Could any of you fine luthiers out there possibly post a guide to the frequency response parameters of the following four nut materials.........Tusq, bone, brass & aluminium, (if there is such information available).

I am aware of the "drop" test but was hoping I might find something a little more scientific and a little bit more specific to the actual range of frequencies, cut off points etc., that each material possesses.

I have searched online, but the only information seems to relate to the old ("Tusq v Bone" which is best)? debate. 


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Brian, two of those  four materials are never used for this, and the third is replaced almost immediately on premium guitars because it is such a bad material. 

 Many Luthiers on this site have an ice cream pail 1/3 full of Tusq plastic that customers wanted swapped out on their Brand New guitars.


It makes excellent flame starter for BBQs. (I bet you think I am kidding don't you?)  It is totally useless in Luthierie.

 Brass guitar parts are from an incredibly odd 18 month period(?) in the beginning of the 80s. No one at all uses it now, and almost everyone is super glad that horrid fad is over.. 

 Aluminum, well I have never heard of it for this before, and it is such a soft metal, I can not see how it could possibly last more than three or four string changes. 

 Bone is  always best, and is just about only used.

It seems you may be looking for a quantified measure of materials for which a universal standard has not been established, for an application in which the impacts of such a standardized measurement (were it to exist), is far from reliably appraised. My advice is to consider the importance of (or consistency and net impact in different applications) of such factors as "frequency response parameters" in the larger picture.

Before even considering such things, there are critical thresholds that have to be met with other concerns such as friction and durability. Here I would say from a few decades of observing what lasts and what fails, bone wins hands down on almost all accounts. The one exception may be a slight advantage of Tusq over bone in some cases in the friction category. The durability weakness of Tusq however, almost rules it out as a reasonable contender, and in extreme cases (tremolo guitars) where extreme low friction is especially essential, bone can be pretty close to equal if cut well and lubricated. Brass and aluminum are of course both extremely soft metals, and fall far behind a well cut piece of bone.

For the frequency response concerns, the problem is defining the parameters. Are we talking about response in reflection, transfer, or dampening? These are each categories of measurement unto themselves, each with potential do deliver different impacts in different environment dependent on neck material and stiffness, acoustic vs electric, breakover angle, string gauge, angle of player attack - the list can go on. There may be someone out there who has tested, say, the transmission aspect, but this would mean nothing in absence of measures of dampening and reflection, all of course contingent on many other factors of the particular application environment.

In short, the simple quantified measurements you seek do not really exist that I know of, or at least not in any way that would have meaningful impact without factoring in a plethora of other dependent variables.

And although this may be a divisive assertion, I would personally wager that if you gathered the best ears on the planet, if you were able to survey these nut materials embodied in a real guitar in a well controlled blind test, the results would come back within a margin of error amounting to random. Yes, a string vibrating on a steel saddle may demonstrate slight differences from vibrating on a plastic one. If you embed those saddles in a sponge however, these differences quickly become so insignificant as to be indistinguishable. A guitar chassis includes so many significant influences that when it comes to differences between the mentioned materials in the application of a nut, it is a sponge.

So, I would focus on the critical priorities that remain in any environment - durability, low friction, and to some degree, workability and appearance.

In other words, don't spend too much time worrying about it, and use bone. ;)

Great post, condensed to one sentence in the end :-)

A zero fret or a bone nut are the only nut materials I ever use. A brass nut gives a metallic zing to the tone. Aluminum is too soft. In the old days ebony nuts was used a lot, it works pretty well with nylon or gut strings but dampens the trebles with steel strings.

As for plastic nuts, some of the hardest ones are quite decent sounding, the softer stuff are major tone destroyers. I have my little pile of replaced plastic nuts, useful as temporary nuts when doing major neck work!

With a bone nut you get some added very nice sounding trebles on open strings. The sound from a zero fret is less complex in the tone and a bit boring compared with the bone nut sound.

Wow, thank you!!
The reason for my question was simply "tone". I need the nut replaced on my Taylor T5z-12string (currently Tusq with a couple of slots too low). I have a Danelectro 12 string that has an aluminium nut, that I love the sound of and so, was talking to a guitar technician about the attributes of these different materials for my T5. I just thought I would ask the question here, before wasting time & money installing something I might regret.
As I said, I love the sound of my Danelectro 12atring with it's aluminium nut but maybe it would be a mistake to install one on my Taylor 12.
Thank you!!

Keep in mind the nut only affects the open string- once you fret it the nut material is, well, immaterial.

I don't think Dan'os sound like Dan'os because of the nut material.

Sounds like chasing the wind, or trying to get your Ford F-150 to handle more like a Jaguar by putting the right hood ornament on for aerodynamics.

I would suggest that the nut material's influence on the difference in tone between these two guitars is roughly the same as the color of the finish.

If it needs a new nut because the old one is low (remember what I said about Tusq's durability), just go with bone.
Yes, makes my opening question sound kinda' foolish, but as it is a much debated point I just thought I'd try and expand my limited knowledge!
I tend to agree with the "after the first fret it doesn't matter what the nut material is" school of thought, so I think I'll go with a straight "like for like" replacement.
One other option that a very respected and highly regarded luthier uses here in the UK (Fylde Guitars) is a zero fret. This (only my opinion) seems the absolute best option and negates the nut material debate completely!
Thank you all for taking the time to offer your opinions and advice............excellent and informative as usual !!

Let's not forget that vintage Danelectros have an aluminum nut combined with a rosewood saddle. According to Jeff Wall, master string bender for the Woggles, Hillbilly Frankensteing and Guadalcanal Diary, the two are as important to the Danelectro sound as the lipstick pickups.

Hi All,

David Collins provides a couple of bedrock statements upon which to base an answer to a "which is best" plea.   Firstly, if you can't tell the difference by listening and playing and using and paying or have no experience with all the other materials in similar situations and instruments what is the point of asking or even knowing about frequency response.   Tusq publish some rudimentary figures and tables and that's that as far as I know.  

The acoustic guys may have a tome or two devoted to the subject and I'm sure someone will publish a link if they do.

Our colleagues who love aging bone on the shed roof from dead animals of different weigh, health, stature, degree of osteoporosis, and age and then sawin' and bleachin' and boiling and filin' and shapin' and polishing it into guitar nuts may have a  connection and desire to call that good stuff and enjoy the experience.  But that's a different thing than working out what's best..

Consequently, the result of asking "how does it sound"  is alway, inevitably;   "wonderful it just rings and sustains with magnificent string to string balance and extended highs and lows and mids and looks so beautiful - not like that plastic rubbish".   Similarly, if those who advocate zero frets are to be given a voice then Nickle Silver or Stainless steel make a superb nut material..

Having said that, the question as to what is "the best material for nuts" is the wrong question.  The question is what nut material do we use for what application, and when are we wasting time and/or money putting lipstick on a pig.

We use Tusq in our guitars and the repair shop because we can't hear a difference in tone to any extent that is useful in electric applications. Too many variables and overriding tone factors and the overarching need to have guitars stay in tune when under string duress versus wringing an extra  drop of perceived tonal improvement out of a bit of bone.  Also doesn't cost $90 bucks to make one and we can replace a Tusq nut, with perfect string spacing or drop in a different string spacing  in minutes for the same price every time.

Making multiples of guitars of course exacerbates the problems of bespoke bone nut fitting and the quality of machine made (in China) pre cut and slotted bone nuts nuts is variable from our experience so we wouldn't use it even if we wanted to. 

But, I'm with DC in recommending luthiers use bone nuts - it makes them happier, reinforces perceptions of quality,  impresses the customer,  makes them more money and recycles cows.    However, as is said by same - blind test this stuff if you reckon you know the difference.    

Just remember;  (almost) everything you heard at Woodstock was with a plastic nut and  non True- Bypass pedals and non master volume amps and "lube"  was what groupies had in their handbags,

All respects respected and no offence intended.   




"Just remember;  (almost) everything you heard at Woodstock was with a plastic nut and  non True- Bypass pedals and non master volume amps and "lube"  was what groupies had in their handbags"

Thank goodness for all the improvements that have been made since 1969.  And for all those things that have stood the test of time.

Just to add some additional sauce to the debate, Steven Andersen uses  Micarta nuts on many of his archtops.  It appears that he dyes the nuts to complement the aesthetics of the particular guitar.  The guitars sound wonderful but I haven't asked him if the sound is any different than other nut material.



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