Fingerboard Nut Composition Materials
Because no one material is best at all things, string nuts are made from many different types of material. Guitar manufacturers and home builders consider the following factorus when determining material to use:
- slipperiness of the nut slot
- durability over time
- ease or difficulty of the material to fashion into the desired shape
- radius and slotting
- appearance of the finished product
The most commonly used materials are listed below.
- White Delrin
Both Corian and White Delrin are the white synthetic types you commonly see used with Corian being the standard on the majority of mass produced electric guitars. White Delrin is supposedly more slippery through the nut slot. It cuts evenly and is considered to have a balanced sound.
Tusq and Micarta are synthetic types that look much like bone. They are said to have a warmer sound than the Corian or White Delrin.
Brass is considered to have a sustaining quality and adds brightness to the guitars voicing. If you're just going for looks it works well on a guitar with gold hardware. Brass nuts seem to fall in an out of popularity over time.
Nickel is very much like using the same material for the nut as you do for the frets. The tone produced is similar to that of guitars that utilize a zero fret.
Steel is used in the production of roller nuts as well as some locking nuts. The tone is considered very bright and, because of the nut types it's used to create, is most commonly found on guitars with floating trems or two point trems.
Graphite is one of my two favorite nut materials. The slots tend to have few if any binding issues. It's easier to fashion, create the nut and slotting, than other materials and it claims, and I can attest to, adding a warmer tone to the guitar it's utilized with. Graphite is slightly darker than Corian or White Delrin and much darker than any of the nuts made from various metals, brass, nickel, or steel.
Bone is my personal favorite nut material. Since I don't have to work with it myself, it is very hard and very dense and a bit of a pain to work with as well as really needing an experts hand to fashion the slots so string binding doesn't become an issue, I can focus strictly on it's tonal qualities. It provides, in my opinion, the most beautiful and detailed tone of any of the materials used to make string nuts. It normally is found on Top O' De' Line / Higher dollar models that don't utilize a floating trem. For that solid tone of fixed everything from tuner to body, bone is my choice for Dino tone.
From Guitarsmith, Richard Stanley:As far as a tone contributor, you only hear the nut on the open strings. And you can't make a nut heavy enough to really change the neck mass significantly. Thirty years or so ago, there was a fad for brass nuts. And I think everyone found out that they're harder to maintain — they're certainly harder to make, but also, they don't do anything for the tone when your fretting a string. Also the difference in string tone between open and fretted notes — with any nut — the open stringtones are always brighter than the fretted notes, and to me, putting metal there just accentuates that. So there's a big contrast with a metal nut between when your playing open notes and fretting notes. The fingerboard nut is less important to tone than to how it affects playability
There's another factor in nut design: The nut should have some width and depth to it so it doesn't wear too fast necessitating over frequent re-regulation. Typical Fender nuts, for example are really too skimpy and are the only ones that break frequently. Also, they're also not very deep. The nuts I do tend to be deeper and wider because when I move a nut forward to compensate it, I'm filling from the back of the original nut slot to the front of the new nut slot. The nuts I make are square and flat on the bottom, whereas the original Fender nut curves on the bottom, the same as the fingerboard, so Fender's are not any thicker in the middle than they are at the edges. With mine, you can go years and years with a nut like this and shim it up before you'd have to replace it.