Gibson Article: Know Your (Guitar) Nuts
Nuts are a component that we seldom consider a factor when searching for a guitar, yet, their are a variety of types for us to choose from. Read the column below from Gibson, marking the differences between the nut-materials and why they may be used over others.
In guitar history, bone is the Ol’ Man Of Nuts. You’ll find a genuine bone nut on many vintage guitars, particularly acoustics, and many modern Gibsons too. Luthiers generally agree that old-fashioned bone nuts keep your tone open and balanced. But wait! There is bleached bone and unbleached bone — some argue unbleached bone is better at ‘self-lubricating’ and even polishes to a gloss better. But bleached bone should look more consistent in color.
It depends on whether you like to polish your nuts. (There was always going to be a “nuts” joke here somewhere, right?)
Where does guitar nut bone come from? Cattle, usually, but also buffalo and ox — it’s a by-product of animal farming. So, if you’re a strictly-vegan guitarist — hello, Mr Johnny Marr — you have a choice to make. But bone still makes a good guitar nut.
2. “High-Tech” Plastic
Naturally, science has provided alternatives to bone. TUSQ, Micarta and Corian are three used widely. TUSQ (saddles) and real bone (nuts) are a sometimes-used combination. 2013 Gibson Les Pauls have a Corian nut.
You used to easily know a graphite nut because it was black. But it can now be seen bleached white. Graphite has been popular since the ’80s, especially for guitars with a vibrato, as it claims to provide a little more slip-and-slide for intense whammy action.
Metal nuts, usually brass, were popular during the shred-happy ’80s. Highly durable, a nut made of brass will probably last forever, but it is obviously heavy. Open strings can ring loud but some say they can also be shrill. But that’s why some metal dudes still love brass. Buried in an avalanche of overdrive, any tonal effect of a brass nut is likely to be minimal. Plus metal dudes can scream, “Even my nuts are made of metal!” (Apologies, that’s now two bad nut jokes.)
5. More Metal Nuts
You’ll see some Gibsons — such as the Les Paul Axcess Standard, the Alex Lifeson Les Paul Axcess and the Gibson MIII — with licensed Floyd Rose vibrato systems. Floyd Roses are often acclaimed as the finest locking vibrato/nut systems in the guitar world. A locking nut is a must for a Floyd Rose vibrato system.
Retro-fitting Floyd Rose systems can be a potential hassle, though. Our advice? Best to decide on whether you want a locking vibrato/nut system before you buy your Gibson. Still, Floyd Rose can get your nuts made of titanium — and that’s very metal.
6. 2015 Model Metal Nuts
The lastest innovation? The Zero-Fret Adjustable Nut on 2015 Model Year Gibsons (patent applied for). The benefits of Z-FAN are many. A new Plek program for fingerboard setup allows using lower fret wire, the low action obtainable with the Z-FAN allows for more accurate intonation. When you press down on the string, it can “travel” only so far below the fret. This results in a minimal pitch change when fretting strings.
Z-FAN also increases sustain, because a traditional nut absorbs more of the vibration than a fret. The tone is also a little brighter, and there’s a more consistent tone between the open string and a fretted string.
With G-Force tuning, it’s also super-quick to readjust your action and tuning for slide playing.
Many guitar experts think ebony nuts sound great on acoustics, particularly acoustics made with mahogany/rosewood as it adds to the dark and rich tones. Ebony may soften quicker than bone, TUSQ, Corian or Micarta – but an ebony nut looks classy atop an ebony fingerboard.
However, black TUSQ is now more often used for small parts like nuts — black TUSQ looks like real ebony and is just as good.
The still-classic Gibson J-45 has a black TUSQ nut to complement its mahogany neck and rosewood fingerboard.
So-called “Fossil Ivory” — from the carcasses of naturally deceased elephants, walruses et cetera — can still be bought as replacement nut material. But there is, of course, the risk that the ivory is coming from the illegal slaughter of endangered animals in our more enlightened times. Please note: Gibson does not use, or endorse, the use of ivory in guitar building. Avoid!