Keys to Tone part 3... Nuts
After talking about Neck relief HERE,
and string height HERE
, the next section of our series on guitar setup is the nut. This may be the most important thing.
When we discussed the role of sound waves in an electric guitar
, we determined that the nut was a key factor in our tone. How the nut is cut and the material that is is made of can have a HUGE effect on the tone. Less expensive plastic nuts can sound dull and wear quickly. Tusq and other synthetics are more "slick" and are many times used for guitars with tremolos. Probably the most favored material for tone and longevity is bone.
The Cut Matters.
The shape of the nut slot can have a big effect on tone. Too loose, and you get rattles and lose sustain. Too tight and it will grip the string and not return to pitch when you bend.
The angle of the nut slot is also key. too sharp of an angle and the nut will wear quickly and fret buzzes could develop (more on this in the video below) Too shallow an angle and a buzz will be immediate.
This is a pretty open answer. Higher string height is good for people that play hard or they play slide etc. If you go too high, it's possible to have intonation problems or pull it out of tune, especially on the lower frets.
One common measurement standard is .020" above the first fret.
This is a good starting point. Depending on your playing style, your neck relief, and fret quality, you can go lower if desired. Using .020" as a general starting point gives you a pretty flexible setup. After adjusting the string height at the nut, you may need to recheck your saddle height.
There are many schools of thought on how to cut the nut and the measurements involved. If you are not comfortable doing it yourself, take your guitar to an experienced luthier. Before you go, ask yourself a few questions that you can pass on to your tech....
What is my playing style? (hard, soft, pick thickness, etc)
Do i like my setup now, do I want an easier touch?
Is the guitar making any noises or does it have any dead strings?
Armed with these answers, you can be more specific about what you want out of your setup. The nut is hugely important to playability and tone, so it's worth the time to give it some thought.