1. Terry McInturff

    Terry McInturff 40th Anniversary of guitar building! Gold Supporting Member

    Messages:
    5,140
    Joined:
    Nov 4, 2003
    Location:
    Pittsboro NC
    Nut Law #1 states that the material of the nut will only affect the tone of the open strings. Fretted notes ignore the nut, tonally....the only exception being the rare instance in which a nut slot has been cut too low and allows the length of string behind the fret (ie, between the fret position and the nut) to vibrate sympathetically.

    On the other hand, the bridge and tailpiece are always "in play" tonally.
    Terry
     
  2. EADGBE

    EADGBE Member

    Messages:
    12,379
    Joined:
    Sep 23, 2005
    True. But I play a lot of open strings when I play guitar. So like everything else the nut is crucial.
     
  3. Tone_Terrific

    Tone_Terrific Member

    Messages:
    25,260
    Joined:
    Dec 26, 2004
    Location:
    Canada-GTA
    For the non-believers, find a round toothpick and slip it under a string and you can hear for yourself the difference a wooden nut or even a fret, if you put it in that position, can make.
     
  4. paintguy

    paintguy Long Hair Hippy Freak Silver Supporting Member

    Messages:
    5,626
    Joined:
    Apr 12, 2005
    Location:
    Los Angeles, Ca
    Terry, your nuts:NUTS.

    Just kidding!

    Very interesting info. Figures you would be the one to inform us all. I had no idea.:confused:

    Good stuff, thanks:AOK:dude:BEER
     
  5. Chiba

    Chiba Gold Supporting Member

    Messages:
    7,816
    Joined:
    Feb 18, 2002
    Location:
    State of Denial
    In a 2-piece bridge/tail setup - like a tune-o-matic - wouldn't the tailpiece (stopbar) be out of the loop, tonally speaking? It would seem that the break of the strings over the saddles (on the bridge) would kind of function like the nut does - that's where the string vibrates from, therefore that's the tone point reference.

    So if the frets remove the nut from the tone equation, it seems to me that the bridge/saddles would do the same thing. Of course, with a wraparound/1-piece bar-type bridge or a trem bridge, that wouldn't apply.

    --chiba
     
  6. daddyo

    daddyo Guest

    Messages:
    11,808
    Joined:
    May 19, 2003
    I've always wondered why a properly set up zero fret isn't more popular. The open string would then ring as clear as a fretted note. I guess it's more money and the stigma of all those cheap guitars that came with giant zero frets to save $$$.
     
  7. aoguitars

    aoguitars Member

    Messages:
    125
    Joined:
    Jan 3, 2008
    Location:
    Freeport, ME

    good question, Daddyo...this is why I build all my guitars with a zero fret--it takes the nut material out of the equation and makes all notes register off of the same material: a fret. plus, it makes the action in the first position killer.

    there is absolutely a certain stigma attached due to those old guitars, which is too bad, because it really works.
     
  8. Terry McInturff

    Terry McInturff 40th Anniversary of guitar building! Gold Supporting Member

    Messages:
    5,140
    Joined:
    Nov 4, 2003
    Location:
    Pittsboro NC
    The major limitation that I see with a zero fret...with all due respect for sure...is that the action height at the first fret is the same for all of the strings. It is a matter of taste...but in my view the low E has to be higher off of the first fret than does the hi E.

    If we set the hi E to be, say, .012 above the first fret, and set the lo E to this same spec...the lo E will buzz when played open with any hard picking action.

    I do not mean to critisize other builder's methods or opinions.

    Just my two cents!
    Terry
     
  9. aoguitars

    aoguitars Member

    Messages:
    125
    Joined:
    Jan 3, 2008
    Location:
    Freeport, ME
    i hear ya, Terry, and a very good point indeed...no criticism felt at all. this is the beauty of being custom shops--we all have our different opinions and methods to achieve our products. i love talking about how people do things differently, and why.

    FWIW, I find that the zero fret can certainly be milled at setup to achieve whatever the player is going for.

    happy building, Terry--always gorgeous stuff coming out of that shop.
     
  10. daddyo

    daddyo Guest

    Messages:
    11,808
    Joined:
    May 19, 2003
    Couldn't you file the zero fret so the clearance is different for each string? It would gradually ramp up from high E to low E?
     
  11. Tone_Terrific

    Tone_Terrific Member

    Messages:
    25,260
    Joined:
    Dec 26, 2004
    Location:
    Canada-GTA
    That's how it struck me, too, until I read an article indicating that the bridge actually vibrates along the LENGTH (in a rotational motion about the mount) of the strings, in reponse to the varying tension as the string moves (if I got that right).

    So, the string lengthening/shortening COULD be transmitted beyond the bridge to the tailpiece as the bridge vibrates. This would explain peoples perception of tone changes with tailpiece changes.
     
  12. David Collins

    David Collins Member

    Messages:
    2,253
    Joined:
    Feb 10, 2007
    Location:
    Ann Arbor, MI
    For setting "nut" height on zero frets I will start with a tall fret and cut it essentially as I would a nut, though there are certainly some tricks to it. The slot initially needs to be cut perfectly level with the frets, and close attention paid to how the string bends as it breaks over to ensure you are not getting a false reading as the string arcs above the back edge. Then the fret can be filed down to those slots, and finally recrowned to that height. It also allows for nut compensation if desired in how you shape the crown. Cutting of the slots can essentially be thought of as establishing a reference to take the final height to. This is a simplified summary, and there are plenty of places to make mistakes, but it allows for a good string by string fine tuning.

    Even if you can get it perfect though, nickel frets will dent and wear faster than bone and other nut materials, effectively both lowering the "nut" and moving it slightly forward. I still prefer bone, or synthetics such as Tusq or Delrin.

    I also use a different measurements for nut height. Typically I will set the height at .0005" to .003", not measuring height with the string open but rather in reference to height above the plane of the frets. Probably ending up with the same height in the end, but just a different system of measurement.

    Terry, I assume there was some recent requests or questions, like someone demanding a fossilized walrus ivory nut to improve their sustain on the upper frets? :p Gotta love the solutions improvements people can come up with....
     
  13. David Collins

    David Collins Member

    Messages:
    2,253
    Joined:
    Feb 10, 2007
    Location:
    Ann Arbor, MI
    That argument does have some merit in theory, but in practical terms the nut does not serve nearly as major role as things like the tailpiece. A better equivalent to the tailpiece in your example would be the tuners and headstock at the other end, not the nut. In abstract, and point of friction, pressure, or tension along the length of the string - even beyond the speaking length - will effect how waves are transmitted and reflected. In reality though, you could change a nut from bone to balsa wood and I don't believe a human ear would be able to hear any difference in fretted notes in a true blind test.

    And Tone-Terrific, I believe you are referring to different influences of lateral and longitudinal waves, and perpendicular vs parallel forces. All of these things exist and interact in a guitar system, but the variables are pretty darned, well, variable. There is an awful lot more to it than a simple summary, and it all changes so much from one style of instrument to another. Any decent discussion of wave interactions like this could easily take a while - like a semester or so.;)
     
  14. fullerplast

    fullerplast Senior Member

    Messages:
    6,792
    Joined:
    May 5, 2003
    I've heard this point of view before, but I don't follow the logic.....a capo puts a zero fret in place anywhere on the neck and does not seem to have any more buzzing problems. Isn't a zero fret is actually the ideal (wear problems aside), because relationship from fret to fret is then exactly like every other fretted position? Why would you want one position to be different than all others?
     
  15. Chris Rice

    Chris Rice Member

    Messages:
    2,263
    Joined:
    Oct 28, 2005
    Location:
    Chicagoland
    I see more/quicker wear on zero frets than bone. This leads to clicking while bending, improper return to pitch from bending, and false intonation.

    I like bone.
    Well, except for the smell while cutting it.
     
  16. Chris Rice

    Chris Rice Member

    Messages:
    2,263
    Joined:
    Oct 28, 2005
    Location:
    Chicagoland
    I'm with you to a point. Try capoing (a properly set up) fretless bass and you'll see and feel where Terry is coming from.
    (not speaking for Terry, just relating my experiences on the subject)
     
  17. fullerplast

    fullerplast Senior Member

    Messages:
    6,792
    Joined:
    May 5, 2003
    Well, I'd certainly say a fretless instrument is an entirely different scenario! There's nothing to lift the string off the fretboard if you capo....
     
  18. David Collins

    David Collins Member

    Messages:
    2,253
    Joined:
    Feb 10, 2007
    Location:
    Ann Arbor, MI
    Ahh grasshopper - this puzzled me too for a while, until I started looking a little closer to see what what going on. The unexpected result of the capo is that it automatically increases the string height on thicker strings.

    When any string is pushed to a fret it comes up from behind at an angle so that it actually arcs up slightly above the surface of the frets before it planes off. Thicker strings will naturally bend over a wider arc, automatically leaving them higher than the thinner strings. This is why capos tend to work best when placed as close to the fret as possible. If you move the capo all the way back just past the previous fret, suddenly you will find there will be more buzzing issues on the lower strings, as the string does not approach the fret at a steep enough angle to provide the arc and resulting height.

    The nut or zero fret approaches from this shallow angle and will not arc and level off at the higher plane, and for this reason the slots have to be intentionally cut to control the height. It's not that obvious on the surface, to the best of my reasoning that seems to explain the results.
     
  19. fullerplast

    fullerplast Senior Member

    Messages:
    6,792
    Joined:
    May 5, 2003
    Thanks....that's the first time I've heard that explanation and it makes sense.
     
  20. Jack Briggs

    Jack Briggs Member

    Messages:
    1,624
    Joined:
    Aug 14, 2003
    Location:
    Raleigh, NC
    Terry, my friend - have you opened a can of worms? Well, let me add my $0.02, if I may.

    I know it's widely accepted among luthiers but I've never subscribed to the theory that the nut material only comes into play on open strings notes. I'd say it's been generalized as more of a "this is something you aren't going to notice" type of assessment.

    Here's my view of it:

    Let's base this on the familiar tune-o-matic/stop tailpiece scenario. The strings are tensioned across the playing surface anchored at two points (tuner post and tailpiece), and over 2 fulcrum points (nut and bridge). The envelope of vibration is between the bridge saddle and either the nut, in the case of an open string, or fret. But the tension is still there over the entire length of the string. Those anchor points are still in play tonally, but more secondarily. The tailpiece is still in play, and so are the nut and tuners. Most players will not hear a difference between different materials on fretted notes, however. At least when amplified under high gain, with effects, etc. But acoustically is how I make most of my tonal assessments.

    Extreme case of comparison. A headless guitar (such as Ned Steinberger's design) versus a common design with headstock. If the above 'law' were so, the headless guitar would only sound different on open strings. If you've played a headless guitar, you know how the tonal response is a bit different that a traditional design. If the part of a string behind the fretting finger didn't come into play tonally, the two different neck designs would sound the same everywhere on the neck but the open strings.

    If you were to replace the nut on a guitar with a piece of gum rubber, you'd notice a tremendous difference in the open string notes, but also in fretted notes. It would be subtle, but it's there. The rest of the neck behind your fretting finger is vibrating all the way to the tuner post, so if you replace a bone or plastic nut with soft rubber, the note response will feel different and sustain will suffer.

    In practice, it's realistic to say that there is no difference in tonal response from one nut material to another except for the open note response. A suppose, a sort of compromise. That said, my two favorite nut materials are SlipStone and vintage unbleached bone. SlipStone for its slippery nature, and bone for its tone and long wear. No longer do I use graphite for nuts (too soft).

    There are my feelings on the subject - YMMV, though.;)
     

Share This Page