Is there any way of confirming what material a bridge and/or nut are made from. I have just acquired a fantastic, all solid wood guitar, a real bargain, but I suspect that the bridge saddle is plastic; I'm not so sure about the nut. (I re-surfaced the saddle before re-stringing and it seemed to be very soft compared with bone and tusq, both of which I have worked in the past).
Is there any way of testing the saddle and nut, in situ on the instrument, in order to find out with any certainty.
Take a needle, heat it up in a gas flame (holding it with a pair of pliers) , and stick it in the saddle and /or nut.
You will know immediately if it is plastic by the smell and by the fact that the needle will melt the material at the point of contact.
Why? Are you unhappy with the sound?
And, say, if it turns out to be plastic, what will you do, replace it, even though you are currently happy?
I'd say take a look with a really good magnifier, and see if there are fissures like bone has. And I think plastic almost always has some manufacturing marks on it, like a round dot from the mold.
Thanks for the replies guys, two good suggestions, thankyou.
Mark, you are right, I am not exactly"unhappy" with the sound of this guitar and I know exactly where you're coming from, "if it ain't broke...don't fix it". It's just that as I said it's an all solid wood instrument with lots of potential and I am sure that if (what I am sure is) the soft plastic saddle was to be replaced with a superior one, then the guitar would sound even better, that's all.
If the nut too is soft plastic, then that may be prone to exaggerated string wear I would also replace that.
These are just observations and thoughts at this point and I do value and take on board all the helpful comments received!!
I love using TUSQ ! aka; man-made bone. Made by GraphTeck. It is far more uniform than bone...denser too...and yields 23% more sustain.
23% more sustain. This is fascinating. Chris, do you have a link to how this kind of testing is done?
If you were waiting for a string to stop vibrating and timing it, when does that actually happen? Seems to me when I try to listen for that, it eventually gets inaudible but might be still vibrating. Maybe there is an arbitrary amplitude level to which it decays that is the timing point? Of course the body of the guitar absorbs and dampens the vibration and hastens the end of sustain, and the degree of that effect is hugely variable with differant instruments.
I'm sure that the TUSQ is great, and I think what you mean by uniform is that bone can vary in density and you might be getting a different sound from one piece to another.
Just some Sunday morning ruminations, Hope this isn't a sign I need to get a life!
I replace TUSQ with bone on a regular basis I can't think of a time I've replaced bone with TUSQ. Bone is easier to work with on a sander and with files ...it cuts predictably and it's harder. Maybe I'm just old fashioned but I like the way it looks.
Interesting...........we're back to the old "Bone or Tusq" debate.
Some people prefer one over the other as do some very respected luthieres and I'm sure both have their own merits.
For myself, I'm never quite sure, and if I'm honest, I cannot really tell that much difference; I have found though that Bone tends to wear better and is less prone to string notches on the saddle.
What I can tell you is that the Bone saddle that I have just installed on this guitar (since the original post) sounds far better than the soft plastic one that was installed originally, the instrument truly rings! I'm sure Tusq would have been just as good an upgrade too.
I intend to install a bone nut next, to replace the current plastic one, but thats a job for a competent guitar technician; beyond my capabilities I think!!
One question, which has the most effect on the sound as far as materials go, the nut or the saddle, or do they effect the sound in equal proportion?
Thanks for all your input; an interesting learning curve!!
If you can do the saddle, you can TOTALLY do the nut! It's a very doable job, just take your time. If you don't have any of the tools, you can always use the old "welding tip cleaner file" trick, which is really slow but produces very nicely rounded slot bottoms.
Just saying - you can do it!
About the respecyive impact of nut and saddle : the saddle gets in the way of the vibrating string for each note played, whereas the nut only for an open string.
I just have to comment on the ole' bone vs. tusq debate too and my belief is that it requires just as much time for me to make a nut from a blank with either material and bone in my experience wears better so why not bone? I don't even offer the option of any other material besides bone since I'm not going to ever use plastic either.
If one finds a source for very hard bone bone will out last other alternatives and to me this equals value.
I do have to disagree however with the idea that a non-luthier sort should be able to successfully make a proper nut from tusq or bone. When I was learning my nuts plagued me... with my meaning being (seriously...) that it often took me several tries to make a nut that did not receive criticism from my master luthier who was training me. He used to say that in his experience most folks needed to make 100 nuts before they started to get it right the very first time. From the perfect fit in a properly cleaned up nut slot in which the nut seemingly needs no glue but we use some anyway to proper string spacing. And what of proper string spacing being a function of each and every individual neck AND how the fret ends are beveled or not?
Additionally how easy the guitar plays in the first several frets is also a function of how well the nut slots are cut and as you all must know sometimes one swipe too many with a fairly aggressive nut file and your nut is ruined....
Making a proper nut and expecting to get it right the first time is not all that easy AND without the proper tools and the investment required for said tools I would hate to think how difficult it would be to make a proper nut.
Not sure if Brian the OP is a Luthier or not but if not my advice would be to have a luthier make you a proper bone nut. Saddles are easier provided that one understands intonation and knows how to individually intonate a solid bone saddle.
Over the years I have gotten fond of working bone and I love how I can buff it out so that it shines to beat the band. One of my clients who is a jeweler once questioned my bone nut that I made for him because it shined like plastic... Upon examination with a loop and the pin test he was very impressed...
No, I am DEFINITELY NOT a luthier, but I do have average handicraft skills and felt the saddle was within my capabilities. I do know about intonation, thanks to some really useful information available on, or through members of this great forum.
I was immensely pleased with the result I got from the recent bone saddle I formed, but as I said, I am aware that the nut is a different prospect and would rather entrust that job to a experienced guitar technician.
..." He used to say that in his experience most folks needed to make 100 nuts before they started to get it right the very first time" ...
This reminds me of the equally erroneous assertion by the well known luthier from Phoenix AZ, who blithely states on his website ..." I can tell you, no matter who is teaching you refretting techniques; you would have to fret at least 35 guitars just to get a good clue about it "...
IMO these statements say more about the calibre of person who studies under these "masters" rather than the difficulty of the task itself.
Refretting guitars and making nuts does require understanding of some basic principles. However, it isn't rocket surgery and it doesn't take 35, or 100 guitars for a bright and apt learner to learn these principles and produce a perfect nut or do a perfect refret.
Like it said in the Good Book ..." With all thy getting, get understanding ..."