Monday, May 28, 2012

Nuts! Guitar Nuts, That Is

Warning!  Boring guitar information ahead.
Samick strat, nut making trial subject.

When you are on a budget, and want expensive things, you can save and save and buy that expensive, quality guitar, or you can also look to find less expensive guitars.

I have chosen the latter course over the years.

I have several cheap guitars that were made of quality woods.  The manufacturers cut costs by using cheap hardware such as the tuning keys, bridges, and electronics.

Over time, I have slowly bought a quality set of pickups here, a quality set of tuning keys there, etc., and upgraded these inexpensive guitars to where they are pretty close to first-rate in quality at every point.

One problem though.

One of THE most important parts of a guitar is the nut.  That's the little sliver of plastic (on cheap guitars) where the strings come from the headstock and the tuning keys and lay in slots cut into the nut.

New nut, after initial shaping, slotting.
Other than wanting your guitar to have great tone, you want it to "play" good.  To feel good in your hands and for the strings to be easy to press down to the frets, yet not be so close that they buzz on adjacent frets, a sign that the nut slots were cut too deep.

A guitar string is suspended from the nut, and doesn't touch anything until it is suspended at the other end at the bridge.  Between these two points, a guitar string can vibrate.

I have upgraded my several inexpensive guitars over the years with new pickups and wiring and other hardware, to the point where they all sound GREAT.

But that nagging problem of a cheap nut with hastily cut slots of improper depth kept my guitars from also FEELING great when I played them.

So, also over time, I bought a small set of files, a few pieces of cow bone that where pre-cut to just bigger than a guitar nut needs to be, and I also read how-to's on shaping and slotting guitar nuts over and over and over.

A few weeks ago I finally started with my cheapest guitar, a $50 purchase from a friend at work, a Samick super-strat style guitar.  Shaped and looks much like a Fender Stratocaster with higher output pickups, but is a cheap copy by someone else.

I loosened and moved the strings out of the way and took off the old nut.  (How isn't important)
Finished slotted, shaped nut, installed.

I roughly shaped the piece of bone I had to where it was as close to the same dimensions as the original nut, and also began the slots in the new nut.

I then installed the new nut onto the guitar, and using the techniques from all my repeated reading of nut making articles, carefully cut each slot to the correct width and correct depth for each string.

After resetting the strings and playing a bit to make sure all was well, I moved the strings again and sanded down the top of the nut to where the strings were actually partially out the the slots.

The slots and the pressure of the tight strings keep the strings in the slots, but having the strings about half way buried in the slot when in place helps keep the string from being snagged or caught in the slot, which creates tuning problems.

After the success of my first, cheapest guitar nut replacement, I was able to confidently make new nuts for my other guitars over the course of a week or so.  (I can only sit there doing this for short periods, and had to take frequent back relieving breaks.)

This was the final step in upgrading my cheap guitars, but every one of them now sounds and plays much like guitars costing many times what I paid for them, including new parts.

Good times, good times.
Ready for years of easy play!

3 comments:

Camelia Aprile said...

As I am only a student I do not really have the funds to just take a year off practicing guitar. Instead I am attending another school where I get to study music all day and actually get paid a small amount per month.

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