anyone is free to post here. Those of us who regularly post in the luthier's corner do so because we love building instruments and we are willing and happy to share what knowledge we have with others. Sometimes we are not right, and sometimes it takes a while to resolve an issue, because, for the most part, we are not experts. Forgive us this point! Perhaps we are not "real luthiers". Perhaps at times we get something wrong. But we are still having a ball making basses that, whether you like it or not, usually turn out very well. When you come in here and spout off about our naivete, you show your lack of maturity. Perhaps our conversations could be discounted if there were some "real" luthiers like yourself on this forum all the time. But if you are going to claim superiority over the rest of us, be prepared to answer EVERY QUESTION. So far, Mr. Hawks, you have posted only three times in this forum- only three times, in fact, on this whole website. Perhaps you are new here and don't know how often something like this happens. We are sick of having our pride trampled. Swallow yours if you expect anyone to listen to your opinions.