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. 


Views: 1679

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

"The point" of asking the question my friend was that like most people, I am well aware of the tiresome and well hackneyed tusk/bone debate and whist I am no expert on either, (or other nut materials for that matter), I do know about sound frequencies!

I was simply trying to gain a little more opinion, knowledge and information before committing my instrument to surgery.

As you say, in the end, the ears are the best judge!

Thank you.

HI Brian,

But, that was "the point" I made:   it's pointless knowing the frequency response of these materials if it doesn't matter with respect to the tone outcomes.  DC was most generous with his input and I was  reinforcing his observations as being most relevant to the question.

The sting break angle combined with the nut slot width, depth and front to rear slope and string spread angle combined with the coupling/glueing mechanisim and so on and so forth will have a major impact in  sound transmssion into the neck and less so into the fingerboard and that's that for the tone set.   Anyone can make a guitar sound like a sitar with the same nut material and strings etc - just cut the nut wrong and  change the break angle.  This stuff is knowledge because it is observable and experience based.  

Chord theory will also eliminate 50% or more of your strings from the nut-tone equation on most occasions and anything more than cowboy chords is also in the same boat.   Lead guitar and legato work nixes the issue entirely.    So many things mitigate against nut material as being relevant to tone outcomes as to make the issue  irrelevant to what we do.   

I don't normally get involved with this sort of quazi scientific stuff because it's not science based, it's opinion based and not relevant for the main.   I am also preparing to be vilified for having a professional qualification  in Advance Acoustic Analysis (from JAM Teddington UK) and having been a senior instructor teaching Acoustic spectrum analysis, including sound intensity loss/damping profiles and speed of sound implications on sound waves wrt density and frequency domaim, overarched with all manner of harmonic transmission matters.  I sometime find this useful in establishing my credentials to comment about sound transmission matters rather than have to suffer voodoo science and opinion.

And thank you Hesh - I certainly noticed my western minor pentatonic scales all reverted to dodecaphonic scales when I changed the battery in my Megametal Death Harmonic Distortion pedal to a Chinese manufactured Duracell.  I will revert back to the buying the limited edition, special aged,  zinc-carbon AA batteries as used by Jimi Hendrix at Monterey available for just $100 each from my local vintage guitar shop.





" I am also preparing to be vilified for having a professional qualification in Advance Acoustic Analysis (from JAM Teddington UK) and having been a senior instructor teaching Acoustic spectrum analysis, including sound intensity loss/damping profiles and speed of sound implications on sound waves wrt density and frequency domaim, overarched with all manner of harmonic transmission matters. I sometime find this useful in establishing my credentials to comment about sound transmission matters "

Okay Dr Rusty. ;-)

Really though, as much as people may sometimes jump on listing your C.V. as chest puffing, it's entirely appropriate and useful to qualify what experience your advice is based from. There's value in readers (not just active posters) who may not know you, to understand whether advice is coming from an institutional professional, or someone who's been playing for a year but reads all the Guitar Fetish articles and has build a kit guitar from Mighty Mite. :)

I usually just leave it as "I am Sancho".

Hey Rusty - looking forward to meeting you in a little less than a month now!  We can fill you in on "SSSO" (state side snake oil) when you get here.;)  A - 320 anyone?

For everyone else when we get a client who insists of wanting to discuss tone and "what they read on the Internet" we kindly try to work with them explaining that we won't get into matters of tone....  it's too subjective.  We will get into matters of "sound" such as the need for more break angle to prevent a vibrating wave of a string from breaching the break point of a saddle reduced in the past instead of a proper neck rest.  Or why putting your pups nearly in contact with the string causes other issues, tuning stability issues, etc.

But if they insist of reverting back to..... what they read on the Internet it has on rare occasion gotten so clear to us that we can't have any quantifiable understanding or service provider/client relationship with them that we have suggested that they leave and go elsewhere.  Not kidding either.  It's such a problem the fake information on the Internet that it likely is responsible for many of the issues that Luthiers experience with clients who are not happy with their work.

So we won't go there.  Speak science and quantifiable things with us and we are happy to show you things that can prove contentions and set issues to rest.  Blabber crap from some Ed Roman web site and if you can't accept that the Internet is not gospel you may be taking your ax back down two flights of stairs needing to find someone else to make false promises to you - we won't do it.

Back to our regularly scheduled program. ;)  Lutherie can be very honorable, it has to start with us though......

Well I'm just glad that we got this nut stuff all sorted out so we can get on to the really important stuff such as which 9V battery sounds best in pedals.......... ;)

Okay, my last post on this!!!

AllI was trying to get at (that seems to have been overlooked) was not "which is best" but, what are the different attributes of each of the four materials; which is brighter, which is duller etc., and just thought there might be a simple guide for comparison of each, a little bit more definitive than a "drop" test, in order to make an informed choice.

Obviously there is not.

Sorry to appear such a doughnut head!!

Thanks for your help...........Brian

My theory about tone is that things gets more important the closer to the string you get. Starting with the string itself, different brands will make huge differences in the tone. The saddle bone is the next important part, every note played on the guitar will travel through the saddle. The nut in the other end comes into play only with open strings, but is as important as the saddle bone for open strings. The bridge and the bridge plate are next in line and so is the neck and fretboard. Every part that the energy from the string passes shapes the frequency recipe. The actual sound coming from the top, bottom and air inside the guitar will sound a lot like the frequency recipe shaped by the stuff the energy from the strings passes through before it reaches the whole guitar.

With that said, both the nut and the saddle bone will shape the tone and you better get it right.  As for the nut, it's important that it should be of a hard enough material to let high frequency's and energy pass through without to much loss (in treble and volume). Bone is cheap, easy to shape, durable, nice looking and hard enough. I have yet to find another material as good as bone :-)

Disclaimer: 99% of my experience comes from restoring old acoustic parlor guitars and not electric guitars.

I have one more reason to like the sound of a bone nut and saddle I forgot to mention. The bone material is natural and very complex and not homogeneous as any man made material or a metal. The complexity of the bone structure gives a complex sound with a lot of different frequencies. Man made materials or a metal are always very clean in the response, more like a sinus note with one single dominant frequency. To me, that sound is boring.

Hi Roger,

Now you are talking,  The question as to what nut material to use is driven by what you wish to use it for.   As previously posted different instuments, in particular electric and acoustics, have different requirements.   Acoustic insrtuments, as you point out may respond to a nut with inconsistent density and frequency response foibles giving a perception of being interesting (not boring).  

However, electric guitars are required to drive processors and pedal trains and also analogue devices in series (and parallel) with high output pickups and high gain pre-amp/power amp stages.  They also need to fight input /output impedance mismatches in these chain items which can affect frequency responses in a good or bad way.

Consequently, a clear strong fundamental and tightly related harmonic sequence with a minimum of noise and disparate signal frequencies is a good thing to put into the front end of these things otherwize it will turn to mud downtrack in a heartbeat.   Similarly, the requirement to be able to replicate a tone set from instrument to instrument mitigates against introducing inconsistent component values of which we have too many already.   Boring consistent specifications in this case makes for higher quality at the output stages and is our bedrock to build QA on.

The right answer to this interesting subject lies in asking the right question.



That's very interesting! Maybe a bone nut isn't the best choice for an electric guitar, a zero fret or a man made hard enough material may be better. Also explains why the saddles in metal on an electric guitar works so well.

I like bone. It doesn't cut as fast as Tusq does so I find it easier to zero in on the right nut slot height. It's also easier to fill if you go too far. Most importantly a well made and finely polished bone nut looks nicer than anything else. I have some walrus tusk (we're allowed to have it here) and it's even nicer. 

I work part time in a very busy shop and the premade Tusq nuts help us shovel through cheaper guitars quickly. I think there's a tendency to set them a little high because it's too easy to cut them too low. At home my higher end customers mostly get bone nuts and saddles. 

Imo brass adds sustain and diminishes tone. 

Aluminum seems to work on Danolectros and is often used on lap steel guitars. Some of the lap steel players I've done work for have a preference for it. 

Which one sounds better? Ask the players that use a lot of open strings, bluegrass flatpickers, fingerstyle, alternate tuning slapping the hands on the fingerboard types....

I like bone the best. After working with it for forty years I don't mind the smell, I like the way it cuts and I think it looks like quality.

Regarding the smell of bone....

My dog/pal Sony RIP would run in circles, pant uncontrollably and sling drool every time I took a bone blank to the belt sander....  

I was so concerned about him that he might have a heart attack over the smell of heated bone that I took him to his Vet.  The Vet gave me valium to give him in advance of any bone sanding and that did help as well as putting him in another part of the house before I worked on any bone crafting.

Bone fan here above all other materials just wondering if anyone else has had any issues with their four legged friends and bone.


© 2024   Created by Frank Ford.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service